Climate Stripes from Durham overlaid by text 'Decarbonising Transport' and part of the SPACE for Gosforth logo

Transport for the North – Decarbonising Transport

Climate Stripes from Durham overlaid by text 'Decarbonising Transport' and part of the SPACE for Gosforth logo

Warming Stripes for Durham from 1795-2020.

Transport for the North (TfN) has recently consulted on its draft Decarbonisation Strategy covering road and rail transport in the north of England. This blog sets out SPACE for Gosforth’s response to that consultation.

TfN’s objectives align with the national Transport Decarbonisation Plan and aim to meet the Paris Agreement target to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. According to the World Meteorological Organization, in 2020 the global mean temperature was already 1.2 ± 0.1 °C above the 1850–1900 baseline.

Specifically, the TfN strategy aims to achieve:

  • A 55% reduction in emissions from 2018 to 2030, achieved mostly through mode-shift and demand reduction.
  • A 95% reduction in emissions from 2018 to 2040, reflecting longer-term decarbonisation measures, such as a high proportion of zero-emissions vehicles in the vehicle fleet.
  • A close to zero date of 2045 for carbon emissions from surface transport in the North.

The profile of reductions (TfN’s Decarbonisation Trajectory) has been set so that total emissions between now and 2045 are less than the ‘carbon budget’ required to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5 °C target. TfN have calculated that without any action that carbon budget will be expended by 2030 – so rapid action is necessary.

The Transport for the North draft Decarbonisation Strategy is here:

The UK National Transport Decarbonisation Plan can be found here:

This recent short feature from the BBC explains the link between climate change and recent heat waves in the US and Canada. Without effective and urgent action we will see more and more stories like this.

This is the SPACE for Gosforth response.

Dear Transport for the North

Re: Transport for the North Decarbonisation Strategy – August 2021

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Transport for the North draft Decarbonisation Strategy.

We are a community group based in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne. SPACE stands for Safe Pedestrian and Cycling Environment. Our group was established in 2015 due to residents’ concerns about road danger and air pollution in our local neighbourhood. You can find our group objectives on our website

We previously responded to the Transport for the North Strategic Transport Plan consultation. That response can be found here:

In that response we posed a number of questions and are pleased to see that Transport for the North is making progress towards answering those questions, including via the Northern Evidence Academic Forum. It is extremely important, given the urgent need to decarbonise transport, that the TfN decarbonisation plan includes actions that will be most effective and can be implemented quickly, ideally within months rather than years.

In this response we focus on road transport, which is responsible for 95% of surface transport emissions, and on actions that Transport for the North will need to take immediately to achieve a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030 in line with the TfN Decarbonisation Trajectory.

We have previously responded to Newcastle upon Tyne’s call for evidence about climate change, which includes many actions that can be taken by local authorities.


  1. The Decarbonisation Challenge – an existential threat
  2. Transport Demand Management
  3. Actions that Transport for the North can take to decarbonise surface transport
  4. Enabling travel via Mode Shift
  5. Risks and Benefits
  6. Conclusion

1. The Decarbonisation Challenge – an existential threat

The recent IPCC report has been described as a “code red for humanity”. The past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850. The recent rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled compared with 1901-1971.

According to a recent research paper, failing to address the climate emergency will lead to an estimated 83 million excess deaths by 2100, more than the entire population of the UK.

The consequences of climate change include more extreme weather events, wild fires, droughts and disruption to food suppliers. Large areas of the planet could become uninhabitable, forcing millions of people to migrate elsewhere and significantly increase the risk of conflicts breaking out.

The UK Climate Change Committee has been very clear “the utmost focus is required from government over the next ten years […] The 2020s must be the decisive decade of progress and action.”

The Transport for the North Decarbonisation Strategy will be key to enabling the progress and actions necessary in the early 2020s to achieve or exceed the targets in the TfN Decarbonisation Trajectory, in particular the target to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030.

2. Transport Demand Management

TfN’s strategy recognises that the 55% reduction in emissions by 2030 must be achieved mostly through mode-shift and demand reduction. In simpler language, we need to drive less. Transport for the North needs to focus on what it can do to enable this change to happen quickly.

