Transport Secretary aims to end the 'war on motorists' but will 'sweat assets better'

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Philip Hammond, the new Transport Secretary, claimed yesterday that the coalition Government would "end the war on motorists". He promised there would be no road-user charging for existing roads and the Government would consult on a measure to try to keep petrol prices down if oil prices rise.

Mr Hammond said the Government backed the £16bn London Crossrail scheme but added that it was absolutely vital to maximise value for money from the project.

Speaking at the Department for Transport, Mr Hammond said: "We will end the war on motorists. Motoring has got to get greener but the car is not going to go away."

He stressed the Government would abide by a Tory manifesto promise not to fund any more fixed-position speed cameras, although local authorities could fund them if they had the money.

Asked about Crossrail, on which work has started, Mr Hammond said: "All capital projects are going to have to demonstrate value for money." He said he had spoken to London Mayor Boris Johnson about Crossrail. "I shall be working very closely with the mayor's team to absolutely maximise the benefits to the taxpayer of Crossrail," Mr Hammond said.

While ruling out road user charging for existing roads, Mr Hammond said tolls on new roads might be introduced.

He added that there would be consultation on a "fair fuel stabiliser" which could ensure that fuel duty is reduced when world oil prices go up.

Having ruled out a third runway at Heathrow, the new Government is committed to a new high-speed rail line. Mr Hammond said he did not think it would be difficult to get private funding for the line. "Over the coming years we are going to have to learn to do things differently. As far as transport is concerned we are going to have to sweat the assets we have much better. We are going to have to look at new and innovative ways of funding capital expenditure."

Edmund King, the president of the motorists' organisation the AA, said Mr Hammond needed to stay longer in his post than his 13 predecessors, who averaged only 20 months.

Mr King explained: "We have had 13 Transport Secretaries in 22 years. The real problem is that it can take a new Transport Secretary approximately 12 months to get up to speed with their brief. Transport is essential for the country and our economy yet in the past it has been a merry-go-round for ministers to hop on and off."

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