A range of targets to cut poisonous emissions and encourage people to use public transport have been kicked into touch by ministers who are preparing the Government's response to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's report, which was published 18 months ago.
In Cabinet committee meetings which are finalising the response, Brian Mawhinney, the party chairman and the former Secretary of State for Transport, insisted that any reference to targets must be removed because it might anger motorists and the motoring lobby.
The Government has already committed itself to bringing down the overall level of carbon dioxide emissions in Britain. However, the royal commission had wanted the ministers to set some specific targets for reducing the emissions from transport, which is currently responsible for approximately a quarter of all the carbon dioxide that is produced in Britain.
The commission had also set out detailed recommendations on reducing the proportion of urban journeys that are undertaken by car in an effort to improve air quality in cities and towns.
The Government has rejected this recommendation but has agreed to endorse a target for the amount of journeys made using a bicycle. However, ministers have not yet decided to accept the recommendation that by 2005 a figure of 10 per cent of journeys in urban areas should be by cycle. The current total is 2.5 per cent.
The ministers' response document, which is due to be published early next month, will also be used to set out the response to the Government's transport debate that was initiated more than a year ago by Dr Mawhinney when he was Secretary of State for Transport.
Ministers have been anxious that they are not portrayed as opposed to car-users, but the document will effectively spell the end of the pro- roads policy which was originally set out in the 1989 White Paper Roads to Prosperity, which led to the Government spending more than pounds 2bn per year on new roads.
One senior Conservative source explained: "We are moving away from the era of the mega-transport policy which got us into so much trouble over the roads issue and resulted in a lot of money being wasted without solving the congestion problem.
"The document will be sensible, but unheroic, avoiding the previous approach of trying to find a unique solution for what is a very complex issue," added the source.
While the Government is expected to stress that the country still needs some new roads, the concept of building enough roads to cope with the increasing traffic will be abandoned.
Ministers have also decided to reject the suggestion - which was put forward by the AA and backed by Sir George Young, Secretary of State for Transport - that roads should be privatised and motorists should have to pay tolls rather than a petrol tax.
"That was not going to go down well with Mr and Mrs average motorist," said a well-placed source. "And anyway, the technology is nowhere near available."
Last week, the Department of Transport admitted that trials on toll technology had slipped behind schedule because of financing and technical problems.
Environmentalist groups will be deeply disappointed that the idea of targets has been dropped.
Stephen Joseph, director of the pressure group Transport 2000, said: "There will be no real progress in reducing the environmental damage from transport unless clear targets are set at both the local and national levels."
Our Scorched Earth,
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