Labour promises to halt pounds 18bn road programme: Citizens offered prospect of suing polluters

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LABOUR yesterday promised to halt Britain's pounds 18bn road building programme as part of a wide-ranging new programme of environmental policies. The announcement was immediately attacked by John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, as 'crazy and extremely short-sighted'.

The programme would also give individual citizens the power to sue polluting firms and councils to force them to clean up and pay compensation.

The policy document promises to scrap plans to widen the M25, and says Labour 'will operate a moratorium on new road schemes' while it carries out a review of all the roads programme on both environmental and economic grounds.

The document says the Government spends three times as much on roads each year as on rail, that 'building new roads offers at best temporary relief from traffic congestion' and that 'a new road link can suck economic activity out of a region as easily as it can bring activity and prosperity'.

Frank Dobson, Labour's transport spokesman, said the party opposed 'doubling the capacity' of the M25 and the M62 near Manchester. But he refused to say whether a Labour government would stop the building of the M11 link, which has caused huge protests in east London. He was in favour of widening the last 5 1/2 miles of the A2 into Dover, and improving the A30 in Cornwall.

Mr MacGregor retorted: 'Labour is talking about radically reducing road spending and that can only mean an absolute slashing of the road programme.' This would 'greatly damage Britain's economic competitiveness, add to congestion cost and harm the environment through the non-building of by-pass schemes'.

Chris Smith, Labour's environment spokesman, said all road schemes would have to pass a tough environmental test to get the go-ahead.

The document proposes a special Environment Division of the High Court to 'speed up the operation of the judicial system in the environmental sphere, keep costs down, encourage responsible individuals and groups to take out public interest cases and move some way to ensuring that the polluter really does pay'.

The court would have its own judges and plaintiffs would not have to pay the defendants' costs if they lost. The court would uphold a new 'list of the environmental rights of British citizens'. These would be: 'a right to clean air; a right to clean drinking water; a right to information on the state of the environment; a right to be consulted over local environmental issues; a right of unfettered access to common land, open country, mountain and moorland; and a right to consultation on environmental issues in the workplace.'

Labour also plans a Cabinet committee to make annual green plans with 'a pervasive influence over government policy' and a new Environmental Audit Committee in the Commons to monitor their implementation.

The document says: 'We reject the view that environmental policies must be the hair-shirt politics of sacrifice. Higher environmental standards will benefit the British economy'.