Reign of the car must end, says Royal Commission

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS will be told next month by a Royal Commission report that they must limit the number of cars on Britain's roads.

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, in a devastating critique of the Government's transport policies, concludes that ministers must act to restrict the growth both of car ownership and of journeys by road. The report will call for a U-turn to boost public transport at the expense of the private car.

The report, due to be published at the end of next month, will amount to the most authoritative rejection to date of the Government's long-standing encouragement of the private car.

The commission will recommend a virtual ending of the road-building programme with the diversion of government money to public transport, including railways.

The report will confront head-on the Department of Transport's strategy by arguing that road-building itself causes traffic. Measures proposed to restrict traffic growth will include fiscal penalties, such as increased duty on cars, and faster development of technology aimed at creating cars with zero emissions.

The commission is made up some of the most senior figures in the British scientific establishment. It includes two members of Mr Major's special team of five environmental advisers set up earlier this year - the chairman, Sir John Houghton, a former director of the Met Office and expert on global warming, and Lord Selbourne. The commission report starts by examining official government projections that, on present trends, the numbers of cars and amount of miles they travel will both double over the next 30 years. It says that this growth cannot be sustained and will cause grave environmental damage.

During its 18-month study, the commission has made the first official attempt to tot up the environmental cost of the Government's policies.

It concludes that the effects of pollution from car exhausts on health (such as increases in asthma), the contribution to global warming from the carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles, the loss of land to new roads, increased accidents, and other environmental damage will cost the country tens of billions of pounds.

The report, which contains more than 100 recommendations, will reject Draconian measures to limit cars by regulation but will propose a massive effort to encourage people to avoid using them.

Its concrete suggestions include greater investment in public transport, particularly in cities, to make it more reliable, convenient and effective, and changes in planning laws to ensure that shops, schools, hospitals and workplaces are built on bus and train routes.

It says that, in the longer term, cars may have to be charged for entering city centres, as a way of controlling traffic, but insists that the revenue must be used for environmental improvements rather than being swallowed up by the Treasury.

It agrees with ministers that the private car has given families great freedom and mobility, but concludes that, unless its growth is curtailed, much of these advantages will be lost.

The findings come as the Department of Transport is conducting a fundamental expenditure review which appears not to have found any substantial savings in the road-buiding programme. The review has, however, been stalled due to the arrival of both a new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Jonathan Aitken, and a new Secretary of State for Transport, Brian Mawhinney.

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