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Decarbonising local transport

Transport accounted for 26% of the UK’s carbon emissions at the last count, in 2021, with 57% of that due to cars and taxis.

It is logical, then, that local authorities who need to cut carbon emissions must find ways to encourage wider use of public and active transport and a switch from diesel and petrol vehicles to electric ones. Reducing the number of vehicles in dense urban areas can also improve air quality, reduce congestion and enhance the quality of the urban realm.

A guide produced by the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2023 aimed to set out how local authorities could work out the impacts of transport policy on local carbon emissions and design their local transport plans (LTP) accordingly. However, as Highways magazine revealed last week, the document, Quantifiable Carbon Reduction Guidance, dated April 2023 was never published for consultation – although you can now read it on Highways’ website.

Quantifiable Carbon Reduction Guidance was written as a companion document to the DfT’s broader Local Transport Plan Guidance 2023, which was also never published. Both guides were meant to help local authorities meet The Transport Act 2020, which requires them to produce five-year LTPs, with quantifiable carbon reduction targets. These were due Spring 2024 – rather challenging without any new LTP guidance since 2009.

The DfT did not explain to Highways why the guidance was not published, when asked. But we could speculate on the reasons, given that the decision to sit on it came around the time that the Government started pulling back from its green commitments, fearing that they were unpopular with voters.

Running up to the Summer of 2023, some outer London residents were angered by the expansion of the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) and two conservative councils challenged its introduction in court. Soon after, prime minister Rishi Sunak pushed back the previously announced ban on the sale of diesel cars from 2030 to 2035.

The challenge for councils who want to cut carbon emissions from local transport is that they may come up against opposition from local people who fear the inconvenience and repercussions of limiting travel in private cars. It can also be difficult to make sure that the most vulnerable in society do not suffer the most adverse impacts during the transition away from fossil fuel. And then, of course, there is the thorny issue of funding changes.

Despite the lack of guidance, some local authorities are already creating transport plans that aim to cut carbon, with two-thirds planning to consult on their LTPs shortly and a few that have already done so. In Liverpool, where two-thirds of journeys are made in cars, the city council is hoping to coax drivers onto green bus routes and green corridors for walking and cycling. York also consulted at the end of last year on a new plan to boost active and public transport and reduce dependency on cars.

Meanwhile, for councils that would like guidance on how to produce LTPs which could reduce carbon emissions and congestion, Low Traffic Future has produced some guides (see link below). We shall have to wait until after the election to see whether the DfT’s guidance ever sees the light of day.



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