Thames cargo traffic switches to the roads

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The amount of lorry traffic in central London is likely to increase as a result of a decision by Westminster City Council to stop moving its garbage by barges on the river Thames, writes Nicholas Schoon.

The Conservative-controlled council's move means a large decrease in cargo movements on the river and an extra 15,000 lorry journeys each year - both contrary to government policy. The switch, attacked by environmentalists, will save Westminster less than pounds 1m a year.

''Westminster has just torpedoed government policy to encourage river- borne transport,'' said George Nicholson, chairman of the London Rivers Association, which campaigns for the revival of a working Thames. The Port of London Authority also deplored the decision. Until now, Westminster had contracted for all its garbage - 200,000 tonnes a year - to be carried by river to landfill sites in the estuary. From September, however, two-thirds of it will be taken by road to a giant, electricity-generating incinerator in Deptford, south London. The remaining third will go to landfill sites, possibly by river although this is not certain.

The decision comes as a result of Westminster taking out a new disposal contract with Onyx, a French company with an interest in the incinerator.

A spokesman for Westminster said the decision had not been taken lightly, but there were important environmental gains in burning rubbish to generate power rather than landfilling it.