DfT thrown into confusion as Govt plans unravel


A flagship £9bn road scheme and a key electric vehicle (EV) charging policy are among the Government plans thrown into doubt, as the prime minister's recent interventions on transport start to unravel.

Reports have circulated that neither Network Rail nor the Department for Transport were properly consulted prior to Number 10 axing the Manchester leg of HS2 or delaying the ban on petrol and diesel cars.

The prime minister's interventions appear to have left the Department for Transport (DfT) reeling across other policy and project plans.

The department has declined to confirm that ministers ‘remain committed to the [£9bn] Lower Thames Crossing'.

A spokesperson said that the department ‘would not be able to comment further as the DCO is live’ – a reference to National Highways' ongoing application for a development consent order for the LTC project.

However, this is not government policy, as transport secretary Mark Harper previously asserted his commitment to the scheme in March when the DCO was already live.

Similarly, a senior DfT spokesperson could not confirm whether key elements of the EV roll-out strategy remain policy after the PM's 2035 delay to the ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles.

In the DfT's 2022 EV roll-out strategy document, it stated: 'We will look to take pre-emptive powers to ensure there is a clear statutory obligation [on local highway authorities] to develop local charging infrastructure strategies and oversee their delivery, subject to consultation.’

The consultation was supposed to happen this year, leaving the DfT little time to catch up on its EV charging roll-out strategy.

The prime minister stressed that the pace of the EV charging roll-out was one reason why he felt the need to delay the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles. He noted that 'we have further to go to get the charging infrastructure truly nationwide'.

When asked to confirm or deny whether the Government still intends to give local authorities statutory responsibilities for the roll-out, a spokesman declined to comment.

He stated that the Government continues to work closely with local authorities to deliver local charging infrastructure.

He added that the department had consulted on the proposed measure through the Future of Transport Regulatory Review consultation, and would respond in due course.

However, the Future of Transport Regulatory Review consultation was launched in September 2021, six months before the official EV charging roll-out strategy was released.

The strategy was based in part on findings from the review and had confirmed that the DfT's plan was to hand statutory responsibilities to councils.

However, the DfT official suggested that this was no longer the case and the department was still deciding whether to proceed to a second consultation on the plans.

The DfT also declined to confirm whether it had a list of highway authorities with charging infrastructure strategies or whether it still planned to name and shame local highway authorities that had not produced strategies for chargepoint provision.

In a sign of how under-prepared the DfT was, a Government document listing the 'Network North' schemes that ministers would support with the £36bn saved from HS2's northern leg, included funding for tram routes in Manchester and Nottingham, which in fact already exist.

Among a host of re-announcements in the document, it also made a pledge to dual the A1 between Morpeth and Ellingham, which is already a committed RIS 2 scheme.

The document itself has been re-edited, watered down and even had sections about supporting mobility transformations in Bristol and Leeds removed. Another pledge in the document confused Littlehampton with Southampton.

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