On 25 April 2024, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate the following motion:

Lord Snape (Labour) to move that this House takes note of the case for a coherent plan to address the failings of the transport system.

1. Importance of the transport system

The government has described transport as “not just how you get around”.[1] It has said that the effects of transport are felt much more widely:

It is something that fundamentally shapes our towns, our cities, our countryside, our living standards, our health, and our whole quality of life. It can shape all these things for good—or for bad.[2]

The government has said the national road and rail networks in England provide “critical long-distance links between places, offering fast and reliable journey times and in doing so enable connectivity between people and communities”. These national networks are important because transport:[3]

  • supports and stimulates economic growth
  • helps businesses get better access to skills
  • increases the “economic density” of an area and leads to improved productivity
  • helps the development of new communities
  • facilitates passenger, business and leisure journeys across the country, and supports tourism
  • connects infrastructure including ports and airports to people and markets
  • enables the effective movement of goods and freight across the country and for import and export

The government has also said that:[4]

  • improved connectivity and accessibility facilitates deeper labour markets and helps individuals access jobs and education
  • well-functioning networks allow people and goods to flow more freely and reduces direct costs to individuals and businesses.

Other organisations have also talked about the importance of transport. The Centre for Cities has similarly argued that transport is essential for growth in cities and can benefit people, businesses, the environment, and the overall economy. It can:

  • help people access jobs
  • support innovation, productivity and economic growth in cities and the national economy
  • help shape greener and healthier places
  • help cities attract new firms
  • unlock new development sites for business and housing[5]

However, concern has been expressed by some about the adequacy of England’s transport systems, particularly outside London. For example, in its report on public transport in towns and cities, the House of Lords Built Environment Committee concluded that people in urban areas of England outside London had missed out on the benefits gained from access to “regular, reliable and high quality” public transport.[6] The committee said that the government had committed to addressing this issue but expressed concern about the uncertain economic environment and the fact that the government did not pursue its transport bill:

[…] the country is in a period of severe budgetary uncertainty, with cuts to public spending, the abandonment of the proposed Transport Bill, uncertainty about passenger numbers in the wake of the pandemic, and competing demands for investment.[7]

The government announced a transport bill as part of the May 2022 Queen’s Speech. The bill was not introduced.[8] The 2023 King’s Speech announced a draft Rail Reform Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. See section 2.5.3 for further information. The government also announced the Automated Vehicles Bill [HL] and the Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL].[9]

The Centre for Cities has also said that “poor” urban transport made UK cities effectively smaller than European ones, “which hinders access to employment and education, and costs the UK more than £23bn per year in lost economic activity”.[10] It said that in large European cities “almost seven in ten people can reach their city centre in less than 30 minutes, compared to just four in ten in UK cities outside London”.

Others have argued that England’s approach to transport should be guided by a national transport strategy. The Institution of Civil Engineers has argued that “England’s current fragmented system of responsibilities makes it difficult to ensure transport planning and investment is linked to delivering wider societal benefits”.[11] It said that a national transport strategy would draw together existing strategies into a coherent framework:

A national transport strategy for England should be developed to set out an overarching vision of a sustainable transport network.

This should establish a ‘golden thread’ of desired outcomes across modes and levels of government by drawing together the existing array of strategies into a coherent framework and identifying and addressing policy gaps and areas of need.[12]

The House of Commons Transport Committee launched an inquiry into the government’s strategic objectives for transport in June 2023.[13] The inquiry is examining “how effectively the government works across departments to set strategic transport objectives, and how these objectives do—or should—influence decisions on investment in services, networks and infrastructure”. The committee said it would look at the degree to which the government took a “long-term, national and multi-modal” approach to assessing the country’s transport needs. It would also “assess what difference the adoption of clear, national strategic objectives for transport could make”. The committee has held a number of oral evidence sessions and published written evidence it has received on its website.[14] It has not yet published its report.

Section 2 of this briefing provides an overview of the government’s existing transport strategies and plans, with a focus on roads and rail. There are a wide range of topics within transport and section 2 of this briefing is not exhaustive.

2. Overview of government transport policies

The Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto set out that the party wanted to “level up” the UK. The manifesto said a key part of the party’s plan in this regard was to connect the UK’s cities and regions together. It made a number of commitments relating to transport.[15]

The government published a command paper on levelling up in February 2022.[16] Transport infrastructure was one of the focus areas for levelling up, with the following mission:

By 2030, local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.[17]

The government said that there was “significant variation” in the quality of transport across the UK, with implications for economic and social outcomes.[18] It said that some the largest cities could not densify their city centres and make jobs accessible within commuting distances because they lacked high quality public transport systems. This lowered productivity and contributed to congestion. The government argued that smaller cities, towns and villages also required good public transport “and high-quality local roads to ensure everyday journeys are safe and quick”. The levelling up command paper set out the government’s approach to these issues in section 3.2.3, but the measures included exploring “devolving more transport powers and responsibilities in England”:

In MCA [mayoral combined authority] areas, the UK government will provide new powers of direction to increase mayors’ control over key route networks. The UK government will also explore transferring control of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing to both combined authorities and upper-tier authorities. Taxis and private hire vehicles are a key part of local transport systems, so this would allow LTAs [local transport authorities] to fully integrate these modes into their local transport plans.

As set out in the national bus strategy, in line with previous devolution of bus funding to Transport for London and Transport for Greater Manchester, the UK government will work to devolve the bus service operators grant, including once it has been reformed, to MCAs and other LTAs that request it. Devolving this funding further empowers LTAs to drive improvements in local bus services.[19]

The government also has transport policies which form part of larger programmes. The government’s future of transport programme was part of the UK’s industrial strategy, which was launched in 2017 under Theresa May.[20] The government website states that since the industrial strategy was published the business and economic environment in the UK has changed, therefore the government was “transitioning the industrial strategy into our plan for growth and its related strategies”.[21] The future of transport programme’s main aims are to:

  • stimulate innovation in the transport sector
  • create new transport markets
  • secure a 21st-century transport system
  • secure the UK’s position as a world-leading innovator, decarbonising the transport system for the benefit of all society[22]

Recent documents published on the programme’s webpage include the Department for Transport’s report ‘Future of transport: Supporting rural transport innovation’ and the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles’ ‘Consultation outcome: Future of transport regulatory review—zero emission vehicles’.

This section provides an overview of recent government transport-related strategies and policies. There are a wide range of topics within transport and this section is not exhaustive. It focuses on overarching government strategies and those specifically relating to roads and rail.

2.1 Union connectivity review

In June 2020, the government announced a review into the connectivity between the nations of the UK.[23] The union connectivity review was independently chaired by Sir Peter Hendy and published its final report in November 2021.[24] In his foreword to the final report, Sir Peter referred to the government’s levelling-up policies in relation to the review:

Transport connectivity is vital to economic growth, job creation, building houses and social cohesion. Building back better and levelling up will be hugely assisted by better connectivity between the nations of the United Kingdom, which is why the prime minister asked me to review the UK’s transport connectivity a year ago.[25]

The review made recommendations specifically in relation to connectivity to, from and via Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also recommended that the government should:

  • design and implement UKNET—a strategic transport network for the whole of the United Kingdom, and commit funding to improve the network, in particular, the parts that are not performing well
  • plan improvements to the network using multimodal corridors, which should be reviewed regularly and appraised on a wider economic basis in order to support government objectives such as levelling up and net zero
  • gather data on a UK-wide basis to support decision making relating to the network[26]

The government published its response to the review in a written statement on 7 December 2023.[27] The government said it had developed a programme of priority actions in response to the review to “drive forward important work identified by Lord Hendy”. The response set out the government’s priority actions, which it said included but moved beyond its network north commitments.[28] These priority actions were presented for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and across the UK. These included:

  • For Wales Providing an unprecedented £1bn investment to fund the electrification of the North Wales Main Line, bringing parts of North Wales within an hour of Manchester and bringing more punctual and reliable journeys on the 105-mile route between Crewe and Holyhead, with connections to Liverpool, Warrington, and Wrexham.
  • For Scotland Committing funding to deliver targeted improvements to the A75 between Gretna and Stranraer, starting with providing £8mn to the Scottish government to support their business case development.
  • For Northern Ireland Providing £3.3mn to Translink to deliver a study on the cost, feasibility and value for money of electrification of the railway in Northern Ireland from Belfast to border.
  • Across the UK. Reforming domestic aviation policy by changing public service obligation (PSO) policy to allow PSOs to operate to and from different regions of the UK, rather than just to and from London as is currently the case.

2.2 National networks national policy statement

The government laid a revised national networks national policy statement (NNNPS) before Parliament on 6 March 2024.[29] The NNNPS provides planning guidance for nationally significant road, rail and strategic interchange projects. The NNNPS’s geographic scope is limited to England because in Scotland and Northern Ireland planning for national network projects is devolved.[30]

A draft of the revised NNNPS was the subject of a public consultation between March and June 2023.[31] The consultation said that the NNNPS needed to be reviewed to ensure it remained fit for purpose in supporting the government’s “commitments for appropriate development of infrastructure for strategic road, rail and rail freight interchanges”. The previous NNNPS was designated in 2015.

