I attended the Informal Meeting of EU Transport Ministers, organised by the Hungarian Presidency in Budapest and Godollo on 7 and 8 February. The theme was: ‘TEN-T revision: towards a long term, well-balanced European transport network’.
In the plenary debates, I put forward the UK view that the future TEN-T budget should take account of the aftermath of the financial crisis and the need to put recovery on a strong footing. EU funding will be limited and should be focused on projects that deliver real benefits to the network. Cost benefit analysis should inform funding decisions. Member states should aim to do more with less, concentrating on projects that deliver the best value for money. We think that the current model should be followed, focusing funding on the core network, with some funding also available for the comprehensive network.
In the debate on the role of PPPs, I pointed out that PPP is only appropriate in selected circumstances, implementation can present challenges and requires a high level of commercial skills, and particular attention needs to be paid to the long term budgetary consequences of its use. I cited the M6 toll road and River Severn Crossings as good examples of private investment enabling major pieces of infrastructure to be constructed and the cost returned through tolling. I said that the UK government is open to tolling as an option for brand new alignments, with potential private sector investment, but noted that we have ruled out the introduction of a national road user charging scheme (except in relation to Heavy Goods Vehicles).
In the margins of the event I was pleased to be able to have a meeting with the Vice President of the European Commission responsible for transport, Mr Siim Kallas, to discuss a range of current issues.
During my discussion of airport security scanners with Mr Kallas, I welcomed the commission’s general approach to the deployment of scanners. We now need to move quickly to amend existing European legislation to give airports the flexibility to deploy scanners effectively and efficiently. The decision on whether to deploy security scanners should be for member states. We acknowledge health, data protection and privacy concerns and believe that these can be addressed through existing European and national laws.
I also discussed the transport aspects of transposition of the air quality directive with Mr Kallas. I pointed out that, although we are fully committed to improving air quality, and we recognise the part that transport has to play, we are keen to ensure that the air quality targets are properly targeted at improvements in health, and are consistent with our ambitious goals to reduce carbon and to create growth.