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'Despite recent improvements in transport policy, road schemes still dominate the department of transport's priorities for funding and local authorities are queuing up with long shopping lists of roads they want to see built.'

This is the conclusion of a report - At The Crossroads: Investing in sustainable transport - published today by eight leading environment and transport groups.

The groups, including Friends of the Earth, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Transport 2000, Sustrans and the Cyclists' Touring Club, argue that:

'Positive changes in transport policy must be matched by changes in the funding given to different forms of transport. This is essential if commitments to a more environmentally sustainable transport system are to be realised.'

The report 'uncovers the reality' of transport secretary Sir George Young's 'greener local transport settlement', and asks whether the department of transport is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to sustainable transport policies.

It also questions whether local authorities have 'woken up sufficiently to the new agenda for transport'.

The report says that nationally:

-- 74% of the funding given to local authorities in 1996/97 to implement local transport programmes went to schemes which will primarily benefit private motorised road users (car and lorries) compared to only 4% for cyclists and pedestrians;

-- the DoT appear more ready to fund bids for road schemes (54% of bids in 1996/97 were successful) than bids for public transport initiatives ( 16% were successful);

-- only 9% of safety schemes are designed primarily to assist vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.

And at the local level:

-- local authorities continue to bid for more money to fund road building than any other form of transport infrastructure, and many schemes are not consistent with local land use plans;

-- only some authorities consult the public over the content of their transport plans, some charge as much as £50 for copies of their plans, and none have so far undertaken an appraisal to assess the environmental impacts of their policies and plans;

-- only 10% of total expenditure on local transport was spent on new transport packages which are perceived to bring more environmental benefits;

-- less than 1% of the money available for transport packages goes towards those dealing specifically with rural areas, despite concerns about growing traffic levels in the countryside;

-- in some cases, local authorities' 'greener' packages still contain substantial road building plans which soak funds away from other, less damaging transport policies.

CPRE'S transport officer Paul Hamblin said:

'Despite £1bn of public funds going towards local transport, local authorities are currently not required either to consult the public or to undertake an environmental appraisal to assess the likely environmental impact of their transport plans. As the resources available for transport decline, it isvital that authorities promote plans which represent the most environmentally sensitive set of proposals and value for money. These should also benefit from clear public support.'

And assistant director of Transport 2000 Lynn Sloman added:

'Let's be clear: the reality of transport spending does not match up to Sir George's green rhetoric. Good money is still being thrown at expensive, ineffective road schemes when it is desperately needed for alternatives. Unless government and local councils are prepared to grapple with this, all their green-tinged policy papers are worthless.'

The eight groups recommend that the DoT:

-- instigates an immediate review of all local authority road schemes and bridge strengthening projects to assess whether they are consistent with sustainable transport policies and represent the best environmental option;

-- sets clear national targets for traffic reduction and provide guidance to local authorities on how to develop local targets;

-- makes it clear to local authorities that in future funding will not be forthcoming for road-dominated transport schemes;

-- provides local authorities with adequate tools for demand management;

-- provides stronger encouragement and funding to local authorities for the development of packages for rural areas.

The groups recommend local authorities should:

-- make demand management strategies and the promotion of low cost alternatives (such as walking and cycling) the central features of package bids;

-- develop regional parking strategies which help to manage traffic strategically and help avoid competitive parking regimes developing;

-- develop mechanisms to show how transport schemes meet land use planning objectives.

The full report At the Crossroads is available price £10 from Transport 2000 Trust, Walkden House, 10 Melton St, London NW1 2EJ.

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