Friday, August 6, 1999 Published at 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Prescott welcomes eclipse motorists
Up to 1.5m extra visitors could crowd in
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has invited motorists to visit Cornwall for the eclipse, but warned drivers to expect traffic jams.
"Do come down, it will be a wonderful day," he said, as he visited the south-west to inspect Britain's biggest ever traffic management operation, which swung into action on Friday.
However, he warned people not to make a last-minute decision to head for the region. "It is a little late," he said.
"People will have to spread the times when they come here, make sure they book somewhere to stay, and take some food and water in case they run into congestion."
It is monitoring traffic from 60 "traffic spy" cameras covering the main routes from Bristol to Cornwall, and putting live pictures and other information on the Internet.
Military drafted in
Mr Prescott, who is also Minister for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, also opened seven miles of the new A30 between Ottery St Mary and Exeter - completed six months ahead of schedule especially for the eclipse.
The rest of the controversial £50m dual carriageway, which has been the focus of protest by anti-road activists, will be finished next spring.
Mr Prescott later met a 60-strong "eclipse flying squad" of police and military motorcyclists, who are being dispersed around Devon and Cornwall to help sort out traffic problems as quickly as possible.
"These guys know what to do," said Mr Prescott. "They will do a damned good job."
However, Mr Prescott's apparent encouragement of the motorist was criticised by transport pressure group Transport 2000.
"He should have advised people to come by train," said a spokesman. "We don't want to see one long traffic jam from Penzance to Bristol."
All roadworks removed
Meanwhile, finishing touches were being put to other plans to deal with the extra crowds.
All roadworks have been removed from main arteries to the southwest.
Fire chiefs have set up temporary stations around the county and doubled the number of firefighters available.
South West Water has installed 10 temporary booster stations to help keep up water pressure during periods of very high demand.
And supermarkets across the south-west are taking delivery of extra food stocks in order to cope with the demand from eclipse-watching tourists.