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The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport

01/19/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 01/19/2021 08:32

THE OPINION: Giving a voice to rural communities and economies

The government's policy to prevent the sale of internal combustion-powered private cars and light vans by 2030 is a serious societal challenge across the UK in general and for rural communities in particular. Whilst accepting the overwhelming need to decelerate the rate of climate change, a one-size-fits-all approach to decarbonising transport will not achieve the desired outcomes. It could be argued that many government strategies dealing with the future of transport and the associated consequences are urban-centric - including, for example, the Road to Zero strategy - and do not adequately reflect the different needs across the UK.

A number of features make the rural environment unique and these considerations need to be taken into account in policy-making. We know, for example, that the population profile of a rural environment is very different from an urban profile, and that, combined with the remoteness of some areas, makes the economics of transport very different from urban settings. This in turn makes transport decarbonisation a potentially different challenge to face if we do not want to penalise rural communities.

The rural economy contributes £261 billion annually, more than a third of that of urban conurbations, but from only 17% of the population. It is important that evolving policy options for transport, including emissions reductions, do not neglect the important role rural communities play in our economy, in society and in particular in the delivery of the Road to Zero objectives. The rural economy has a role to play in decarbonisation, but it may be that different levers need to be considered. Decisions need to be made within the context of the needs of the rural environment, which will evolve as a result of changes in agriculture as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

It is clear that in rural communities the dependence on the car is significant, impacting both travel time and cost. Public transport, whilst often a major option for urban environments, has had less investment in rural areas, and the economies of scale mean that the provision of public transport is often financially challenged.

Rural industries, such as farming, food processing and health care, tend to be particularly dependent on freight movements compared to, say, office or education organisations. This means that plans for decarbonising goods movements may disproportionately impact rural economics. This has been the case in a Covid-19 world where online shopping has proved to be a vital link for rural communities, especially given the older nature of the population, leading to more dependence on efficient freight movements.

This rural focus has recently been acknowledged with the announcement of a call for evidence into the development of a rural strategy in the vein of the 2019 Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy, which set out the approach to maximising the benefits and managing the risks of new technology in urban areas. This call for evidence needs to recognise that rural communities and economies will need different strategies to maximise their continued contribution to the UK's sustainable growth.

The call for evidence is open until 16th February 2021 and CILT will be developing a response in due course.