The future of transport: bigger airports, and motorists forced to pay by the mile

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The Independent Online

Airlines have been given the all-clear to carry on expanding, even though they are the UK's fastest growing source of air pollution.

Campaigners concerned about climate change were appalled by the suggestion in the 30-year strategy for transport set out by Sir Rod Eddington yesterday that the UK's major airports, such as Heathrow and Birmingham International, should be encouraged to expand.

Meanwhile, small businesses reacted angrily to Sir Rod's call for motorists to have to pay by the mile for using roads.

The UK's air traffic increased by 11 per cent in just one year, 2004, and continues to grow while the Government struggles to achieve stringent cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming. Friends of the Earth has calculated that, if present trends continued for another 25 years, the Government would have to cut all carbon dioxide emissions from every other industrial sector to zero in order to meet its targets and accommodate the airlines.

"The Government's aviation policy is on a collision course with its climate change policy," Tony Bosworth of Friends of the Earth warned. "If aviation continues growing at its present rate, it will be virtually impossible to meet those targets."

The Council for the Protection of Rural England also warned yesterday that Sir Rod's proposals would lead to "mounting environmental damage" from aviation. The CPRE has called for a curb on airline traffic.

Sir Rod, the former head of BA, was commissioned by Gordon Brown to look into the long-term future of transport. He has recommended tolls on the busiest roads, calculating they could bring in £28bn a year that could be used to improve the bus and rail systems.

He believed pricing would also put large numbers of motorists off driving altogether, reducing emissions of carbon. But he also complained that more than 28 per cent of flights at Heathrow were delayed by more than 15 minutes, one of the worst records in the EU, and called for the expansion of major airports.

Airport chiefs were delighted by Sir Rod's findings. Richard Heard, managing director of Birmingham International airport, said that expanding his airport "not only makes economic sense for the region" but would reduce the demand to expand other, smaller airports with poor links to public transport.

Other parts of Sir Rod's report, published yesterday, also received a mixed reception. The Federation of Small Businesses welcomed the plan for bigger airports, but was appalled by the prospect of road pricing. It claimed most small businessmen had no choice about the number of miles they drove, so the proposal would simply add to business costs without cutting traffic.

That warning was echoed by the Forum of Private Business, representing 25,000 medium-size firms, whose chief executive, Nick Goulding, warned that using rail to transport freight was not a practical alternative for many smaller firms. "If a road charging system were introduced now, it would become just another tax for businesses and their workers because they have little choice," he said.

Ian Kearns, deputy director of the think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) welcomed road pricing but warned: "While there is widespread acceptance that congestion is an increasing problem and people agree that you should pay more the more you drive, the public are yet to be convinced."

Bob Crow, leader of the RMT rail union said that if Sir Rod's recommendations were put into effect it could be the start of a "golden age" for public transport - though he added that he had wished Sir Rod had included a demand for massive public investment.

But Gerry Doherty, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said: "It is a half-baked idea to call for a national road-pricing policy while ruling out major investment in a new rail link between England and Scotland. Where are the motorists meant to go if we do not provide extra capacity on the busiest routes? This is just tinkering at the edges."

The Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, described the report, which fills 366 A4 pages, as "thin and outdated". He added: "Support for a road pricing scheme is welcome, but it is not enough to meet the green switch that is required."

The Liberal Democrats recently published an alternative strategy, calling for all flights to be taxed, an outright ban on airport expansion in the South-east, a new high-speed rail line and massive tax rises on the most-polluting cars.

Planes, trains and automobiles

Planes

PROBLEM: Increasing contribution of aircraft emissions to global warming. Difficulty of securing an international response to a worldwide problem.

EDDINGTON SOLUTION: Air travellers should pay full environmental cost of their journey through taxes and surcharges, but there remained a strong economic case for additional runway capacity.

DRAWBACKS: Risk of more pollution because of extra capacity. Expansion at Heathrow in particular could dramatically increase pollution. Danger of harming economy by new taxation.

THE OUTCOME: Sooner or later carriers will have to pay tax on aviation fuel, but it would require foreign countries to adopt the same policy. Government likely to provide more opportunity to travel by air, but will increasingly try to limit demand.

Trains

PROBLEM: Rising demand for rail travel has led to increasing congestion - particularly on commuter and long-distance routes. The rail network is overburdened and services are packed.

EDDINGTON SOLUTION: Lengthening trains and platforms and a limited and cost-efficient expansion of the network to relieve "pinch points". Everything to be done to maximise the use of existing resources.

DRAWBACKS: Will not solve capacity problems beyond 2015. Sir Rod has argued that there was limited evidence to support the construction of a new high-speed line.

THE OUTCOME: The Government is likely to adopt the Eddington approach because of the huge cost of a new line between London and the North. In the longer term, however, a future government is likely to back such a project.

Planes

PROBLEM: Intolerable and worsening levels of congestion on roads and motorways. Cars are increasingly "clean" but emissions are rising. Bus use outside London is falling as fares rise.

EDDINGTON SOLUTION: A nationwide road-pricing scheme that could cut congestion by half and generate £28bn worth of benefits by 2025. Provincial buses to be regulated like London's.

DRAWBACKS: A national toll system could result in higher "taxation" of motorists at penal rates. Traffic could be forced off main roads where charges are high to quieter roads through residential areas.

THE OUTCOME: Ministers and opposition parties have already made clear their backing for a nationwide charging system. But a national charge is unlikely to be in place by 2015, the target suggested by Mr Eddington.

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