Despite suggestions that his proposals had been watered down by 10 Downing Street, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott unveiled a robust package of measures in his white paper on integrated transport.
Under his proposed regimen local authorities will be given powers to charge motorists who drive into town centres and to levy charges on company car park spaces. Revenue raised would be specifically dedicated to boosting public transport. In the medium term councils will be required to produce local transport plans aimed at improving air quality, road safety and public transport, and reduce road traffic.
A raft of other measures includes greater investment in bus services, a strategic rail authority, reform of the Highways Agency, and development of regional ports and airports. Prescott told the House of Commons: 'Doing nothing is not an option. People want radical change and I am going to deliver it.'
His policies follow on from the last government which put the brakes on further substantial out-of-town car-dependent developments. The proposed new planning machine would make such developments, whether in or out of town, more difficult. But unlike the Convervatives, Prescott is placing responsibility for integrated transport at a local level, albeit within the context of tougher national policies.
Good design and planning are at the core of the £1.8 billion proposal. The 170-page paper stresses the need for good design to ensure that housing schemes promote walking, cycling and public transport. Two further documents being published within a few months will lay down key urban principles: 'Good Practice Guide on Design in the Planning System' which will look at ease of movement and mixed-use development, and 'Places, Streets and Movement' which will put the case for attractive estate layouts moving away from car use.
Transport shadow Gillian Shephard queried the role of planning and how the transport plans squared with plans for 2.2 million homes in the countryside. 'Should they be built so far from the jobs and services on which they depend?' She added: 'The paper promised action but delivers more taxes, more regulation, a new commission and a new authority, 152 new transport committees, a shower of documents, several pilots and two reviews.'
The white paper costs £16.50 from the Stationery Office, tel 0171 873 0011.