Ministers will give grants to rural drivers

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The Independent Online

The government is planning concessions to rural drivers to counter protests from motorists and the countryside, according to a leaked draft of the rural White Paper seen by The Independent.

The government is planning concessions to rural drivers to counter protests from motorists and the countryside, according to a leaked draft of the rural White Paper seen by The Independent.

Ministers plan to extend rebates on fuel duty - which businesses and fuel-efficient buses and lorries are now eligible for - to rural motorists and to set up a fund to allow country residents without their own transport to buy vehicles for car pools.

There are also plans to set aside millions of pounds to support schemes including "informal car-sharing arrangements" and car clubs.

The White Paper, which also sets out plans to improve rail and bus services, will admit that "high fuel and other costs impose a disproportionate burden on rural motorists".

The policy document, to be published next month, marks a shift and shows ministers have responded to criticism that the Government is anti-car.

The rural White Paper will also set out proposals to link the countryside to the internet through post offices and community centres, reducing the need of people to travel long distances to access information and services.

But private transport's role will also be acknowledged - the paper recognises that 75 per cent of rural journeys are by car.

The draft says: "Where a car is needed but not available, there can be real hardship. The vicious circle of 'no job no car, no car no job' is all to familiar to some people living in the country."

The Government plans to make funds available to encourage "social car schemes" for the one-third of rural residents who do not have the use of a car.

Almost 500 projects will be sponsored over the next three years from a Rural Transport Partnership Fund, whose budget is to be boosted to £12m.

The paper says: "The Government believes car clubs could be particularly useful in rural areas. Social car schemes will be eligible for funding from the Transport Partnership Fund. The Countryside Agency will specifically invite bids to support pilot car-share schemes in rural areas."

Parish councils will be given millions of pounds to improve transport. Grants of up to £10,000 will be available for them to buy "cars or mopeds for community use, including for the use of job-seekers," or "support a car club" or "purchase a minibus".

The paper adds that the Government wants to "minimise bureaucracy so the application process will be simple and there will be no formal partnership structure to set up".

The proposed informal funding structure will raise fears that the cash could be open to abuse by people who can afford to buy cars themselves. The emphasis on the role of carswill also alarm environmental groups, which say it will increase pollution.

Don Foster, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said car-sharing schemes would only work as part of "a whole package of measures to solve transport poverty... This is a stopgap measure until public transport is improved."

The paper also says bus links to market towns will be improved and strict rules relaxed on setting up bus services, to encourage operators into rural routes.

The White Paper will also set out proposals to reduce speed limits in most villages from 60mph to 30mph, and to promote traffic-calming measures, such as humps and chicanes, in villages.

To reduce speeds on rural roads and country lanes the Government will issue advice to local authorities next year on introducing vehicle-activated warning signs on rural roads.

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