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It was all (well, half) change at the Department for Transport yesterday as two new ministers made their debuts on the four-person team. Oh, and Labour also took the opportunity of a ‘spare’ day before Parliament returns to make a few changes to its shadow ministerial team, including replacing its shadow transport secretary.
So, who exactly has been given what job, and what might these changes imply for the future direction of transport policy?
Interestingly, both of the new ministers at the DfT have already got ‘form’ on transport. The new Conservative on the team, Robert Goodwill MP, for example, spent 18 months on the House of Commons transport select committee after being elected to Parliament in 2005, before being appointed shadow roads minister in the Conservative’s transport team in 2007. He has also been an enthusiastic and committed member of the All Party Motor Group. His appointment is therefore probably goods news for those who advocate sensible investment to upgrade the nation’s roads infrastructure, although it is worth pointing out both that the minister Goodwill is replacing (in terms of party colour), Simon Burns (who quit last week to stand for the role of deputy speaker), was also notably pro-roads, and that Goodwill’s ministerial portfolio does not include the strategic roads brief (which remains with his colleague Stephen Hammond).
Rather more significant, potentially, therefore, could be the arrival of Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Susan Kramer (who was the Lib Dems’ shadow transport secretary in two brief bursts between 2007 and 2009) to replace the outgoing Lib Dem, Norman Baker, who has been promoted from parliamentary under-secretary at the DfT to minister of state at the Home Office (much to the chagrin of Home Secretary Theresa May, allegedly). Baker was notably keen on sustainable travel and was sometimes labelled by the media as “the minister for cycling”, despite the fact that his brief was considerably wider than that. Kramer, for her part, has a career outside Parliament helping to run a company that advises on large infrastructure projects, which implies that she might be less averse than Baker to spending significant sums of money on major schemes to boost road and rail infrastructure. Which is not to suggest, however, that she is ‘pro-everything’. For example, she was initially strongly in favour of the HS1 high-speed rail link but subsequently spoke out against the Government’s decision to terminate the line at St Pancras station, rather than at Waterloo, where Eurostar trains terminated before the high-speed line was completed. In other areas, she has been a strong proponent of Crossrail, but has been an equally vocal opponent of expansion at Heathrow Airport (as is traditional for Richmond MPs). Her current support (or otherwise) for the planned HS2 high-speed rail link does not appear to be publicly known – whether she backs it because she is comfortable with very large infrastructure projects or comes down against it because a major programme if transport investment that didn’t involve high-speed rail would arguably be far better value for money – will likely be the most interesting aspect of her arrival at the DfT, especially as it seems likely that managing HS2 will be part of her ministerial brief when it is announced.
Outside of government, meanwhile, Labour has made a straight switch, replacing Maria Eagle MP as shadow transport secretary with Mary Creagh MP. This immediately led to a raft of speculation in the media that Eagle had been moved sideways due to her strong support for HS2, implying that Labour is seriously considering dropping its support for the scheme. No actual evidence has yet emerged to support this view, however.
The best known fact about her replacement as shadow transport secretary, who was previously Labour’s shadow minister at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is that she is a very keen cyclist. Whether this implies that she is inherently opposed to large scale road building projects is not yet known, but Creagh has publicly supported HS2 in the past.

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Enjoy it while you can. Believe it or not Britain’s roads have been getting quieter over the past few years, not least because of the economic downturn. The volume of traffic peaked at 314 billion vehicle miles per annum in 2007 and has since slid to 303 billion miles (2010 figure) – the lowest level since 2003.

But the latest official prediction – slipped out by the Department for Transport earlier this year with no great fanfare – suggests the recent drop is a mere blip and that growth will soon be resumed. The recently published National Transport Model Road Forecasts 2011 concludes that:

1)    By 2035 road traffic will be 44% higher than in 2010

2)    Despite the increase in traffic, CO2 emissions are set to decline by 9% from 2010 levels because of improvements in the fuel efficiency of the car fleet and the use of biofuels.

The DfT also looked at high and low travel demand scenarios. Under the former traffic could increase by as much as 55% by 2035, while even in the latter case the number of miles travelled would go up by 34%.

Much of the projected growth in traffic can be put down to population growth (though the demographic profile of the population is also important – older people tend not to drive as much as younger people). However the forecast dismisses the notion that individuals have reached a limit in their demand to travel by car. It foresees a time post-recession when car demand per person will again rise at around 1.2% per annum between 2015 and 2025 (a rate similar to the 1990s) and for the ten years after the growth will still be positive but will fall to an annual average of 0.5%. In the confines of Whitehall, therefore, the notion that we have reached ‘peak car’ is fanciful.

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