Project Description


In the July 2004 Transport White Paper (DfT, 2004), the Department for Transport put in place a commitment to ensure that its appraisal techniques somehow capture the complexities of sustainable development in its broadest sense:


“…an important underlying objective of our strategy is balancing the need to travel with the need to improve quality of life. This means seeking solutions that meet long-term economic, social and environmental goals. Achieving this objective will clearly contribute to the objectives of the UK sustainable development strategy. For example, we are working hard to deliver improvements in design and technology to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and we will ensure that the wider impacts of future developments are reflected in appropriate appraisal methodologies.” (DfT, 2004, p14, emphasis added)


The paragraph above raises several important research questions:


1.      What are the long-term economic, social and environmental goals?

2.      How do transport interventions contribute to these goals?

3.      What indicators should be used to assess how well transport is contributing to these goals? and

4.      What direction, over what timescale and to what end state do these indicators need to move to demonstrate the achievement of a sustainable transport system?


The first stage of the project is seeking to address these research questions through a combination of literature review, data analysis and discussions with key stakeholders. Whilst many examples of sets of sustainability indicators exist these are mostly used for ex-post comparison of the sustainability of a city, region or country. The aim of this project is to develop a tool for analysing the sustainability of transport policies and projects to enable sustainability concerns to be considered systematically at the ex-ante project appraisal stage and, therefore, to inform decision-makers.


The second stage of the project therefore seeks to apply the methodology developed to answer a further three questions:


1.      If new indicators and trajectories were to be used in appraisal, how would such a process differ from, integrate with and enhance current appraisal processes?

2.      If such a process differs significantly from current practice would it lead to a significantly different pattern of decision making?

3.      Would any extra costs incurred in undertaking such a process be merited from the benefits that could accrue?


In addressing these three questions, the project seeks to directly address one of the needs identified in the recent White Paper.




The results of two year study into how to assess the sustainability of transport policies and projects were published today. The study examined the current approaches to assessing sustainability within transport at a local, regional and national level. The findings suggested the need to develop a new approach to assessing sustainability which has been developed and piloted. Project Manager Dr Greg Marsden believes that the work poses serious policy questions:


"We have traditionally assessed transport projects against a future "do-minimum" world and satisfied ourselves that things aren't as bad as they otherwise would have been. Sustainability is about assessing whether we are making progress towards a series of social, economic and environmental goals. We need to be transparent about what those goals are and clear about how transport contributes. Our assessment throws the spotlight on the real difficulties apparent in achieving progress which hitherto have been swept under the carpet."


The work has also examined the degree to which current state-of-art modelling practice, available to only a limited number of local authorities is capable of supplying the data needed for an assessment. In particular the tools required to undertake a comprehensive assessment of social progress are inadequate. Considerable uncertainty also exists over technological futures and how to best represent walk, cycle and freight trips in any long-term modelling exercise.


The final report, technical annex and initial study reports are available to download here.


Added - 16/01/07



View the latest project outputs


Funding Organisation

The research is funded by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund


Project Duration

September 2004 to June 2005
This project is now finished


Project Team

Dr Greg Marsden – Project Manager

Charlotte Kelly

John Nellthorp

Karen Lucas (University of Westminster)


Contact Us

Dr Greg Marsden