National Networks National Policy Statement - Motion to Regret

– in the House of Lords am 7:49 pm ar 8 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Berkeley:

Moved by Lord Berkeley

That this House regrets the Government’s decision to lay the National Networks National Policy Statement, laid before the House on 6 March, without carrying out the systematic review of road projects recommended by the Climate Change Committee; addressing the risk of insufficient environmental action by the Department for Transport highlighted by the National Audit Office; or joining up their policies with the missions presented to Parliament under the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Llafur

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to introduce this short Motion tonight. I think the text of the Motion is pretty clear to noble Lords: in simple terms, I believe that the Government have introduced the latest national networks national policy statement without proper consultation and I fear that it will end in tears.

These NNNPSs have been around since they were set up with the Planning Act 2008 and are supposed to be produced every five years or so. They can be debated in both Houses. The present one was debated in the other place. I think there were 10 Members of Parliament present, and everybody had the feeling that it was being pushed through by the Government. The same legislation basically requires any debate in the Lords to take place within what they call a “relevant period”, otherwise you do not get the benefit of a response from the Minister. I was only told about this particular need for a debate quite recently by the Transport Action Network, for which I am very grateful, but we are actually out of time already.

The Government have not actually designated this NNNPS yet, and I hope to get comments from the Minister in this debate to explore what they are going to do next. Last week, the Government lost a case in the High Court on climate change issues. The case was led by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and the Good Law Project. They took legal action over the targets that the Government had put in the NNNPSs, having successfully challenged the previous budgets. The High Court ruled that Britain had breached legislation designed to help reach the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of keeping temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels, which required a new plan. The court effectively ruled that the NNNPS was illegal.

So my question to the Minister is: what next? Given that surface transport caused over 29% of UK emissions last year, it would be pretty foolish if the Government were to designate—in other words continue with—the NNNPS now. A lawful climate plan will inevitably require a fundamental and radical shift in transport policy, and we have not seen it yet. There is no sign of it. There are many examples that I could go through, but I will not, because a number of colleagues wish to speak. I have noted examples from organisations such as the Institution of Civil Engineers, the House of Commons Transport Committee and a lot of the other organisations that have submitted evidence. They are name-checked in the NNNPS, but just mentioning their names does not actually mean that the Government will do what the particular organisation says that they should do.

The Climate Change Committee’s report to Parliament stressed the importance of a

“systematic review of all current and proposed road schemes”.

That was in 2023. I am wondering where they are; maybe the Minister will be able to tell us. Many things in the Environment Act 2021 have not been translated into the NNNPS. Policy issues on cycling, wheeling, walking et cetera—particular interests of mine—are totally missing.

I have come to the conclusion, as I expect other noble Lords may have, that the Government have got a rather unsavoury record of ignoring any climate change documents or reports—even their own report—if they conflict with other policies. The two that I have come across govern oil production and building more roads. A couple of weeks ago, we had a debate in your Lordships’ House in Committee on the offshore oil and gas Bill. The Minister completely ignored the strong recommendations from the Environment Agency’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee—a statutory maritime advisory committee—not to drill oil in marine protected areas. The Minister totally ignored it, and the Government are going to go ahead. The same comment applies to the Department for Transport and the Climate Change Committee.

So I ask the Minister: what next? I could have divided the House on a Motion to Regret, but I am afraid that that does not solve the problem. If the Minister does nothing and the Government eventually designate this NNNPS, they will end up with multiple court cases and judicial reviews, which will likely stop them in their tracks because they have been defeated in the courts and they have to accept that. The presumption in favour of road building will also have to be looked at and obviously there will need to be changes to some of the planning laws.

The most important thing is for there to be an in-depth review of how the NNNPSs are actually created, and the role of other organisations who have an input, within government and outside. Some debate on them is a necessary part of NNNPSs being produced and they should be debated in both Houses in a proper, structured way.

