Londoners are far more likely to shop by car than on foot, bringing increased road congestion and environmental damage.

A London Research Centre survey of 60,000 households shows 43 per cent of all shopping trips are by car, against 29 per cent in 1981. It suggests people drive even for short distances. The average journey is 3.7km - about 2 miles - and the average trip lasts less than 15 minutes.

The discovery has alarmed environmental groups. 'It's the first five or ten minutes of driving which is the most dangerous,' said Kirsten Denker, a clean-air specialist at Greenpeace. 'Catalytic converters, which were made compulsory for new cars in 1993, take time to start working and on short journeys you still get a lot of emissions.'

If action is not taken, Greenpeace says, harmful emissions - such as those which caused the recent London smog - could increase by 70 per cent in the next 30 years. It wants the Government to reduce the number of cars on roads by encouraging the building of pedestrian shopping areas.

The report adds that Londoners prefer shopping from 10am to 4pm, and it is still done mostly by women. A car is top choice, but bus and Underground have outstripped walking over the past 10 years.

Its findings coincide with a rise in out-of-town shopping centres, usually accessible only by road. Small shopkeepers say the complexes theaten their existence. 'Six small shops and businesses close every day in Britain, says Terry Hiley, National Association of Shopkeepers' president.

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