In the wake of Ruth Kelly's cautious paper on the future of British transport, delivered earlier this week, environmental campaigners yesterday called on ministers to "show real political leadership" to make cutting carbon emissions the central aim of Britain's transport policy.
They demanded immediate action to end airport and road expansion, and to pour huge investment into railways and other forms of sustainable transport.
Green groups warned that the cost of road travel is still falling in real terms while the cost of public transport continues to rise, encouraging people to rely on cars and fuelling congestion and carbon emissions.
The Independent asked leading green groups to outline their alternative strategy for planes, trains and automobiles after the Government's long-term plans for transport were criticised for doing too little to fight climate change.
A manifesto for sustainable transport
Green groups criticised Ms Kelly for agreeing to further airport growth. Ministers are pushing to make aviation part of European emissions trading schemes to curb CO2 emissions, but campaigners want them to do more. Greenpeace has called for a halt to expansion, arguing that such schemes do nothing more than "tinker ineffectively". Emily Armistead, senior transport campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "The Government should follow [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy's lead and have a moratorium on airport expansion. We should also ban domestic flights." Tony Bosworth, of Friends of the Earth, said airlines should pay more tax. He said: "The aviation industry pays no fuel tax and no VAT, which adds up to a subside of £9bn in the UK alone."
Massive investment in high-speed rail, action to tackle overcrowding and reopening branch lines and local tram systems are all needed to get people out of cars and on to trains, campaigners said. Greenpeace called for a thorough overhaul of the rail network to make travel faster, and crucially cheaper, than road transport. Ms Armistead said: "Rail is not just about prestige projects like high-speed links. We need to think about the proper investment to bring down costs," while Jason Torrance, campaigns director of the Campaign for Better Transport, called on the Government to "begin to develop high-speed rail links between Scotland and the North of England, and London and the South." He warned that action was also needed to link local train and bus services.
Greenpeace called on ministers to push the European Union to go beyond the proposed average new car emissions targets. Ms Armistead said: "We need a new target to ensure we halve the average emissions of vehicles. We would also like more congestion charging schemes." Friends of the Earth called on the Government to maintain the fuel duty escalator on petrol and diesel and impose mandatory targets for fuel efficiency, while Mr Torrance of the Campaign for Better Transport said: "Towns like Peterborough and Worcester have invested £10m in sustainable transport and have shown significant increases in walking, use of public transport and cycling. Compare that with the £13bn being spent on road expansion."Reuse content