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When the Labour Government first came to power, fat controller John (two jags) Prescott blubbered "I will have failed ...if in five years there are not many more people using public transport and far fewer journeys by car. It is a tall order but I want you to hold me to it." Well Fat Boy, you've drowned in your own exhaust fumes. The new chiefs at the Department of Transport have decided that they like concrete and this week gave the green light to £5.5 billion of new transport schemes. £2 billion of which is going towards major road construction and widening schemes.

But the joke will soon be back on them, as the failure of previous road widening schemes has shown. As Professor David Begg, Chair of the government's Commission for Integrated Transport pointed out, "On the M25, when it went from three to four lanes, within one year traffic increased by one third, negating the benefits." Considering that the number of vehicles on our roads has already increased by 7% since 1997, this new roads programme is exactly the opposite of what's needed to stop total gridlock. But that doesn't appear to bother Neo Labour, whose mates at the Confederation of British Industry have given them more than a gentle push to do something about congestion, which they believe is costing the country £20 billion a year, money which instead should be lining shareholders' pockets.

NO U-TURNS

"This is a binge of road building with virtually nothing safe from the bulldozer. The Government is trying to build its way out of congestion but it won't work. All that it will do is lead to bigger, wider traffic jams. It seems that the Government aims to keep the UK the most car-dependent country in Europe." Stephen Joseph, Transport 2000

So how come roads are once again on top of the agenda? Well in 1997-8 the Government conducted a review of transport policy. One of the results of this review was to set in motion 23 Multi-Modal Studies. These studies were designed to examine some of the key transport problems and look at a full range of solutions for the next 30 years, rather than just the road schemes previously suggested. The outcome of the studies have been varied, with most suggesting mixed packages of new roads, new/reopened railway lines, and improvements to local transport. Unfortunately, the end result of many of the studies has been that the roads get built first, with public transport improvements following well behind, if ever. This is because main roads (being an 'investment') get allocated funds from central government coffers.

On the other hand, local transport improvements, such as buses and trams, are paid for by often cash-strapped local councils. And the railways (SchNEWS doesn't need to remind its readers here how well they've been performing since privatisation) only get a small amount of 'subsidy', so can't even afford to do the work they've already promised, let alone think about doing any extra improvements in the future.

So instead of more public transport, we can instead look forward to the widening or upgrading of more than a dozen motorways and trunk roads. One of the most destructive schemes given the green light is the widening of A303/A30 which runs down to the south-west ploughing through the Wiltshire Area of Outstanding National Beauty. Although the wide boys did steer clear of building the road above ground past Stonehenge, they forgot to promise to do anything about widening the rail line in this area from one to two lines, which would have helped to reduce congestion loads.

And if you think it sounds good when the government says "The World Heritage Site at Stonehenge will be enhanced and protected by putting the existing road in a bored tunnel", think again. The short tunnel they're proposing is dismissed by campaigners from the Save Stonehenge Campaign, who said, "The British government is pretending that its main concern is to do Stonehenge a favour. It isn't. The aim of this scheme is to build a new four-lane highway. Stonehenge is in the way. So the government is doing the cheapest thing it possibly can to make it politically acceptable to build a new highway through the World Heritage Site. It's pretending to go out of its way to protect Stonehenge, which has been there for 5000 years, by spending an extra £30 million pounds. But it has £5.5 billion to spend on transport. And it spent £800 million pounds on London's Millennium Dome."

http://www.schnews.org.uk/

* To check out if there's a new shiny road planned in your area and how you can get involved in stopping it, go to www.roadalert.org.uk

You might also find the following links useful!!

http://alt.venus.co.uk/weed/roads/welcome.htm Current UK road protests

http://www.gn.apc.org/rts/ Reclaim the Streets

http://www.schnews.org.uk/ Schnews - direct action newsletter

http://www.foe.co.uk/camps/attran/index.htm FOE transport pages