MPs back cumulative impact assessment for transport projects

1st September 2016


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  • Mitigation ,
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  • Transport

Author

Ian Hill

The transport department (DfT) should consider the environmental impact of projects together to improve its performance on sustainability, a cross-party group of MPs has said.

The recommendation came in the latest report from the Environmental Audit Committee, which scrutinised the department’s record on sustainability.

MPs on the committee noted the findings of National Audit Office (NAO), which considered the DfT’s sustainability performance earlier this year. In its report, the NAO praised the department’s approach to analysing the environmental impact of transport schemes and highlighted its appraisal system, which helps to identify opportunities to improve the environment and to allocate funding.

However, the NAO flagged up concerns from within the department and external organisations over the clarity of assessments of impacts and opportunities across projects.

The DfT claimed that the total impacts of schemes were considered, including environmental issues such as carbon dioxide emissions, air quality pollutants and noise.

But the NAO found the approach did not include all impacts, particularly those that are hard to define in monetary terms, such as biodiversity and landscape. This is particularly important where impacts cannot be fully mitigated, such as the destruction of ancient woodlands, it pointed out.

The EAC believes that the structure of the DfT, which is divided according to transport mode, may provide an explanation as to why cumulative impacts are not considered by default. It cites the NAO finding that the DfT typically chooses options in one sector when selecting projects to support, rather than between modes of transport or solutions combining a number of small schemes.

The committee’s report states: ‘If decisions on the environmental impact of individual projects are made in isolation across multiple projects, they may lead to an aggregate impact that cannot be fully mitigated.

‘The department could do more to assess in detail the full cumulative impact across its transport projects so that particular implications for assets such as ancient woodland, which cannot be easily or instantly offset through new planting.’

It recommends that the DfT carries out detailed cumulative impact assessment of all its projects, including impacts on biodiversity and landscape.

The committee also wants the DfT to produce a clear strategy on sustainable transport, setting out its commitments, timetable and how progress will be monitored.

The MPs said the DfT’s plan does not adequately communicate to the transport sector what outcomes the department envisages from the commitments it has made, and its annual report includes little indication of its progress in meeting existing commitments.

This makes it difficult for the transport sector to plan and invest with certainty, and for parliament and others to hold the DfT’s to account on its performance, they added.

The DfT should also identify its target market share for ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV) up to 2020. The MPs describe the current target of 3–7% as too vague and note that the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has advised that 9% of vehicles should in the UK be ULEV by 2020. They also said the DfT needs to spell out its medium-term ULEV target to 2030, including proposals on increasing uptake of such vehicles, including its plans for company car tax and vehicle excise duty.

Committee chair Mary Creagh said that local authorities had a range of innovative ideas to drive an increase in ULEVs, such as supporting electric and low-emission fleet procurement by underwriting risk and helping workplaces invest in charging points. But the government needed to do more to encourage consumers to buy ULEVs, she said.

‘The government needs to give manufacturers such as Nissan, Honda, LTC, and Toyota, a reason to choose their UK car factories in places like Sunderland, Swindon, Coventry, and Derby to manufacture the next generation of low emission vehicles,’ she said.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • The DfT should set out in the forthcoming carbon reduction plan how it intends to make up for the shortfall in decarbonisation from the sector, which is currently projected to miss its target by almost 50%, according to the CCC. The government should retain the EU renewable energy target in UK law following Brexit, and set out how it intends to work with other departments to meet the transport sub-target.
  • The DfT should also retain EU air quality targets and work with the departments of health, communities and local government and environment, as well as the Treasury to ensure that the price of air pollution is accurately reflected in its project appraisal tool.
  • The transport secretary should investigate VW for its use of cheat devices in vehicle emissions tests and consider legal action.

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