Road chaos as hauliers protest

A CONVOY of 800 articulated lorries invaded Park Lane in central London yesterday in a mass protest over fuel prices and road tax. Thousands of motorists were delayed in the latest protest by the haulage industry against Gordon Brown's "anti-truck" Budget announcements which some lorry owners believe will drive them out of business.

Chris Wright, director of the Road Haulage Association, said it was a "show of strength" rather than an attempt to disrupt traffic. In truth it was a very British demonstration compared with the lorry drivers' blockades in France. "We drove into London after the main part of the rush hour and we drove out before it started in the evening," said Mr Wright. "This was not a blockade."

Last week a key forum, involving the industry and government, failed to resolve the problem.

Disgruntled hauliers at yesterday's protest said they were now faced with the highest fuel tax in Europe. Peter Little, managing director of Meeks of Luton, Bedfordshire, said: "With the last Budget my fuel bill went up by pounds 11,000. I can get a bit back from customers, but if they say `no' I'm out."

The hauliers heard speeches in Hyde Park then walked to Downing Street to present letters to the Prime Minister, his deputy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Helen Liddell, Transport minister.

"They claim we have not presented them with our arguments," said Mr Wright. "That is not true. The letters will reiterate the facts and figures we have already presented to them." The drivers walked from Downing Street to the House of Commons to lobby their MPs.

An AA spokesman said many who commute by car into London had gone on holiday since the schools broke up last week, reducing the normal traffic flow. "But thousands of motorists had a far slower journey into work," he added. "Lorry drivers should remember that motorists also suffer from high fuel duty. Effectively they are striking out at people in the same situation as themselves. Drivers and truckers should be four-square behind the same campaign. They risk alienating people trying to get to work."

One driver, Michael Taylor-Milton, of Basingstoke, Hampshire, said: "We are here in protest about tax and fuel prices. We cannot compete with Europe. They are coming in here paying 45p a litre for fuel and we are paying double. They are taking all the work."

Graham Plumb, also from Basingstoke, said European trucks were not paying road tax or buying fuel over here so they were using our roads for nothing. "When we go abroad we have to pay road tax. Our fuel is double and our road tax is 12 times more. That is unfair."

Alan Chapman, of Alan Chapman Haulage, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, said that his fuel costs were 20 per cent up on last year. "It is crippling me. I cannot afford to carry on like this. The fuel is so expensive."

Some drivers argued for a more militant approach. Mark Screeves, from Alcester in Warwickshire, said: "We should have blocked the roads months ago. We should be more like the French."