The NNNPS is a national policy statement designated under the Planning Act 2008 and as such it sets out the need for infrastructure and the impacts that a proposed development must address.[32]

The NNNPS sets out:

  • the need for development of nationally significant road, rail and strategic rail freight interchange projects
  • how applications for national network projects will be assessed[33]

Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper has said that there are a number of challenges which may lead to a requirement to develop national networks further through infrastructure interventions, including:[34]

  • a need to maintain the performance of networks and meet user needs
  • supporting economic growth
  • resilience and adaptation to climate change
  • supporting the government’s environment and net zero commitments
  • maintaining and enhancing safety

In its response to the consultation on the draft NNNPS, the government said that the NNNPS was not about making new policy but about providing guidance on established government policy:

The NNNPS’s purpose and function is to provide guidance and clarity about existing government policy to support and inform decisions about applications for the development of NSIPs [nationally significant infrastructure projects] on the road and rail networks and SRFIs [strategic rail freight interchanges]. The NNNPS is not a vehicle for setting out a new transport strategy. Wider questions concerning the overarching transport strategy are therefore beyond the scope of this consultation.[35]

The government’s consultation on the NNNPS received 186 responses. Whilst these were made in response to the NNNPS consultation itself, the government argued that they often related to wider aspects of government transport policy. The government’s summary of these responses provides insight into commentary and criticism of the government’s transport policies in more general terms. For example, on environmental concerns:

  • [There were] calls for an overarching transport strategy that is focused on meeting net zero and environmental goals. Respondents wanted the draft NNNPS to have a presumption against road building and instead focus on road maintenance and investment in alternatives to private cars. There were calls for an increased focus on modal shift, and the need to direct future transport investment to improving public transport and active travel networks. A few respondents raised that there needs to be greater investment in passenger rail and rail freight if growth targets and environmental goals are to be met.[36]

The government also reflected respondent views on road use and road expansion:

  • Some respondents felt there was too much focus on congestion in the draft NNNPS and that this supported road expansion and induced demand rather than maintenance of the road network. Respondents argued that road building has negative environmental and public health consequences and suggested that it didn’t reduce congestion, contribute to economic growth or improve safety. Many respondents felt that the draft NNNPS should have a greater focus on strengthening environmental commitments.
  • [There were] calls for greater consideration of alternatives to road building in meeting travel demand, drawing on evidence and taking into account an evaluation of multi modal options. Some respondents also commented on the relative lengths of text on road development in the draft NNNPS compared to rail development, and queried whether this suggested a preference towards road development.[37]

The government said that it noted concerns about building more roads. However, it argued that the strategic road network (SRN) played a vital part in economic growth:

The government is determined to maintain a top-quality strategic road network because of the vital role it plays in growing our economy and delivering long-term prosperity. The revised NNNPS recognises that there may be a range of interventions beyond building new capacity that would be suitable in addressing the challenges that have been identified and, at paragraph 3.42, it sets out some examples of what these other interventions might be. However, it is often not possible to identify viable technology solutions, public transport or local alternatives because the [SRN] is used for driving long distances. The revised NNNPS concludes that other interventions may not be sufficient and therefore infrastructure development may still be required.[38]

In regard to increased capacity leading to induced demand,[39] the government said:

On induced demand, evidence suggests that the impacts of induced demand vary depending on circumstances but is likely to have only a very marginal effect on overall traffic demand (and is taken into account as part of scheme modelling and appraisal). We have updated the sentence in the NNNPS to state more clearly that induced demand is likely to be higher for urban schemes.[40]

On the argument that the government needed to reduce car use to achieve net zero, the government said “it is not the policy of government to reduce demand for travel”. It cited the use of travel to access jobs, education, health, shopping, recreation, friends and family. It said emissions related to road transport were being addressed through its transport decarbonisation plan.[41]

To be designated as a national policy statement under section 5 of the Planning Act 2008, a statement has to meet certain requirements, including parliamentary scrutiny. The House of Commons debated the NNNPS on 26 March 2024.[42] In opening the debate, the minister for roads and local transport at the Department for Transport, Guy Opperman, said that it was “right that we provide a planning policy framework that enables us to deliver projects and investment as quickly as possible”.[43] He said that the NNNPS did this. He referred to government investment in road and rail:

[…] we have invested £24bn in the country’s most important roads through the second road investment strategy, and are committed to the next five-year plan for maintaining and enhancing the network. In network north, we have recognised the importance of local road infrastructure by providing major increases in funding for the major network programme, with some £900mn extra in the Midlands and £1.4bn extra in the North to support regional connectivity and growth.

Our railways are a vital part of the country’s transport infrastructure, and well-targeted rail investments play a crucial role in growing the economy and meeting the connectivity needs of customers and businesses. We also want to ensure that we support freight in all its forms. Freight trains carry goods worth over £30bn per year across a range of different commodities—specifically, supporting construction and intermodal flows, which can include customers’ goods.[44]

Responding for the Labour Party, Bill Esterson, shadow minister for transport, was critical of the government’s approach to net zero and transport planning:

It is not good enough that it took nine years for net zero to finally be integrated into the NNNPS. Since 2015, we have moved backwards on net zero. Just look at the prime minister’s delaying of the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans.[45]

Mr Esterson also argued that the government’s decision to cancel phase 2 of high speed 2 (HS2) had implications for emissions because it impacted the number of freight trains that could run:

Then there is the mess he made of HS2. The irony and symbolism of where he made the announcement is lost on no one: a disused railway station at the end of the proposed line. Everyone recognises the impact of the decision on net zero. […]

Freight trains have 76% fewer emissions than the equivalent road transport capacity, but because of the prime minister’s chaotic decision making, half a million more lorry journeys will add to the clogging up of our roads every year by carrying freight that could have been delivered by rail.[46]

He also made reference to planning delays and said that “the planning process has already become cumbersome and slow under this government, with the time taken to grant development consent orders increasing by 65% since 2012, to more than four years”.[47]

On the minister’s reference to network north, Mr Esterson said “I remind him that 85% of its projects are reannouncements”.[48] He said “much of the investment is not even in the North […] in fact, some of it includes filling potholes in London”.

On Mr Esterson’s comments about rail freight, Guy Opperman said that the government had announced support for rail freight and announced a rail freight growth target in December 2023.[49] On 20 December 2023, the government set a target to grow rail freight by at least 75% by 2050.[50]

The House of Commons Library published a briefing to support the debate on the NNNPS in the House of Commons, ‘Debate on a motion relating to the national policy statement for national networks’ (25 March 2024).

The House of Commons Transport Committee published a report on the draft revised NNNPS in October 2023.[51] The government responded to the committee in March 2024.[52]

2.3 Transport decarbonisation plan

The government’s transport decarbonisation plan was published in July 2021.[53] In his foreword to the plan, the then secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps, said he believed that the “struggle for decarbonised transport, clean development and clean air is as important as the struggle for clean water was in the 19th century”.

The transport decarbonisation plan contained commitments for decarbonising all forms of transport, including:

  • Increasing cycling and walking. “We will deliver the prime minister’s bold vision for cycling and walking investing £2bn over five years with the aim that half of all journeys in towns and cities will be cycled or walked by 2030”.[54]
  • Zero emission buses and coaches. “We will deliver the national bus strategy’s vision of a transformed bus industry and a green bus revolution”.[55]
  • Decarbonising our railways. “We will deliver a net zero railway network by 2050, with sustained carbon reductions in rail along the way. Our ambition is to remove all diesel-only trains (passenger and freight) from the network by 2040”.
  • A zero-emission fleet of cars, vans, motorcycles, and scooters. “We will consult on regulatory options, including zero emission vehicle mandates, to deliver petrol and diesel phase out dates for new vehicles”.
  • Accelerating maritime decarbonisation. “We will plot a course to net zero for the UK domestic maritime sector, with indicative targets from 2030 and net zero as early as is feasible”.
  • Accelerating aviation decarbonisation. “We will consult on our jet zero strategy, which will set out the steps we will take to reach net zero aviation emissions by 2050”.[56]

Commitments on multi-modal decarbonisation and key enablers included:

  • Delivering a zero-emission freight and logistics sector. “We will support and encourage modal shift of freight from road to more sustainable alternatives, such as rail, cargo bike and inland waterways”.
  • Delivering decarbonisation through places. “We will support decarbonisation by investing more than £12bn in local transport systems over the current parliament, enabling local authorities to invest in local priorities—including those related to decarbonisation such as reducing congestion and improving air quality”.
  • Maximising the benefits of sustainable low carbon fuels. “We will seek to maximise the use of low carbon fuel in aviation and maritime as detailed in other relevant commitments elsewhere in this plan”.
  • Hydrogen’s role in a decarbonised transport system. “The UK government will publish an overarching hydrogen strategy in summer 2021, which will focus on the increased production of hydrogen and use across the economy, including for transport”.[57]
  • Future transport—more choice, better efficiency. “We will publish guidance for local authorities on support for shared car ownership and shared occupancy schemes and services”.
  • Supporting UK research and development as a decarbonisation enabler. “We will coordinate transport’s investment in R&D, collaborating with key stakeholders through our transport research and innovation board (TRIB)”.

A one-year-on review was published in July 2022.[58] In her foreword to the review, the then minister of state for transport, Trudy Harrison, said that the government had “made huge progress” and had already delivered many of the decarbonisation plan’s commitments.

In answer to a written question this year about which commitments in the plan had been completed or abandoned, the government said that over a third of them had been delivered or exceeded within three years:

The government’s 2021 transport decarbonisation plan (TDP) set out 78 commitments to support decarbonisation of the UK’s transport system by 2050. Since then, significant progress has been made with over a third of these commitments having been delivered or exceeded within three years. For example, the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate entered into force in January 2024—the world’s most ambitious national level regulation of its kind. We regularly review our transport decarbonisation policies to ensure they are on track and are committed to publishing our progress and reviewing our net zero pathway at least every five years.[59]

2.4 Road

2.4.1 Buses

The national bus strategy (NBS) for England, ‘Bus back better’, published in 2021, outlines the government’s vision for bus services in England outside London.[60]

A key aim of the strategy is to increase bus journeys, firstly by returning the overall number of journeys made by bus to pre-Covid levels and then to exceed it. To achieve this, the strategy set out plans to bring services across England closer to London standards, with more services, simpler and cheaper fares, more bus lanes, and greener and more accessible buses.

In January 2024, the government said that “although much has happened” since the NBS was published, it remained the primary statement of the government’s policy on buses.[61]

The government has said that locally driven change is central to the delivery of the NBS. This is through the development of new forms of partnership between local transport authorities (LTAs) in England (outside London), bus operators and local stakeholders. The government has stated that the key document for delivery of the local transport authority plans is the bus service improvement plan (BSIP).[62]

The government’s guidance on BSIPs, which was updated in January 2024, says that purely commercial planning for bus services cannot continue:

The NBS explains that there can be no return to a situation where bus services are planned on a purely commercial basis with little or no engagement with, or support from, LTAs. BSIPs are how LTAs, working closely with their local bus operators and local communities, address this—by setting out a vision and plan for delivering the step-change improvement in bus services required by the NBS.

All LTAs seeking DfT bus funding were asked to choose their preferred option for the new form of partnership under the NBS by June 2021: either an enhanced partnership (EP) or bus service franchising. The NBS then set the challenge of developing a well-evidenced, comprehensive and ambitious BSIP by October 2021. Guidance on the structure and content of BSIPs, and on the collaborative process for producing them, was issued by DfT in May 2021. In an impressive achievement, all LTAs successfully produced a BSIP on time.[63]

In January 2023 the government launched a scheme to support the capping of bus fares at £2.[64] Participation in the scheme is voluntary and not all bus companies have chosen to take part.[65] The following areas already have capped fares and so are not part of the scheme: London, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. The scheme has been extended since its initial introduction.

On 17 February 2023, the government announced that it would extend the £2 fare cap for another three months up to June 2023 and provide £80mn to “continue support for critical bus services around England”.[66] Alongside the £75mn to cap fares, the government said this represented a commitment of £155mn to support bus services. It added that this recovery grant support was in addition to government investment of £3bn in bus services by 2025, including over £1bn to improve fares, services and infrastructure.

On 17 May 2023, the government announced that it was further extending the £2 fare cap outside London until 31 October 2023 and then capping it at £2.50 until November 2024. It would provide up to £200mn to support the capping scheme and also confirmed £300mn to “protect vital routes and improve services until 2025 that people rely on for work, education, medical appointments and shopping”. The government would review the effectiveness of the capping scheme and future bus fares in November 2024.[67]

The May 2023 announcement also launched BSIP phase 2, “a £160mn funding pot for the delivery of BSIPs by LTAs in addition to the £1.04bn first round of BSIP funding awarded to 34 LTAs for the period 2022/23 to 2024/25”.[68] The government has said that this meant that all local transport authorities now had “dedicated funding” for the delivery of their BSIP.

In a statement to the House of Commons on the announcement, Richard Holden, parliamentary under secretary of state for transport, said the government intended to consult further on the long term funding of buses.[69] He said this was “part of the government’s vision to improve connectivity through the bus services that this country relies on”.

In October 2023 the government extended the national £2 fare cap scheme through to December 2024 and announced “additional BSIP phase 3 funding for LTAs in the North and Midlands as part of the network north command paper”.[70]

The government has said that in the context of these announcements the time was “right to invite local transport authorities to refresh and update their BSIP documents”.[71] Further details on can be found in the government’s guidance to local authorities on BSIPs: ‘National bus strategy: 2024 bus service improvement plans—guidance to local authorities and bus operators’.

In answer to oral parliamentary questions on 8 February 2024 about the adequacy of bus services, Guy Opperman said that the government was providing “the largest public investment in buses for a generation, providing more than £4.5bn worth of services in England outside London since 2020, as we rebuilt post Covid”.[72] Using an example of proposed cuts to bus routes in her constituency, Rachel Hopkins (Labour MP for Luton South), expressed concern that bus usage had declined in the last 10 years.[73] She cited the government’s bus statistics, which she said showed that “in the last decade the bus sector in England outside London lost 15,000 workers and had around 600 million fewer annual bus passenger journeys”.[74] She argued that the government’s bus strategy was “not reversing that decline”.

Mr Opperman suggested that Ms Hopkins was not taking account of the impacts of the Covid pandemic.[75]  Mr Opperman said that local bus passenger journeys had increased by half a billion (19%) in the financial year ending March 2023. He also argued that capping bus fares to £2 could help increase passenger numbers.

The Department for Transport’s annual bus statistics for the year ending March 2023 state that whilst journeys outside of London had increased by 19%, they were still below pre-pandemic levels:

In the year ending March 2023, there were 1.6 billion passenger journeys made by local buses in England outside London, an increase of 19%. This continues the recovery from the previous year; however, it is still below pre-pandemic levels. Prior to this bus use in England outside London has been on a downward trend since the peak of 2.41 billion passenger journeys in the year ending March 2009.[76]

On 30 March 2023, the House of Commons Transport Committee published a report on the NBS.[77] The committee praised the strategy as ambitious and said it included many good ideas, including the introduction of BSIPs. However, it argued the promised transformation of bus services outside London had yet to be achieved.

The committee said that BSIPs had “brought out the best in many local transport authorities and bus operators”.[78] It welcomed the funding for them, saying it would “do much good”. However, it argued £1bn was not enough “to produce real improvements in bus services across the country”. It said the department had “not matched [the] level of ambition” that local authorities had been asked to aim for, and instead “local areas were pitted against each other for an often miserly share of an inadequate pot”.

The committee also expressed concern that whilst the NBS was “greeted with enthusiasm across the country” this had dissipated in “the many areas which received no funding”. The committee said this risked reinforcing a two-tier system:

Allowing roughly half the country to miss out risks entrenching, and in some cases creating, a two-tier system in which bus services improve in one area while, across an invisible county border, they worsen or even disappear. Without further rounds of funding this ‘national’ strategy will barely scratch the surface.[79]

The committee also recommended the government should set out how it planned to evaluate the success of the strategy. It argued the government needed to monitor carefully how these arrangements worked in practice. The committee also recommended the government should ensure that smaller local transport authorities are able to compete fairly with larger authorities as part of the bidding process for central government capital funding.

The government responded to the committee on 22 June 2023.[80] The government said it welcomed the committee’s report. It also said that it recognised that “the transformation promised by that strategy has yet to be fully achieved, and that this will require the government to maintain its focus on buses”.[81] The government said the NBS was “supported by the largest investment in bus services in a generation, including over £1bn allocated in the first tranche of bus service improvement plan funding”. On the committee’s recommendation that the government should set out how it planned to evaluate the success of the NBS, the government said:

Multiple monitoring and evaluation projects are currently being delivered for activities which sit under the national bus strategy. This includes bespoke evaluation projects for initiatives funded through bus service improvement plans (BSIPs), the zero emission bus regional areas (ZEBRA) scheme, [and] the rural mobility fund (RMF).

Additionally, as part of the bus transformation evaluation, evidence synthesis, analysis and reporting will be conducted for all monitoring and evaluation activities that sit under the NBS.

The NBS set out our long-term vision for buses: firstly, to get overall patronage back to its pre-Covid-19 level, and then to exceed it, by making the bus a practical and attractive alternative to the car for more people.

The NBS is in the early phases of delivery, with BSIP funding allocated until March 2025 and the vast majority of LTAs having recently completed the statutory process to introduce an enhanced partnership. The statutory process for franchising takes longer, and no LTA has yet completed this process. The evaluation of the NBS will be completed, at the earliest by March 2025.[82]

In its January 2024 submission to the Treasury ahead of the spring budget, the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), a bus and coach industry association, argued that the bus sector was “ideally placed” to help the government achieve its objectives “such as helping people with the cost of living, economic growth, levelling up, air quality, combatting social exclusion, and achieving net zero carbon”.[83] However, it said there were “key issues” that the government needed to address to ensure that the bus and coach sector could deliver on economic, social and environmental benefits. This included:

  • A long-term funding settlement for buses. The CPT argued that whilst funding from the government was welcome there was a “lack of clarity” over future funding streams.[84] It said this undermined confidence and prevented operators and local authorities from investing in long-term service development. The CPT argued the government should provide a five-year settlement.
  • Keeping fares low. The CPT said a sudden withdrawal of the financial support for the £2 fare cap “would have a huge impact” on the ability of many passengers to travel by bus.[85] It urged the government to work with the bus sector “on a plan for, as a minimum, the first 2–3 months of 2025 (ie after the current scheme ends in December 2024)”.
  • National and local targets to increase average bus speeds. The CPT argued that the average speed of buses was too low and increased operator costs, wasted bus passengers’ time, and had a deterrent effect on bus use. The organisation said “after decades of decline by an average of 1% per year the average bus now travels at just 10.7 miles per hour, and much more slowly in congested urban areas”. The CPT said that the most important way of making improvements for passengers would be to tackle congestion. This would help increase fare revenue by encouraging people to take the bus. It argued the government should set and monitor a target for all local transport authorities to increase bus speeds by 10% over the next parliament. The CPT also said that whilst councils in the North and Midlands would be able to invest in bus priority measures using redirected capital funding from the reconfiguration of the HS2 budget, this was not an option for southern councils. It argued that the government should support southern councils to access capital funding for this purpose.
  • Transition to zero emission buses. The CPT said that whilst progress had been made in decarbonising buses “a stop/start approach to funding has held back manufacturers’ production plans and operators’ purchasing decisions”.[86] The CPT urged the government to fund £1bn of investment over five years to leverage more private sector investment in new vehicles.

On 28 March 2024, Transport Focus published a survey of bus passengers in England.[87] It said that the £2 fare cap has helped passenger satisfaction with the value for money of buses:

Against the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis, 67 per cent of fare paying passengers say they are satisfied with value for money, and the introduction of the £2 single fare cap and other ticket deals appear to have helped this figure. Those passengers in rural areas who are taking longer distance journeys [are] often benefiting the most [from] the single fare cap. Where value for money ratings are lower, this may be attributed to less reliable journeys or tickets and passes used by frequent travellers that have increased in price in the past year.[88]

Reflecting comments made by the CPT, Transport Focus’s survey identified congestion as a challenge for operators:

There is significant variation in scores [for waiting time, punctuality and journey time] across the survey by area, and even in better scoring areas, congestion in the peak travel periods is a challenge for operators and reflected in the scores given by passengers. There are often sensitive local political issues around allocation and management of road space (bus priority measures for example) that enable buses to provide a quicker and more reliable journey time for passengers, in turn building the foundation for delivering satisfactory journeys for passengers and helping build trust more generally in local bus services.[89]

Transport Focus set out what it believed should happen next, following the survey. This included:

  • Transport authorities and bus operators should “drive improvements in passenger satisfaction on the services they currently operate”.[90]
  • The Department for Transport and traffic commissioners should “consider how they can better support transport authorities and bus operators to drive improvements in customer experience”. Transport Focus said it would work with the Department for Transport on monitoring “where additional funding has had an impact on customers and how this can most effectively be targeted in future”.[91]

2.4.2 Cars

On 2 October 2023, the government published its ‘Plan for drivers’. The plan set out the government’s policies for improving the experience of driving and services provided for motorists.

The plan states that “there’s nothing wrong with driving” and noted that most people used cars and that “for those in rural areas, it is a lifeline”.[92] It argued that car use was consistent with a multi-modal transport system and was a source of personal freedom:

Walking, cycling and public transport are necessary in a multi-modal transport system and we support their continued growth, but they are not the right choice for everyone’s journey. Being pro-public transport does not mean being anti-car. The easy political choice is to vilify the private car even when it’s been one of the most powerful forces for personal freedom and economic growth in the last century. Used appropriately and considerately, the car was, is, and will remain a force for good.[93]

The plan lists 30 actions under five headings. Examples include:[94]

Smoother journeys:

  • Bus lanes only when they are needed. Strengthen guidance to make sure bus lanes help rather than hinder traffic by operating only when buses are running, or when traffic is heavy enough to cause delay to buses.
  • Smarter road closures. Support councils to introduce more lane rental schemes, which reduce roadworks by incentivising utilities to avoid the busiest roads at the busiest times. This has been successful in London, and we want to see them nationwide, stopping lengthy road closures for utility works.
  • Better traffic lights. A £30mn fund to upgrade traffic signal systems, replacing unreliable and obsolete equipment to improve reliability.

Stopping unfair enforcement:

  • Right speed limits in the right places. Update 20mph zone guidance for England to help prevent inappropriate blanket use.
  • Stop local authorities using so-called “15-minute cities” to police people’s lives. Consult on measures including the removal of local authorities’ access to Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) data to enforce such schemes by camera.[95]
  • New guidance on low traffic neighbourhoods (LTN). Focus on the importance of local support and consider as part of the LTN review how to address existing LTNs that have not secured local consent.

Easier parking:

  • Better parking technology. Deliver the new national parking platform—which will be open to parking providers across the UK—by autumn 2024, ending the need to use multiple parking apps.
  • Challenge unfair parking rules. Consult on revising guidance about the public’s right to challenge local authority parking policies.
  • Find parking more easily. Digitised traffic regulation orders will help easily identify where it is legal to park anywhere in the country.

Inconsiderate driving:

  • Fairer insurance claims. Consult on removing the right of uninsured drivers to claim compensation for property damage. This measure will apply to England, Scotland and Wales.
  • Better driving. Communications campaign and enforcement to tackle lane hogs and other inconsiderate driving on the motorway.
  • Quieter neighbourhoods. Allow local councils to roll out noise cameras to target unacceptable vehicle modifications.

Transition to zero emission driving:

  • Speed up grid connections. Review grid connections process for EV chargepoints, with aim to accelerate it. This measure will apply to England, Scotland and Wales.
  • Easier on-street charging. Widen eligibility of EV chargepoint grants to include cross-pavement solutions, to make EV ownership a more practical option for those without off-street parking. This measure will apply UK-wide.
  • Getting the word out. Work with industry to myth-bust concerns about EVs. This measure will apply UK-wide.

The RAC’s head of policy, Simon Williams, said the measures in the plan for drivers would hopefully improve the consistency with which drivers are treated:

Being clearer with councils on important issues that affect drivers around traffic management, whether that’s the use of 20mph limits, implementing low traffic neighbourhoods or the enforcement of yellow boxes is positive, as after all eight in 10 say they would struggle to get by without a car. These measures will hopefully bring some much-needed consistency to how drivers are treated as well as avoiding situations where potholes get left unattended for months.[96]

Mr Williams also commented on specific elements of the plan in more detail. For example, on 20mph speed limits he said:

In the case of 20mph limits, we have long said that in the right places slow speeds deliver valuable safety benefits, especially on residential streets, around schools and in places where there are lots of pedestrians and cyclists. Putting them on roads where motor vehicles predominate and there is no conflict with other road users however makes no sense. Councils already have to go through a process of introducing traffic regulation orders to reduce speeds from say 30mph to 20mph, so we wait to see how any new policy differs from this.[97]

On bus lanes, Mr Williams said there needed to be a balance between the benefits of bus lanes to an integrated transport network and their potential impact on traffic:

We badly need to create an integrated transport network that works for everyone, including motorists. Bus lanes are key to that as they help to ensure services run on time in rush-hour when traffic is high, but outside of that can sometimes make traffic worse by limiting the amount of available road space which is something we can well do without.[98]

Stephen Frost, principal research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), argued that the plan did not recognise that motorists were rarely exclusively motorists, and they were also pedestrians, cyclists and train and bus users. Mr Frost said:

No one needs a plan that favours cars at the expense of other modes they rely on. They need a plan that works for all their journeys and can help them save money when times are tough.[99]

He also said that many drivers had said they would use their car less if public transport was better:

Importantly, we need to rethink how we use the word ‘freedom’ in regards to transport. It is clear that driving is not always a choice but an expensive necessity that many are locked in to due to the lack of viable alternatives. Almost half (48 per cent) of British drivers say they would use their car less if public transport was better. As we have heard time and again through our engagement with the public: people want good transport options that allow them to choose to travel in the way that best meets their needs, supports a good quality of life and contributes to making places better for people and nature. Investment in improving bus services, better walking and cycling infrastructure and increasing local access to amenities are good for everyone.[100]

The government provided an update on its implementation of its plan for drivers in a written statement on 18 March 2024.[101] Mark Harper, secretary of state for transport, said that the government was continuing to implement the measures. Mr Harper said that the government had published new guidance on LTNs, 20mph speed limits, bus lanes, and lane rental schemes alongside other measures such as undertaking research into noise cameras.

Third road investment strategy

The strategic road network (SRN) in England consists of 4,500 miles of motorways and major A roads.[102] It is the most heavily used part of the national road network and carries a third of all traffic and two-thirds of all freight. It is managed by National Highways.

In February 2024, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) (the independent statutory highways monitor under section 10 of the Infrastructure Act 2015) announced it was to undertake an investigation of the performance of National Highways.[103] It said that National Highways had generally achieved its aims and “delivered well for road users”. However, the ORR said that that performance had dipped and some targets were not currently on track.

The government is currently looking at the SRN in relation to its third road investment strategy (RIS3) for the period 2025 to 2030.[104] Between May 2023 and July 2023 the government consulted on a series of proposals made in National Highways’ strategic road network initial report.[105] National Highways described the initial report as the first stage in how it works with the government to plan network investment. It sets out National Highways’ proposed priorities for the next road period (RP3), which covers the financial years 2025/26 to 2029/30.

The Department for Transport is currently analysing feedback to the consultation. National Highways says that the government is due to publish its final road investment strategy for 2025 to 2030 in 2024.[106] Alongside this, National Highways will develop its final strategic business plan and delivery plan for RIS3. They will be supported by the publication of 20 finalised route strategy reports. Guy Opperman, minister for roads and local transport at the Department for Transport, said in March 2024 that the government would publish its road investment strategy 3 “very shortly”.[107]

The government’s second road investment strategy for the period 2020 to 2025 (RIS2) is available on the UK government website.[108]

2.5 Rail

The government has described the railways as a “vital part of the transport system of Great Britain”.[109] The government’s King’s Speech 2023 background briefing notes said that the “public rightly expect ever more from our railways”. However, the government stated that the structure of the railways had evolved over time and now required legislation to “set the foundations for further progress”. It said that the railways needed to be more responsive, more efficient and more adaptive to technology and innovation. It also needed to “fully embrace the private sector and its benefits”.

The government published a draft Rail Reform Bill to set:

[…] a bold vision for future rail customers—of punctual and reliable services, simpler tickets and a modern and innovative railway that meets the needs of the nation. It helps deliver on the 2019 manifesto commitment by bringing forward the biggest rail reform programme in a generation to create a simpler, more effective rail system.[110]

The legislation would establish Great British Railways (GBR), a body which would bring together the responsibility for both rail infrastructure and services.

Based on the results of a rail user survey it has conducted broken down by train operator, Transport Focus has found that passenger satisfaction is “patchy” across the network “with overall journey satisfaction ranging from 92 per cent for Great Northern and London Overground to 74 per cent for Transport for Wales”.[111] It has argued that the “railway as a whole needs to drive higher standards and deliver them more consistently”. Transport Focus found that there had been little change in satisfaction levels early into 2024:

So far in 2024 overall satisfaction has been relatively stable. The exception was the survey wave at the beginning of February, where overall satisfaction and satisfaction with individual measures was lower. This was unsurprising as there was industrial action that week.[112]

2.5.1   Background

Since the privatisation of the railways in the 1990s, both public and private sector bodies have played a part in running the railways.[113] The railways in Great Britain have the following key elements:[114]

  • The government acts as a procurement authority, network funder, and sponsor of major rail projects and rail bodies. The government is also the sole shareholder of Network Rail, the body that owns and operates most of the national rail infrastructure.
  • Passenger train services on the rail network are provided by different franchised operators. Most of these are specified by the UK government, with the others specified by different devolved governments or authorities. The boundaries between most of these operators are broadly geographic, with relatively little overlap. In addition, ‘open access’ operators not contracted by the government operate a small number of services on the national network, sometimes competing directly with franchised operators on the same journeys.
  • The physical infrastructure of the railway is owned and managed separately from the train operators. Network Rail runs the majority of the infrastructure of the railway as an arm’s length body of the UK government. Network Rail also leads the process with train operators to develop the national rail timetable and allocate access to the rail network.
  • The industry is overseen by an independent safety and economic regulator, the ORR. It sets targets and regularly reports on the performance of Network Rail, as well as overseeing competition and consumer rights. It can use its enforcement powers if Network Rail or operators fail to comply with their licence obligations.[115]
  • The Rail Safety and Standards Board, a not-for-profit company owned by major industry stakeholders, works with the ORR to improve safety, performance and value for money across the industry.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, in March 2020, the government introduced changes to franchise agreements to ensure the railways continued to operate.[116] All revenue and cost risks were transferred to the government. Operators continued to run services for a pre-determined fee, set at a maximum of two percent of the cost base of the franchise before the pandemic began. These arrangements are now being replaced with modified contracts between the Department for Transport and train operators, lasting for up to six years.[117] These contracts are intended to be part of a transition to a system run by GBR.

The ORR published its final determination for the periodic review 2023 (PR23) of Network Rail on 31 October 2023.[118] The ORR describes periodic reviews as one the principal mechanisms by which it holds Network Rail to account and secures value for money.[119] The ORR’s PR23 final determination set out its decisions on Network Rail’s outputs for control period 7 (CP7), which runs from 2024 to 2029. The ORR wrote to the director of planning and regulation at Network Rail, Paul McMahon, on 28 March 2024 setting out how it will hold the company to account and the ORR’s further work in CP7.[120] The ORR said its overall assessment was that Network Rail’s delivery plan was consistent with the priority outcomes and budgets set through the periodic review. However, it said it had identified certain issues which it set out in the letter. For example, the ORR said that Network Rail’s freight growth plans provided as part of the delivery plan “would benefit from further detail on when and how some of its proposals will be delivered”.[121]

2.5.2   Williams-Shapps plan for rail

In May 2021 the government published ‘Great British Railways: The Williams-Shapps plan for rail’. The government initially commissioned the review to investigate the structure of railway operations and proposals for reform after what the report described as “chaotic” timetable changes in 2018 and the failure of the East Coast franchise. In March 2020 the review was extended to consider challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report set out plans for the establishment and role of Great British Railways (GBR), which would own the infrastructure, receive the fare revenue, run and plan the network and set most fares and timetables. GBR would absorb Network Rail, which currently owns the railway infrastructure. The review did not include, however, plans for GBR to operate the trains directly. The Williams-Shapps plan says that “in most cases, Great British Railways will contract with private companies to operate trains to the timetable and fares it specifies”.[122] These would be known as passenger service contracts.

The government argued that the proposals would create a simpler structure and make the running of the railways more efficient:

Under single national leadership, our railways will be more agile: able to react quicker, spot opportunities, make common-sense choices, and use the kind of operational flexibilities normal in most organisations, but difficult or impossible in the current contractual spider’s web.[123]

The government consulted on the plan for rail between June and August 2022.[124] It published its response to the consultation on 20 February 2024.[125]

In their foreword to the response, Mark Harper, secretary of state for transport, and Huw Merriman, minister of state for rail and HS2, said the government wanted to look at three areas of reform:

Firstly, we must usher in a customer-focused culture, starting with ticketing. We’ll simplify the 55 million fares and give passengers a better deal. We’ve already sold over one million new flexible season tickets; plan to roll out pay-as-you-go journeys to more stations; and introduced single-leg pricing on parts of the network. We’re also making our railway open to all, having completed an accessibility audit of every single station while continuing to invest in the access for all programme. And our commitment to boost freight will be spearheaded by a dedicated strategic freight unit, which is already up and running.

Secondly, we’ll simplify the industry’s structure—bringing track and train, as well as revenue and cost, together under Great British Railways. This new guiding mind will coordinate the network and the trains that run on it. The railways will finally run as one system for the benefit of customers and taxpayers. That means balancing the needs of operators and infrastructure, as well as applying a whole industry approach to finance decisions.

Finally, we’ll remove the shackles on the private sector. We’ll set the right commercial conditions through new passenger service contracts while continuing to support open access. This refreshed commercial approach will unleash more private sector innovation and an unrelenting focus on quality and customer service. Barriers to entry will be lowered, but the bar for performance will be raised. Alongside this, we’ll open up railway data, so firms can develop new services which entice customers back to the railways. And we’ll tap into new streams of income – such as commercial opportunities around land and property near stations.[126]

2.5.3   Draft Rail Reform Bill

The draft Rail Reform Bill contains provisions which, if implemented, would be used to establish GBR. The bill “brings together the primary legislative measures, which form a key part of delivering rail reform envisaged by the plan for rail”.[127]

The government has said that the provisions of the draft Rail Reform Bill would enable:

  • More accountability through the establishment of GBR by bringing together the management of the network and the commissioning of passenger services into a new public rail body that puts customers first and delivers efficiency. The secretary of state for transport’s franchising authority functions will be transferred to GBR, ensuring that operational and infrastructure decisions are made in a coordinated way. The new body will serve as the single point of accountability for the performance of the railway where previously it was split between Network Rail and the secretary of state.
  • Better service by bringing track and train together enabling the sector to run as one system for the benefit of customers and taxpayers. Whole system strategic decision-making should lead to improved reliability and performance of passenger and freight services. GBR’s regional structure is intended to ensure differing regional customer needs are part of decision-making.
  • Smarter growth of the sector, as GBR will be a commercially focused organisation that will contract with the private sector to maximise investment and innovation throughout the sector. This includes improving connectivity and choice through more direct links and more options for passengers.
  • Greater efficiency by working in close partnership with the private sector to deliver a more efficient, modern rail system underpinned by better collaboration and aligned incentives, generating value and savings that will have benefits for passengers and taxpayers.
  • Improved focus on customers through specific accessibility and freight duties to ensure that accessibility on the railway is improved and the experience for disabled passengers is enhanced. Rail freight will be targeted for growth, recognising the sector’s economic benefits and potential for expansion.[128]

The government has said that the bill will undergo pre-legislative scrutiny “to provide parliamentarians and industry experts the opportunity to review and provide feedback on the legislation”.[129] The House of Commons Transport Committee is to lead the scrutiny of the legislation. It launched its inquiry on 28 February 2024.[130]

The chief executive of Transport Focus, Alex Robertson, has said that the passengers would judge the bill’s reforms “based on whether they deliver more punctual, reliable services and better value for money”.[131] Mr Robertson said that passengers also wanted to know “who is in charge” and the establishment of GBR was therefore welcome.

The chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, Darren Caplan, said that the body welcomed pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill, but it would have wanted “a full transport bill” providing for the establishment of GBR ready to progress now.[132] However, Mr Caplan said it was good that the government was “at least taking this preliminary step towards unifying track and train, and developing a ‘guiding mind’ and a long-term plan for the railway”. He said that a predicted growth in passenger numbers meant that the government needed to accelerate the legislative process “without delay”. He argued the sooner the government moved forward with reform the “faster we can remove uncertainty about the future structure of the industry” and build a “world-class railway for the future”. The Railway Industry Association is “the national trade association for UK-based suppliers to the railway industry”.[133]

The Rail Freight Group’s director general, Maggie Simpson, said the representative body for rail freight in the UK was pleased that the government had listened to its concerns about the sector and set out how GBR would be “required to ‘make provisions for the carriage of goods by rail’”.[134] She said that this would help create confidence in the new rail structure and encourage investment in rail freight growth by the private sector.

2.5.4 Network north and cancellation of high speed 2

On 4 October 2023, the prime minister announced that the government would not build the remaining phases of the ‘High speed rail 2’ project (HS2).[135] This includes phase 2a, which would have gone from Birmingham to Crewe, phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester, and the line from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway station. Plans to extend the high speed line to Leeds were cancelled in 2021.[136]

The prime minister said the reason the government would no longer pursue the remaining sections of HS2 was because costs had increased significantly and the project had suffered delays and would not be completed for “almost two decades”.[137] He also said changes to business travel following the pandemic had weakened the business case for building the line. Previously, in July 2023, the government said it was committed to building HS2 between London and Manchester.[138] It said that HS2 was a “key part of the government’s levelling-up agenda” and would “form the foundations for northern powerhouse rail”.

The government also said that the section of HS2 from Oak Old Common station in west London to Euston station would be financed from private investment rather than publicly funded.[139] It said this would deliver £6.5bn of savings. The 2024 spring budget said that the government was committed to delivering a privately financed HS2 Euston station.[140]

In 2010 HS2 Ltd, the company set up by the then Labour government to consider the case for further high speed rail, estimated a high speed rail network linking London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds would cost £30bn in 2010 prices.[141] The most recent estimate for the project, after the cancellation of the line to Leeds, was between £53bn and £72bn in 2019 prices. The Financial Times has estimated that this would be £67bn to £91bn in current prices.[142]

In 2015, the region’s sub-national transport body, Transport for the North, and the coalition government set out their vision for northern powerhouse rail (NPR). This was part of a wider project for increasing productivity and prosperity in the north of England.[143] On trains, the plan said the project would “transform city to city rail connectivity” through HS2 and a new TransNorth system, ensure sufficient capacity for increased demand for rail commuter services, and deliver the full HS2 ‘Y’ network” (including connections to Leeds).[144]

The Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto committed to building NPR between Leeds and Manchester. The government said it would then focus on Liverpool, Tees Valley, Hull, Sheffield and Newcastle.[145]

In November 2021, the government said it would proceed with a “core” NPR network between Liverpool and York as part of its ‘Integrated rail plan for the North and the Midlands’. This network would consist of a new high-speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire, ending near Marsden, and upgrades to existing rail lines and some stations for the remainder of the route. In the integrated rail plan, the government outlined that the work would be delivered in phases and estimated that it would cost £17.2bn (in 2019 prices).

In the 2022 autumn statement, the government recommitted to NPR as outlined in the integrated rail plan, including east west rail, core northern powerhouse rail, and high speed 2 to Manchester.[146]

Some commentators have considered what impact the cancellation of phase 2 of HS2 will have on the NPR project. Tom Arnold, a research associate at the University of Liverpool, argued that the cancellation of HS2 phase 2 means that elements of NPR will not be able to go ahead.[147] He said NPR relied on the extension of Manchester Piccadilly station that was part of HS2. The Federation of Small Businesses said the HS2 phase 2 cancellation raised questions about NPR, as it was closely “interwoven” with HS2 infrastructure.[148]

A government announcement released following the prime minister’s party conference speech stated a “further £12bn” would be spent to better connect Manchester to Liverpool.[149] It said this would allow the delivery of NPR as previously planned, including high speed lines. It also said, however, that the government would “work with local leaders to agree whether they wish to suggest other ways to achieve the objectives within the cost envelope”.

The 2024 spring budget said that the government was committed to ensuring the UK had the right transport infrastructure to drive economic growth:

In October 2023, the government announced an ambitious plan to redirect savings from the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2 into alternative transport projects through network north. Delivery is progressing, including through productive engagement with local leaders to take forward the £12bn investment to enable northern powerhouse rail, improving connections between Liverpool and Manchester. To support local transport priorities, spring budget confirms £4.7bn in long-term funding settlements for places outside city regions in the North and Midlands. This is in addition to the £8.3bn the government has announced it will be investing in local roads over the next 11 years to fill millions of potholes and resurface roads, repair bridges, and deliver vital local road upgrades across England.[150]

On 25 March 2024, Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper made a written statement confirming certain details of the government’s approach to NPR, following consultation with stakeholders.[151]

The £4.7bn referred to in the spring budget is also known as the local transport fund:

We’re giving leaders in the Midlands and the North £4.7bn to invest in local transport. For the first time, local authorities in smaller cities, towns and rural areas can invest in the transport projects that matter the most to their communities.[152]

Responding to the announcement of funding for the local transport fund in February 2024, Darren Rodwell, transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA), said that the funding would help councils to improve connectivity in more parts of the country. However, he said sustained funding would help councils to “properly” plan transport services:

Long-term, consistent funding for all councils would provide certainty for them to properly plan ahead on strategic transport projects, while investing in local skills and boosting their workforce.

Councils know their areas best and play a vital role in integrating transport, housing, economic development and other services to maximise improvement and value for money.

While MPs rightly represent local people in Parliament, councils need to be given the freedom and flexibility to make the long-term, strategic decisions locally which best benefit residents and communities.[153]

Redistribution of funding: Network north

During his party conference speech, Rishi Sunak said that all the money that would have been spent on HS2 phase 2 would instead be spent on other transport projects. Mr Sunak said the government would redirect £36bn from HS2 to a new transport plan entitled ‘Network north’, in addition to the £12bn for improved connections between Manchester and Liverpool.[154] He said this programme of transport work would “join up our great towns and cities in the North and the Midlands”. He said that under the plans “every region outside of London will receive the same or more government investment than they would have done under HS2 with quicker results”.

The network north plan stated there would be £19.8bn invested in transport in the North, £9.6bn in the Midlands and £6.5bn for transport initiatives in the rest of the country. The initiatives included:[155]

  • £2bn for a new station at Bradford and a new connection to Manchester; £2.5bn to deliver a new mass transit system in West Yorkshire; £3bn for upgraded and electrified lines between Manchester and Sheffield, Sheffield and Leeds, Sheffield and Hull, and Hull–Leeds; and £12bn to better connect Manchester to Liverpool
  • nearly £4bn more funding for local transport in the North’s six city regions and a new £2.5bn fund for local transport across all areas in the North outside the six city regions
  • investments in roads, reopened train lines and new stations
  • funding the Midlands rail hub in full with £1.75bn; over £1.5bn guaranteed local transport funding for the new East Midlands mayor; over £1bn extra local transport funding for the West Midlands city region; and a new £2.2bn fund for local transport across all areas in the West and East Midlands outside the city regions
  • keeping the £2 bus fare until the end of December 2024
  • greater connectivity for both Scotland and Wales with improvements to the A75 between Gretna and Stranraer, and £1bn to fund the electrification of the North Wales main line

Some commentators have argued the new plans include previously announced or delivered schemes and do not all concern the north of England, despite being part of the network north programme.[156] For example, one of the announced schemes is that the A1 between Morpeth and Ellingham would be made into a dual carriageway. In 2014 David Cameron announced £290mn for this project.[157] The plan also said increased funding “could pay for schemes such as extending the Manchester Metrolink to Heywood, Bolton, Wigan and Manchester Airport”.[158] The Manchester metrolink already serves Manchester Airport’s terminal 1, and the government later corrected this to extending the metrolink to the airport’s terminal 2.[159]

3. Read more

Rail and road statistics:

The ORR publishes a range of statistics on the railways, including on usage and performance.[160] For example:

The Department for Transport publishes quarterly and annual statistics on buses.[161] Its latest annual statistics were published in March 2024:

The Department for Transport also published a series of road traffic statistics.[162] This includes statistics on domestic transport usage by mode (for example motor vehicle, bus and national rail):

The Department for Transport has also published provisional statistics on road traffic estimates:

House of Commons and House of Lords Library briefings:


Cover image by Alistair MacRobert on Unsplash.


