Labour admits U-turn on its car use policy

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The Independent Online

The Government is to shift direction in its motoring policy after admitting Britain cannot be weaned off its "car culture", it was reported today.

The Government is to shift direction in its motoring policy after admitting Britain cannot be weaned off its "car culture", it was reported today.

Transport minister Lord Macdonald signalled a change in attitude towards drivers by saying Labour would now concentrate on making cars more affordable and backing schemes to reduce pollution and congestion.

The policy represents a departure from the previous strategy of aiming to cut the number of vehicles by now looking to create cleaner engines and spread car ownership to the deprived - even if it means an increase in drivers.

Lord Macdonald, who this week took over day-to-day control of transport policy from his boss Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, told The Daily Telegraph the new strategy was "more realistic".

He said: "You can either try to reduce traffic overall or you can say that it is more rational to try to reduce the damaging output of traffic - pollution and congestion. We think that is more realistic."

The Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions insisted Lord Macdonald's remarks fitted in with the Government's integrated transport policy, which puts greater use of public transport at its core.

A DETR spokesman said: "The first two-and-a-half years of the Government's policy have been about putting into place the building blocks.

"We have ensured that the resources and strategic planning are in place to boost public transport and give motorists real choice."

Lord Macdonald told the newspaper that the Government was prepared to see an increase in car ownership if it meant more people with low incomes or in rural areas would benefit.

He said: "One third of people don't have cars and if cars become more affordable, more people will want to own them. That in itself should not be the primary problem.

"A lot of the people in most need of a car - living in rural areas or disadvantaged people on housing estates, single parents trying to juggle complicated lives - they're the people who at the moment can't afford one.

He added: "We would hope that our policies might make owning a car more affordable."

A further effect of the new strategy could be increased investment in road-building schemes to add to the £280 million package for local route programmes already announced by Lord Macdonald.

But he added that public transport remained the priority, saying: "We cannot see that there are courses of action to reduce the number of people owning cars or driving their cars except for investment in public transport."

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