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'Paradox' in transport policy claim

Tue, 26 Nov 2013

THERE IS A "paradox at the heart" of the Government's roads programme, a transport policy professor has told MPs.

The question on whether traffic levels would increase or decrease in the future was unresolved, University College London emeritus professor of transport policy Phil Goodwin told the House of Commons Transport Committee.

The paradox was that if traffic levels increased the planned roads programme was "not big enough to make an improvement", he said.

On the other hand, if traffic levels fell then the planned programme was "too big to justify the cost", Prof Goodwin added.

He told the committee that the Department for Transport was predicting a rise in car traffic levels but there were six key words that did not appear in the Government's roads White Paper. Those words were: "This programme will reduce congestion naturally."

Prof Goodwin said the rise in traffic levels was "contested seriously" by other experts and that as far as the Government's White Paper was concerned "the presentation of the entire strategy is wrong".

He told MPs that the best solution for dealing with congestion on the strategic road network - the motorways and A roads - was road pricing although he added that this was "unlikely to be politically unacceptable".

Prof Goodwin was asked: "How long have you had this love affair with the car?"

To much laughter, he replied: "That's an interesting question. I have had some love affairs in a car."

He said he did not think any countries had completely sorted out their transport congestion problems, but that a number of cities had including London, Paris and Munich.

Highways Agency non-executive chairman Alan Cook told the committee that the agency had not had "a strong enough customer ethos", whether that customer was a motorist or someone working on the roads.

Asked why it cost so much more to build roads than 40 or 50 years ago, Mr Cook said: "The price we are paying today - we can pay less. We could take the cost down by 20%."

National Express Group chairman Sir John Armitt, who has carried out an infrastructure review for Labour, told MPs that there had been underinvestment in roads in the last 20 years.

However, he also added that he had sympathy with those who considered that rail had got a disproportionate amount of the cake when it came to investment.

Sir John said there had clear been a plan, albeit a slow one, as far as roads were concerned in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s but that a "change of attitude" had "held back sustained development in the 1990s and in the last 10 years".

He added that any infrastructure plans had to take account of the fact that 90% of transport movements were by road.

By Peter Woodman, Press Association