The Liberal Democrats have announced a £130bn infrastructure fund in their manifesto, with transport investment geared primarily around rail as the party aims to achieve a zero carbon target of 2045.
With surface transport now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, the Liberal Democrats put their focus on sustainable transport and efforts to tackle congestion.
Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson
Big ticket rail projects including HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, East-West Rail and Crossrail 2 are all supported by the Lib Dems, who also aim to convert the network to ultra-low-emission technology (electric or hydrogen) by 2035, and provide funding for light rail and trams.
There is also the promise of a rail fares freeze for commuters and season ticket holders for the parliament.
Those in the sector might raise questions about the financial and operational realism of such a massive schedule of works while also freezing fares for the next five years, after Network Rail already struggled on its electrification programme over the last control period.
Eschewing nationalisation the Lib Dems have adopted a former Labour suggestion of allowing ‘public sector companies, local or combined authorities, not-for-profts and mutuals’ bid for rail franchises.
They also have anticipated Williams’ review’s concept of a more integrated guiding mind for the rail network by arguing for ‘a new Railways Agency to oversee the operations of the railway network, removing the Department for Transport from day-to-day decision-making’.
On buses, the Lib Dems have promised a £4.5bn spending programme to restore routes and ‘add new routes where there is local need’.
They would also repeal the rule, brought in under the Bus Services Act, preventing local councils from running their own bus companies and encourage the take-up of bus franchising – the regulated system that operates in London.
There is no mention of large scale road schemes or maintenance in the manifesto; however the Lib Dems have pledged £2bn towards the roll-out of ultra-low emission zones – one operates in London - to 10 more towns and cities in England and the conversion of all private hire vehicles and new buses licensed to operate in urban areas to ultra-low-emission or zero-emission by 2025.
On top of this, there is a pledge to pass a Clean Air Act, based on World Health Organisation guidelines, and enforced by a new Air Quality Agency.
‘The Act will enshrine the legal right to unpolluted air wherever you live,’ the Lib Dems state, although air quality standards already exist under EU directives.
The Lib Dems would also ‘accelerate the rapid take-up of electric vehicles (EVs) by reforming vehicle taxation, cutting VAT on EVs to 5% and increasing the rate of installation of charging points, including residential on-street points and ultra-fast chargers at service 47 stations.
‘We will ensure that, by 2030, every new car and small van sold is electric.’ This moves the UK’s commitment forward from 2040, just as its zero carbon pledge is a push from 2050, but in line with Scotland’s commitment.
One policy likely to be popular with local government transport officials is a pledge to ‘build on the successful Local Sustainable Transport Fund established by the Liberal Democrats when in government and workplace travel plans, to reduce the number of cars – particularly single-occupancy cars – used for commuting’
Cycling and walking would be given more prominence under the Liberal Democrats, with a promised five-fold increase in spending per head to reach 10% of the transport budget.
Aviation will be hit as the Lib Dems flex their green muscles, with the party vowing ‘a moratorium on the development of new runways (net) in the UK, opposing any expansion of Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted and any new airport in the Thames Estuary, and introducing a zero-carbon fuels blending requirement for domestic fights’.
In the terms of airplane passengers the Lib Dems call for ‘the taxation of international fights to focus on those who fly the most, while reducing costs for those who take one or two international return fights per year’.
Elsewhere in infrastructure, there was a pledge to spend a £5bn fund for food prevention and climate adaptation over the course of the parliament to improve food defences, and introduce high standards for food resilience for buildings and infrastructure in food risk areas.
There was also a vow to build ‘at least 100,000 homes for social rent each year and ensure that total housebuilding increases to 300,000 each year’.
As part of the total £130bn investment there is also a plan for a capital £50bn Regional Rebalancing Programme for infrastructure spend across ‘the nations and regions of the UK, with local and devolved authorities given a say in how it is used’.
The manifesto singled out the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine sub-national transport bodies as being in line to support ‘significant capital investment in infrastructure projects across these regions’.
On skills, the Liberal Democrats have set out a stall if being the most progressive with ideas such as a ‘UK-wide target for digital literacy’. Its headline announcement is a new ‘Skills Wallet’ for every adult, giving people £10,000 to spend on approved education and training courses throughout their life
The party has also promised to expand the apprenticeship levy into a wider ‘Skills and Training Levy’ with 25% of the funds going into a ‘Social Mobility Fund’ targeted at areas with the greatest skill needs.
The apprenticeship levy itself is widely regarded as a failure and only around 5% of the money is claimed back for apprenticeships, Transport Network has revealed.