Letter: Hidden cost of goods that travel too far

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Sir: The car has borne the brunt of criticism in the current transport debate. In terms of pollution it takes a great many cars to equate with one heavy goods vehicle. Because lorries are associated with industry and services their right of movement is rarely questioned. It is time the spotlight rested on those movements of goods vehicles which are a consequence of cheap fuel and low wages in distant countries.

There are grounds for concern when it is profitable for a clothing company in the North of England to shape trousers in its factory, then send them by road to Eastern Europe to be stitched, then return them to be distributed throughout the UK. Again, supermarkets pride themselves on offering wide choice - say, a yoghurt made in Greece with milk from Germany, alongside a virtually identical yoghurt made in the UK.

If such much-travelled goods bore a pollution tax which reflected the distance travelled and the mode of transport, we would begin to see shelf prices which represented the real cost in terms of damage to health and the environment. Overnight it would become economic to cut out and stitch the trousers in Yorkshire. Over a wide range of goods the economic advantage would tilt in favour of home-grown and manufactured products - good for employment and GDP.

Of necessity this would be an EU-wide pollution tax and opponents would doubtless condemn it as against the spirit of the Union in placing a damper on the free movement of goods. However, it would merely make goods bear the external costs and, at the same time, be a small but significant step towards a sustainable planet.

Professor PETER F SMITH

Chairman, Environment and Planning Committee

Royal Institute of British Architects

London W1

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