Government 'will end the war on motorists'
2:20pm Friday 21st May 2010 in Wheels
NEW TRANSPORT Secretary Philip Hammond has vowed that the coalition Government would "end the war on motorists".
He promised there would be no road user charging for existing roads and that the Government would consult on a measure to try to keep petrol prices down if world oil prices rise.
Mr Hammond said the Government backed the £16 billion cross-London Crossrail scheme but added that it was absolutely vital to maximise value for money from the project.
Speaking to journalists at the Department for Transport, Mr Hammond said: "We will end the war on motorists. Motoring has got to get greener but the car is not going to go away."
He stressed the Government would abide by a Tory manifesto promise not to fund any more fixed-position speed cameras, although local authorities could fund them if they had the money.
Asked about Crossrail, on which work has already started, Mr Hammond said: "All capital projects are going to have to demonstrate value for money."
He said he had spoken to London Mayor Boris Johnson about Crossrail. "I shall be working very closely with the mayor's team to absolutely maximise the benefits to the taxpayer of Crossrail," Mr Hammond said.
While ruling out road user charging for existing roads, Mr Hammond said that tolls on new roads might be introduced.
He added that there would be consultation on a "fair fuel stabiliser" which could ensure that fuel duty is reduced when world oil prices go up.
Having ruled out a third runway at Heathrow airport, the new Government is committed to a new high-speed rail line. Mr Hammond said he did not think it would be difficult to get private funding for the line.
He went on: "Over the coming years we are going to have to learn to do things differently. As far as transport is concerned we are going to have to sweat the assets that we have much better.
"We are going to have to look at new and innovative ways of funding capital expenditure."
In Opposition Mr Hammond had been shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, but the new chief secretary's job has gone to Liberal Democrat David Laws.
Mr Hammond said he was quite happy to take over the transport brief and added: "David Laws will make an excellent chief secretary."
AA president Edmund King said Mr Hammond needed to stay longer in his post than his 13 predecessors, who averaged only 20 months.
Mr King went on: "We have had 13 transport secretaries in 22 years. The real problem is that it can take a new transport secretary approximately 12 months to get up to speed with their brief.
"Transport is essential for the country and our economy yet in the past it has been a merry-go-round for ministers to hop on and off.
"We wish Philip Hammond well and hope he stays long enough to sort out our transport problems. Perhaps we need a fixed-term Transport Secretary as well as a fixed-term Parliament."
Stephen Joseph, the Campaign for Better Transport's executive director, said: "We welcome the new Government's focus on reducing carbon from transport, and its scrapping the third runway at Heathrow. But more tough decisions are needed. We must scale back the bloated road building budget and ensure that spending focuses on meeting our future transport needs.
"The worst result would be to apply uniform cuts to all transport budgets, which could mean major increases in train fares, or bus funding cuts that could decimate local bus services."