I shall stop there. I beg to move and look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, it is a pleasure to support the regret Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, even though I think that regret Motions are pathetic, frankly. At least it means a debate.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Llafur

It is better than nothing.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

It is better than nothing. As somebody who has watched this Government for a long time now, I cannot believe that they have backtracked on so many of their plans. Actually, they had very few plans to start with, but they seem to have backtracked on all of them about delivering net zero. They seem to not even understand what net zero means.

As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, the Government were taken to court because it is obvious that the UK is going to fail to do its bit to save the planet—and they lost in court because they no longer believe in doing the right thing. They are now fighting another court case because they cut £200 million from the promotion of walking and cycling, a key part of delivering net zero.

I almost think that I—or someone else, possibly on this Bench—ought to write the Ladybird Book of Transport Policy for Climate Change Deniers, because, really, you do need to understand what we are going to see in the future. As has been said, transport accounts for nearly a third of emissions and, despite a million electric vehicles on our roads, those emissions have hardly changed in a decade. All the road building has led to extra cars and longer traffic jams. Instead of switching people away from their cars by creating places to live that are within easy, 15-minute walks of shops and services, this Government have run down bus services and built sprawling suburbs that actually increase the use of cars.

One big reason for the Government doing the wrong thing, rather than the right thing, is the millions that the Conservatives have received in donations from the oil and gas industry. Gas and oil people want drivers to spend longer driving to the shops and to fill up at petrol stations, because that means more money for them. Gas and oil do not really like people cycling or walking—all those cheap, easy things—because those people are not making them money. The big polluters finance Tufton Street think tanks and social media bots, because they want to squeeze as much money out of their planet-killing business as they possibly can.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said that the Government have an unsavoury reputation on climate change. I do not think that it is unsavoury; it is ignorant. I do not understand how you can go through the last few years of hearing what is happening on climate change and still be so ignorant about it.

I do not expect this Government to change their mind. I expect them to lose the general election and then have nothing to do with transport policy and not be a political force worth talking about for the next—

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

How many years in Government does the noble Lord want? Maybe a couple of terms. As such, I will focus my next few remarks to those in the next Government, because these national policy statements were Labour’s idea—and they are a really good idea. To make them work, we have to make sure that the Treasury listens and that the next Government get the funding to deliver real change.

When I was the Deputy Mayor of London to Ken Livingstone, I told him that, if we were to be serious about creating more cycling routes, we were going to need hundreds of millions a year. There was a huge shudder of shock around his whole office. It was eventually accepted that, if you want to change things and to get people more safely walking and cycling, you need the sort of money that we might spend on a new road. The truth is, if you build those opportunities, people will take them. We need to imagine a future that is better than what we have now and spend the money building that future.

Photo of Lord Banner Lord Banner Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I have two interests to declare. First, I am a practising Silk. At the planning and environment Bar, I act for a range of parties affected by national policy statements. Secondly, in February this year, I was appointed by the Prime Minister to undertake a review of the processes relating to legal challenges to development consent orders for nationally significant infrastructure projects.

In the course of that review, which is still to report, I have engaged on NSIPs with various stakeholders from all sides of the spectrum, including environmental NGOs, the public sector and the private sector. Obviously, I will not comment on matters within the remit of the review, but I want to draw the House’s attention to one point on which there is broad consensus among the stakeholders. It is not directly relevant to my remit, but it has some relevance to this debate. There is broad consensus that national policy statements need to be kept up to date, and that there have been shortcomings in that respect in recent years. The NPS that we are debating tonight replaces one from 2014. That is the status quo; it is 10 years old. The disbenefits of a national policy statement being out of date include, first, that the function of an NPS—to set the framework for development consent and streamline the consenting process—is undermined if it has been overtaken by events. Secondly, the propensity for and risk of legal challenges is greater if people can point to a mismatch between current circumstances and an out-of-date NPS.

