Local leaders – what they need to deliver transport decarbonisation

Transport Knowledge Hub logo Published on: 21st September 2021 by Kamal Panchal.

The first page of the ‘place’ chapter in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan states “With strong local leadership and ambition these benefits [from greening transport] will be felt by everyone, everywhere. The government will continue to support such an approach through policy, regulation and guidance, and by encouraging strategic coordination and sharing of best practice across authority boundaries.”

These are very encouraging words, but what will they actually mean and how will they translate into meaningful support for local leaders? How will all councils be effective partners of government in delivering a greener transport revolution? For me there are several key steps we need to see.

Firstly, there are two important words missing from the above statement: political support. Over the coming years there are going to be a huge number of schemes that will require reallocation of road space – schemes supporting cycling, e-cycling and e-scooting, walking, and bus prioritisation, but also on-street EV chargepoints.

But this doesn’t just happen – it requires local leaders to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions. It is not easy for them and it’s unfair on them to shoulder the responsibility on their own. We need ministers and MPs to give consistent public encouragement and backing to local initiatives and plans, and recognition that these decisions are difficult – and not blowing hot on road reallocation one moment then cold the next.

Secondly, we need to get better at incentivising modal shift. Currently the incentives for ‘motor shift’ from internal combustion to electric are larger than those for modal shift. And this will push up driving, congestion and car ownership, as DfT scenarios have shown, and undermine any attempts to increase active travel. Purchasers of an EV are offered up-front grants and much lower overall motoring taxes compared to petrol or diesel owners. But anyone tempted to give up a car or a young person thinking of buying one has no similar reward or incentive for supporting even greater decarbonisation, increasing the viability of public transport and reducing the controversy of road reallocation by giving up or foregoing a car. Plans for e-bike grant scheme are still developing slowly while hundreds of millions of pounds in EV subsidies and billions in foregone fuel duty are going to car drivers on congested roads.

Thirdly, we really need to sort out resourcing for councils. It is not just a matter of how much but how it is given that will determine how ambitious and effective councils can be at decarbonising local transport systems. It is currently too fragmented and short-term in nature, and overly skewed to capital. By providing reliable, flexible, devolved long term funding to all areas will enable local authorities everywhere to develop in-house resources and skills to devise and deliver more complex, ambitious and effective decarbonisation strategies. That’s the government’s rationale for giving metro mayors their second five-year transport funding pot, and it’s no less true for councils.

Fourthly, councils need clarity and greater support in their role in delivering the future EV charging infrastructure that will be needed. There is too much fixation on on-street EV chargepoints and OZEV and Government need to be supporting councils to explore alternative provision for those without off-street parking.

We hope many of these issues will be addressed in further plans and guidance promised in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan. An EV charging infrastructure guide and local transport decarbonisation toolkit for local authorities are expected soon.

The On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme is a perfect example of the drawbacks to government making policy for councils rather than with councils. Slowly and painfully the scheme has changed to better accommodate how councils work and the constraints they face rather than ministers or officials would like them to.

The Transport Decarbonisation Plan, and its focus on place, is a fantastic start to the partnership that will be needed to hit Net Zero and the UK to play its part in limiting the effects of climate change.  Local government has now begun to clearly set out what it needs from central government in terms of political support, policies and funding to deliver the Transport Decarbonisation Plan as partners. The Spending Review will be the first place to see if central government is listening.

About the Author

This post was written by Kamal Panchal. Kamal is a Senior Adviser at the Local Government Association (LGA). He is an observer on the Greener Transport Council and the views expressed in this article are his personal views and not necessarily the same as the LGA.