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Mixed messages from UK Government

When the Prime Minister opened the extension to Manchester Metrolink his remarks about the value of the scheme and the possibility of the further extensions were positive. Following that, with the announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister of the GBP 80 million 10 year plan for transport, which included the statement "In our towns and cities, we will see more light-rail systems, giving people a modern, attractive alternative to the car. We will also deliver high-quality bus networks, fully integrated with road and rail, with satellite tracking systems to deliver real-time passenger information." it seemed that at last the government was beginning to realize that its previous position that 'it could all be done by buses' was not sustainable.

Although the funding for the Local Transport Plans (announced Thursday) would not be expected to cover major capital light rail schemes there had been a general expectation that some positive indication for the various putative schemes such as Bristol, Leeds and South Hampshire would be forthcoming. This expectation was heightened where there were applications to take part in Road Pricing trials as it was assumed that the government accepted the need for these schemes to be implemented prior to pricing being introduced. With the announcement of the settlement came the message that the decisions on the LRT schemes were to be deferred. This was taken by the local media as a rejection with headline such as 'Trap Plan Stalled' although this had changed after a day or so to "Cash pledge snub fails to derail scheme". Later, with regard to Bristol, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) was reported as saying it was "supportive" of the Supertram plan. A spokesman said: "We recognize the relationship between the Light Rapid Transit proposals and those for road user charging. "We also recognised that there is a considerable amount of work to be done in taking forward the LRT proposals...". This more positive statement included in the original statement would have saved a lot of confusion.

There seems to have been a further change of stance with a report in today's Daily Telegraph (18 December) in which Lord MacDonald, the transport minister, is quoted as saying said that the Government was no longer determined to cut traffic levels across Britain because it did not believe that this was the best way to reduce pollution. It would seem that the Government has admitted defeat in trying to reduce traffic levels before it has actually done anything to provide the necessary alternatives.

18 December 1999

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