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The Great Debate is playing a crucial role in laying the foundation for a transport strategy into the next millenni...
The Great Debate is playing a crucial role in laying the foundation for a transport strategy into the next millennium, transport secretary, George Young said today.

Sir George said there were no easy solutions, but the climate of public opinion was changing.

The message coming through loud and clear was for better public transport and less emphasis on road building.

Speaking at The Observer/Town and Country Planning Association conference in London, Sir George said:

'The tremendous response to the debate shows it was right to open the dialogue and ask the questions we did.

'The clearest message emerging from the debate is that the large road building programmes of previous decades are no longer felt to be environmentally sustainable.

'There is considerable pressure to give higher priority to public transport. It is a strong message, and one that we as politicians have to listen to.'

'But if we are to promote public transport alternatives, we must change attitudes.

'What we must do is increase people's awareness of the consequences of their travel decisions. We must get used to asking ourselves whether an individual car journey is really necessary. Could we get to our destination just as easily and with less harm to the environment by using the train, the bus or by walking ?

'To help answer these questions we have commissioned research to find out what people would support to reduce car travel. The results should be out early next year.'

Sir George applauded the work that was going on at grass roots level up and down the country to help get people out of their cars. Park and ride schemes were an excellent example of what can be achieved, such as the one in Shrewsbury with around 46,000 passengers a month, keeping 1,400 cars out of the town centre each day.

He said he would be visiting schemes round the country over the next few months.

Turning to other key responses to the debate, Sir George said:

' It is common ground that we will need to make more and better use of public transport in the future. But what we tend to forget is the crucial importance of the bus.

'Nationally, we travel as far by bus and coach as by rail, and we make about four times as many individual trips. Much has been achieved since deregulation. And sales of new buses exceed that for any other vehicle. Sales are up 34% on last year.

'But, to get more people using the bus we must make bus travel more reliable and attractive. The department's bus working group should result in some worthwhile and practical measures to tackle the quality of buses, the infrastructure they use and the quality of information about bus services.'

Sir George said the debate has also revealed a marked level of acceptance for transport users to pay the full costs of their decisions, including the wider environmental costs. A number said they would actually be prepared to accept higher taxes.

The Government had already gone some way to meeting this concern.

The 1993 budget announcement that fuel duty would be increased by at least five per cent each year is evidence of the commitment to getting road users to bear more of the real costs of using our roads.

This could be compared with rail fares, where passengers are enjoying a period of stability, and then a real fall in many fares.

Sir George continued: 'We now need to think carefully about how we take forward the issues that have come out of the responses to the debate.

'We will then publish a further report which draws together the threads of the debate, and sets out the way forward.

'Changing the way we travel is not going to be an easy process. But I believe it can be done'.

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