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Climate Change blog: ADEPT's Transport Decarbonisation Policy Challenge Paper

1 November 2021

The Department for Transport (DfT) published its Transport Decarbonisation Plan in July 2021, setting out how the government will work with stakeholders – including local authorities – to decarbonise the entire transport system in the UK. Mark Kemp, Chair of ADEPT’s Transport and Connectivity Board, explains more about ADEPT’s Policy Challenge paper, published in response.

The aim of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP) is to align the transport sector with the carbon budgets, which state, in law, that the UKs emissions must be net zero by 2050. ADEPT welcomes the fact that the TDP has now been published – it is an important document and one that will shape how we travel in the future. However, there are a number of complexities and gaps that need addressing.

A key consideration is that the TDP is not stand-alone and it cannot work in isolation – understanding and alignment with other strategies and plans will be critical to success. The TDP deals purely with transport modes, but the impact of construction, manufacturing and energy supply are intrinsically part of the overall impact of a transport system.

To be successful in tackling carbon emissions, the TDP will need strong leadership and support from central government. Many of the factors outlined in the TDP will need significant behavioural change to become the norm - and I don’t think that public acceptance is there yet. For example, government wants half of all journeys in towns and cities to be walked or cycled by 2030 - for this to happen, everyone will need to contribute. It is important that the right mode of travel is selected for the right journey, recognising balance and adjusting lifestyles to fit.

However, many local authorities are still experiencing significant opposition to measures to deliver the modal shift required, with some having to remove active travel schemes that were introduced during the first lockdown. In other local authority areas, consultations with the public suggest that once a scheme has been in place for a while a high proportion are in favour of keeping it. This evidences the challenges in clearly articulating the impacts of schemes while they are still an aspiration. 

ADEPT is also concerned that progress is not being made quickly enough to hit 2050 targets. The TDP is not clear about how progress will be measured - this is essential, to ensure that progress is being made towards the 2050 target.

Switching to electric vehicles is not the ‘silver bullet’ and will not solve the carbon emissions problem. A significant proportion of transport-related carbon emissions are not directly related to power or fuel – car manufacturing, production and disposal of batteries, wear and tear, pollution from tyres, brakes - are all processes that have a direct impact on carbon levels. And they won’t tackle the congestion issues being faced in many areas.

Skills shortages are proving a real challenge, in both design and construction areas. Ambitious, highly skilled and experienced individuals are needed, at both local and central government levels, to ensure the TDP is a success. Local authorities need people to help residents, businesses and developers understand the impact of their actions and provide sustainable solutions.

ADEPT also believes that the planning rules need to support the TDP. Reforms to planning policy need to be framed in a way that move us away from car-dependent housing and support active travel and public transport, while also ensuring that permitted developments make their contribution. It is critical that the TDP aligns with this, to ensure development is sustainable. What we are building now, we will be living with in 2050, so it must support the net zero carbon target.

Finally, adequate funding is required to ensure success of the TDP, both capital – and perhaps more importantly – revenue funding. Active travel programmes are more revenue hungry than we’ve been used to and this needs to be planned for and funded accordingly. For example, trimming hedges back on cycle routes, subsiding bus journeys on quieter routes, investing in behaviour change, and community consultations are all ongoing activities that require ongoing funding.

ADEPT is broadly supportive of the TDP – we recognise its role in reducing carbon emissions alongside the wider economic, health, wellbeing and sustainability benefits. However, we would like greater clarity on alignment with other Government strategies, greater clarity on how progress will be measured, and more detail around funding. 

You can read ADEPT’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan - ADEPT Policy Challenge Paper here.

ADEPT's Active Travel Policy Position can be found here.