Clean-fuels drive breaks down

Sunday 17 November 2002 01:00

A £30m government project to persuade British drivers to use cleaner fuels has hit a major pothole –stubborn local planning authorities, writes Leo Lewis.

The drive, which aims to encourage car makers and motorists to convert their vehicles to low-emission liquid petroleum gas (LPG), is being run by the Department of Transport and the Department of Trade and Industry.

The Energy minister, Brian Wilson, earmarked a further £1m on Friday as an incentive to rural garages to provide safe vehicle conversion facilities.

Petrol retailers, including franchises of big companies such as BP, Shell and Esso, are attracted by the higher margins available on LPG, and have made repeated efforts to provide it from rural filling stations, particularly those in Scotland.

LPG is also far cheaper for motorists than any other fuel on the market.

But forecourts presenting the plans to supply LPG are finding that local authorities reject them on safety grounds. In most applications, the LPG tanks would be stored above ground, as the space under the petrol stations is already taken up with conventional fuel tanks. Oil companies assert that the above-ground tanks do not create any additional risk.

Describing his commitment to the scheme, Mr Wilson said: "I am very keen on LPG and not enough has been done to promote it. What we want is for LPG to become a standard fuel, especially in the more peripheral parts of the country."

The planning issue is set to put the DTI on a collision course with the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as Mr Wilson increases his efforts to encourage LPG use.

Defra representatives are expected to be present at the next "fuel forum" – round-table meetings designed to iron out problems in the UK's fuel supply.

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