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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Six Forum: Road widening
Six Forum
Transport 2000's Steve Hounsham answered your questions on the government's new road scheme.

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    Some of Britain's busiest motorways are to get an extra lane in an effort to ease congestion.

    Plans to widen the M1 and M25 are part of a 7bn road building package unveiled by the government on Wednesday.

    Transport Secretary Alistair Darling is also expected to propose long-term plans for road charging when he outlines the scheme to the House of Commons.

    But environmental campaigners say the plans will not solve congestion and will cause health problems, as well as further spoiling the countryside.

    What do the government's plans involve? Will roads near you be affected? What's the environmental impact?

    Your questions were answered by Transport 2000's Steve Hounsham in the Six Forum, presented by Manisha Tank.


    Transcript


    Manisha Tank:

    Hello and welcome to the Six Forum with me, Manisha Tank. Extra lanes, that's the Government's answer to congestion. A 7billion road building package has been unveiled by the Government. There are also long-term plans for road charging. So motorists may gain their lanes but they'll pay a bit more.

    So will any of this change Britain's problems with congestion and what environmental impact will the new plans have - will they be good or bad? Transport 2000's Steve Hounsham joins me.

    Steve, we've had a breadth of e-mails in terms of opinions about whether this will make any difference but a bulk of them wondering whether extra lanes really changes anything. An e-mail from Lee R, in the UK asks: In 10 years when all these additional roads have been completed and we're still in exactly the same mess, what will happen next?


    Steve Hounsham:

    Well yes I think that's a very question to start on. The truth is that providing more road space doesn't really make any more difference in the long term - any extra road space will be filled up with extra traffic. We're all driving further and further each year and there's a certain amount of suppressed demand and when you've widened the road or provide a new one, then it quickly fills up with more traffic again. It's not the answer. It might buy a couple of years respite from traffic jams but certainly no more than that.


    Manisha Tank:

    Trevellyon Newell and Marius, write in from Madrid and ask: We don't see how widening the roads is going to help relieve the congestion. Surely all it will do is concentrate the traffic even more in the areas where the 8 lanes go back down to 4? This perhaps is a problem that we have everywhere with the bottlenecks.


    Steve Hounsham:

    Absolutely. If you improve the road network in one part then very often you're very often you're simply shifting the traffic jam just a bit further along. You can't actually widen everything - there's not enough countryside to go round. We certainly don't want to tarmac over much more of it. So it's not the answer. We have to look at other solutions to solving congestion.


    Manisha Tank:

    We have an e-mail here from Chris Hillcoat in Reading who asks: In the long run would it not be better to build new routes than widen existing ones?

    Now that's quite a controversial question isn't it?


    Steve Hounsham:

    Well it is and really the same principle applies. If you build new roads or widen existing ones, you provide extra road space and that simply fills up with new traffic. So again it's not really the answer in the long term. The only answer is really to reduce the amount of traffic on our roads if we want to reduce the amount of congestion.


    Manisha Tank:

    Len Fawcett, Bath asks: Did the Government give any indication of the number of miles of pedestrian footpaths and cycle tracks that they propose to build alongside these new roads because transport isn't all about cars?


    Steve Hounsham:

    Absolutely yes. That's one of the points that Transport 2000 makes. We assume that to go somewhere, you have to go by car very often. But there are a variety of means of travelling - there's public transport obviously and there's walking and cycling. In this country we do very little walking and cycling compared with other European nations and really if we did use our feet or cycle for more journeys then there would certainly be less traffic congestion.


    Manisha Tank:

    But Steve, let's get practical. The fact of the matter is that the attitude of the British people is a lot of us like to go in our cars and drive, a lot of us have had problems with the railways and also people are wondering whether the bus networks are very good or not - Londoners might say, we've got excellent bus networks but other places in the country, that's not the case.

    We have an e-mail which highlights this point from Keith Walker, UK: When the railways are of no practical use for transport needs, and buses are less environmentally friendly, slower and more expensive than private transport, how can you object to investment in the roads? Surely there's a compromise that must be met here?


    Steve Hounsham:

    Well the problem with roads investment is it simply encourages more traffic and there are a whole host of social problems connected with that - obviously the destruction of the countryside is the most obvious one. But as traffic rises, pollution rises, greenhouse gas emissions rise, we have greater expenditure on health problems and road crash casualties. There are all sorts of difficulties with a car-based way of living. What we need to do is to try and reduce our dependency on cars - that's the only way we're going to actually reduce the social and environmental problems of too much traffic that we're having in this country.


    Manisha Tank:

    That's an interesting point, reducing this reliance on cars and perhaps that is something that different parts of our lives can contribute to - work for example. We've just had an e-mail in from Sue Hoddell in Droitwich asks: I wonder why we're spending so much money on building more roads, congestion charging and trying to force individual cars off the road, instead of encouraging companies, for example, perhaps with tax breaks, to get more workers to work from home where possible and so remove the need to travel.

    A further e-mail, John H in Romford asks: Organisations like your own and the Green Party say that only an overhaul of planning policy can tackle congestion. This would involve localising production and reducing the distance between where people work and live.


