ON-LINE DEBATE

6 April 1998

Glenda Jackson CBE MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions


I am grateful to Cynog Dafis MP for introducing the Road Traffic Reduction (United Kingdom Targets) Bill. It addresses issues of particular concern to people in this country, issues that it is my Department's responsibility to deal with and find solutions to.

We cannot carry on as we are. Congestion on our roads is increasing and it delays people and the movement of freight. It causes personal frustration and cost to both the individual and the national pocket. The damage to our local and global environment is affecting our health and our climate. Those who cannot afford a car, or who do not have access to one, face growing social exclusion. Increased road traffic can also reduce social amenity, by making it less safe for children to play on the street, for example or for elderly people to cross the road.

Current forecasts suggest that the situation will be even worse in 20 years' time. The latest national road traffic forecast shows that road traffic is predicted to increase by around 38 per cent. from 1996 to 2016, and by 60 per cent. by 2031. Average journey times are also expected to increase. In the worst case, journey times on urban motorways in peak periods are predicted to double by 2031. That assumes that there is no change in current policies. That is why the Government are committed to developing a new approach to transport policy, with the simple aim of making life better for us all.

Many respondents have highlighted the need for targets, both national and local.Targets will be a significant feature in the Government's White Paper. Targets that are already in place—especially on greenhouse gases, as agreed at Kyoto, through the national air quality strategy, and on reducing road casualties—are likely to be significant drivers of new transport measures, at both national and local level. We are considering carefully whether there is a need for additional targets, including national road traffic reduction targets, to provide a further impetus to the policies that are adopted.

There is a role for non-governmental voluntary targets in Nottingham, for example, local businesses are taking steps to provide green transport plans for their employees. The Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment recommend that, where practical, business should seek to reduce by 10 per cent. the number of people commuting to work in solitary state by car.

We have issued draft guidance to local authorities on meeting their obligations under the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997. At present, we are consulting publicly on the guidance. However, we envisage that local authorities will have to produce reports under the Act by July 1999. In these reports, authorities will need to set out the results of their reviews of existing and forecast levels of traffic on local roads in their area. Crucially, the reports will have to contain targets for reducing traffic levels on such roads, or their rate of growth.

The Government recognise, however, the incredible variety of our country. Regional and local variations mean that traffic levels and the transport needs of different settlements will also vary. It would be absurd and, I believe, detrimental to insist that all authorities should set identical traffic reduction targets for their areas. The Act allows local authorities to decide, after close consultation with local residents and businesses, what targets they should set, or whether there are good reasons for not setting targets for all or any part of their area.

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