TAPAS.network | 13 April 2023 | Round Table Discussion

Achieving a genuinely sustainable transport future for the UK


WE ARE VERY PLEASED to record our holding of the first successful TAPAS Round Table event in association with the ‘Transport Thinking Forum’ , which addressed the theme of achieving a sustainable future for UK transport.

We were delighted with the response from our invited participants drawn from the TAPAS contributors and other professional colleagues who comprised 30 people bringing a range of perspectives and experience on this important subject. This lead to an excellent discussion and kick off what we hope to be a valuable ongoing professional exchange in events of this kind.

We are indebted to Professor Greg Marsden who provided a comprehensive introductory presentation in the first session, setting the scene with background information on the issues and challenges as addressed in a range of Government policy papers over the last few years. Greg gave these a forensic examination for inconsistencies and direct contradictions leading to the conclusion that there was not a genuine pathway to sustainability, and in particular net zero, in place.

He apologised for giving his talk the sombre title ’The death of sustainable transport?’, but said what he had been uncovering over the past year had lead him to the conclusion that we were in the last chance saloon for a truly sustainable transport system in the UK. There were still some great schemes, urban realm improvements and bike lanes for example, which were going to continue to help. But, Greg felt that structurally the country was now at the point of committing to a pathway of accelerated traffic growth and a focus on technology shift which would widen equity gaps, reduce the viability of public transport, and mean that it was set to continue a journey of managed decline.

‘More than this, in the thirty years I have been involved in transport planning we have dabbled with tackling congestion and decided not to’, Marsden said. ‘We have promised to resolve air quality and yet still not done so (and beware the as yet poorly understood problem of tyre and brake particulates)’. And now the Government was effectively committing to a policy under which transport would not be pulling its weight on climate change emissions, Marsden concluded.

His analysis of the recently published updated national Carbon Budget Delivery Plan pointed to the Government’s conclusion that “As outlined, our quantified proposals and policies give us over 100% of savings required to meet Carbon Budget 4 and 5 and 97% of the savings required to meet Carbon Budget 6… We are taking a market-led approach to developing and deploying the technological shifts required to meet net zero.”

Looking forward, Professor Marsden said a key next step would be to see the Committee on Climate Change’s response in its July Progress Review.

Whilst there was pretty much a committed pathway to electrification, without a credible timetable for an alternative pricing regime we would be planning for inequitable growth in travel demand.

If the Local Transport Plan funding envelope was essentially a flat line, it would mean being effectively consigned to no net reduction in CO2 emissions at the local level, if the past three decades were to be our guide. ‘Why would we expect more people to own cars, have lower motoring costs and decide not to use them?’ he observed.

Meanwhile, he worried how stable the public transport industry now was, with demand still 10-15% back in terms of the pre-Covid position. Previous ambitions now seemed unrealistic and the profession should not be deluding itself in imagining futures for which there is no real prospect of delivering, and perhaps acting as a cover for business as usual.

He challenged those transport professionals who didn’t think those outcomes were desirable to consider not going along with the narrative, but questioned if anyone with power was in a position to rock the boat — and wondered if the next Labour government would be any more amenable to a change of course.

As things stood, Marsden thought we were at the point of reading the final rights for sustainable transport.

Professor Greg Marsden was followed by four shorter contributions on various dimensions of the relationship of transport theory/policy and the practical issues of implementation. These were made by Nicola Kane, Director at Steer, on practical transport strategy delivery at local level, David Metz, honorary professor in the Centre for Transport Studies at University College London, on public attitudes to car ownership and expectations and prospects of behavioural change, Keith Mitchell, Director at Stantec, on the interface with the private sector, and Ben Plowden, the newly-elected Chair of the Transport Planning Society on the political dimension of policy-making.


Then after the break, there was a facilitated discussion under the ‘Chatham House Rule’ seeking to map out what those present considered to be the key determinants for effectively addressing the situation and achieving appropriate outcomes. Professor Peter Jones very capably drew the various threads together and challenged everyone present to contribute their thoughts. Whilst the relatively gloomy prognosis at the national policy level identified by Professor Marsden was widely recognised, some individual avenues for development were suggested, and some mechanisms discussed to challenge the Government and provide local exemplars of doing things differently — especially by the devolved UK administrations and regional/metropolitan transport authorities.

