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Decarbonising transport: insights from local government initiatives

The urgency to address climate change has prompted local governments to take proactive measures in decarbonising various sectors. Among these, the transport sector stands out as a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, domestic transport accounted for 22 percent of the UK's emissions, making it the highest-emitting sector. As part of the Local Government Association's Sustainability Programme, a virtual event was organised to shed light on how local authorities play a crucial role in decarbonising transport.


Councils are at the forefront of driving change, developing policies, and implementing infrastructure projects to reduce transport emissions in their communities. The event aim was to showcase successful interventions, share experiences, and foster collaboration among local authorities.

The event was chaired by, Cllr Abi Brown, Chairman, LGA Improvement & Innovation Board, Deputy Leader of the LGA Conservative Group & Deputy Chairman of the LGA.

Key contributors for the event were:

  • Kristy Littler, Transport Manager, Cheshire West and Chester Council
  • Nicola Small, Coventry City Council
  • Marc Greenwood, Coventry City Council
  • Chris Poultney, Transport Strategy Manager, Cambridgeshire County Council

Each presentation covered:

  • transport innovation approach: how the council approached transport innovation to align with decarbonisation goals
  • goals and outcomes: the overarching vision, goals, and outcomes of the decarbonisation project
  • stakeholder engagement: tips for effective collaboration with residents, strategic partners, and local providers
  • progress and benefits: Reflection on achievements, benefits, and lessons learned through the process.
  • recommendations: insights into recommendations, challenges, and overcoming barriers.

Cambridgeshire County Council: Decarbonising Rural Transport

Kristy Littler, provided an overview of the council's research and revitalization of park and ride services to contribute to Net Zero reduction targets. The presentation covered:

Cheshire West and Chester Council inherited the park and ride services during COVID in a council reorganisation process. There has been a park and ride service in the city of Chester since before bus deregulation and it was introduced about 40 years ago on the basis that the parking in the city centre would potentially undermine the historic fabric of the city, and that was the start of the park and ride process.

The current offer is to have the free, open sites at the periphery of the city centre with a 12-20 minute frequency on the park and ride, depending on which site you arrive at and the time of day. Currently operated by 8 “Euro 6” diesel vehicles. There is real-time passenger information at the sites, displaying all the customer information and promotions with CCTV for passenger safety, and security and wellbeing.

Passenger numbers have continued to grow steadily but not to the point of outstripping the pre-COVID levels. The council projects on the basis, for the rest of the year, that the passenger figures will grow to around 300,000 this year, around 77 per cent of pre-COVID levels, showing an upward trajectory.

Cheshire West and Chester acknowledges that park and ride is key to air quality goals and their climate declarations. Transport is the second highest carbon emitter in the borough and 90 per cent of those come from road-based transport. The council’s climate emergency response plan states that where travel is required there's substantial carbon benefit derived from using public transport, and for this they need to see an increase in mode share from less than 10 per cdnt for public transport to 18 per cent by 2025, and 29 per cent by 2050.

Due to budgetary constraints, the scope of investing in new activities for park and ride is limited. The council needs to procure a new park and ride contract, how they can revise the park and ride services, grow the patronage, grow the market, broaden the appeal and viability of the park and ride services for the future, but at the same time demonstrate the hidden social and environmental values that it holds for their climate agenda.

Cost increases include paying the drivers more because they are accepting cash on-bus, increasing fare prices from £2 to £2.50 to break even, parking is free and the young person’s ticket is £1 as well as many other offers for passengers.

The council is also looking at data gathering, and how to extract and target new markets for passengers by interrogating Chester's SATURN model. This will analyse traffic flows passing by each park and ride site.

Coventry City Council: Very Light Rail Public Transport

Marc Greenwood, Strategic Lead Policy and Public Affairs & Nicola Small, City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) Programme Director at Coventry City Council, shared insights into Coventry's research and development project focused on creating an innovative and affordable light rail system.

Coventry is the tenth largest city in England but not big enough to qualify for a traditional Metro system. There is however a very strong manufacturing and innovation heritage within the city. By 2025 Coventry will be the first UK city to have a fully electric bus fleet within operation. Currently they have the largest number of electric vehicle charge points outside of London. The West Midlands Gigafactory site, situated in Coventry, has the potential to create a significant demand and flow opportunity around battery creation, which will hopefully meet not just automotive, but other battery demands in the future from a manufacturing perspective.

The council have also created 2 cycle superhighways, looking at that wider active travel and that wider green transport growth opportunities and supporting residents to transition from cars into alternative greener modes of transport.

The council have been working with WMG, at the University of Warwick, utilising their advanced manufacturing capabilities to develop the Coventry Very Light Rail scheme.

Since 2017, the council have received around £20m to take on the Very Light Rail journey to deliver an R&D programme and to come up with a new concept in urban transport, which is the Very Light Rail system.

The lightweight battery-powered vehicle has no need of overhead line equipment, reducing the impact that the system has upon a city centre environment as well as reducing the construction cost because there is no need for that infrastructure. As a result of it being battery-operated, it is zero emission at point-of-use. The other innovative feature about this vehicle is that it has been designed to cope with really tight corners so 15m-radius curves. A traditional tram can cope with around 25m. The vehicle has capacity for carrying 56 passengers. It is also very light, weighing 11 tonnes, enabling the use of an innovative track form that sits just 300mm in the highway, meaning it can be installed easily and without the need disrupt most utilities that sit 450mm below the road surface.

