New traffic reduction Bill makes headway in Commons

A Private Member's Bill to require the Government to introduce national road traffic reduction targets or equivalent measures received its second reading in the House of Commons on 30 January and now has a good chance of becoming law.

Drafted by Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and Friends of the Earth (FoE), the Road Traffic Reduction (United Kingdom Targets) Bill was introduced by Cynog Dafis, Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion, and is backed by 425 MPs. The Bill builds on the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997, which obliges local authorities to prepare plans setting targets for reducing traffic or its rate of growth (ENDS Report 265, p 29 ).

The 1997 Act was passed only after its sponsors bowed to Government demands to delete a requirement for national traffic levels to be reduced by 5% below the 1990 level by 2005 and by 10% by 2010. The Bill puts national targets back on the agenda.

The Bill's main provision is a duty on the Secretary of State to set and publish in a report to Parliament national targets for traffic reduction "with the aim of reducing the adverse environmental, social and economic impacts of road traffic."

However, the duty is then qualified, so that the Secretary of State need not set traffic reduction targets if he considers that other targets or measures would be "more appropriate for reducing the adverse impacts of road traffic." If he takes this course, he would be obliged to explain his reasoning in his report to Parliament, including an assessment of the alternative measures on traffic reduction.

The first report would have to be submitted within 12 months of the Bill's entry into force. Progress reports, including updated targets, would have to be submitted every three years.

The Bill's proponents do not see the removal of specific targets as a great loss. FoE says it would put traffic reduction "at the heart of transport planning, requiring all Government transport policies to be designed within a traffic reduction framework."

On 30 January, junior Transport Minister Glenda Jackson declined to be drawn on whether the Government would set traffic reduction targets. Existing targets - for emissions of carbon dioxide, local air quality and road casualties - will, she said, be "significant drivers of new transport measures". The Government, she said, was "considering carefully whether there is a need for additional targets, including national road traffic reduction targets, to provide a further impetus to the policies that are adopted."

Ms Jackson went on to say that the Government wants further minor concessions before it gives the Bill its support. One would push the publication of the first report to Parliament forward to 18 months after the Bill's entry into force. This would allow time for local authorities to complete their first plans under the 1997 Act, which are due by July 1999. Draft guidance to authorities on how to prepare their plans was issued by the Government in January.1The Bill received an unopposed second reading, and has a good chance of becoming law provided too much parliamentary time is not used up by other legislation ahead of it in the queue of Private Members' Bills.

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