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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006, 22:01 GMT
Business wants rapid transport action
Analysis
By Gavin Stamp
Business reporter, BBC News

M42 motorway
Businesses are counting the cost of congestion

As Sir Rod Eddington prepares to reveal his eagerly anticipated blueprint for the UK's future transport needs, businesses are united about one thing.

Action to get the country moving more quickly and freely is needed now.

The former British Airways boss has been looking at options for improving Britain's roads, rail network, ports and airports after 2015.

He is expected to give his backing to road pricing as the best way of tackling congestion and, equally controversially, argue that further airport expansion is necessary to ensure the UK remains an attractive place to do business.

But employers groups say that if major transport decisions are not taken much sooner, Britain's competitiveness will be damaged, consigning one of the world's most dynamic economies to the slow lane.

"While this study is welcome, there is an urgent need to deal with the problems and challenges now, not just post-2015," says Michael Roberts, the CBI's director of business environment, who oversaw its submission to the government review.

"This must not be an excuse for inaction or inadequate action in the shorter term."

'Weaknesses'

Business groups have always been vocal about deficiencies in the transport system and are frustrated about what they see as a lack of vision and will among policymakers to make things better.

The CBI says the current transport network has "serious weaknesses" which are imposing increasing costs on companies and threatening economic growth.

I hope that Rod Eddington does not make the assumption that road pricing is going to be the answer to road congestion
Roger King, Road Haulage Association

It blames the current problems on years of underinvestment and says that congestion levels, branded the worst in Europe by a 2004 OECD study, are now causing firms huge problems in terms of late deliveries and getting access to markets.

It believes that road pricing - which some surveys have suggested could save the UK $30bn year by reducing congestion - does have an important role to play in future policy.

"Road pricing will potentially play a key role in tackling road congestion as part of a wider integrated transport strategy," it argues.

But, as always, the devil will be in the detail. The CBI warns that serious thought must be given to how and when schemes are implemented - and that policymakers must be crystal clear about their scope and cost.

Charging vs building

Speculation that drivers could be charged up to 1.30 per mile to use the most congested roads have dismayed some sections of industry, even though the significant sums raised could be used to reduce petrol taxes and fund further road building.

"I hope that Rod Eddington does not make the assumption that road pricing is going to be the answer to road congestion, because it cannot be seen in isolation like this," says Roger King, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association.

BUSINESS WISHLIST
Cutting congestion
Increasing reliability
Improving public transport
Enhancing regional air links
Increasing rail capacity
Deep sea container facilities

Mr King says that with traffic levels forecast to grow substantially over the next 10 years, road pricing can only achieve so much and the existing road capacity will also have to be increased.

The Eddington report is expected to reject calls for major national road building schemes in favour of smaller, local projects.

But Mr King says urgent action is needed to relieve pressure points on the busiest stretches of the M6 and other motorways.

This will involve building extra lanes and improving slip lanes.

"There has to be significant investment in our strategic road system in order to keep goods and freight moving," he says.

"It is all very well saying you can't build your way out of trouble, but we have not completed the job in the first place."

Runway debate

No part of the Eddington report will be more closely scrutinised than his views on the future of air travel in the UK.

Supporters and critics of further growth will be eager to see how far he endorses the government's support for further airport expansion.

Runway at Heathrow
The aviation industry's growth plans are under pressure

The recent Stern report - which called for concerted global action to cut carbon emissions - has put the economic arguments for the expansion of Heathrow and other airports under the spotlight like never before.

Airport operator BAA is hoping the report will endorse the government's backing for new runways at Heathrow and Stansted.

"Without new runway capacity, London will continue to lose competitive ground to Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam - and that will weaken the heart of the British economy," its chief executive Stephen Nelson said earlier this month.

While Eddington is expected to say that further runways are necessary, he is also likely to argue that a passenger levy is needed to fund an emissions trading scheme for airlines.




SEE ALSO
BAA buyer sees profits increase
30 Oct 06 |  Business
Second runway at Gatwick 'crazy'
30 Oct 06 |  Southern Counties
M6 Toll drivers face price rise
28 Nov 06 |  Staffordshire
Road pricing
16 Nov 06 |  Politics Show

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