In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, said that it was 'not a phrase which I recognise and not one which has ever been put forward by the Conservatives'. In 1990, Lady Thatcher had pledged not 'to do away with the great car economy'.
In a clear break with earlier Conservative enthusiasm for road-building, Mr Gummer warned that 'what you cannot go on doing is seeing motor-car numbers rise so that life is dominated by them. The car must become our servant rather than our master.'
While careful to praise the motor-car as an 'exciting, interesting and important part of people's lives', Mr Gummer made clear his desire to see a reduction in motoring and road-building.
We must, he said, 'not allow it to dominate our cities and not allow it to increase in numbers on the basis that no matter how many cars are produced, somebody has to produce the roads for them to go on'. Nor must we construct a society 'which restricts freedom by not allowing people to choose a lifestyle that does not involve having a motor-car'.
His comments come at a sensitive moment. Whitehall is in the final throes of a review of the road-building programme which is certain to lead to the cancellation of some projects. Mr Gummer called for a reduction in the growth of the number of motor-cars and a drop in the number of two- and three- car families.
He also backed road pricing, the implementation of motorway tolls and more expensive parking to increase the cost of motoring and encourage people to use public transport. Road pricing is being considered by the Department of Transport, although implementation is still several years off.
Mr Gummer and John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, are battling over cuts in road-building.
The cuts will be imposed as a result of a wide-ranging, eight-month review of some 470 schemes in the pounds 23bn road-building programme, which ministers have described as 'the biggest since the Romans'.
The review was originally expected to be completed in February. The results will now be announced next week.
It will combine some prominent cancellations with a greater emphasis on the Department of Transport's highest priorities - widening motorways (most controversially the M25), and improving strategic routes, including those in the European Union's Trans European Network.
The M12 between Brentwood and Chelmsford is likely to be among the most prominent cancellations.
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