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DfT seeks to stop Marsden FOI transport decarbonisation release

20 December 2022
Greg Marsden: There is huge public interest in the consequences of all sorts of transport policy change. If policies are required to change people’s mobility patterns to meet our climate obligations, then we need more democracy and not less
Greg Marsden: There is huge public interest in the consequences of all sorts of transport policy change. If policies are required to change people’s mobility patterns to meet our climate obligations, then we need more democracy and not less

 

The DfT is to further resist Professor Greg Marsden’s successful Freedom of Information (FOI) request to see the assumptions about traffic upon which the UK’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan has been built. The Department has appealed the Information Commissioners instruction to release the figures.

“In November I finally thought that we might get to see the data, when the Information Commissioner instructed the Department to publish what I had asked for in full,” Marsden told LTT. “Regrettably, I was informed last week that the Department has now issued an appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision, and this will now go to a tribunal.

“I have been asking the Department to publish some basic assumptions which underpin one of the key charts in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP). The information relates to distances travelled, proportions of distance travelled assumed to be by electric vehicles, and the assumptions which were made at the time of the Plan about the impacts of Covid-19 on future emissions.”

The grounds for appeal are based around the DfT believing it needs a “safe space for policy discussions outweighing the public interest in sharing the information”. But Marsden believes An appeal like this sets a dangerous precedent, quoting the Nolan Principles of public governance (selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership). “Of those, accountability, openness and honesty are all central to the case,” he argues. “If the Department decides to publish a plan, then it should be prepared to explain what the basis is for charts within that plan.”

“If the Department wins this case, then it is setting a precedent that it, and other Government departments, will use in future cases which will mean that projections can be made without sharing the underpinning evidence, preventing scrutiny. This is really dangerous stuff.”

“Everyone working in the transport industry knows, and perhaps tolerates, the fact that we are currently working to national guidance which tells us one set of ‘truths’ about traffic growth and electrification and another (the TDP) which implies no growth or reductions in certain areas and an unspecified (but low growth future) elsewhere.” Releasing the information that he is requesting would mean “exposing, accepting, and then resolving the contradictions we face today and really planning for a Net Zero compliant future.

Marsden added: “I simply ask 'if the different assumptions were not a problem, why would the DfT not just release the data requested?' Whilst the publication of the latest National Road Traffic Forecasts represented an important step in sharing current thinking about transport futures within the Department, it does not answer the questions I am asking.

“It does pose one further question to me though,” Marsden said. “Why is it OK to publish data for scenarios which are not policy, but not to publish data for the scenarios which are in the TDP?

“I am not privy to the internal discussions as to what the real reason for not releasing the data is, but I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the approach being adopted in Scotland, where a 2030 goal has been set to reduce road traffic by 20%. The climate maths is no different in Scotland to England, but perhaps the political climate is less favourable to such a declaration in England (‘here come the anti-growth coalition’ etc.).

“I find it amazing that the Department could suggest that the public interest does not outweigh their own preferences to keep things in house. Every infrastructure decision, every pound of public subsidy spent (or not) on public transport, every charge point installed, every penny of fuel duty waived or increased, now relates directly to the goals we are committed to in the Sixth Carbon Budget, the Net Zero Strategy and the Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

“There is huge public interest in the consequences of all sorts of transport policy change. If policies are required to change people’s mobility patterns to meet our climate obligations, then we need more democracy and not less. We need to talk about the hard choices ahead of us and not hide them.”

Marsden says his aim is now to work with the Information Commissioner to set out the full case as to why this information should be released in the public interest. In a plea to the profession he said “following WebTAG isn’t enough. We have to proactively challenge this fuzziness and business as usual mindset. If you want to reach out and support my case, please email G.R.Marsden@ its.leeds.ac.uk”.

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