Last Tuesday a Conservative MP Selaine Saxby set out a discussion on Decarbonising Rural Transport that took place in Westminster Hall and many other MPs took place including Sally-Ann Hart who was the only Sussex MP who took part. She stated her comment after Selaine’s initial statement and Selaine responded to her so here are the comments that emerged and can be obtained here along with many other comments. However the initial few words were “East Sussex County Council has an excellent bus service improvement plan” so that is very significant. Clearly we need to know if the system is working well in both East and West Sussex.
Selaine Saxby: I beg to move, That this House has considered decarbonising rural transport.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate, which is so important to those of us who live in rural constituencies like mine.
Transport is the United Kingdom’s highest-emitting sector and is responsible for a quarter of our emissions. If we want to achieve net zero by 2050, we need to reduce emissions from our cars, vans and lorries, but we also need to recognise that rural transport is different from urban, and that reliance on cars is so much higher in rural areas. Therefore, we need to include rurality as a factor in more decisions on how we move to decarbonise our transportation.
Public transport is limited in rural Britain, and given the sparsity of population, expanding it along the lines of transport in our towns and cities is not, in general, financially viable, or even welcome—for example, sending enormous buses through tiny country lanes—but we must find ways to extend routes, provide smaller vehicles or car shares, and reintroduce train lines, especially where there has been large growth in housing, such as between Bideford and Barnstaple in my constituency of North Devon.
Sally-Ann Hart: East Sussex County Council has an excellent bus service improvement plan, one of whose objectives is progressively to support operators to increase the number of zero-emission buses used on the network and to upgrade diesel buses to Euro 6 standard as part of the drive to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2050.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in order to fulfil that objective, further Government funding opportunities will be required to introduce battery electric buses or hydrogen fuel cell buses, and for retrofitting to Euro 6 specification, and that decarbonisation of rural transport should not be restricted to local buses but should include trains? Does she further agree that the extension of HS1 from Ashford to Rye, Hastings and Bexhill, which will decarbonise and make the journey faster, is essential?
Selaine Saxby: My hon. Friend is entirely right that all of us in rural constituencies have plans that we need our councils to deliver to facilitate the decarbonisation of our rural transport network. The challenge we face is that, unfortunately, there is not always the funding to support those fantastic rural transport schemes, although I hope the Minister will reassure us on that point. I will come to some of my own suggestions for the bus network in Devon.
Active travel is an opportunity for some, but the distances involved in rural commuting by bike mean that it is not always an option for everyone. In my constituency of North Devon, 2.4% of work journeys are made by bike, which is a surprisingly high percentage for such a rural area, but realistically, active travel is unlikely to replace huge numbers of car journeys unless it is integrated into a wider transport solution.
I will return to the opportunities to tackle the issues of public transport and active travel, but we need to be realistic: rural Britain will continue to rely on its cars for the foreseeable future.