With two weeks until polling, I would not be doing my duty as a blogger on current transport affairs without writing about the UK’s referendum on leaving or remaining part of the European Union. Full disclosure up front: I will vote Remain.
First, I should point out for those blog-followers who may have inferred my American roots; I became a dual citizen two years ago, and am looking forward to my first meaningful vote in this country. I should also point out to those who are suspicious of America’s support for the Remain campaign that the United States already is a federated system with much more integration than the EU may ever claim. The federal government of the USA must orchestrate free trade, free movement and much more between its 50 states, which hold among them a range of cultures, policy positions, legal and regulatory frameworks, and tax and spend regimes that may well be as diverse as those between many of the countries of the EU.
Second, I have also been clear in past posts that I am Jewish. For a Jew, the aims of the ‘European project’ have not only been economic and diplomatic, but have also created an atmosphere that suppresses those worst Nationalist instincts, which otherwise breed xenophobic, racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic views and actions. Too much of the Leave Campaign’s rhetoric and indeed reported anti-EU politics elsewhere have depended upon reviving and inciting such views. With the potential for the UK referendum to set a precedent across the continent, the threat to minorities of all descriptions grows too fast for comfort.
But now let’s talk about transport. Transport is all about connecting people and places. It has everything to do with free or at least free-flow movement. Transport networks also tend to operate at sub-national (neighbourhood, metropolitan area) or supra-national levels. So does the economy, with its ‘functional economic’ and ‘travel to work’ areas at the local level and globalisation mediating between such areas internationally. Only the UK’s island geography enforces the country’s long distance road and rail networks to match the country’s borders (except between the devolved nations and the Republic of Ireland). In most places, strategic road and rail, as well as air traffic and shipping cross political boundaries naturally. And if the networks do so, then it is better, fairer and safer for the regulatory framework of transport systems and for those travelling to cross boundaries too.
The two professional bodies I belong to, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, have both surveyed their members and analysed what the EU means to the disciplines of planning and transport in all their many forms. Both report a majority in favour of remaining.
For planners who are responsible for balancing economic, social and environmental impacts of land use development, leaving the EU would risk losing the environmental assessment procedures currently in place. In particular, EU legislation has strengthened regulation of air and water quality and habitat protection. In the current political climate where economic growth and building homes are key drivers, would planners be able to protect the environment as well without the support of EU directives? Meanwhile, housebuilders have themselves told the RTPI’s professional journal that the business uncertainties caused by leaving are better avoided.
For transport and logistics professionals, the case seems even more obvious. Although there are areas where regulation may be an unnecessary obstacle, such as rail gauge interoperability standards, membership of the EU has generally resulted in more goods and people travelling on wider networks in expanded markets, whether for business or leisure. It has actually reduced the bureaucracy involved in day to day logistics supply chains and has improved passenger rights. For local transport, whilst little EU red tape applies to modes like buses and bicycles, I can personally vouch for the institutions’ role in providing forums to share best practice and seed money to foster innovation.
Don’t get me wrong. No institution is perfect and those of the EU far from it, but for transport planning, surely the Cost-Benefit Ratio to Remain would exceed the required 2:1?