Back from the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, literally blown home last night by the gales.
Despite the wind and the rain however, there was some comfort to be taken from proceedings because of the amount of discussion related to roads and road transport – even if the conclusions drawn were not always as reassuring. Norman Baker’s comments in the press at the weekend that the green lobby should see cars with good eco-credentials as ‘friends’ was welcome though.
This has to be right. There is no reason to believe that carbon emissions from road transport cannot be significantly cut. What it will take is a concerted, co-ordinated effort from the politicians and the industry.
At the extreme, a government could simply legislate away the problem by banning cars emitting more than a certain amount of CO2 per kilometre, but more reasonably, ministers should be imposing challenging carbon targets which the automotive manufacturers can achieve while still being able to sell cars. And this leads to a word of caution on price. It is not guaranteed that the greenest cars will be cheap to buy, even when produced in bulk, and in the short-term the benefits of lower running costs will only be seen by the wealthy who can afford to buy the greenest of models on the market in the first place.
Worth noting too that there was concern in Brighton about the plans to end the five-year 100% tax exemption on ultra-low carbon company cars from 2015, something which one delegate in the know said threatened to kill the green vehicle market stone dead given that it is fleet and commercial buyers who are key to the adoption of the newer technologies.
Road safety was another recurring theme, with the party members voting to pass a watered-down motion on 20mph zones. As originally put, the motion called for moves to make all residential areas mandatory 20mph zones over the next decade. An amendment meant that the final resolution backed a call for English councils to actively consider a move to the slower speed zones but without a Whitehall diktat.
A fringe meeting on younger drivers’ insurance painted a grim picture of death on the roads. There was unity amongst the speakers – including representatives from Brake, the ABI and Direct Line – that something had to be done, and there was similar agreement that graduated licenses would help. Though not his area of responsibility, Norman Baker said he had some sympathy for the idea.
There was less sympathy for black box telematic technology which would record an individual’s driving style and offer them discounts on their insurance premiums if they drove in a safer manner and stayed off the roads at the most dangerous times (e.g. at night).
Direct Line had been offering this sort of policy and found the take up very slight despite the insurance company offering to install the necessary equipment at its own expense.
Depressing news on road spending, particularly that associated with road maintenance. Several Lib Dem councillors reiterated the warning contained in an LGA report earlier this year that the financial demands of social care will swallow up ever increasing amounts of council budgets, to the detriment of just about everything else. The report makes sobering if extremely depressing reading.