Bypass route wrong, says Norris

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The Independent Online
Steve Norris, the former transport minister, today gives his backing to anti-roads protesters and admits the countryside disrupted by the Newbury bypass could have been left alone.

Britain should no longer "pander to infinite traffic growth," Mr Norris said in a BBC Panorama inquiry on traffic gridlock to be broadcast tonight.

Mr Norris, a former car salesman, is leaving Parliament this election to become director-general of the Road Haulage Association. He was transport minister during the eviction work at Newbury, but has been widely acknowledged as having toned down the Government's pro-car transport policy.

Admitting that the wrong route was chosen for the Newbury bypass in Berkshire, Mr Norris told Panorama: "I believe we could have left all this countryside alone ... I don't think this route should have been used."

He added: "The real sadness is that the system that we use, painstaking as it is, exhaustive as it is, incredibly lengthy as it is ... nonetheless comes up with this option."

But he identified a U-turn in national transport policy which has now produced a cross-party consensus. The Road Traffic Reduction Bill, which would compel local councils to plan cuts in road traffic, would have been dismissed as "typical brown rice nonsense" 10 years ago, Mr Norris said. "It's been a gentle but complete U-turn. The great tanker of transport policy is now heading south where it was previously heading north."

Last night, Friends of the Earth said that Mr Norris's comments were an "astonishing admission" that the road protesters had been right. Tony Juniper, the campaigns director, said: "This ... fully vindicates the fight to stop that unnecessary and highly destructive road."

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