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The UK has a problem with planning for cars

Why do regulators hate the idea of people moving about at speed? asks Paul Finch

A designer I know is moving back to the UK after living in Germany for several years. Before Christmas he told me that he would have to sell his lovely Aston Martin – because of the 70 mph maximum in dear old Blighty.

He won’t be pleased to hear that on parts of the motorway system, the government is planning to reduce the speed limit to 60 mph, because of EU regulations regarding air quality. April Fool’s Day has come early this year, except that the story is true.

Punishing motorists is a favourite pastime of UK regulators. Oblivious to the fact that they underwrite the economy through direct and indirect taxation on a truly huge scale, local authorities, Department of Transport bureaucrats and the loonier end of the environmental brigade like to beat up drivers, whose only public champion is Jeremy Clarkson.

What characterises these people is a wilful refusal to acknowledge the world as it is. They will not accept that the vast majority of journeys carried out in the UK are in cars, not on trains; they pretend that there is some sort of transport equivalence, and that if we poured millions more into the railway system everyone would stop using naughty cars and naughty petrol, thereby saving the planet.

This world view then translates into huge hikes in fuel duties, so-called congestions charges (which in reality are just another tax) and deranged parking policies, which have wrecked high streets and retailers up and down the land.

As soon as a local politician sees a motorist they simply see a cash cow. How dare you park in the middle of your own town – unless of course you feed a parking meter which can earn (for the council) more per hour than people on minimum wages.

As for motorways, the puritans are introducing gantry cameras which will be able to calculate your average speed while you are on them, and have no doubt calculated how much money they will take in speeding fines. Whether the government will actually allow this to happen – at least before a general election – must be open to question. Anyone who sticks to 70 mph will find themselves overtaken by a large majority of cars using the same road. Are they all going to be punished? Aren’t they voters?

The refusal to embrace technological change leads to a state of near-schizophrenia about drivers and motorways. At the same time as they plan to introduce 60 mph limits, the bureaucrats are also opening up hard shoulders on busy motorway stretches – so traffic can move more quickly!

Needless to say, with the usual disregard for language which typifies people exaggerating their own abilities, they describe this as a ‘smart motorway’ initiative. It is not smart, it is simply evidence of a failure to build roads with a sufficient number of lanes. The idea of calling a road with two lanes on each side a motorway would be farcical anywhere except in the UK, but that is what we are stuck with, hence the endless additional work on our system to try to bring it up to scratch.

As far as speed limits and pollution are concerned, all one can say is that engines, fuel and tyres have improved so much since the 70 mph limit was introduced that it would make plenty of sense to lift the limit to 80. The antis would have apoplexy, but all it would do would legitimise something that happens anyway.

Alternatively we could get those cameras going and rake in millions from people already paying through the nose.

By the way, how come autobahns have enough lanes and no speed limit?

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