National Networks National Policy Statement Debate

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Department: Department for Transport

National Networks National Policy Statement

Caroline Lucas Excerpts
Tuesday 26th March 2024

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
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Once again, the Government seem to be dodging scrutiny. This national policy statement for national networks has significant implications for the delivery of our climate and environment targets, yet rather than giving MPs the opportunity to properly debate it, this Government have, it feels to me at least, rather cynically left the approval of it to the very last minute before the Easter recess, when many colleagues have already returned to their constituencies. There are barely 10 people here in the Chamber this afternoon.

There are many concerns, in my view, about this particular statement, but I wish to focus in my brief intervention on the climate and nature consequences. As the Minister is well aware, when the review of the NPS was announced in July 2021, it was explained by the then Secretary of State on the basis that the 2014 NPS predated the UK’s commitment to net zero by 2050, the sixth carbon budget and the transport decarbonisation plan.

Aligning the NPS with our climate targets is, of course, absolutely essential, not least because about 10% of the UK’s CO2 emissions come from driving on the strategic road network and, according to the National Audit Office, transport-related emissions between 1990 and 2022 were reduced by just 11%—the lowest of any sector. There is a real problem here and, frankly, this policy statement fundamentally fails to rise to the occasion and to the challenge that that poses.

In its 2023 progress report to Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change recommended what it called

“a systematic review of all current and proposed road schemes”,

with only those that

“meaningfully support cost-effective delivery of Net Zero and climate adaptation”

to be taken forward. Perhaps the Minister can explain to me why his Department has refused to undertake any assessment, and why the NPS essentially reverts to the current pre-net zero carbon test. In the absence of such a review, can he explain how he plans to close the gaping delivery gap when it comes to cutting transport emissions?

Just last week, the Green Alliance think-tank published the latest update of its net zero policy tracker, which revealed that transport accounts for 70%—yes, 70%—of the overall policy gap for delivering the fifth carbon budget, so this is a huge issue, with 37% of the required emission cuts having absolutely no policy set out for them. Crucially, Green Alliance suggests that measures such as reviewing road building and redirecting funding into public transport would help to close the policy gap, so why is it not in this plan?

Rather than making our constituents ever more dependent on private cars, this NPS should have set out the need for bold rail and urban transport upgrades. It should have been about levelling up public transport outside London and improving cross-country rail. The first priority of the transport decarbonisation plan is modal shift, yet the NPS has no target for that. In fact, seven of the eight Department for Transport scenarios on which it is based assume exactly the wrong kind of modal shift—in other words, a shift to cars. Will the Minister explain why the statement does not reference the 2030 target for 50% of urban journeys to be made by active travel?

Looking at our environmental targets, it is profoundly disappointing that the NPS fails to set out the implications of the new Environment Act 2021 targets at the strategic or scheme level. It is just not good enough to simply have due regard to some of the targets.

Not only is this NPS unclear—as observed by Professor Stephen Glaister, former chair of the Office of Rail and Road and director of the RAC Foundation, who told MPs that

“I do not see clarity in that draft myself”

but it fundamentally fails to set out a new direction of travel to ensure the delivery of our climate and environmental targets. In the age of climate crisis, we need more than passing references to net zero and muddled attempts to justify the roads programme. We need urgent and bold action to decarbonise the transport system. This statement clearly does not provide that.

--- Later in debate ---
Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend and co-Minister, and partner in optimism—I think that is the best way of putting it—is addressing some of those points.

There was further criticism in relation to the issue of climate change. I would gently push back: clearly, there has been a lot of change in Government policy since the national networks national policy statement was designated in 2015, particularly the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero by 2050. The transport decarbonisation plan, published in 2021, set out how transport’s contribution to net zero will be delivered, and the Environment Act 2021 introduced a more stringent approach to environmental protection and opportunities for enhancement of the natural environment. We have also seen the publication of road investment strategy 2 and the integrated rail plan, as well as support for rail freight, including the announcement of the rail freight growth target in December 2023. The NNNPS has been reviewed to reflect those changes in Government policy and to remain a robust framework for decision making on nationally significant infrastructure project schemes. Clearly, there are ongoing challenges in certain courts to the development of roads, and we await the decisions of those courts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) tempted me to become the Home Secretary. As we all know, the chances of that are our old friends slim and none, but I will take up with the Home Secretary the question of whether there should be a population growth assessment.

I thank all colleagues for their contributions today.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
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Will the Minister give way?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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No. I genuinely commend the NNNPS, which is a mighty piece of work, to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House approves the National Policy Statement for National Networks, which was laid before this House on 6 March.