Worth the wait?

Transport Knowledge Hub logo Published on: 19th July 2021 by Paul Hirst.

We finally have a Transport Decarbonisation Plan! But is it worth the wait?

The UK government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan (the Plan) finally came out on 14 July. It’s been over a year in the making, delayed firstly by the COVID-19 pandemic impacting our travel patterns, then again at the last minute because the Transport Minister felt it was not ambitious enough.

There are some headline, eye-catching commitments such as to phase out all new non-zero emission HGVs by 2040 and for UK domestic aviation and airports to be decarbonised by 2040. There is talk of behaviour change and making active travel and public transport the natural first choice in urban areas.

And yet there is the dichotomy of wanting to kick start economic growth after COVID-19 but also reduce emissions from the highest-emitting sector of the economy. This means the Plan stops short of bold measures like road pricing or actively discouraging car use. In fact, Grant Shapps in his written statement to Parliament introducing the Plan said “[it] is not about stopping people doing things: it’s about doing the same things differently. We will still fly on holiday, but in more efficient aircraft, using sustainable fuel. We will still drive on improved roads, but increasingly in zero emission cars. We will still have new development, but it won’t force us into high-carbon lifestyles.” Can we really have our cake and eat it?

It is good to see that the Plan takes a holistic view of transport and keeps the six Strategic Priorities set out in the consultation last year (see Addleshaw Goddard’s summary of the consultation for more detail): Accelerating modal shift to public and active transport; Decarbonising Road Transport; Decarbonising how we get our goods (i.e. logistics); UK as a hub for green transport technology and innovation; Place-based solutions for emissions reduction; and Reducing carbon in a global economy. It doesn’t just look at the individual modes of transport in isolation but there is real acknowledgement in the Plan of how they all fit together.

It is also encouraging that that Plan takes account of what is happening in the energy sector. Decarbonising transport means switching the source of energy that powers transport vehicles, which impacts the demand for electricity and low or zero-carbon fuels such as hydrogen. The DfT have consulted with Ofgem the energy regulator to gauge the effects of electrifying cars and vans on the electricity network. The government is investing £950 million to upgrade electricity connections at motorway service areas so that private sector can invest in new chargepoints. Ofgem are consulting on changing the connection charges so they are socialised across energy bill payers, reducing the cost of connecting EV chargepoints to the network. The energy and transport sectors are coming together.

There is a lot of detail on decarbonising road transport in the Plan, which is no surprise since cars, taxis and vans make up 71% of transport emissions. There is a clear delivery plan to the 2035 phase out date, with a list of commitments and how progress will be monitored. There will be an EV Infrastructure Strategy this year, plus regulations to improve the consumer experience at public chargepoints; to ensure all private chargepoints have smart charging capability; and to mandate the installation of EV chargepoints in new homes.

There is a surprising amount in the Plan about rail which is welcome although it only contributes 1.4% of transport emissions. Finally we have a commitment to deliver an ambitious, sustainable, and cost-effective programme of electrification guided by Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy. The Rail Environment Policy Statement published alongside the Plan gives direction for the rail industry and outlines policy priorities for the Sustainable Rail Strategy to be published next year. This includes setting targets for renewable energy generation and use at stations; again showing the convergence of the energy and transport sectors.

Finally local and regional bodies will play a key role in delivering decarbonisation through places. Sustainable transport needs to be part of the planning process. There isn’t any new funding for local transport systems but there will be a Local Authority Toolkit later this year to give guidance on: changing behaviours; reducing the need to travel; ULEZ charging schemes; and decarbonising the vehicle fleet.

Overall, whilst there is a long way to go with key decisions still to be made particularly in relation to funding, the Plan sets out a strong set of goals which span the sector which if delivered would put the industry, and the country as a whole, in a good place to deliver its decarbonisation targets. The fact remains though that, ultimately, there will need to be considerable investment from both the public and the private sector to achieve its goals and significant focus by the public and private sectors across Transport and Energy markets on the many consultations that will follow over the coming months. Worth the wait – well, perhaps not surprisingly this marathon has a fair way to run but the Plan has made the path at least that much clearer.


For more information about Addleshaw Goddard’s transport sector work, please visit https://www.addleshawgoddard.com/en/sectors/transport/ 

About the Author

This post was written by Paul Hirst. Paul is a Partner and the Head of Transport at Addleshaw Goddard. With over 20 years' experience, he is rated as one of the UK's top transport lawyers with an unrivalled breadth of expertise across the sector. He is Chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership's Transport and Connectivity Committee and a member of the Expert Advisory Board for the Institute of Transport Studies.