Transport measures 'fail to tackle pollution'

The Budget was more about winning the next election than tackling transport's growing contribution to global pollution, environmentalists said.

Much to the annoyance of the green lobby, the Chancellor deferred the annual fuel duty rise for cars until 1 September, when drivers will pay an extra 1.2p a litre. He also froze company-car tax rates and said there would be no increase in the air passenger duty that travellers pay when they leave British airports.

But more welcome to environmentalists was a decision to freeze vehicle excise duty for medium-sized and small, "less-polluting" vehicles.

Owners of the "dirtiest" cars - in most cases those over 1550cc - would face a £5 rise in vehicle excise duty from 1 April, taking the top rate to £165.

Stephen Joseph, the director of Transport 2000, said the Budget was "slightly greener" than expected. "But if you bought a tin of paint this colour you'd be disappointed when you opened it and realised it had been watered down far too much. It doesn't go nearly far enough in setting a framework to tackle transport's growing contribution to climate change."

Friends of the Earth accused Mr Brown of failing to put climate change at the heart of the Budget, despite a strong speech this week warning that excluding environmental issues from economic policy was "no longer tenable". The environmental group said the measures announced in the Budget - including the freezing of petrol duty until September - did nothing to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

In his speech to international energy and environment ministers on Tuesday, Mr Brown said: "I believe that climate change is an issue for finance and economic ministries as much as for energy and environmental ones."

Tony Juniper, the director of Friends of the Earth, said: "This Budget is more about winning the next general election than tackling climate change. Gordon Brown made a powerful speech earlier this week calling for environmental issues to be central to economic decisions. What a pity he hasn't followed his own advice today. This Budget does nothing to cut greenhouse gas emissions."

He said time was running out. "If the UK is to meet its carbon dioxide reduction targets it must start cutting emissions year on year immediately. This has to be an urgent priority for the Government after the general election," he said.

Ray Holloway, of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, said that, regardless of who won the general election expected in May, there would be a post-election Budget, "and then all bets will be off".

Mr Brown said it was now time to legislate so that from next year all pensioners and disabled people had free local bus travel. Pensioners in London already receive bus passes for free travel which can also be used on the Underground system.