Environmentalists and transport campaigners have welcomed the plan, but have criticised plans to build more by-passes and the lack of measures to reduce traffic levels on British roads.

The plan, which is intended to provide a framework for large-scale capital investment in the UK’s transport network, will cost around £8 billion until 2010.

Launching the plan at the Institute of Public Policy Research, UK Deputy Prime Minister Prescott said: “By next summer we will publish a comprehensive programme for change, mapping out an investment programme through to 2010. It will be a ten-year route map for a transport system fit for the next century, with milestones along the way.”

Prescott said the programme is intended to create a transport network “rivalling the best in Europe.” The plan is intended to relieve congestion bottlenecks, improve journey times and improve conditions for motorists and business. The plan will also involve the construction of more by-passes.

The programme includes plans to overhaul the rail service in an attempt to make it comparable to European train systems. This will entail the refurbishment of stations, modernisation of the rolling stock; renewal of all the main lines and new high speed trains.

More light-rail systems are proposed for urban areas along with improved bus networks. The programme includes plans to integrate these rail and bus systems using satellite tracking systems to deliver real-time passenger information. A national telephone enquiry service providing information for integrated journeys using a single ticket is also planned.

A mixture of financial tools will be used to raise the considerable sums needed to finance the programme. The bulk of the money will come from Public Private Partnerships and from fares. Prescott has also proposed the use of new forms of finance such as congestion charging and the ring-fencing of future fuel duty increases.

Transport and environmental groups criticised the plan’s lack of measures to reduce traffic. Friends of the Earth accused the Government of stealing ideas from their Conservative predecessors – such as road building to reduce congestion and urged the Government to honour their manifesto pledges to reduce the amount of traffic on the roads.

A Transport 2000 spokesperson told edie that the group is disappointed that the Government had “not set the traffic reduction targets that are needed to set the pace of change. We are also disappointed that road building is back on the agenda. If there’s one thing that’s come out of the 90s, it’s that road building will get us nowhere.”

Meanwhile, the aspect of the plan that has received most media attention has been Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s decision to hand over responsibility for its development and implementation to Minister for Transport Lord Macdonald.

Members of Parliament have reportedly reacted to Lord Macdonald’s appointment with dismay, on the grounds that he is a non-elected member of the House of Lords. Lord Macdonald will report to the Deputy Prime Minister by the middle of next year with a timetable for action and finance package. Prescott will continue to answer questions in the House of Commons.

Transport 2000 welcomed Lord Macdonald’s appointment, saying that he will bring better communication skills to a highly contentious area.

“Having a peer in control will have one or two effects,” a Transport 2000 spokesperson told edie. “There has been a lot of backstabbing in the papers over Lord Macdonald’s appointment but as John Prescott will still be speaking in the Commons and will remain in overall charge I don’t think we will see many differences except perhaps in style. Lord Macdonald is a good communicator and we welcome that because there’s a need to communicate why we need traffic reductions. If anything that’s been the government’s main failure – it has been unable to get it’s message across to the public. If the policies stay the same, the use of an ex TV journalist to get the message across is to be welcomed.”

Transport 2000 also defended Prescott from accusations that he has done little to improve public transport since the election and that the £80Bn funding set aside for the plan is, in the words of a Guardian editorial, “a public relations compound of private finance, spending already announced and all manner of assumptions about the future.”

“There has to be an improvement in public transport if motorists are to see it as a viable alternative,” the spokesman told edie. “John Prescott has been criticised for not doing anything to improve public transport in the past, so these new proposals are important if we are going to get motorists out of their cars.

“On the question of spending,” the spokesperson continued, “I think the Guardian comment is a little negative. £8Bn a year over the next 10 years is a genuine commitment to further investment. We are hopeful that the Government is going to provide that investment and we will judge the Government on its actions.”

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