Government 'puts the economy before the environment' with transport plan

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The Independent Online

Ministers were accused of downgrading the drive to cut carbon emissions from Britain's transport network after revealing a long-term strategy for increased road, rail and air travel.

Environmentalists said the strategy did too little to combat climate change, attacking the decision to allow further airport expansion and road building and widening.

A strategy document published yesterday by Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Transport, proposed backing London-style congestion charge schemes in major cities, but said plans for wider road pricing schemes remained "a decision for the future". It said that schemes to smooth the flow of traffic, including using hard shoulders, could cut emissions but said Britain needed a "targeted increase" in road capacity.

Earlier this year, about 1.8 million people put their signatures to a Downing Street website petition opposing road charging.

The document called for aviation to be included in European emissions-trading schemes, but the document said there would still need to be "some growth in capacity" of airports. It said action was needed to reduce demand for short local journeys and said new technology could ultimately cut the majority of carbon emissions from cars.

It also attracted criticism for describing "goal one" as economic growth, while listing the fight against climate change as "goal two". Officials insisted that they attached "equal weight" to all five of their key goals for the transport system.

Tony Bosworth, the transport campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said in response: "Our view would be that climate change is the biggest problem the world faces and it must be the top aim for the Department for Transport."

He warned that the Government's policy was contradictory. "Urgent action on transport must be at the heart of UK efforts to tackle climate change. Some of today's proposals, such as more investment in small-scale local measures, are welcome, but continuing support for motorway-widening and airport expansion will increase emissions. If the Government is serious about tackling transport and climate change, its policy must be coherent, not contradictory."

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, said: "When it comes to aviation and climate change this government becomes detached from reality.

"Bringing planes into the emissions-trading scheme will ensure it's business as usual for Labour's friends in the aviation industry. Without blocking plans for new runways we'll continue to tinker ineffectively with Britain's fastest-growing source of emissions.

"Any carbon savings from personal travel plans and tweaking road policy will be wiped out many times over by flights from British airports. Even France's President Sarkozy has ruled out aviation expansion, so why can't our government?"

Ms Kelly told the BBC that the Government needed to look at the details of road-pricing schemes.

She said: "It is absolutely self-evident that as the British economy has grown people want and expect greater mobility. The challenge for us is how do you combine that need and desire to travel which supports economic growth with a real and tangible strategy for reducing carbon emissions. We are responding both to the economic challenge and to the need to be green."

Susan Kramer, the Liberal Democrat transport spokeswoman, said: "If you don't sort out climate change, you compromise economic development in the long run. It is time that we ended the idea that there is a choice between the environment and the economy, the two must go hand in hand. We must build towards a green economic future."

Theresa Villiers, the shadow Transport Secretary, said: "The travelling public know that these are empty words. Today's announcement will do nothing to solve the chronic overcrowding problems on our rail network, or address rocketing fare increases.

"Similarly, it will do nothing to deliver increased cycle or bus usage or the much-needed road improvements and bypasses the Government has announced and cancelled so many times."