Darling ducks the congestion question

January 7, 2004 12:00 AM

At Tuesday 's Parliamentary Transport Oral Questions, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling failed to give any indication of when traffic congestion would be reduced. Mr Darling was challenged on his Government's record on congestion by local MP Tom Brake, who until recently served as Lib Dem Shadow Transport Minister. Mr Brake said,

"The Government can not hide behind economic growth as an excuse for failing to tackle congestion. With congestion rising and costing British businesses over £20 billion a year Mr Darling needs to act now. He may find that road-pricing and wider congestion charging provides the most effective solution. Britain urgently needs measures that target the most congested areas of the country without penalising those in rural regions who often have no choice but to use their cars. At the same time, the public needs a safe, affordable and reliable alternative to their car if Britain's roads are ever going to see a reduction in traffic and congestion."

Text of Mr Brake's Oral Question of 07 January 2004

Road Congestion

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): If he will make a statement on his plans for traffic congestion reduction. [145868]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): We are tackling congestion through major investment in road improvements as well as measures to improve the flow of traffic and providing improved information for road users. Last July I announced a study to explore the feasibility of options for road pricing.

Tom Brake : The Secretary of State will recall the Deputy Prime Minister's statement that he should be held to account if he had not reduced road traffic within five years: of course, he failed. The current Secretary of State said that the Traffic Management Bill will allow our roads to be managed more effectively. When does he now expect congestion-not the rate of growth in congestion-to be reduced?

Mr. Darling: One reason why traffic growth has been so high is that the economy has grown strongly over the past six years. There is not an economy in the world in which such growth has not been accompanied by increased car ownership.

I have made it clear many times that the objectives set out in the 10-year plan, while admirable, were perhaps over-optimistic because the consequences of strong economic growth in relation to car ownership were not, I think, fully anticipated at the time. However, the measures that we are putting in place to deal with increased capacity on the roads and to manage better the flow of traffic on roads, as well as the longer term measures that we are considering, such as road pricing, all mean that people will continue to go about their day-to-day business, but, we hope, on less congested roads.

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