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EDITIONS
Sunday, 26 May, 2002, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
MPs condemn transport plans
Traffic jam on the M4
Support for tolls appears to have been "dropped"
The government's much-heralded 10-year transport plan has been attacked by MPs as "incoherent" and "incomprehensible".

A damning report by the Commons transport select committee, published on Sunday, says the 180bn blueprint unveiled two years ago is vague, confused and poor value for money.

The government also appears to have also dropped its support for congestion charges being introduced in up to 20 towns and cities.


The sooner we make up our minds about what we want and how to get it, the better

Gwyneth Dunwoody
Commons Transport Committee

The select committee criticised the government for failing to cut car use for fear of offending motorists, saying the current transport policy will actually worsen traffic gridlock.

It says the price of new cars is falling, fuel prices are expected to drop in real terms, while public transport fares are increasing.

But the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) hit back, saying the plan was meant to be a strategic document, not a policy plan.

The report has been welcomed by Friends of the Earth who said more money must now be found for rail and other forms of public transport.

But senior Tory MPs have denounced the "10 year sham" and called for Transport Secretary Stephen Byers to resign.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa May said: "The report confirms what anyone who travels on our roads or rail network already knows - that Labour are failing to deliver on any of their promises."

Congestion charges

In the harshly-worded report there is criticism that the much-mooted scheme for up to 20 cities and towns to ask drivers to pay to enter their centres is dropped.

BBC Transport Correspondent, Simon Montague, said it appeared the government had "turned its back" on the controversial project.

In London - where a 5 congestion charge is on the cards - the decision to implement it is entirely down to the Mayor Ken Livingstone, but in the regions the DTLR has that power.
Gwyneth Dunwoody
Mrs Dunwoody: Call for action on transport

Another key criticism is the government's over-optimism that private sector investment will be enough to fund the modernisation and improvement of the railways.

Committee chairman, Labour backbencher Gwyneth Dunwoody, said: "The United Kingdom needs a long-term achievable strategy desperately.

"The sooner we make up our minds about what we want and how to get it, the better it will be for everyone."

On traffic jams, the report said: "The government's approach to motoring costs is incomprehensible".

It said the transport plan benefited the better off and those who travel the most.

'Misunderstood'

"The government has refused to promote restraints on car use for fear of a backlash from motorists - even in circumstances in which most urgent journeys made by motorists themselves are under threat from excessive traffic levels."

The report concluded the plan had failed to provide a vision for a "more equitable, safer and more efficient" transport system.

It said: "It fails to provide a coherent picture of what, when, why and how much it will achieve. "

A government spokesman said the committee had "misunderstood" the plan by treating it like a policy paper, when it was a strategic investment document.

The main criticisms of the committee were:

  • Failing to tackle congestion or prepare for road charging

  • Lack of 'considered analysis' and too much 'blue sky thinking' from advisers such as Lord Birt

  • On financing rail improvements, too vague, over-optimistic on private money and no year-by-year costing

  • No firm targets, only "a series of aspirations for 2010", so no progress report possible

  • Failing to press French over Channel Tunnel security, which disrupts rail freight services

  • Not taking seriously enough important performance indicators such as safety

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
"They want a new balance of car restraint and improved public transport alternatives"
Transport Select Committee's George Stephenson
"It is a tough report"
Roger Higman of Friends of the Earth
"More and more people will be driving cars as motoring costs drop"
The AA's John Dawson
"We desperately need investment across all our transport modes"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Traffic jamUK in gridlock
Is Britain's travel network at breaking point?
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