Letter: Green taxation

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The Independent Online
Letter: Green taxation

Sir: The main problem with taxation as a means of combating pollution, congestion and similar nuisances ("The questionable credentials of green taxes", 29 December) is that governments become dependent on the revenue it raises. They therefore acquire a vested interest in the continuation of the nuisance and become reluctant to tackle it in more fundamental ways.

Vehicle design is the best way to tackle pollution from vehicles, but manufacturers, who have to please their customers rather than society, will not come up with suitable designs without governmental intervention in the form of vehicle construction and use regulations. Regulation should be based on the principle that no vehicle should consume more non-renewable resources, either in manufacture or use, or should cause more danger, pollution, noise or other nuisance than is strictly necessary for the performance of its function.

One implication is that vehicles with a top speed higher than the national speed limit would not be allowed on public roads. Acceleration would also be limited: the present very high rates of acceleration serve no useful purpose and make vehicles much more dangerous, as well as more polluting, than they need to be.

Even if the present national speed limit of 70mph were retained - and the calculations in Dr Mayer Hillman's and my report for the Policy Studies Institute, "Speed Control and Transport Policy", suggests that it should be reduced to 55mph or lower - these constraints on performance would make it possible to manufacture vehicles with rates of fuel consumption and exhaust emissions a fraction of present ones.

Civilising the vehicle does not remove the need to reduce car travel in towns. Road pricing could be helpful in some towns but other policy instruments are more important. They include traffic avoidance through land-use planning; the reallocation of road space from cars to pedestrians, cyclists and buses; restrictions on car parking; the creation of car-free zones, including residential areas as well as shopping and commercial centres.