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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 18:24 GMT
Congestion targets 'will not be met'
traffic jam
Campaigners say more roads are not the answer
Traffic congestion could increase by up to a fifth by the end of the decade, the government has said.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling admitted the government had failed to hit its targets on cutting traffic jams.

He told MPs the forecasts made two years ago had underestimated the amount of economic growth which was now leading to more car journeys.

Despite conceding the 2010 target of 5% lower congestion would not be met, Mr Darling said the government's 10-year transport plan had made a "good start" but more work was needed.

That claim was pilloried by opposition parties, but Mr Darling said he knew there were "no quick fixes or easy solutions".

The progress report on the 10-year-plan, published on Tuesday, suggests congestion could increase by 11-20% in the next eight years - despite government measures to combat it.

But Mr Darling said without the measures, congestion would have risen unchecked.

"Not only will we stem that growth but deliver considerable reductions in the levels of congestion we would otherwise have seen," he said.

Alistair Darling, Transport Secretary
Alistair Darling: Under fire from green groups
He said there had been more traffic in 2000, the start date for the targets, than had been anticipated originally.

"That, coupled with the fact that economic growth over the next 10 years is now projected to be higher than anticipated, means that the forecasts made two years ago almost certainly underestimated the future levels of congestion we are faced with."

The report also lays some of the blame with local councils which, it says, have delayed decisions on congestion charging until they see how the London scheme fares after it starts in February.

Timetable worries

Mr Darling last week announced a 3bn road building programme, but he also underlined the 33bn of planned investment for the railways.

But that extra money had to be matched by improved standards and reliability, he warned.

The number of rail passengers has risen by a quarter since 1997, according to the progress report.

A train outside a London station
Train companies must get costs under control, says Darling
Mr Darling said: "We will only sustain that increase in use of railways if it is shown the service is better but also more reliable."

He argued that rail companies had to "get a grip on their costs", which have overrun by almost 500m in public money.

The progress report also suggests current rail timetables "could be placing unrealistic demands on service providers".

'Corpse'

Mr Darling said 180bn would be put into transport improvements over the 10-year period.

He said he believed that by the end of the decade there would be "significant improvements on our road systems and railways".

More jam-busting measures would be announced next year, he added.

Conservative shadow transport secretary Tim Collins fiercely mocked Mr Darling's statement.

The 10-year plan was now "so much of a corpse" that Amanda Burton, star of pathology drama Silent Witness, "has been spotted preparing a post-mortem", said Mr Collins.

The Tory spokesman said it was the third failure Mr Darling had announced in as many weeks - after performing a "U-turn" on road building and being rebuffed by the courts over airport expansion plans.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Don Foster joined the attack, accusing Mr Darling or being "unjustifiably complacent".

Strategy under fire

The 10-year plan was now in "tatters", said Mr Foster, and the prospect of higher rail fares and fewer services would not encourage people off the roads.

Environmental groups have attacked the government's new road building plans, which are part of a 5.5bn package of nationwide transport improvements announced last week.

The 10-year plan itself has been heavily criticised since its inception, particularly by the House of Commons transport select committee.

The MPs said the plan "failed to offer a long-term vision of an integrated transport policy" and was based on a strategy that was "inadequately justified and potentially unbalanced".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
"Bad news for drivers "
The BBC's Chris Ledgard
"The targets were ambitious but, said the deputy Prime Minister, they were acheivable"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
M6Transport hell
Are wider roads the way to beat traffic jams?
 VOTE RESULTS
Are wider roads the answer?

Yes
 42.61% 

No
 57.39% 

10130 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

11 Dec 02 | England
10 Dec 02 | England
20 Jul 00 | Politics
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