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Tuesday, July 20, 1999 Published at 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK

UK Politics

Prescott promises 'fundamental change'

There is no end in sight to Britain's traffic jams

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has insisted the prime minister and chancellor are "absolutely" behind him in his transport reforms.

He admitted he had not yet secured all the funding he wants from the Treasury, but said he had managed to raise money in other ways.

Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott talking to BBC News
Mr Prescott told the BBC: "On new income, I got the chancellor to agree congestion charges, if the local authorities want to do it. It's a new income stream that must go in to transport - that's hypothecation.

"I'm getting money from different sources, in new ways, changing Treasury rules so that people can get more money into transport."

[ image:  ]
On the first anniversary of Mr Prescott's integrated transport white paper, campaign groups are highlighting the failure to implement change.

But the deputy prime minister and transport secretary said he was on track to shift the emphasis to public transport and was prepared to risk unpopularity to achieve it.

"The challenge of my white paper was to make real, fundamental change," he said.

"You have to improve the quality of public transport so that motorists can make a choice and use the car less and public transport more."

Mr Prescott said initiatives to get more people on buses would cut the amount paid in subsidy to the operators, making more money available in other areas.

[ image: John Prescott: Says unpopularity is worth suffering for real change]
John Prescott: Says unpopularity is worth suffering for real change
"I didn't think I could have expected these improvements within 12 months of the white paper, but we're on course to make the sort of changes," he said.

Later, in a keynote speech on transport, Mr Prescott stressed the need to move away from a car-based society, or witness another six million vehicles on the roads within 20 years.

"To cater for such an increase, it has been estimated that we would have to build a 50-lane motorway between London and Edinburgh and that would be just to park them," he said.

Quick fixes demanded

But the pressure group Transport 2000 has called for a series of "quick fixes" to speed up progress on the government's transport policies before the next election.

Transport Correspondent Simon Montague: "Transport 2000 says the public has seen more sticks than carrots"
It says motorists have not been offered any noticeable improvements in alternatives to the car since a consultation document was published 12 months ago.

Transport 2000 says the public has seen higher fuel taxes and more traffic restrictions - increasing use of bus lanes - but is still waiting for more "positive" action.

The group unveil a series of proposals on Tuesday. They include:

  • A national public transport travelcard
  • Special 20mph speed zones around schools
  • New rail links between Oxford and Cambridge, and between north and south Wales, among other places
  • A national "superbus" network

Executive director Stephen Joseph said: "The government should use its powers and money creatively to make the words 'integrated transport' a reality on the ground in the next year."

Friends of the Earth also publishes a survey on Tuesday to coincide with the first anniversary of the white paper.

It says only 26% of 149 highway authorities in England are in favour of road pricing.

[ image: Transport 2000 wants more rail links to be built]
Transport 2000 wants more rail links to be built
Two in three supported workplace parking charges, while more than 90% backed bus priority measures and incentives for bus passengers and cyclists.

Tightening parking controls were supported by 86%, while 89% backed traffic-calming measures.

Friends of the Earth transport campaigner Tony Bosworth said: "Local councils believe traffic reduction policies are needed, but one year on, we are no further forward."

Adding fuel to the transport controversy is a research document from Cambridge University which found a lack of public confidence in the government's ability to meet their transport needs.

The authors, Professor David Newbery and Georgina Santos, say road infrastructure plans are suffering from "fudge rather than rational policy making".

They suggest creating a new agency - Roadtrack - to take over responsibility for Britain's motorways and trunk roads.

The Cambridge researchers say road taxes should be replaced by road user charges which would be levied by Roadtrack and used directly on the roads.

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