Voltaire probably did not have in mind nationally significant infrastructure projects when he said that the perfect is the enemy of the good, but he might very well have done, because the adage is no less applicable, and possibly more so, in this context than it is in any other. Even if the national networks NPS could be improved with further reviews of the nature the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, suggests, the status quo during the time when it was subject to that review would be the 10 year-old and even further ageing 2014 NPS. I suggest that it may well be better to have a 2024 NPS—which on any view is more up to date than its decade-old predecessor—complete with a commitment to be reviewed within five years or earlier, as the new NPS commits that it should be. That review would be in light of any further environmental policy developments that took place in that five-year period. Is that not better than maintaining the status quo of 2014 while we conduct further reviews in the meantime?

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Llafur

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Woodland Trust and president, patron or vice-president of a range of environmental organisations. I support the Motion to Regret tabled by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. He got to the Table Office about 30 seconds before I did with my version of the Motion. He will pay for that in future.

I want to challenge the previous statements, with all respect to Voltaire. This is not a question of it not being necessary to update the previous policy statement. It is very overdue to update the previous policy statement, but, alas, this version is badly out of kilter with a whole suite of other policy commitments that the Government have already made, including environmental and other targets. Voltaire might have said that the best is the enemy of the good, but this is far from being “the best”—and it is not even “the good”. Let us press on.

It is amazing how many respectable bodies have criticised this policy, because this revised version has significant implications for the delivery of the key objectives of the UK Government on climate and the environment. The Government have missed many of their targets for years. In its most recent assessment of the Department for Transport, the National Audit Office gave a “black” rating—the worst possible rating—to the likelihood and impact of the risk that the Department for Transport would

“not deliver sufficient action in the transport sector to provide carbon savings, meet air quality and biodiversity targets, and adapt to climate change”.

That is pretty forthright. We have to remind ourselves that these targets are, for the most part, enshrined in law.

The Transport Select Committee had a go at this. It was highly critical of the draft NNNPS, but the Government rejected the vast majority of its findings. The Climate Change Committee’s 2023 progress report to Parliament stressed the need for

“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. But that did not seem to be picked up by the Government. In fact, the Department for Transport flatly refused to undertake any assessment of schemes, and the revised NNNPS would now permit an increase in emissions, when we are already not on track to meet our future carbon budgets. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, road transport emissions are almost one-third of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. We must take action in transport if we are to meet these overall binding targets.

The NNNPS is not just failing on net-zero targets; it does next to nothing to reduce the significant impact on key habitats, such as ancient woodlands, of the strategic road and rail programmes. So far, HS2 has caused the greatest ever destruction of and damage to irreplaceable ancient woodlands of any major infra- structure project. The successive stages that have emerged since the early part have not shown any improvement whatever—and neither has East West Rail in its planning process. The most valuable fragments of ancient woodland often occur in the open spaces between areas of built development. New roads and railways make a kind of beeline for those open spaces, since they provide a green field route with nothing getting in the way—except irreplaceable habitats. In fact, it often looks like roads and rail routes simply join up the dots of the ancient woodland fragments that should be protected.

The Woodland Trust ran an assessment of the impacts of the schemes in the Department for Transport’s road investment strategies 1 and 2, which cover the last 10 years. Some 29% of the schemes have resulted in a confirmed impact on ancient woodlands and ancient trees.

There is one small crumb of comfort in the proposed NNNPS. It adopts the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework that loss or damage to these key habitats should be allowed only where there are “wholly exceptional reasons”. However, the DfT then goes on to argue that nationally significant infrastructure project roads are wholly exceptional due to national needs—so a fat lot of good the slightly tougher wording turns out to be.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about the debate in the other place on the NNNPS. It was a bit desultory—to use the kindest phrase I can think of. It was scheduled as virtually the last business before the Easter Recess: sort of the equivalent of a wet Tuesday night at the Aberdeen Empire. That is not a great way to deal with such an important policy statement. Although several Members made compelling points, the Minister barely noticed that they had happened. This development since the debate in the other place is crucial: the High Court’s judgment last week declaring the Government’s climate change action plan unlawful is absolutely fundamental.

In the light of that, it seems unwise for the Government to seek to designate the NNNPS now. A lawful plan will inevitably require a fundamental shift in government approach to transport planning, since transport policy represents 70% of the gap in delivery policies across all economic sectors. Therefore, a lack of progress to decarbonise transport, in effect, kicks the legs out from under the whole net-zero agenda.

There is an elegant way for the Government to get out from under the car crash in which they find themselves as a result of the High Court ruling. In February 2022, the energy national policy statements were withdrawn for further review in light of the BEIS Committee calling for stronger emphasis on net zero, so there is a precedent. In my book, the DfT should gracefully do the same, and commission an independent review of the NNNPS and of the projects that are beneath its overarching framework to make sure that transport policy can deliver what is needed for the Government to achieve their statutory targets, both in climate change and in the broader environment.

Can the Minister confirm that he will, in fact, gracefully withdraw the NNNPS? If he is not prepared to do that, why not, and how are the Government planning to meet their statutory climate and environment commitments and to respond to the verdict of the High Court?

Photo of The Bishop of Manchester The Bishop of Manchester Bishop

My Lords, as it seems compulsory in this short debate to quote Voltaire, perhaps I might take us to his wonderful creation, Dr Pangloss, who continues to assert:

“All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds” even while the horrors are descending around him. I feel there is something of that in the statement; it is a bit Panglossian. As noble Lords have already said, we face a climate emergency and crisis, and this statement is not adequate to the seriousness of the situation that we are in.

In Greater Manchester, we have made a commitment through our combined authority to become a net-zero city by 2038. It is no good us doing that if everybody else is going the opposite way. My wife is a priest in a parish underneath a motorway interchange. Motorways are, of course, exempt from all the clean air regulations that apply to many other roads. We desperately need every policy to be thoroughly tested to ensure that it will get us to net zero in the time and at the pace that we need, and at the moment, this is not good enough.

Photo of Lord Goddard of Stockport Lord Goddard of Stockport Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is quite right to highlight the Government’s failure to carry out the systematic review of road projects recommended by the Climate Change Committee, and addressing the risk of insufficient environmental action by the Department for Transport that was highlighted. I just want to speak about the effect that has on the levelling-up agenda, which it links to. All these actions are interactions, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Young of Old Scone, are quite right to highlight the environmental impacts of these decisions. However, there are even bigger and more important issues, which I will highlight to the House.

As an aside, my need to stay for two nights in London to take part in this debate tonight is also relevant, as well as the thousands of people who were going to come London today but who cannot do so because of a national rail strike. That is not directly connected to this but it is symptomatic of how the Government are dealing with the people who deal with that infrastructure. After two years, ASLEF has still not resolved a pay dispute, but it is not all its fault. This is on the record: I am not having a go at Avanti trains tonight. The infrastructure—Network Rail—is to blame along the way as well. Trains are blocked and lines are down and not working. I can tell you where they are; people need to know where they are. If you go to Milton Keynes or Watford, lines are down. It affects the travel anywhere around that area and affects everything coming into London, including people.

It is the failure of joined-up thinking that is causing me angst and making me want to stand here tonight in this short debate and just try to explain why. The draft statement says:

“The government’s Levelling Up the United Kingdom White Paper recognises the role that transport can play in boosting productivity, by connecting people to jobs, and businesses to each other, and sets out an ambition to level up transport connectivity. It recognises the role that specific projects on national networks can play in improving connectivity between towns and cities”.

That is what we are trying to do. The difficulty with that well-intentioned statement is that it is not happening. They are not connecting up the towns and cities of the north, the Midlands or the far north, such as Newcastle. Someone seems unable to deliver these NNNPS policies.

On transport, the Government say:

“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”.

If your Lordships know of a town or city in this country that has anything like the simplified ticketing system of London, please tell me about it. Greater Manchester is doing its best, with the mayor bringing the buses back into public ownership, and we are now going to try to get our own mini-Oyster scheme going, but to try to connect that with the trains is like pulling teeth. These people do not talk to each other. Although the national Government cannot be responsible for everything, surely they are responsible for connecting up people. They give devolved powers to regions and then they do not allow those regions to connect up the policies that enable the facilities to deliver, and that is all that we are looking for. We are looking for the Government to actually enact these great things. I have highlighted these statements, which are all very worthy, but there is nothing behind them.

If you compare our transport system and infrastructure with Europe, we are lamentable. We fall behind France, Germany and Italy and every other country, and you dare not go any further, to Japan, and get on that bullet train, or to China, where in the time we have been debating one more runway at Heathrow Airport, they have built 21 airports. The whole thing is holistic.

My question to the Minister is: will anybody grasp this situation and try to pull it together? Everybody knows what we need to do but nobody seems to want to do it. Paragraph 2.1 of the National Networks National Policy Statement says:

“As recognised through the government’s economic growth and levelling up agenda, improved connectivity and accessibility, both locally and inter-regionally, facilitates deeper labour markets giving individuals better access to jobs, and education, and businesses better access to skills. Improved connectivity can increase the economic density of an area, leading to increased productivity”.

That is surely what the Government want: fewer people claiming benefits and more people in work, paying taxes, contributing to society and being part of society. The metro mayors are getting it and are trying to do it. We have now seen the local elections and the mayoral elections. I just hope that the Government can step back and look again.

Finally, this is the most important part of what the Government themselves have said:

“By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK … this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas”.

That is what we need, and that is what is at risk. We need those 80,000 low-skilled workers and those 200,000 people getting high-quality jobs, because that in itself is what creates the wealth and prosperity of this country.

On projects, I will briefly touch on HS2—I was on the Select Committee for it. We have a saying up north: “A blind man on a galloping horse could see what was coming”. It was quite clear what was coming: the cost, the cost, the cost. As a principle, I get it; it is a statement of intent about connecting the north and the south—I understand that—but nobody thought it through. If there is one thing this Government must be held accountable for, it is that they do not think it through. Come the next general election, whatever the result may be, it will be because they never thought it through.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Minister (Transport) 8:15, 8 Mai 2024

My Lords, I often end up in this situation, with four or five people in the Chamber battling through statutory instruments with the Minister. I do not know how I got into this mess, but I have. Tonight, though, is different, and it has become more different as I have listened to this debate.

I was born in 1943, and I would claim to be in one of history’s most favoured generations. In my life, nobody has shot at me in anger; I have never known hunger; broadly speaking, longevity has grown in that period; general levels of health have improved; and, broadly speaking, affluence improved until, say, 2015. I remember the Cuban missile crisis and thinking, and even arguing, that all these sensible people who had been through the Second World War would not do anything silly. As I become closer to power in my old age, I realise by what a narrow margin that proved to be—just—true.

The situation we now face is worse. We have a number of wars; we have a war in the Middle East, and a war in Ukraine. Never, in decades, has the possibility of a war approaching our shores been greater. But even that pales into insignificance compared with the climate crisis. I have to get my stuff from the radio, but I believe that every day in the last year was the warmest on record, worldwide. I cannot go that far, but I have a horrible feeling that we will fail the climate crisis. We are a nation that can make our contribution, and we are backing off it; we were a leader on this whole issue, and now we are backing off it. This is just an example of how we are incrementally backing off our commitments.

I may be being unfair, so let us look at the Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I will read it into the record, because the more I read it, the more powerful I think it is. The key wording is,

“without carrying out the systematic review of road projects recommended by the Climate Change Committee; addressing the risk of insufficient environmental action by the Department for Transport highlighted by the National Audit Office; or joining up their policies with the missions presented to Parliament under the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023”.

I want the Minister to address all three charges, because if he cannot refute them, he ought to apologise. It seems to me that those commitments were made to Parliament, and Parliament has a right to expect commitments made by Ministers to be honoured.

We have no vehicle to discuss the planning statement other than this debate, so I will finish by saying a few words about it. The issues with building transport infrastructure go deeper than the NNNPS. The question is whether this update will improve transport infrastructure delivery. While this version provides some important improvements on the 2014 version, it falls well short of providing what is needed and poses significant questions as to whether it is compatible with our climate change commitments. This risks further slowing down the planning process for major projects; the system is already moving at a glacial pace, when we should be pushing the accelerator. One of the concerns raised about the plan is that it is clearly not meeting our net-zero obligation. It contains decarbonisation promises that we already know the Government are behind on, such as the charge point target. How does the Minister plan to ensure that we still meet our 2015 net-zero target when these policies seemingly do the opposite? Does the Minister think his draft National Networks National Policy Statement is compatible with the 2021 transport decarbonisation plan?

An additional concern is the lack of roles for the subnational transport bodies. These bodies have strategic plans for their regions to both reduce carbon output and support economic growth. What further work will the Government do to ensure regional bodies are brought into transport planning? I am glad the Government accepted the Transport Committee’s recommendation that these plans be placed on a five-yearly review.

One piece of good news is that noble Lords should not have to wait long to see improvements in this policy statement, if the local election results are anything to go by. As part of its commitment to overhauling the country’s approach to planning and infrastructure, Labour has committed to updating all national policy statements within six months—and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for pointing out that, conceptually, they are a sound idea. This sits alongside Labour’s review of Britain’s rail infrastructure, which would explore how it can not only recover from over a decade of managed decline but help us boost jobs, improve value for money and drive investment and economic growth across the country. This policy statement, thanks to the input of the Transport Select Committee and those who provided evidence, does improve on the one drafted by the Government. However, what our planning and transport systems need is a Government who are committed to delivering a system that works and is compatible with our net-zero promises.

Photo of Lord Davies of Gower Lord Davies of Gower Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, I would like to thank all noble Lords for their consideration of the National Networks National Policy Statement. I would particularly like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for securing the debate; he is well known for his contribution to transport policy, not least in the area of rail freight.

Our road and rail networks are essential parts of our transport system. They connect people and communities and enable the effective movement of freight. They are fundamental to our economy and our way of life. Therefore, we need to maintain and enhance these national networks. The Government set out their ambition in the 2020 national infrastructure strategy to make the infrastructure consenting process better, faster and greener. The cross-government action plan for nationally significant infrastructure projects sets out the reforms to the planning regime that will ensure the system can support our future infrastructure needs. The action plan underlines the importance of having clear and up-to-date national policy statements in order to set the strategic direction for future infrastructure schemes.

The National Networks National Policy Statement—or NNNPS, as I will abbreviate it—sets out the planning framework for taking decisions on large-scale road, rail and strategic rail freight interchange projects in England. It sets out the need for development of infra- structure, and the impacts that the proposed development must address. The NNNPS provides planning guidance for promoters of schemes on the national road and rail networks, and is the basis for the examination by the examining authority and decisions by the Secretary of State. The current NNNPS was designated in 2015; at that point there was no net-zero target, transport decarbonisation plan or biodiversity net gain requirement. The NNNPS has been reviewed to bring it up to date, so that it properly reflects the legislative requirements and policy context of today.

Having an up-to-date planning policy framework is essential. It is helpful for communities to know the standards that applications will be held to. It means that applicants know what information they need to provide with their application. This can prevent the need for further information later in the process, which can cause delay. It also gives the Secretary of State clearer guidance on the approach to impacts and reduces the need to interpret and balance sometimes competing policy positions.