In terms of modal shift, VLR will create permanence of infrastructure that provides confidence to the user that the mode of transport is there to stay, thereby encouraging modal shift. This means that people are more likely to choose to leave their car at home and access the VLR system for journeys.

The council are working with their regional partners making headway with the Department for Transport. Some of the challenges have been around building the business case. The highways benefits are measured disproportionately to the benefits that a scheme like this can deliver.

The next stage of the programme is for Coventry to put a city demonstrator in the ground by late 2024. Aiming to have 800m of track in a live environment. That will enable to showcase the technology in a city centre to demonstrate how it works together with road traffic, cycling, walking.

Cambridgeshire County Council: Decarbonising Rural Transport

Chris Poultney, Transport Strategy Manager at Cambridgeshire County Council, discussed the council's efforts to develop transport solutions for rural communities with a focus on reducing carbon emissions.

As a county Cambridgeshire is well located within the country from east to west in the Midlands and a through route to ports in Felixstowe and Norfolk. Good connections to London and to the north and south. On the strategic road network there is the M11, A1, M1, A428 going east west and A47 in the north. The county has good rail connections with East Coast Main Line, the Fen Lines going from London right up to King's Lynn, the West Anglia Main Line and freight connections through from Felixstowe via Ely.

There are three broad economies in the area. This has been borne out by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review. The Cambridge subregional economy down to the south, we have the Peterborough subregional economy to the north and then an area that is broadly identified as the Fenland economy.

There is a lot of growth. Peterborough is an extremely quickly growing city, as is Cambridgeshire. The economy is strong but there are big gaps in inequality across the county with some very large differences in income, connectivity, health, and outcomes.

In 2019 Cambridgeshire County Council declared a climate emergency with a vision to achieve net zero by 2045. In 2021, the joint administration made a strong commitment to put climate change and also biodiversity at the heart of the council, and also to be extremely ambitious about the work required to do and achieve that.

Some of the rural areas in Cambridgeshire have quite low car ownership and there can be some more issues with affordability for electric vehicles so that does not necessarily work well as a fix for some of the rural areas. There are areas where people need to be in a specific place to do work and that comes through some of our agricultural economy, manufacturing, and lab work in Cambridge. People need be present at jobs so the working from home model does not quite fit and brings its own transport implications.

The council looked at vast amount of information that has been gathered, (summarised in the slides), concluding that decarbonising rural transport is tricky, and the carbon remaining there is quite 'sticky'.

Cambridgeshire County Council are looking into pilot projects, such as car clubs, mobility hubs. With a more of a focussed approach to both mobility and multimodal clubs.

The combined authority has the possibility of public transport in the area and whether there's a different way to do that. The council is also looking to get LEVI funding in place and develop the charging network.


How have Coventry funded the initial stages of the project? And to be able to put you in a position to secure the later rounds of funding? The council had decided, together with the Cabinet Member for Jobs and Regeneration, to advocate Coventry Very Light Rail. And as part of the devolution deal set up with the combined authority back in 2016, wanted some of the funding allocated to Coventry to go into this innovative technology. The first tranche funding came from Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, which was £2.4 million towards the delivery of a prototype vehicle.

City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement funding has been challenging to secure because of the nature of the R&D CVLR programme. DfT can see the value in our work but have been uncertain how to treat the project as a R&D programme rather than a traditional transport scheme. The CRSTS funding is all about improving and increasing public transport, walking, and cycling, so we've had to adapt our business case and tell the future story. But government can see that there is a need for this innovation, and so we are using the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement as a vehicle to drive this project forward.

From a Cheshire West point of view, how is the funding managed for you, for your Park and Ride scheme? The Park and Ride is run on a contract, we have the council's contractual costs known for the next couple of years. We will need to change that, but I think any improvements that we need to make to the Park and Ride is an important point, because it is coming from revenue that we're getting from ticket sales. It is running on a deficit at the moment, the margins for investment on the Park and Ride are limited. We are not part of a combined authority, therefore any funding applications that we make are usually for a competitive bidding round. We have integrated transport block funding, and we are hopeful that we will get some settlements as part of the Network North that we can potentially invest in Park and Ride and other sustainable travel modes going forward.

From a Cambridgeshire point of view, how does it work across your directors and what is your best top tip for engaging with colleagues?

Sometimes you have to keep knocking on the door or keep making the contact to try and find the right people to talk to. But there is a lot of benefit to be had there. Certainly, those things can start out as conversations and then turn into something else. We have a very good relationship with our Public Health team, and there is some joint funding into one of our Active Travel posts which formalises that connection. I think sometimes, you just need to have those open channels so that you avoid duplications. Because that can be a bit of a problem, if you've got different organisations running in the same direction.


The virtual event provided a platform for local government officials to share experiences, strategies, and insights on decarbonising transport. By highlighting successful projects from Cheshire West and Chester Council, Coventry City Council, and Cambridgeshire County Council, the event aimed to inspire collaboration and drive sustainable transport solutions nationwide. To navigate the challenges of decarbonisation, these initiatives serve as valuable examples for other local authorities to replicate and scale in their communities