All in all, it was generally regarded as a very stimulating and productive event.

After the formal discussions, most of those present enjoyed an hour or so’s socialising in a nearby hotel bar.



Links to available presentations: (download links are only active for those who participated in the Round Table)

  • Professor Greg Marsden: The Death of Sustainable Transport?

  • David Metz: Drivers’ Perspectives of Car Dependence

  • Keith Mitchell: Achieving a genuinely sustainable transport future for the UK —  Observations on the interface with the private sector

The discussion panel is only available to those who participated in the Round Table.
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Peter Stonham is the Editorial Director of TAPAS Network

Programme for the Round Table

Thursday, 13 April 2023, 16:30-20:30, The Abbey Room, Broadway House Conference Centre, Tothill Street, London SW1H 9NQ. (Opposite St James' Park Underground)

16:00 Tea/Coffee and networking

Session 1 — Setting the scene

16:30 Welcome and Introduction (Dr Arman Farahmand-Razavi and Peter Stonham)
16:50 Keynote by Professor Greg Marsden — The scale of the challenge and the current prognosis
17:15 Questions and Clarifications to Professor Marsden
17:35 Observations on practical transport strategy delivery at local level from Nicola Kane
17:45 Observations on the interface with the private sector from Keith Mitchell
17:55 Observations on public attitudes and expectations and prospects of behavioural change from Professor David Metz
18:05 Observations on transforming evidence into policy-making from Ben Plowden
18:15 Summary and synopsis of contributions so far (Dr Arman Farahmand-Razavi / Peter Stonham)

18:30 Tea/Coffee Intermission

Session 2 — Exploring actions and outcomes

18:45 Introduction to the session and framework for discussion by Professor Peter Jones
19:00 Facilitated discussion and capturing the key emerging issues in the light of the Session 1 content and other considerations that are now raised (Professor Peter Jones and Peter Stonham)
20:00 Summarising the discussion — Professor Peter Jones
20:15 Concluding remarks and next steps (Dr Arman Farahmand-Razavi and Peter Stonham)

20:30 Informal discussions/Networking (Transfer to Conrad Hotel lounge with drinks until 22:00)

Read more articles by Greg Marsden
Reverse gear: The reality and implications of national transport emission reduction policies
Following his successful Freedom of Information application to obtain details of the Department for Transport’s assumptions about achieving Net Zero for UK Transport, Professor Greg Marsden has led a detailed analysis of that data, and other recent government policy documents. The results have just been published, revealing what the report sees as significant back-tracking on the original commitments. We invited Professor Marsden to summarise those conclusions, and add some further observations about what it all means for local transport
Rowing Backwards: The New Politics of Decarbonisation
There has been a substantial reaction to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s policy changes to the Government’s approach to achieving Net Zero, most specifically the commitment to end fossil fuel car sales in 2030, extending the deadline to 2035. But he also sought to present a different way of thinking about the broader policies on the trajectory to the 2050 Net Zero deadline. TAPAS asked Professor Greg Marsden to comment on the implications.
The route to Net Zero: DfT assumptions look well off course
Last month a Freedom of Information release was finally made by the Department for Transport with details of the calculations underpinning the Government’s transport decarbonisation plan. It followed Professor Greg Marsden having fought long and hard to get the information. From an initial look at the material, we asked him : what does it tell us?
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The Urban SUVs: Too big for their boots, dangerous to others – and not paying their fair share either
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Long-term thinking on local public transport finances needed now
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Time to get back to normal, kick-start business as usual. Not.
IT’S UNDERSTANDABLE that phrases such as ‘back to normal’ and ‘business as usual’ have resonance to people whose lives have been disrupted. We yearn to see relatives and friends, are desperate for images of reliable jobs and incomes, meeting places open again, and seeing grandchildren (and a little less of the children, handing education back to those who know what they are doing).