In undertaking the review, we have sought to ensure that the infrastructure we deliver is compatible with our environmental targets—not just net zero but areas such as air quality and biodiversity. We think the revised NNNPS strikes the right balance.

On net zero, the steps we are taking through the transport decarbonisation plan mean that we can continue to invest in the road network. While the transition to net zero will bring changes to the way we travel, the road network will remain at the heart of our transport system and a major enabler of growth. The revised NNNPS provides a clearer framework for assessing carbon impacts, so that decision-makers can more readily consider nationally significant infrastructure project schemes within the context of the Government’s legally binding carbon targets and net zero.

With that, I will turn my attention to points raised during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Young of Old Scone, raised issues regarding the transport decarbonisation plan, which we published in 2021. This sets out how we will achieve net zero across all modes of transport by 2050; the plan covers all modes of transport and was the first of its kind in the world. Since then, significant delivery progress has been made, with some actions exceeding the plan’s commitments. Successive publications, including the net zero strategy in October 2021 and the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan in March 2023, build on the commitments made in the plan.

We are considering the recent judgment against the CBDP carefully. However, it is important to note that the judgment contains no criticism about the Government’s policies to meet the ambitious carbon budgets we have set in law. We do not believe that completion of the NNNPS review needs to be paused as a consequence of the judgment. The NNNPS itself is not an investment strategy and does not list specific schemes; it sets out the planning framework for consenting major schemes, but not the quantum of schemes coming forward. We are currently working to prepare the third road investment strategy. At the point that decisions are made on the final balance of the scheme portfolio, Ministers will consider all impacts of those schemes, including carbon.

The noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe, Lord Berkeley and Lord Goddard of Stockport, raised the Climate Change Committee report. This Government do not believe that it is necessary to review or pause the roads programme in light of environmental goals, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee. It is also important to remember that carbon emissions from construction and operation of the strategic road network represent a small proportion of overall UK domestic emissions. However, emissions from the transport sector were responsible for 28% of domestic emissions in 2022, with 90% of those coming from road vehicles. The right way to tackle decarbonisation of the road network is not to nibble away at the edges by blocking new schemes but to decarbonise the vehicle fleet, which we are getting on with.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raised issues regarding the NNNPS and the natural environment. All nationally significant infrastructure projects need to consider environmental commitments. Legislation is part of the process of seeking development consent. The NNNPS sets out the principles on which individual projects should be assessed, including the environmental impacts of a proposed scheme. The revised NNNPS has been updated to reflect recent environmental policy and legislation, such as biodiversity net gain requirements and other Environment Act 2021 targets and policies.

On air quality, which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raised, air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010, with nitrogen oxides falling by 32%—they are at their lowest level since records began. The Government have legally binding targets to reduce emissions of five key air pollutants.

Biodiversity was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. The environmental improvement plan, published in January 2023, is the central pillar of government policy to help nature thrive in England. It is based on a framework of long-term and interim targets, including to increase species abundance and tree cover. The landmark Environment Act 2021 put in place targets and requirements to help us restore natural habitats and increase biodiversity across the nation. It introduced a requirement for nationally significant infrastructure projects seeking consent to deliver a minimum of 10% biodiversity net gain from November 2025.

On an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, the NNNPS is not a transport strategy; it sets the framework for consenting nationally significant infrastructure projects. This is a category of very large projects, defined under the Planning Act 2008. It does not include walking and cycling projects, or public transport other than some rail schemes. That is not illustrative of their relative importance; it simply reflects the different planning regimes in place for different sizes of scheme. The NNNPS should not be considered as a statement of the Government’s entire transport policy; that is not what it is for.

My noble friend Lord Banner talked of reform of the planning process for nationally significant infra- structure projects. We must have a planning system fit to deliver them while keeping communities and the environment at the heart of our decision-making. My department is contributing to an active government reform programme to improve the planning system for major infrastructure. It includes reviewing national policy statements and ensuring that transport infra- structure consenting routes are proportionate. The NNNPS review was undertaken in line with the existing NPS guidance owned by the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities and is consistent with the structure and process adopted in existing national policy statements.

