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Call for roads consumer watchdog at CILT Conservative Conference Debate

The future of Britain’s roads came under expert scrutiny at CILT’s panel debate at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester this week. A packed audience of politicians, Conservative members and industry experts heard CILT President Jim Steer reveal that traffic is set to increase by 40% by 2035. Jim Steer FCILT, who chaired the debate, posed the question should the Highways Agency be privatised.

In response The RAC Foundation’s Professor Stephen Glaister CBE called for a Roads Consumer Watchdog to be put in place, should the Agency be funded more commercially; and a five year plan introduced for our strategic roads network.

The audience was told by Stephen that the exchequer is likely to find itself some £13bn a year short of today’s income very soon, because considerably less income will be coming in through road and fuel taxes as cars become increasingly greener and use less fossil fuels. This means there has to be a re-examination of how we pay for new roads with tolls and a privatised Highways Agency, acting rather like Network Rail does for the railways, back on the agenda.

In addition to tolling and a consumer watchdog there was also strong demand for a rethink of Britain’s urban and country roads from the panel.

CILT’s Chief Executive Steve Agg, a member of London’s acclaimed Roads Task Force, told the audience that it is vital to achieve the right balance between movement and place. He revealed that "We probably don’t use our existing roads very well." He said there was a need to persuade people that night time deliveries in our cities can reduce peak traffic, improve air quality and encourage shared access.

With the growth of e-commerce having an ever greater effect on our high streets, Steve added there was a need to examine exactly what our town centres are for and encourage their development as leisure and social areas. This would need a rethink of how we access town centres in future.

Stephen Joseph OBE, CEO of the Campaign for Better Transport emphasised: "It’s ridiculous to think about the strategic roads network in isolation to the rest of the roads network and the environment." "Most journeys are local," he stated: "meaning we need to sort roads at a local level rather than spend on big infrastructure projects."

Jim Steer closed the debate by discussing a pioneering scheme in Oregon, USA, in which residents had the option of either paying a tax on fuel or charges for using particular roads. Could this be an option to resolve the conflict about how we pay for badly needed infrastructure improvements here in the UK?

The full panel consisted of: Jim Steer FCILT, CILT President and Director Steer Davies Gleave; Prof. Stephen Glaister CBE, Director RAC Foundation; Stephen Joseph, OBE, Chief Executive Officer Campaign for Better Transport; Cllr Kevin Bentley, Deputy Leader, Essex County Council, member of the LFA Economy and Transport Board, and Steve Agg, Chief Executive CILT(UK).

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