The bill was originally drafted by Plaid Cymru, a Welsh nationalist party, the Green Party, and environmental group Friends of the Earth, and introduced as a "private" bill rather than as a government measure, giving it limited chances of survival. However, after a last minute amendment before today's debate, the government gave it support for the first time, which means that the bill now has a good chance of becoming law.
The proposed law no longer contains a specific goal of reducing traffic by 10% from 1990 levels by 2010. Instead, it seeks "to reduce the adverse environmental, social and economic impacts of road traffic," either through government-set national traffic reduction targets or by the government stating what level of traffic reduction would be achieved by any policies it adopts.
According to the bill's proponents, the deletion of the 10% target weakens the measure very little. Friends of the Earth argued that the government had at last accepted the principle of setting targets to reduce road traffic. It welcomed the bill's progress today as a "crucial piece of transport legislation, commit[ting] the government to reducing traffic rather than trying to accommodate it".
Speaking in the parliamentary debate today, Matthew Taylor of the centrist opposition Liberal Democrat party called on the government to put road traffic reduction targets in its forthcoming white paper on transport policy.
Public opposition to growing levels of road traffic and associated air pollution, congestion and accidents is stronger in the UK than almost any other EU country. Over the past few years, direct action protests involving long-term occupation of transport sites by treehouse and tunnel-dwelling protestors, have multiplied. In the run-up to today's parliamentary debate, campaigners released the results of an independent survey showing 79% of the population in favour of national traffic reduction targets
If the bill becomes law, the government may soon be forced to take tough action to combat traffic trends which remain strongly upwards. According to the latest official forecasts, released last October, road traffic is expected to increase in Great Britain (the UK excluding Northern Ireland) by 38% from 1996 to 2016 and by 60% from 1996 to 2031.
UK parliament, tel: +44 171 219 4272; Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, tel: +44 171 490 1555; Green Party of England and Wales , tel: +44 272 4474.
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