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Labour faces strongest criticism yet of 10 year transport plan

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LABOUR'S TRANSPORT strategy this week came under a wide ranging attack that included salvos from its key transport adviser and an ex-cabinet minister as well as construction professionals.

Critics including chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport (CFIT) Professor David Begg and ex-Cabinet minister Peter Mandelson who were particularly scornful about the government's 10 year transport plan. They questioned whether key targets could be delivered by 2010.

Begg was due to publish CFIT's review of the 10 year plan yesterday. He claimed that the government would fail to meet its target of cutting traffic congestion by 6% by 2010 because it was not doing enough to promote urban and inter-urban road charging.

Speaking at this weeks' Interchange conference Begg made his strongest attack yet on the government's 'soft pedalling' of road tolling. He pointed to a current 'overwhelming consensus' in favour of road building.

Bodies as diverse as the business lobby, the CBI, motorists group the RAC, the Institute of Directors and the Construction Industry Council (CIC) are all clamouring for road charging as soon as possible.

The RAC and CIC this week notably backed CFIT's recent Paying for road use report which calls for 10% of the network to be tolled as soon as possible (see overleaf).

Ex-cabinet minister Peter Mandelson joined the attack by claiming in a book due to be published this week that Labour's inability to deliver transport policy was the biggest failure of its first term.

He said that the 10 year plan for transport was 'poorly conceived' and lacked 'robust analysis' (see box).

Construction professionals represented by the CIC, whose members include the Institution of Civil Engineers, last week attacked the plan for not including more road building in its report Integrated Transport and the 10 Year Plan.

The government's 10 year transport plan, launched in 2000, allocated £180bn for road, rail and local transport.

But plans to build 100 bypasses and widen 560km of motorway do not go far enough, says the CIC.

Greater investment to expand capacity on key routes and pinch points such as junctions - even in urban areas - is essential if the government wants to meet its congestion targets.

Justifying its stance for more road building, the CIC accuses ministers of underestimating the difficulty of persuading people to leave their cars. Public transport will never be able to provide the same journey control and pleasant environment, it says.

Road charging should be used to pay for and control the enlarged road network proposed.

The CIC backed CFIT plans for a network of direct charging schemes using a global positioning system (GIS) with smartcards that could deduct fees from an account when a vehicle enters a busy road.

Vehicle excise duty would be abolished, fuel duty reduced and congestion could be cut by 44% if tolling was brought in on 10% of the network. Fees would then be ploughed back into transport infrastructure.

Transport minister John Spellar defended the government's policy of not considering interurban charging for the next 10 years.

He claimed that it would be too difficult to fit all vehicles with transponders by 2010.

On local charging schemes, he accepted that progress was stalled while councils waited on the results of London's congestion charge to be introduced in February 2003.

The CIC also urges the government - which will publish its own review of the 10 year plan in July - to set more detailed congestion reduction benchmarks. These could include reduced journey times and increased journey reliability. These would help officials to keep a tighter reign on its national congestion reduction target and on progress being made by local authorities.

Central government must then be prepared to 'name and shame' councils that are failing to hit targets.

INFOPLUS www. nceplus.co.uk/magazine /transport

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