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The political profile of transport as a policy area has increased since 2010, in large part due to the coincidence of decisions (taken or still being discussed) on a number of big infrastructure projects. These included High Speed 2; the ongoing lack of a decision over a new airport runway in the South East of England; the ‘London 2012’ effect on cycling; and the knock-on impacts of cuts to central and local government budgets, particularly affecting local transport such as buses.

In 2010 there was broad agreement across the main parties on many aspects of transport policy. Only on airport expansion did views diverge significantly. Going into the 2015 election, however, manifesto commitments were much more diverse, particularly as regards the involvement of the state (in one guise or another) in running public transport. Labour and the Greens (especially) both supported more public ownership and operation of buses and trains than did the Conservatives, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats. While all parties agreed that more transport powers should be exercised ‘closer to the passenger/commuter/individual’ there was no real consensus on whether revenue raising powers should be devolved at the same time.

Also of more public interest in this election has been the prominence of the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales. Likely transport changes in those countries were largely set out by the Smith and Silk commissions respectively, before the election, though the SNP may push for further devolution now they have a sizeable Commons presence.

This paper provides an overview of the transport commitments given by the main political parties in the run up to the 2015 General Election; a broad summary of transport trends over the course of the 2010 Parliament; and looks at some of the possible transport ‘hot spots’ post-2015, specifically devolution; local bus services; cycling provision; rail franchising; and airport expansion.

The big decisions facing the new Conservative Government are about whether and where to make further spending cuts; whether to give the go ahead to transport schemes such as Crossrail 2 and High Speed 3; how to keep costs down for bus and rail passengers; how to ensure that train services improve; and whether to approve any planning application for a new or extended runway at Heathrow or Gatwick. It will also have to honour commitments made prior to the election about devolving more power to Scotland and Wales and deal with the ‘English question’ insofar as it relates to the devolution of transport powers and budgets. Finally, it will have to have an eye to the long term – on healthy, liveable cities and sustainable, green transport including automated and carbon-free private cars.

Their policies may even have to reach much, much further than that. If entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk have their way, human commercial spaceflight might not be as far off as we imagine, and perhaps we might all one day be sharing Musk’s vision of a rocket re-fuelling station on Mars…

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