Less driving at this scale will happen if and only if one or both of the following occurs.

  • Driving fossil fuel vehicles is made more expensive to reduce overall demand and miles driven; and / or
  • Road capacity is reduced leading to disappearing traffic.

Other actions, for example reducing and enforcing speed limits, may add to these but will not be sufficient in themselves. Investing in public transport, even making it free, is unlikely by itself to substantially reduce miles driven.

TfN may wish to look at local authority air quality plans that have failed over many years to achieve legal limits for air pollution. The only effective measure to reduce air pollution on main roads has been clean air zones, implemented only after the UK government was ordered to meet targets by the UK High Court.

To reduce emissions by 55% there will need to be a similar or greater reduction in miles driven by fossil fuel vehicles. Real-world fossil fuel efficiency savings cannot be relied upon.

This doesn’t have to mean a reduction in travel, or in the benefits of travel, if there is sufficient investment to enable people to use zero emission vehicles or to walk, cycle or use public transport instead. Walking and cycling are also cheaper and more healthy ways to travel.

3. Actions that Transport for the North can take to decarbonise surface transport

The draft Decarbonisation Strategy acknowledges that “demand-management and mode-shift policies that can be implemented quickly will be key” (page 46) and that “rapid action will be required across mode-shift, technological change and demand reduction on a significant scale” (page 49).

Measures need to be effective and need to be implemented immediately (within months). The Decarbonisation Trajectory (page 12) suggests that a 31% decrease from 26 MTCO2 to 18 MTCO2 is required by 2025. We do not have time to wait for further plans [PGA8], or an evidence base [PGA9, PGA11], or new appraisal guidance [PGA13] before starting to take action.

Transport for the North can lead the effort to decarbonise surface transport by:

  • Leading on and advocating for the most effective decarbonisation actions as set out in the list below.
  • Immediately stopping all investments in new roads that will increase capacity and would lead to an increase in miles driven if implemented, reallocating the budget to the measures set out in this list.
  • Communicating the urgency, seriousness and strong scientific basis of the Climate Emergency so that no one is in any doubt as to what is required and why, and to build wide-spread support for taking action.
  • Confirming a plan for how road capacity on the Major Road Network (MRN) can be reduced (“road diets”) so that there is a reduction in fossil fuel miles driven aligned with the Decarbonisation Trajectory. This might include reducing the number of lanes and/or changing traffic light timings at junctions to reduce vehicle throughput. (“Predict and Divide” instead of “Predict and Provide”.)
  • Confirming a new set of speed limits to apply across the MRN to minimise emissions, and an approach for the enforcement of those speed limits to achieve the 7% emissions reduction set out in the TfN Strategy.
  • Establishing a monitoring programme to evaluate progress on a monthly / annual basis and if necessary take further action if the Decarbonisation Trajectory is not being achieved.
  • Supporting effective changes that could be made by Central Government to decarbonise surface transport, in particular road pricing and zero emission public transport, as well as limits on air travel.

The need to stop investing in new or larger roads is supported by the COP26 Universities Network Briefing, August 2021, which includes the recommendation to “Stop the road building programme, instead building strategic cycle networks and public transport.”

The Welsh Government has already put a freeze on new road building projects for exactly this reason.

The recent SNP, Green Party Cooperation Agreement also states “We agree that in the face of the climate emergency we need to shift away from spending money on new road projects.”

Increasing road capacity will always lead to more driving and more emissions. Reducing road capacity will lead to less driving and less emissions.

Emissions are not correlated with congestion. Congestion is what prevents more driving.

4. Enabling travel via Mode Shift

We have listed specific actions TfN could take quickly on the Major Road Network below. These actions will need to be largely completed quickly (within 2-3 years) to allow people time to adjust to new road layouts.

As TfN’s strategy sets out, three-quarters of car trips in the North are under 5 kilometres so many could easily be replaced by walking or cycling if safe direct routes are created, as could even longer trips using e-bikes.


  • Improved crossings.
  • Safe speed limits in urban and rural areas.
  • Improved bridges and underpasses over rail lines and SRN roads to reduce community severance.
  • Removing pavement clutter and taking action to prevent pavement parking.


