Electric car charging
Decarbonising Transport
Our Policy and Research Manager Karen Barrass outlines our response to the UK government's Transport Decarbonisation Plan and what it means for local authorities.

The Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP) delivers the UK government’s vision for taking the sector to Net Zero by 2050. By far the greatest commitment was the important step in addressing the impact of the freight sector by announcing the phase out of fossil-fuelled road freight by 2040. It now sits alongside the existing commitment to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, with all new cars and vans being fully zero emission from 2035. 

However, there are some fundamental areas which need to be addressed to enable significant emission reductions from the transport sector - the sector responsible for the greatest proportion of climate emissions - and for local leaders to be able to play their part in reducing transport emissions in their areas.

Perhaps most important is the UK government’s effort to reconcile its £27bn road building programme with Net Zero. The TDP states that longer journeys and rural areas will continue to depend on roads but also that the vast majority of all transport journeys are local. It is these local journeys that the government should be focused on - its interventions should be working to adequately fund them to deliver Net Zero. 

Local leaders have long argued that providing zero emission travel choices for local journeys must be a priority if we are to get to Net Zero and need to be funded accordingly, above the current UK government priority of enabling long distance travel by car. So, the TDP’s commitment to review the National Policy Statement (NPS) for National Networks in light of travel behaviour changes brought about by the pandemic is a welcome step forward. Our members, in the countryside and cities alike, are calling for better alternatives - like rail, bus and active travel provision - over more infrastructure that maintains the status quo.

Through our knowledge sharing and research activities, the recommendations are clear:

  1. Partnerships are absolutely key to delivering Net Zero transport - national government needs to provide clear plans and support local authorities to deliver. 
  2. Funding and investment is crucial - the UK Infrastructure Bank has a role to play in supporting local delivery and decisions around transport investments need to be considered locally.
  3. Local skills, delivery capability and capacity must be improved if we are to transform our local transport networks.

The TDP announces some promising opportunities for local authority engagement including the provision of a local authority toolkit to support local authorities to deliver on the ground. It acknowledges the need for better coordination of local transport funding by engaging local areas about their investment priorities, and the need for achieving key objectives such as decarbonisation through better strategic planning and more joined up infrastructure projects. 

The TDP also importantly recognises the cross-cutting nature of the issue and it is encouraging to see that connections with MHCLG are formalised here. But the details are scant as to what outcomes will be delivered through this collaboration. These are important developments and could bring significant co-benefits if done correctly. We look forward to engaging with the Department for Transport on formulating how these could work in practice. 

Mayors and local leaders who gathered for the Net Zero Local Leadership Summit in mid July 2021 recognised the importance of decarbonising transport networks. Our Net Zero Local Leadership Communique, launched at the summit, urged the UK government to prioritise reducing the high costs of connecting electric vehicle (EV) charging networks to the grid to enable a seamless charging network across the UK. Every local, city and regional authority should also be included in designing and shaping the charging infrastructure across its area for public, freight and bus networks. 

The recent summary of responses to the UK government’s EV smart charging consultation suggests the direction of travel is positive, with smart charging and interoperability being prioritised. A full response is promised later this year and mayors and local leaders will be looking out for clear commitments that enable this seamless and affordable EV charging network across the UK.

Local authorities are key to delivering Net Zero transport - they shape places and can do much to promote active, non-motorised travel and cleaner last mile logistics. As well as being zero carbon, these offer important co-benefits for health and air quality. From Cornwall to Newcastle, Essex to Bristol, our members stand ready to work with the government to implement local solutions.