  1. Department for Transport, ‘Decarbonising transport: A better, greener Britain’, July 2021, p 4. Return to text
  2. As above. Return to text
  3. Department for Transport, ‘National networks national policy statement’, March 2024, p 11. Return to text
  4. As above. Return to text
  5. Centre for Cities, ‘Delivering change: Making transport work for cities’, 1 May 2014. Return to text
  6. House of Lords Built Environment Committee, ‘Public transport in towns and cities’, 9 November 2022, HL Paper 89 of session 2022–23, p 3. For further information on the committee’s report, see: House of Lords Library, ‘Built Environment Committee: Public transport in towns and cities’, 30 March 2023. For more information on how Transport for London operates, see: Transport for London, ‘What we do’, accessed 9 April 2024. Return to text
  7. As above. Return to text
  8. House of Lords Library, ‘King’s Speech 2023: Transport’, 1 November 2023. Return to text
  9. For further information on this legislation see: House of Lords Library, ‘Automated Vehicles Bill [HL]: HL Bill 1 of 2023–24’, 21 November 2023; and ‘Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL]: HL Bill 2 of 2023–24’, 16 November 2023. Return to text
  10. Centre for Cities, ‘Improving transport connectivity in UK cities: Three key takeaways’, 17 May 2023. Return to text
  11. Institution of Civil Engineers, ‘ICE policy position statement: A national transport strategy for England’, 3 July 2023. Return to text
  12. As above. Return to text
  13. House of Commons Transport Committee, ‘Does the government have a joined up plan for investing in transport? Committee launches new inquiry’, 30 June 2023. Return to text
  14. House of Commons Transport Committee, ‘Strategic transport objectives: Inquiry—publications’, accessed 9 April 2024. Return to text
  15. Conservative Party, ‘Conservative Party manifesto 2019’, November 2019, p 27. Return to text
  16. HM Government, ‘Levelling-up the United Kingdom’, 2 February 2022, CP 604. Return to text
  17. As above, p xvii. Return to text
  18. As above, p 176. Return to text
  19. As above, p 179. For further information on the running of buses, their fares and funding, see: House of Commons Library, ‘Buses and taxis FAQs’, 24 January 2024, sections 2 and 3. Section 1.1 also provides an overview of responsibility for local public transport policy and the relationship between MCAs and the Department for Transport. The Commons Library gives the example of this relationship allowing Manchester to franchise its bus service and London to introduce congestion charging. Return to text
  20. Department for Transport et al, ‘Future of transport programme’, 2 October 2023; and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, ‘Government unveils industrial strategy to boost productivity and earning power of people across the UK’, 27 November 2017. Return to text
  21. UK Government, ‘The UK’s industrial strategy’, accessed 10 April 2024. Return to text
  22. Department for Transport et al, ‘Future of transport programme’, 2 October 2023. Return to text
  23. House of Commons, ‘Written statement: Union connectivity review (HCWS484)’, 5 October 2020. Return to text
  24. Department for Transport, ‘Union connectivity review’, 26 November 2021. Peter Hendy was appointed to the House of Lords in November 2022 and sits as Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill on the crossbenches. Return to text
  25. As above, p 4. Return to text
  26. As above, p 10. Return to text
  27. House of Commons, ‘Written statement: Response to the union connectivity review (HCWS102)’, 7 December 2023. Return to text
  28. For more information on network north see section 2.5.4 of this briefing. Return to text
  29. Department for Transport, ‘National networks national policy statement’, 6 March 2024. Return to text
  30. The NNNPS states that “in Wales, planning consent requirements for roads is devolved. While the UK government funds rail infrastructure development in Wales, the planning regime is devolved to the Welsh government, which is why this NPS [national policy statement] does not apply to Welsh railways” (As above, p 8). Return to text
  31. Department for Transport, ‘Draft revised national networks national policy statement’, March 2023. Return to text
  32. Department for Transport, ‘Government response to the public consultation on the draft national networks national policy statement’, March 2024, p 4. Return to text
  33. Department for Transport, ‘National networks national policy statement’, 6 March 2024. Return to text
  34. House of Commons, ‘Written statement: Transport update (HCWS314)’, 6 March 2024. Return to text
  35. Department for Transport, ‘Government response to the public consultation on the draft national networks national policy statement’, March 2024, p 8. Return to text
  36. As above, p 7. Return to text
  37. As above. Return to text
  38. As above, p 8. Return to text
  39. Induced travel or induced traffic can be defined as “the increment in new vehicle traffic that would not have occurred without the improvement of the network capacity” (WSP and Rand Europe, ‘Department for Transport: Deepening the understanding of how to address induced travel on the strategic road network’ December 2020, p 3). Return to text
  40. Department for Transport, ‘Government response to the public consultation on the draft national networks national policy statement’, March 2024, p 13. Return to text
  41. See section 2.3 of this briefing for more information on the government’s decarbonisation plan. Return to text
  42. HC Hansard, 26 March 2024, cols 1453–64. Return to text
  43. HC Hansard, 26 March 2024, col 1454. Return to text
  44. HC Hansard, 26 March 2024, cols 1453–4. Return to text
  45. HC Hansard, 26 March 2024, col 1454. Return to text
  46. HC Hansard, 26 March 2024, col 1454. Return to text
  47. HC Hansard, 26 March 2024, col 1455. Return to text
  48. HC Hansard, 26 March 2024, col 1456. Return to text
  49. HC Hansard, 26 March 2024, col 1464. Return to text
  50. Department for Transport, ‘Government sets ambitious target to grow rail freight by at least 75%’, 20 December 2023. Return to text
  51. House of Commons Transport Committee, ‘Draft revised national policy statement for national networks’, 20 October 2023, HC 903 of session 2022–23. Return to text
  52. Department for Transport, ‘Government response to the Transport Select Committee’s report on the draft revised national networks national policy statement’, 25 March 2024. Return to text
  53. Department for Transport, ‘Transport decarbonisation plan’, 14 July 2021. Return to text
  54. The government published a cycling and walking plan for England in July 2020 entitled ‘Gear change: A bold vision for cycling and walking’. The government established Active Travel England, an executive agency sponsored by the Department for Transport, to support “making walking, wheeling and cycling the preferred choice for everyone to get around in England”. For further information on active travel, see: House of Commons Library, ‘Active travel FAQs’, 31 March 2023. Return to text
  55. For more information on the national bus strategy see section 2.4.1 of this briefing. Return to text
  56. For more information on the government’s jet zero strategy see: Department for Transport, ‘Jet zero strategy: Delivering net zero aviation by 2050’, 2 August 2022. Return to text
  57. The government published a hydrogen strategy in August 2021. For more detail see: Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, ‘UK hydrogen strategy’, 14 December 2023. Return to text
  58. Department for Transport, ‘Decarbonising transport: One-year-on review’, 14 July 2022. Return to text
  59. House of Commons, ‘Written question: Transport: Carbon emissions (13786)’, 19 February 2024. Return to text
  60. Department for Transport, ‘Bus back better: National bus strategy for England’, 15 March 2021. Return to text
  61. Department for Transport, ‘National bus strategy: 2024 bus service improvement plans—guidance to local authorities and bus operators’, January 2024, p 4. Return to text
  62. As above. Return to text
  63. As above. Return to text
  64. Department for Transport, ‘Evaluation of the £2 bus fare cap’, 28 September 2023. Return to text
  65. Department for Transport, ‘£2 bus fare cap’, 12 January 2024. Return to text
  66. Department for Transport, ‘£2 bus fare cap to be extended and bus services protected with new funding’, 17 February 2023. Return to text
  67. Department for Transport, ‘Government extends £2 bus fare cap and protects vital services’, 17 May 2023. Return to text
  68. Department for Transport, ‘National bus strategy: 2024 bus service improvement plans—guidance to local authorities and bus operators’, January 2024, p 5. Return to text
  69. HC Hansard, 17 May 2023, col 854. Return to text
  70. Department for Transport, ‘National bus strategy: 2024 bus service improvement plans—guidance to local authorities and bus operators’, January 2024, p 5; and Department for Transport, ‘Network north’, October 2023, CP 946. Network north is discussed further in section 2.5.4 of this briefing Return to text
  71. Department for Transport, ‘National bus strategy: 2024 bus service improvement plans—guidance to local authorities and bus operators’, January 2024, p 5. Return to text