  • Reallocating road-space on the MRN to create protected cycle lanes and junctions, especially in urban areas, with cycling facilities built in accordance with LTN 1/20 standards.
  • Secure cycle storage and cycle hire at railway stations, with good access to/from the local cycle network. 
Examples of cycle parking: Information about the Dutch OV-Fiets (rail) cycle hire scheme:
  • Facilities to connect cycle cargo freight with rail at railway stations.
  • Space for cycles on regional trains for mixed mode journeys.
  • Intra-urban longer distance cycle routes connecting up nearby towns, as are common in the Netherlands. Trips up to 10km are easily possible using e-bikes. Examples of long-distance cycle route:

  • Improved bridges and underpasses across rail lines and SRN roads to reduce community severance. Example cycling bridge (above). Source:
  • Cargo bike hire and try-out schemes for individuals, groups and small businesses.
  • Reduced speed limits on unclassified rural roads.

Public Transport

  • Dedicated no-car lanes on MRN roads.
  • Grants or support for new zero-emission vehicles.
  • Integrated ticketing.
  • Increasing the catchment area for public transport by improving cycling access to public transport hubs.

5. Risks and Benefits


  • Optimism bias in the future emissions scenarios, as happened with air pollution prior to ‘Diesel-gate’.
  • Continued investment in road building schemes that will lead to more driving and increased emissions.
  • Failing to include effective demand reduction measures in the plan.
  • Over-reliance on modelling vs trialling changes to confirm real-world outcomes are in line with expectations.
  • Delays to implementation, not allowing sufficient time for people to adjust to new ways of travelling.
  • Over reliance on Electric Vehicles as a ‘silver bullet’, and not considering the initial costs and emissions from manufacturing. See for example
  • Delays to implementation due to unnecessary ‘policy perfectionism’ or endless consultation.
  • Delays meaning even greater restrictions are necessary, potentially increasing costs and disruption.
  • Ineffective communications accompanying changes.
  • Insufficient political leadership to overcome objections and make necessary short-term changes in the urgent timescales required.
  • Insufficient investment in alternatives to driving, or supporting people to change.
  • Lack of coordination with or delays by local authorities leading to some main road traffic diverting onto minor roads. Ideally Local Authorities should act quickly to implement low traffic neighbourhoods in advance of any changes to reduce capacity on main roads.

Benefits of decarbonising transport

  • Finance / Economy – by enabling people to travel at the least cost wherever possible (walking or cycling) helping people on lower incomes and improving access to employment.
  • Health – by enabling people to walk or cycle, improving public health.
  • Environment – by switching away from transport modes that create pollution and damage the environment.
  • Children – by providing safe streets for walking and cycling so children can be safe when travelling independently, especially to and from local schools many of which are located on the MRN.
  • Safer Streets – by reducing speed limits, and switching from heavy, fast-moving, vehicles that can cause substantial harm to walking and cycling (or e-bikes) where there is much lower risk of harming others.
  • Climate – as a result of the effective decarbonisation of surface transport.
  • Reducing Community Severance – Improved crossings mean major roads and rail lines become less of a barrier to travel for people walking or cycling.


Thank you again for undertaking this important work and for the opportunity to comment on the Transport for the North draft Decarbonisation Strategy.

Action is long overdue. The Kyoto Protocol was 1997, the UK’s Climate Change Act was 2008, and yet transport emissions in the UK have barely changed since 1990. In 2019 transport was the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the UK, producing 27% of the UK’s total emissions.

Actions taken to date to decarbonise transport have not been sufficient. Business as usual is not possible.

Some people will no doubt say action is not required, despite the widespread scientific consensus and clear urgency to take action. Some of the excuses they will make have been listed here:

The reality is that the vast majority of people in the UK and world-wide recognise that the Climate Emergency must be addressed.

We hope Transport for the North will show the courage and leadership necessary to address the Climate Crisis and will put a plan in place to guarantee the Decarbonisation Trajectory is achieved or exceeded.

Yours faithfully,

SPACE for Gosforth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *