- The Conservative manifesto is light on transport commitments.
- Despite this, it includes a prominent commitment to make Britain a world-leader in “electric vehicle technology and use”, making “almost every” car and van zero-emission by 2050, and investing £600m in helping to achieve this.
- Otherwise, it commits to continuing with current investment: putting about £40 billion into transport improvements across the United Kingdom over the rest of this decade, including continuing investment in HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, expansion of Heathrow and developing the strategic road network.
There is a focus on continuity in the Conservative manifesto. Perhaps with “stability” in mind, the manifesto does not include any radical or unexpected transport reforms, choosing instead to focus on continuing current investment and expansion. It means that in its 88-page manifesto, the Conservatives dedicate just 287 words specifically to transport.
Where commitments are made, the wording is careful and deliberate, and they are evolutionary in nature. Overall, it gives it a very different tone to the Labour Party’s more radical manifesto, which was more focused on transport. There are also large spending commitments in this manifesto, but it is on roads and rail.
This investment is aimed primarily at boosting the UK economy as it leaves the EU. The manifesto links housing and transport by committing to providing roads and rail links to open up opportunities for housing. It is a manifesto that embodies the mantra “strong and stable”; a phrase it mentions 13 times.
On a broader note, it is significant that the manifesto includes a line saying the Conservatives will take the UK out of the EU’s single market and customs union, instead seeking to establish a “comprehensive free trade and customs agreement”. Though Theresa May has a mandate for Brexit, she has been criticised for pursing a so-called “hard Brexit” without a mandate. This line would give her just that.
Low emissions vehicles and buses
The manifesto doesn’t include many firm commitments beyond continuing current investment, but it notably singles out ULEVs.
The Conservatives say they want “almost every car and van” to be zero-emission by 2050, meaning they presumably accept that there will still be some diesel or petrol cars on the road. The wording implies they are not making the same commitment for HGVs and buses.
However the Conservative Party does commit to investing in “low-emission” buses, which is possibly vague enough to include low-emission diesel and petrol engines. The party also goes on to say it will support audio-visual displays for bus passengers and community minibuses for rural areas poorly served by public transport.
The manifesto also says the Conservatives will increase broader investment in research and development, and specifically cites batteries (for use in electric vehicles) as one such area they will look to invest in. It does not say what this level of investment would be.
There is a focus on infrastructure spending in the manifesto, albeit largely a continuation of what has already been announced. The manifesto says the Conservatives would continue their £40 billion programme of infrastructure investment over the course of this decade.
This includes continuing spending on HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the expansion of Heathrow, as well as investments on the strategic road network. The manifesto says that these projects will also be used to develop the skills and careers of British workers – but does not expressly say how. It might refer to their manifesto proposal to double the Immigration Skills Charge to £2,000.
The manifesto commits to continuing rail investment, with a focus on creating extra capacity on the railways to ease overcrowding, bring new lines and stations, and improve existing routes – including for freight. There is also a commitment to increasing services on main lines and commuter routes, and providing new services to poorly services areas.
There is something here for everyone, but there is not a great level of detail about how they plan to achieve this. The Conservative proposals are modest when compared to Labour’s desire to take franchises into the public sector as they expire. It suggests they are not going to attempt to fight Corbyn on this issue.
The Conservatives only include one direct commitment to improving air quality, which is planting 11 million trees, and ensuring that 1 million more are planted in towns and cities, as well as placing a duty on councils to consult when they want to remove trees.
They do include a commitment to investing in ULEVs, but this is not directly linked to air quality in the manifesto itself.
The manifesto commits loosely to continuing Government support for local authorities to expand cycle networks and upgrade facilities for cyclists at railway stations.