Restrictions on private car use 'unavoidable'

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BROAD restrictions on private car use will be unavoidable within the next 15 years, a government report to be issued next week implies.

The bulky document on Britain's strategy for sustainable development says the rapid growth in road traffic is one of the greatest environmental threats facing the nation. Unchecked, it will cause rising damage to public health, wildlife sites, peace and quiet, and the global atmosphere.

The report, a follow-on from the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, will be launched by John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, several Cabinet colleagues and possibly John Major.

It is one of four 'green' documents to be published on Tuesday; the other three deal with Britain's strategies for combating man-made climatic change, the global loss of wild plants and animals, and for preserving forests. Mr Gummer cleared the final versions through Cabinet on Thursday.

Friends of the Earth has obtained a near-final draft of the chapter covering transport, which was the the subject of infighting between ministers from the Departments of Transport and Environment. Friends of the Earth said that it explained why the chapter pulls no punches on the severity of the environmental threats, while failing to make any firm commitments on policies needed to combat them.

'Further measures will be necessary by Government to influence the rate of traffic growth . . .' the leaked draft says.

The Friends' air pollution campaigner, Fiona Weir, said: 'That's the strongest language we've ever heard from the Government on traffic growth, and it puts pressure on ministers to deliver. But the depressing thing is that there are no targets and no timetables.'

The draft says Britain 'has one of the highest mileages per car and one of the lowest levels of rail freight or public transport use'. Road traffic is projected to double by 2025.

The chapter says increases in the costs of motoring to reflect the environmental damage done may be necessary but states no preferences as to how this should be done.