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(UK) Climate change curbs plans


Spending review 2004: Transport
Climate change curbs Darling's plans
· Kyoto targets get new role
· Rail and bike goals to be set

Andrew Clark and Paul Brown
Tuesday July 13, 2004

The Guardian

Alistair Darling's enthusiasm for building roads and airport runways is to be curbed by new measures forcing the transport secretary to take into account Britain's international commitment to tackling climate change.
Transport is to be included in the government's target of achieving a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010, which was set out in the Kyoto treaty.

The decision follows intensive lobbying by the environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, and the trade secretary, Patricia Hewitt, who are already required to contribute towards the target. Environment groups have been putting pressure on the Treasury since last year's aviation white paper showed that Mr Darling's department had "a cultural mindset" that ignored the issue of carbon emissions by advocating new runways at Stansted and Heathrow airports.

Guy Thompson, director of the Green Alliance, said: "It does not rewrite the disastrous white paper but it does force the department to think along different lines or face the Treasury saying no to its plans. That is what matters - unrestrained extra emissions will not be allowed."

Mr Darling is due to set out a long-term strategy on transport next week, which will include revised targets for road, rail and cycle use.

His attitude towards aviation has been condemned by the royal commission on environmental pollution, which said plans for new runways showed "little sign of having recognised" the atmospheric havoc wreaked by aircraft.

His new commitment to Kyoto targets will renew pressure on the government to consider an extra tax on airline tickets to slow the popularity of lowcost flights.

In another contentious environmental decision, Mr Brown yesterday gave the go-ahead for the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to raise £200m of public and private funding for a six-lane bridge over the river Thames in east London. The road is among measures intended to bring new homes and jobs but has been condemned by local campaigners as an "urban motorway".

Motoring organisations urged the government not to return to "stop-go" attitudes on road building, which have left bypass proposals on the drawing board of local authorities for years. They have been campaigning for key motorways such as the M1, M6 and M25 to be widened. David Holmes, chairman of the RAC Foundation, said: "Roads can be designed and built in ways which avoid damaging the environment, for example using tunnels. This costs more but would be money well spent."

There was confusion yesterday over whether Mr Brown had provided for any significant increase in transport spending. Mr Brown told MPs he was providing an extra £2.9bn of funds over the next three years in comparison with the government's original 10-year plan of 2000.

He said total spending would rise from £10.4bn this year to £12.8bn in 2008. But it later emerged that the figures were "not comparable" to his last spending review in 2002, prompting accusations that the government was concealing the true picture.

Richard Turner, chief executive of the Freight Transport Association, said: "The chancellor has now not only failed to increase that commitment but has gone back on what he promised, by undercutting the spending plan he took credit for three years ago."

The Department for Transport insisted it had secured extra money, much of which will fund soaring maintenance costs at Network Rail.

In another sign that Mr Brown had been swayed by green arguments, the department for the environment got an extra £60m for the Carbon Trust to advise business on cutting emissions. Mrs Beckett secured more money to improve insulation and energy efficiency so poor families will be able to afford adequate heating.

There will also be increased capital grants for recycling schemes and an extra £146m for businesses to improve energy and water efficiency and use less raw materials.

Environment groups said they were agreeably surprised that grants towards sustainable food and farming had been maintained but disappointed there was no money for the marine environment, where problems of depleted fisheries and destruction of the natural habitat would not be tackled.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004