  72. HC Hansard, 8 February 2024, col 347. Return to text
  73. HC Hansard, 8 February 2024, col 347. Return to text
  74. HC Hansard, 8 February 2024, col 347. Return to text
  75. HC Hansard, 8 February 2024, col 347. Return to text
  76. Department for Transport, ‘Annual bus statistics: Year ending March 2023 (revised)—passenger journeys’, 19 March 2024. Return to text
  77. House of Commons Transport Committee, ‘Implementation of the national bus strategy’, 30 March 2023, HC 161 of session 2022–23. Return to text
  78. As above, p 40. Return to text
  79. As above. Return to text
  80. House of Commons Transport Committee, ‘Implementation of the national bus strategy: Government response to the committee’s fourth report’, 22 June 2023, HC 1431 of session 2022–23. Return to text
  81. As above, p 1. Return to text
  82. As above, p 7. Return to text
  83. Confederation of Passenger Transport, ‘Confederation of Passenger Transport: 2024 budget submission’, 24 January 2024, p 1. Return to text
  84. As above, p 3. Return to text
  85. As above. Return to text
  86. As above, p 4. Return to text
  87. Transport Focus, ‘Transport user voice April 2024: Bus punctuality needs improvement’, 28 March 2024. Transport Focus is the independent watchdog for transport users and is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Transport, see: Transport Focus, ‘Independent watchdog for transport users’, accessed 8 April 2024. Return to text
  88. Transport Focus, ‘Transport user voice April 2024: Bus punctuality needs improvement’, 28 March 2024. Return to text
  89. Transport Focus, ‘Your bus journey: The independent bus user survey—2023 results’, March 2024, p 22. Return to text
  90. As above, p 23. Return to text
  91. As above. Return to text
  92. Department for Transport, ‘Policy paper: The plan for drivers’, 2 October 2023. Return to text
  93. As above. Return to text
  94. As above. Return to text
  95. A 15-minute city is a concept where essential living needs are accessible within a 15-minute bike ride or walk for residents. For further information on 15-minute cities see: House of Commons Library, ‘Active travel FAQs’, 31 March 2023, section 6.5. Return to text
  96. RAC, ‘Government’s ‘plan for drivers’: RAC reaction’, 2 October 2023. Return to text
  97. As above. Return to text
  98. As above. Return to text
  99. Stephen Frost, ‘Breaking the circle: A real plan for people who drive’, IPPR, 4 October 2023. Return to text
  100. As above. Return to text
  101. House of Commons, ‘Written statement: Motoring update (HCWS350)’, 18 March 2024. Return to text
  102. National Highways, ‘Roads we manage’, accessed 5 April 2024. Return to text
  103. Office of Rail and Road, ‘ORR to undertake an investigation of National Highways’ performance’, 14 February 2024. Return to text
  104. Department for Transport and National Highways, ‘Shaping the future of England’s strategic roads’, 18 May 2023. Return to text
  105. As above; and National Highways, ‘Strategic road network initial report: 2025 to 2030’, May 2023. Return to text
  106. National Highways, ‘Strategic road network initial report’, accessed 5 April 2024. Return to text
  107. HC Hansard, 21 March 2024, col 1048. Return to text
  108. Department for Transport, ‘Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2): 2020 to 2025’, 16 April 2020. Return to text
  109. Prime Minister’s Office, ‘The King’s Speech 2023’, 7 November 2023, p 37. Return to text
  110. As above. Return to text
  111. Transport Focus, ‘Transport user voice March 2024: Rail passengers rate their service’, 29 February 2024. Return to text
  112. Transport Focus, ‘Rail user survey: Edition 25’, 22 March 2024. Return to text
  113. Williams Rail Review, ‘The role of the railway in Great Britain’, February 2019. Return to text
  114. As above. Return to text
  115. The ORR sets out more information on its website about how it holds Network Rail to account, see: Office of Rail and Road, ‘Network Rail regulation’, accessed 8 April 2024. Return to text
  116. House of Commons, ‘Written statement: Rail update (HCWS175)’, 23 March 2020. Return to text
  117. House of Commons Transport Committee, ‘Oral evidence: Great British Railways’, 30 March 2022, HC 1076 of session 2021–22, Q1–144. Return to text
  118. Office of Rail and Road, ‘Periodic review 2023 of Network Rail: Final determination’, 31 October 2023. Return to text
  119. As above. Return to text
  120. Office of Rail and Road, ‘Letter to director of planning and regulation at Network Rail, Paul McMahon, ref CP7 delivery plan and holding Network Rail to account’, 28 March 2024. Return to text
  121. As above. Return to text
  122. Department for Transport, ‘Great British Railways: The Williams-Shapps plan for rail’, May 2021, CP 423, p 7. Return to text
  123. As above, p 8. Return to text
  124. Department for Transport, ‘Williams-Shapps plan for rail: Legislative changes to implement rail reform’, 26 February 2024. Return to text
  125. Department for Transport, ‘The plan for rail: A consultation on legislation to implement rail transformation—government response’, 20 February 2024, CP 1015. Return to text
  126. As above, pp 5–6. Return to text
  127. Department for Transport, ‘Draft Rail Reform Bill’, 20 February 2024. Return to text
  128. Department for Transport, ‘Ministers set out blueprint for future of the railways through draft Rail Reform Bill’, 20 February 2024. Return to text
  129. As above. Return to text
  130. House of Commons Transport Committee, ‘Transport Committee launches new inquiry to scrutinise draft Rail Reform Bill’, 28 February 2024. Return to text
  131. Transport Focus, ‘Draft Rail Reform Bill: Transport Focus comment’, 20 February 2024. Return to text
  132. Railway Industry Association, ‘RIA responds to the publication of the draft Rail Reform Bill’, 20 February 2024. Return to text
  133. Railway Industry Association, ‘What is RIA?’, accessed 8 April 2024. Return to text
  134. Rail Freight Group, ‘RFG comment on government draft Rail Reform Bill’, accessed 8 April 2024. Return to text
  135. Conservative Party, ‘Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrapped up Conservative Party conference 2023’, 4 October 2023. Return to text
  136. Department for Transport, ‘Continuing investment in HS2 phase 1: Accounting officer assessment (October 2023)’, updated 27 November 2023. Return to text
  137. Conservative Party, ‘Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrapped up Conservative Party conference 2023’, 4 October 2023. Return to text
  138. House of Commons, ‘Rail update (HCWS904)’, 3 July 2023. Return to text
  139. BBC News, ‘HS2 will not go to Euston without private funds’, 5 October 2023. Return to text
  140. HM Treasury, ‘Spring budget 2024’, 6 March 2024, HC 560 of session 2023–24, p 54. Return to text
  141. Department for Transport, ‘High speed rail’, March 2010, Cm 7827, p 9. Return to text
  142. Gill Plimmer et al, ‘HS2 costs set to jump as inflation undermines rail project’s future’, Financial Times (£), 20 September 2023. Return to text
  143. HM Government and Transport for the North, ‘The northern powerhouse: One agenda, one economy, one north—a report on the northern transport strategy’, March 2015. Return to text
  144. As above, pp 5–17. Return to text
  145. Conservative Party, ‘Conservative Party manifesto 2019’, November 2019, p 27. Return to text
  146. HM Treasury, ‘Autumn statement 2022’, November 2022, CP 751, p 33. Return to text
  147. Tom Arnold,  ‘What Rishi Sunak scrapping HS2—and promising a new ‘network north’—means for the north of England’, The Conversation, 4 October 2023. Return to text
  148. Federation of Small Businesses, ‘FSB GM responds to cancellation of HS2’ 4 October 2023. Return to text
  149. Prime Minister’s Office, ‘PM redirects HS2 funding to revolutionise transport across the North and Midlands’, 4 October 2023. Return to text
  150. HM Treasury, ‘Spring budget 2024’, 6 March 2024, HC 560 of session 2023–24, p 54. Return to text
  151. House of Commons, ‘Rail update (HCWS380)’, 25 March 2024. Return to text
  152. Prime Minister’s Office, ‘What does the local transport fund mean for me?’, accessed 8 April 2024. Return to text
  153. Local Government Association, ‘LGA responds to local transport fund announcement’, 26 February 2024. Return to text
  154. Conservative Party, ‘Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrapped up Conservative Party conference 2023’, 4 October 2023. Return to text
  155. Department for Transport, ‘PM redirects HS2 funding to revolutionise transport across the North and Midlands’, 4 October 2023. Return to text
  156. Helen Pidd, ‘Ten problems with Rishi Sunak’s network north announcement’, Guardian, 5 October 2023. Return to text
  157. BBC News, ‘A1 upgrade ‘vital’ to the North East, says Cameron’, 1 December 2014. Return to text
  158. Department for Transport, ‘Network north: Transforming British transport’, October 2023, CP 946, p 29. Return to text
  159. As above. Return to text
  160. Office of Rail and Road, ‘Statistics: Passenger rail usage’, accessed 5 April 2024. Return to text
  161. Department for Transport, ‘Bus statistics’, 19 March 2024. Return to text
  162. Department for Transport, ‘Road traffic statistics’, 13 December 2023. Return to text