February 2019: Victory! Carbon reduction pathway included in the adopted TfN strategy

Anthony Rae 14th February 2019 writes:  In the other articles on our homepage you’ll see lots of activity in Spring 2018, where the sophisticated analysis by northern transport campaigners as their contribution to the consultation on the first draft of Transport for the North’s (TfN) strategic transport plan (STP) was presented in its full breadth. We contributed important dissections and critiques of its economic growth scenarios, spatial distribution effects, traffic demand scenarios … and, yes, on 4th March an examination of the question: ‘Does the draft TfN strategy pass the crucial ‘carbon test’ (And see also 9th March’s ‘TfN’s transport strategy recklessly encourages aviation carbon growth’).

Then there’s a gap until early September, when you’ll find ‘Transport for the North’s ‘Carbon Shame’?-Factcheck’. From that you can download a short briefing which you will see was addressed to members of the TfN board – mostly the leaders of the TfN area’s councils. This marked the point at which – and I’m skipping over 6 months of detailed and constructive interaction on our part – we realised we had failed to make TfN officers understand that the approach to managing, constraining and reducing the strategy’s carbon impacts into the future and particularly up to 2030 was completely inadequate.

We needed to elevate our level of engagement and so decided to write to the chair of the TfN board, John Cridland. Why? Because right from the start (January 2017) when we carefully examined some of the clauses within section 102I of the otherwise obscure Cities & Local Government Devolution Act 2016 – and particularly subsections 8 and 10 – we realised they seemed to provide powerful tools to shape the prospective strategy and its subsequent programmes (you can find those clauses on pages 34-5pdf.) The four parts of subsection 8 set a series of tests that the emerging STP would have to pass before it could be lawfully adopted; the statute said that the STP ‘must have regard to’ them. By September 2018 we still didn’t feel that the tests for 8 b-d) had necessarily been passed – either individually or in interaction – and therefore we felt it our responsibility to advise members of the board that in that situation adoption might be legally unsafe.

Now fast forward to the headline of this article. It tells you that, somewhat improbably, that we won that argument. To pick up the story from September, read my article published in Local Transport Today on 15th February: ‘If climate change targets can be enforced in the North, then why not everywhere?’ In our September correspondence we had suggested to TfN that they needed to commission an independent carbon review to provide them with the evidence about the strategy’s carbon impacts should they face legal challenge. They did that, and when we finally got to see it in January 2019 – it’s here; undertaken excellently by Atkins – it completely vindicated our analysis. The Carbon Review recommended that emissions reduction objectives be set for all modes of transport (including aviation) and that TfN needed to prepare a reduction pathway compliant with the carbon budgets and recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

Consequently in the last 3 months before its adoption on 7th February the STP had to be revised to include the preparation of that ‘Pathway to 2050’, and with a strong emphasis on reduction activity in the 2020s, consistent with the CCC recommendation that UK surface transport emissions needed to be reduced by 46% by 2030. The Strategic Transport Plan can be downloaded here; the pathway section is on page 40pdf.

My LTT article reflects on what are the wider implications across the English regions of TfN accepting that they needed to include a transport carbon reduction pathway for the entire North of England with a 15m population, and we’ll come back to that most important issue shortly in another article. For the moment let’s just pay tribute to the determined efforts of our group of volunteer transport and carbon campaigners from across the North – who were absolutely insistent that the question of the carbon impacts of this key new regional strategy, otherwise focused so strongly on economic growth, had to be responded to within the framework set by the Climate Change Act, instead of ignoring it as was originally the intention. In turn the campaigners are grateful to those members of the TfN Board who took our concerns seriously, and in particular Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, whose pioneering Springboard strategy (2018) points the way forward.

And let’s offer thanks to the anonymous parliamentary draughtsman who, when it came to penning subsection 8b, didn’t propose that such STPs simply should ‘have regard to the environmental impacts of the strategy’, but instead ‘must have regard to the environmental impacts of the implementation of the proposals contained in the strategy’ because it was that wording – as you can read in my LTT article – that allowed us essentially to require that a CCC-compliant carbon reduction pathway had to be included to make Transport for the North’s new strategy lawful.

For further information about this story please contact info@transportnorth.org.uk