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Panorama
UK transport policy 'is failing'
Traffic jam
Transport in Britain is grinding to a halt
Government advisors have criticised UK transport policies in the wake of rising road congestion, failing railways and travel chaos.

Five years ago Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott unveiled Transport 2010: 10-Year Plan, promising: "This is the day transport bursts into the light of a new day."

The plan boasted that road congestion would be cut and public transport improved, but the government has already had to backtrack on many of its targets.

It's a bit like a heroin addict's last fix. It will feel good at the time, but it's not sustainable

Prof David Begg

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling recently admitted that, far from being reduced by 6%, congestion will probably increase by up to 20% the end of the decade.

BBC Panorama's John Ware uncovered the facts behind the failing transport strategy.

Running scared

Professor David Begg, chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport, an independent body that advises the government, accuses the government of running scared of car-owning voters by building more roads to ease congestion.

"It doesn't grapple with the core of the problem. It's a bit like a heroin addict's last fix. It will feel good at the time, but it's not sustainable," he said.

Rail commuters
Rail improvements have been scrapped

"They are nervous about being accused of being anti-car. There are an awful lot of companies and people in this country make their living out of cars, manufacturing cars or supplying the car industry.

"At some point you have to lead, because if it's just down to focus groups, why do we have politicians?

Poor management

His views are backed by former government chief transport adviser Professor Phil Goodwin, who advised on the 1998 Transport White Paper. He says the government are failing to deliver an integrated transport policy.

"The suggestion that you can allow traffic growth to go on unimpeded and still reduce congestion simply was not realistic. If traffic grows faster than the capacity of the system to take it, congestion has to increase."

"It looked for a while as though the government had found a way to abolish the law of traffic engineering."

The 10-Year Plan has also failed to deliver on many of its promises to upgrade Britain's railways.

The Great Western line upgrade between London and Bristol has been cancelled, the East Coast main line project delayed and downgraded and the London to Stansted improvements delayed.

Worsening situation

The Chair of the Transport Select Committee Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody tells Panorama that the clock is ticking for the railways because of spiralling costs for new lines and maintenance.

The Ten Year Transport Plan is dead

Tony Grayling, former government transport advisor

"Unless the railway industry gets some kind of control of its costs, unless the amounts of money can be seen to be producing results for the passenger, people will just get so heartily fed up with it that they will begin to be extremely awkward about what the railway is costing."

The government says it is meeting its target of increasing bus usage by 10% by 2010.

But Panorama reveals that bus travel outside of London has actually been in decline by 2% in towns and cities and 1% in rural areas.

Doomed

Tony Grayling, a former government transport advisor 1997 - 1998 told the programme:

"All of the key targets in the Ten Year Transport Plan on increasing the use of the railways or reducing congestion on our roads have effectively been ditched, you have to say that as it was originally framed the 10 year transport plan is dead."

Professor Goodwin believes the 10-year plan is doomed to failure and will not deliver on its promises.

"The one thing we can be certain about is that in the year 2010, nobody is going to be looking at the targets of the current 10-year plan and checking them off," he said.

"It will have disappeared from the political scene a long time before 2010."

"Since December the government has accepted that even at the end of the 10-Year Plan, things will be worse than they are at present."


Panorama: Promises, Promises was broadcast on Sunday, 16 February 2003 at 2215 GMT on BBC One.


Comments

Key stories

Ten Year Plan

Labour's pledges
See also:

17 Dec 02 | Politics
The plan which didn't arrive
30 Jan 03 | UK News
Rail vision starts to cloud
17 Dec 02 | Politics
Congestion targets 'will not be met'
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