UK launches sustainable transport plan

Local authorities could get new charging powers to fund public transport development

The UK government yesterday launched its long-awaited transport white paper designed to limit road traffic and boost public transport in England and Wales. Deputy prime minister John Prescott said the plan was a "new dawn" for transport policy, and would deliver a system that was "safe, efficient, clean and fair".

According to government estimates, transport accounts for one-third of energy consumption in the UK and road transport contributed 22% of national carbon dioxide emissions in 1995, up from 17% in 1985. Car traffic could increase by another third over the next 20 years, the government projects.

The white paper proposes to limit growth in road traffic, and especially private car use, by giving local authorities powers to introduce a variety of new charges. These include tolls on motorways and main roads, charges for on-site company parking and road-use charges to tackle congestion problems.

One important feature of the plan is that local authorities would be obliged to recycle revenue from these schemes into investment in public transport and better facilities for cycling and walking. This is the first time that large scale "hypothecation" of environmentally-related taxes has been proposed in the UK.

The white paper proposes the creation of a Commission on Integrated Transport, which would report to parliament annually and work to develop indicators and national targets for transport improvement. New national regulatory bodies governing rail and bus public transport and investment would also be established. Speaking at the launch, Mr Prescott stressed the future importance of the bus, which he claimed could be transformed from a "workhorse" to a "racehorse".

Though there was much speculation before the white paper's publication, it does not propose charges on car parking provided by out-of-town supermarkets or national road traffic reduction targets, disappointing environmental groups. Commentators say this "watering down" of the original proposal followed lobbying by motoring interests and the government's fear of displeasing the car-owning public.

The white paper follows a major review of government spending announced last week. This allocated an extra UK£700m (Ecu1,060m) over three years for local authorities to establish transport plans, UK£300m for improving local bus services, UK£300m additional resources for rail and UK£400m extra spending on the main road and motorway network.

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +44 171 890 3000.

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