    Steve Hounsham:

    That's a very good point and certainly the planning system should be taking that into account. The difficulty we have is that very often planning and transport are not connected and we have seen, for example, the growth of out of town or edge of town shopping and retail centres which are very much car-dependent because they're off the main routes of public transport.

    What we need to do is to really plan for more sustainable living - so yes, more of us can work at home but those people who do have to travel, travel shorter distances - that's the way forward.


    Manisha Tank:

    We're basing a lot of this on the assumption that in 20 - 30 years time there'll be a lot more cars on the road. We've had an interesting question in from Andy Tomlinson, Manchester: As the total population of this country is declining year on year, where does notion that car use and congestion will keep on increasing forever come from?


    Steve Hounsham:

    Well, we're driving more and more - each one of us is using our cars as time goes on - freight is being taken around the country to a greater extent year on year. Each year traffic is rising - the rate of growth is around 1 or 2% a year, which might not sound very much but it quickly accumulates to a very large increase when you look at the change from the 1980s to the 1990s to the beginning of the new millennium. So yes, traffic is growing because we are travelling around evermore and we need to look at ways of reducing the need to travel as well as actually looking at better ways of travelling.


    Manisha Tank:

    David Forester, UK asks: Do the Government's plans for the M1 have anything to do with the possible expansion of Luton airport?

    It isn't just Luton airport is it? There's a lot of expansion going on elsewhere that the Government is doing which will affect our roads.


    Steve Hounsham:

    Certainly there's a lot of development, especially in the south east that's in the pipeline at the moment - airport development, port development - new communities, Milton Keynes and then there's Stanstead in the Cambridge area. So yes, it's difficult to say that road expansion plans are nothing to do with other development plans. I think at the very least an expanded roads network is going to act as a catalyst for further development and possibly overheating, especially in the south east of the country. Who knows, it might look like Los Angeles in a few years' time.


    Manisha Tank:

    I'm sure there will be some who might say great, some who might say no, please don't let that happen. Now we'll come onto the charging and tolls that we have inflicting on us if we're drivers. Jim Simpkin, Kingston upon Thames asks: Whilst I am loath to admit it, the fairest and most cost effective way of charging for road use is very simple - raise petrol tax.

    Lots of people probably disagree with that - some might agree - but in the meantime basically this question is asking, is this how the Government will actually pay for these improvements? This is very important point - where is all this money going to come from? Are we going to see - and we've already seen that Alistair Darling has drawn up some plans about road charging.


    Steve Hounsham:

    Yes, certainly he's announced a feasibility study and Transport 2000 will be taking part in that. But the problem is there's no real commitment to charging. There's certainly no timetable - this is all a bit woolly and vague and in the far future - if at all. I think what we need to see from the Government is a stronger commitment to charging and they ought to be introducing it sooner rather than later.


    Manisha Tank:

    It's quite interesting, you mentioned Los Angeles earlier, Julian has text us from Ashford, Kent: Why not build two or three decks over existing motorways - one for cars and one for trucks?


    Steve Hounsham:

    It certainly would look like Los Angeles.


    Manisha Tank:

    But just to go back to the charging idea - it's quite interesting isn't it because perhaps that will be crucial in changing drivers' attitudes to actually being on the road - is that a very important point for you?


    Steve Hounsham:

    I think so, yes. The advantage of charging is that charges can be levied according to the sensitivity of the route and the time of day even, so that drivers who want to drive in crowded city centres or on crowded motorways pay more. So in other words, the charge is going to discourage some people from using those routes. So it's a great way in which the Government can actually control the congestion in this country and I think there are real opportunities there.

    But certainly we do have something of an attitude problem, I think, in this country as regards transport. I have a car and I think most people like their cars and they like driving and we tend to use them more than we absolutely have to. Certainly in other countries they don't do that. We're actually the most car-dependent country in Europe and as a result we have the worst traffic congestion. But in places likes Switzerland or Austria, the Netherlands, it's quite common to leave your car in the garage for a lot of journeys and go by public transport or even walking or cycling.


    Manisha Tank:

    Let's talk finally about alternatives - here's something that came in from lots of people - here's just to name a few of them. Peter Troxler, Aberdeen; Michael Shackleton, Leeds; Andrew, Bracknell; Peter Barnby, Norwich; Simon T Smith, Yorkshire and all the others who said: Wouldn't it just make much more sense to improve the British rail network?


    Steve Hounsham:

    Well I'd certainly agree with that. To give the Government some credit they have put in 60 billion promised over 10 years for the rail network - unfortunately most of that has already been allocated and as we all know, the railways are in something of a crisis - a cash crisis and performance crisis.

    It's difficult to explain why we're so bad at running railways in this country. Again they don't have this problem in other European countries. But yes, I agree, a good functioning integrated rail network that can take the number of people who want to use it is a national importance and we should certainly be working towards that.


    Manisha Tank:

    With that we have to wrap it up. Steve Hounsham, thanks very much for joining us from Transport 2000 on this forum. Goodbye.




  • SEE ALSO:
    UK 'facing more transport misery'
    01 Jul 03  |  Business
    Call for national congestion charge
    16 Jun 03  |  Politics


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