On decarbonisation in general, which was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Young of Old Scone, the UK has decarbonised faster than any other major economy, more than halving emissions since 1990. Our credible cross-cutting plan to decarbonise all transport is at the heart of our ambition, a plan that works for transport users, the economy and the climate, leading the charge internationally. Domestic transport emissions are down 11% from 2019, and growth is up. Our zero-emission vehicle mandate delivers the most ambitious national-level regulation of its kind, supporting decarbonising our roads in line with net zero by 2050 while unlocking billions in investment across our automotive and charge point sectors.

On the NNNPS and net zero, which the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Young of Old Scone, raised, the NNNPS provides a clear framework for assessing carbon impacts so that decision-makers can more readily consider nationally significant infrastructure project schemes within the context of the Government’s legally binding carbon targets and net zero. The NNNPS makes clearer the requirements on scheme promoters and decision-making Ministers in respect of net zero. Applicants are expected to provide a carbon management plan for new schemes coming forward under the NNNPS. These carbon management plans have to include a whole-life carbon assessment of the project setting out the expected greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of the proposed development and must show that emissions have been reduced as much as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Goddard of Stockport, raised the NNNPS and the Levelling- up and Regeneration Act. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Act received Royal Assent in October 2023 after the completion of the public consultation into the draft revised NNNPS. We worked with all relevant government departments during the process of the review to ensure that the revised NNNPS is as future-proofed as possible. While we were unable to signpost legislation that had not completed its parliamentary process, we have sought to reflect the emerging direction of travel in the NNNPS, where appropriate. Emerging changes to environmental assessment are one example. The NNNPS includes provision for review at least every five years.

The noble Lord, Lord Goddard, talked about government investment in rail. The Government are redirecting £36 billion of funding from HS2 into hundreds of transport projects across the country to drive better connectivity across the north and the Midlands with faster journey times, increased capacity and more frequent, reliable services across rail, buses and roads: £19.8 billion will go to the north, £9.6 billion will go to the Midlands, and £6.5 billion will go to other national projects and schemes. They will be delivered at various times over the next decade and beyond with some already under way, such as improved support for bus services and pothole repairs.

The noble Lord, Lord Goddard of Stockport, also posed the question, “Who is going to get a grip on it?”. I can tell the noble Lord that we have a clear plan for the transport system that we have articulated in a range of publications covering specific modes of transport and cross-cutting policy areas. These are backed up with clear aims and objectives and are guided by our strategic aims to grow and level up the economy, improve transport for the user and reduce environmental impacts. We engage closely with a range of stakeholders in developing these policies and strategies.

The Government recognise the need for timely infrastructure delivery and an updated NNNPS is a critical element in ensuring our consenting regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects functions as effectively as possible. The NNNPS has been subject to a thorough review process. We are very grateful to all those who provided comments during the public consultation and to the Transport Select Committee for its careful consideration of the issues. The revised NNNPS reflects the latest legislation and policy. It strikes the right balance between enabling the delivery of infrastructure and protecting the environment and provides much clearer guidance to all those involved in the consenting process. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the revised NNNPS delivers on its purpose.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Llafur 8:30, 8 Mai 2024

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and to the Minister for his comprehensive response. He said that he felt that the NNNPS brought the right balance between the need for transport and the need for the environment and zero carbon, but all I can say is that most noble Lords who have spoken tonight probably do not agree with it. We shall watch what happens in future.

The one thing the Minister did not tell the House was whether the NNNPS has actually been designated. He said we should all support it and that it is the most wonderful thing probably since sliced bread or whatever. We will have to read very carefully what he said, but I did not hear the word “designation”. We will wait for that. We have been here a long time. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, which were really helpful. I apologise to my noble friend for getting in before her when it came to putting the name of the debate down, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion withdrawn.