Prescott puts the brakes on anti-car plans

Move to hit motorists and impose levy on congestion delayed after Brown intervenes
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The Independent Online
THE CONTROVERSIAL transport White Paper is set to be more car- friendly than was previously believed, but it will be delayed until after the Chancellor's comprehensive spending review.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, conceded that Tony Blair's policy advisers had been right when they raised the alarm about the White Paper being "anti-car".

He said it would propose congestion charging and charges for car parking in out-of-town supermarkets and offices in towns to curb car use - measures which have been seen as an attack on motorists.

But since the early drafts, new proposals had been added to make the paper more motorist-friendly. These are:

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will check for motorists on whether cars have been stolen or involved in accidents to tackle rogue used car dealers.

Curbs on cowboy wheelclampers.

A motorists' charter guaranteeing standards of road maintenance by the Highways Agency, local authorities and the DVLA.

A new regulatory body, provisionally called Ofroad, able to reduce roadworks and remove obstructions to ease congestion.

Mr Prescott also plans to let motoring breakdown services, drive on the hard shoulders of motorways.

He has also done a deal with the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to modernise Manchester Airport by using some of the pounds 600m gained from privatising the National Air Traffic Service, in a move which may well also attract criticism that Labour had opposed it before election.

The deal will be presented as a move to relieve congestion on airports in the South-east and satisfy northern Labour MP's that the Government is doing something for the regions.

Many of the pro-car plans were floated by one of Mr Prescott's former aides, Rosie Winterton, Labour MP for Doncaster Central, in a speech which won the support of motoring organisations.

The Tories plan to attack Mr Prescott for hitting mothers on the "school run", but he is determined to counter the criticism by proposing safer routes to schools, with investment to restore school bus services.

The White Paper will herald the introduction of motorway tolls when the technology is available. Ministers are also studying the option of a further increase in petrol duty on top of the annual 6 per cent rise, which could be allocated specifically for improvements in public transport.

Mr Prescott is seeking to soften the blow of the higher motoring charges for people in rural areas. Business rates for rural garages could be cut in an attempt to reduce the cost of petrol. Supermarkets may have reduced charges for operating park-and-ride schemes and increasing home deliveries.

By delaying the White Paper until after the comprehensive spending review by Mr Brown, Mr Prescott will be able to unveil extra investment in roads and public transport partly financed by the new charges.

Mr Prescott spoke of his "warm" working relationship with the Chancellor, underlining their alliance to finance a wide range of public projects.

He said: "We have now decided that the White Paper will be produced after the statement on the comprehensive spending review, because it is then that the allocation of resources and issues are determined."

Mr Prescott will be able to deliver on his promise of an integrated transport policy, and in a key change in taxation policy he has secured the agreement of the Chancellor that money raised from the new motoring charges will be earmarked for improvements in public transport.

"I have to fight for the principle that we can get involved in price mechanisms, in congestion charging, in pricing parking," Mr Prescott said. "I think the time has come for that and what most people say they want for it is that money should go to the benefit of transport ... There is no argument about the principle.

Interview, page 4

Leading article, Review, page 3