MPs demand curbs on cars

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Indy Politics

Environment Correspondent

Car drivers must be turned away from congested urban areas by blocking off roads to traffic and restricting parking spaces, MPs recommended yesterday.

The House of Commons Environment Select Committee said sticks as well as carrots were needed in order to persuade motorists to switch to public transport. It called on the Government to support local council initiatives to discourage urban car use as well as supporting better public transport, walking and cycling.

The Government should draw up an action plan for particularly severe air pollution episodes, including measures such as emergency speed limits and car bans. The MPs say the existing policy of "mere exhortations" not to drive when air quality was at its worst was inadequate.

The recommendations came in the committee's report on volatile organic compounds (VOCs), one of the most important classes of air pollutant. This year about 2 million tonnes of VOCs will be emitted in Britain.

The most important sources are vehicle exhaust fumes - 800,000 tonnes; industrial use of solvents - 400,000; petrol stations and oil refineries - just under 400,000; and household solvents such as paint, varnish and thinners - 300,000 tonnes.

VOCs are one of the main precursors of low-level ozone, a key summer- time pollutant which irritates lungs and may be exacerbating the suffering of hundreds of thousands of asthma victims. One VOC, benzene, causes cancer and is likely to initiate a dozen or more leukaemia cases in Britain each year.

"Reducing VOC emissions is necessary but it will not be painless," says the report. "Fuel prices may have to rise; cars may have to cost more and people be encouraged to use them less; industries which use or produce solvents - including the coatings, printing and dry-cleaning industries - will face increased costs." But, the MPs say, the price is worth paying.

The Government is already committed by UN treaty to cutting VOC emissions by 30 per cent between 1988 and 2000, and says the strategy of controls it has drawn up puts it well on course to do so. But the MPs feel the Government should make further curbs.