Transport Issues website

UK Transport Policy And Planning

History Of UK Transport Policy

Pre-war policies

Most researchers would argue that the first signs of a transport strategy for the United Kingdom emerged no earlier than the Second World War, which finished in 1945. In the 1950s and 1960s the first transport planning [gloss.] strategies developed and these were primarily aimed at promoting use of the car through provision of motorways [gloss.] and trunk road [gloss.] improvements. This policy was implemented through predicting traffic levels several years ahead, and identifying congestion [gloss.] points on the road network. With the projected growth in traffic, noise and congestion levels would rise to an unacceptable standard. So the government chose to build its way out of congestion, using its 'predict and provide' [gloss.] policy.

an early motorcar

The Growth and Impact of the Car

The first generation of motorways to be built in England were the M1 (opened in 1959), the M6, M4, M62 and M5, which formed a box linking the country's major conurbations. The Buchanan Report [gloss.] went on to identify situations in urban areas where road building would be needed to minimise the environmental impact of the car, in the form of urban motorways [gloss.] and flyovers.

the M1 at Newport Pagnell, around 1965


Is this more environmentally acceptable than the existing situation?

However the Report made suggestions for setting up a road hierarchy and the need for integration [gloss.] with land use planning was recognised .

 Road pricing [gloss.] was also suggested in the 1960s, by Smeed [gloss.] , as a method of reducing traffic congestion in towns. The idea was dismissed at the time due to technological restraints. Road building continued throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, by which time public feeling towards new roads had changed, and this, annexed by the 1973 fuel crisis, led to a cutback in the roads programme [gloss.] . By the mid-1970s, a new system of transport planning was introduced which made local authorities recognise other factors such as the environment, land use [gloss.] and social equality in access to transport. However, it is important to note here that road building was by no means off the agenda, but the roads programme existed in a reduced size.

The 1980s was a decade of changing policies, dominated by a change in government and when the real cost of driving fell due to fuel costs, the impact of company cars and local government [gloss.] changes. In many ways the different transport sectors went their own way as buses became deregulated [gloss.] and other industries privatised. The decade saw increasing public awareness of environmental issues, and this is probably linked with the final few 'first-generation' motorways, the last of which was the M40, completed in 1990. However, there was trouble looming, as the 1989 National Road Traffic Forecasts predicted a 142% growth in traffic levels between 1989 and 2025. The government responded to this call by announcing a new £23 billion roads programme for the 1990s, with proposals for totally new routes as well as improvement to existing roads. This was a key moment in UK transport policy history, as it was finally recognised that whatever road construction policy is adopted, congestion will increase, so would this be the end of the 'predict and provide' policy? Indeed it would, as although there was a massive road building programme underway, it would see dramatic cuts in size over the next 10 years or so.


Compare the 1989 Roads For Prosperity programme which contained over 500 planned schemes, to the 1998 New Deal for Trunk Roads [gloss.] programme, known as the Targeted Programme of Improvements [gloss.] , which contained just 37!

 For many years trains have been seen in a bad light by the public. However, as this picture shows, new trains are in production, so can they transform the woes of the railway?

South West Trains Class 442 Wessex Electric

Emergence of Environmental Issues

Throughout the 1990s the roads programme suffered further set-backs with successive reviews in 1994 and 1996 shelving some schemes. Several reports were produced at this time which gave backing to the environmental voice, such as the Bruntland Report, 'Our Common Future' and the Agenda 21 [gloss.] sustainability plan. In 1994 'UK Strategy for Sustainable Development' and 'Planning Policy Guidance Note 13 (PPG13) were produced, the latter giving further advice on how best to integrate transport and land-use planning. The SACTRA [gloss.] report on trunk road assessment provided further proof that the predict and provide policy would not work and lead to an increase, not a reduction in, congestion levels. In 1996 the soon-to-be-outgoing conservative government instigated a national debate on transport but the results were never known.

 Are buses able to provide the transport solution for the UK?

Travel West Midlands bus

 Coaches offer a viable alternative to cars for longer journeys……or do they?

National Express coach

In the late 1990s when there was another change in government the emphasis was most definitely on reducing the need to travel and if there was a need, then the journey should be made by public transport, not by car. Road building would only be considered as a last resort, and the roads programme almost ground to a halt for three years.

The Integrated view

In 2000, the ten-year plan [gloss.] was published. There were signs that the government had taken stock of its 'anti-car and anti-motorist label' and there was a shift in policy back, to include road construction, with some £59 billion allocated to roads over 10 years.


Was this just a pre-election sweetener for the electorate of the UK?

More recent policy developments (outlined below) are continuing to include further road schemes, which suggests that road building is back in favour, only this time in a more controlled manner. See road building section for more details.

Since the labour government came to power in 1997, the government department [gloss.] responsible for transport has seen many changes. On coming to power, the government merged the Department of Transport (DoT) and the Department of the Environment, to form the new Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR for short). This was subsequently changed again into the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR). After the government won a second term in office in 2001, transport was then given its own department, the Department for transport (DfT). You will need to be familiar with these names when searching for records of previous reports and policies.

Recent Developments

Following the government's publication of ''A New Deal for Trunk Roads," new appraisal methods have been introduced to ensure solutions involving all forms of transport are considered when looking at congested areas. More information on these studies can be found in methods of appraisal section.

A European Union (EU) Transport White Paper [gloss.] was published in September 2001. Called "European transport policy for 2010 : time to decide" it provides a framework for transport policy across the whole of the EU for the next 10 years.

The disbanding of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, in 2001, to form, amongst other departments, the new Department for Transport [gloss.] is seen as significant as the government has realised that transport is such a big area of concern in society and requires a large amount of time and resources to be devoted to it: the Secretary of State is responsible for transport, and transport only.


Who is the current Secretary of State for Transport? Investigate the history of this important job in government over the last 20 years.

Planning consent was granted for Heathrow airport's 5th passenger terminal in November 2001. This concluded a nine-year planning enquiry and the terminal is due to be operational by 2007. The government also launched a consultation paper on the future of air transport in the UK for the next 30 years, to assess options for new runways/terminals and even whole airports. This exercise resulted in the latest major statement of government policy regarding air transport, the White Paper entitled "The Future of Air Transport" published in December 2003.

The Earth Summit 2002 Conference was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. This conference last met 10 years before. It brought together leaders from hundreds of countries to discusses issues relating to global sustainability and development.

On 3rd October 2002, the job of maintaining and improving Britain's railway tracks and stations was handed over from the struggling Railtrack, to a new, not-for-profit company, Network Rail [gloss.]. It will work together with the Strategic Rail Authority [gloss.] to re-develop Britain's railways. This will be a long job, so it is difficult and unfair to assess how successful these two organizations have been, or will be, so early on in their existence. Encouragingly, both have published their own 10-year plans for improvements to the system (Network Rail's plan; SRA's strategic plan), and the Office of the Rail Regulator's latest report says passengers are already seeing noticeable improvements. However, it is worrying that Network Rail is already dogged by accusations of serious overspending, fat-cat bonuses, and cutbacks. The latest major statements of government policy regarding rail transport are two White Papers: "The Future of Rail", published in July 2004, and "Delivering a Sustainable Railway", published in July 2007.

In December 2002, the government published a progress report on the 10 Year Transport Plan. In this report it admitted that it was not going to reach its congestion-cutting target set out in the plan published in 2000. It blamed unforeseen economic growth, and an unwillingness of local governments to implement Congestion Charging schemes until they have seen how London's performs, for the failure to stay on target.

After months of speculation and protest, London's Congestion charging scheme was introduced on the 17th February 2003. Check out the road user charging section for more details.

An investigation into the Government's Multi-Modal Studies by the Transport Select Committee [gloss.], published at the end of March 2003, critisised the studies' conclusions. The studies' final reports contain a number of suggested road building schemes, and little mention of rail investment or measures to control car use, see the Multi-Modal Studies section. Indeed, in 2003-04, £12 billion of road schemes were announced, causing some to accuse the government of returning to a 'build our way out of congestion' approach, see the road-building section for more details.

Following the government's admission that targets of the 10 Year Transport Plan could not be met, another government document, "Managing Our Roads" published in July 2003, highlighted the problems that our transport network and, in particular, roads will face over the next 20-30 years. It also described some of the measures that the DfT hopes will ease these problems. The latest major statement of government transport policy is the White Paper entitled "The Future of Transport: a network for 2030" which was published in July 2004.

In late 2006, two high-profile, transport-related reports commissioned by the UK Government were published, namely "The Stern Review: the Economics of Climate Change" and "The Eddington Transport Study" into links between transport and the economy. In response to these two major publications, in October 2007, the Department for Transport published a UK transport policy review document called "Towards a Sustainable Transport System: Supporting Economic Growth in a Low Carbon World" to initiate debate about the future direction of UK transport policy, and, in December 2007, the RAC Foundation published "Motoring towards 2050: Roads and Reality."

Key Dates in UK Transport Policy History

1963 - Buchanan Report, "Traffic In Towns"
1970 - "Roads to the Future" Roads Programme
1978 - Transport Act
1989 - National Road Traffic Forecasts
 "   " - "Roads for Prosperity" £23 billion roads programme
1992 - Agenda 21 sustainability plans announced
1994 - UK Strategy for Sustainable Development
 "   " - SACTRA report on trunk roads and traffic generation
1996 - "Transport – The Way Ahead" Green Paper
1997 - Road Traffic Reduction Act
 "   " - New Road Traffic Forecasts
1998 - "A New Deal for Transport – Better for Everyone" White Paper
2000 - "Transport 2010 – The Ten Year Plan" announced by government

2001 - EU White Paper

2002 - Progress Report on the Ten Year Plan

2003 - "Managing Our Roads" government report

2003 - "The Future of Air Transport" White Paper

2004 - "The Future of Rail" White Paper

2004 - "The Future of Transport: a network for 2030" White Paper


In this topic...

  topic overview  topic overview
  introduction  introduction
  history of uk transport policy  history of uk transport policy
  traffic forecasts  traffic forecasts
  planning  planning
  useful links  useful links
  exam-style questions  exam-style questions

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