UK rejects EU call for city centre ban on petrol cars

Traffic in London The EU wants to cut carbon emissions by more than half

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The UK has rejected proposals from the EU which call for a ban on petrol and diesel cars from city centres by 2050.

The European Commission said phasing out "conventionally fuelled" cars from urban areas would cut reliance on oil and help cut carbon emissions by 60%.

But UK Transport Minister Norman Baker said it should not be "involved" in individual cities' transport choices.

"We will not be banning cars from city centres anymore than we will be having rectangular bananas," he said.

Outlining plans for a "Single European Transport Area", the Commission said there needed to be a "profound shift" in travel patterns to reduce reliance on oil and to lower emissions from transport by 60% by 2050.

Travel shift

As part of this, it wants half of "middle distance journeys" between cities - above approximately 186 miles - to shift from road to rail.

Start Quote

The widely-held belief that you need to cut mobility to fight climate change is simply not true”

End Quote Siim Kallas EU Transport Commissioner

Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said this move, plus the phasing out of petrol or diesel cars in city centres, need not inconvenience people.

"Freedom to travel is a basic right for our citizens," he said. "Curbing mobility is not an option. Nor is business as usual."

"The widely-held belief that you need to cut mobility to fight climate change is simply not true. We can break the transport system's dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility."

'Challenging'

Announcing a series of "challenging" targets, Mr Kallas said there should be a 50% reduction in conventionally-fuelled cars in city centres by 2030, disappearing altogether 20 years later.

The Commission also hopes to "move close" to eliminating deaths by road accidents by 2050, halving current fatality rates by 2020.

Other objectives would see all major "hub" airports connected by rail by 2050, freight vehicles in cities becoming "carbon-free" by 2030 while 30% of road freight travelling "medium distances" would move to rail or water-borne modes by that point.

Start Quote

It is not right for them (the EU) to get involved in how this is delivered in individual cities”

End Quote Norman Baker Transport Minister

While the majority of long-distance and inter-continental journeys will still be undertaken by plane or by ship, the Commission says airlines should steadily increase their use of low-carbon fuels - hitting a 40% target by 2050.

It also wants Europe's air traffic control operations to be modernised with the introduction of a single integrated system.

The centrepiece of the UK's transport plans is a £17bn high-speed rail between London and Birmingham, while ministers are also seeking to encourage greater take-up of electric cars by offering a £5,000 discount to buyers.

'Wrong direction'

But ministers indicated they would not be adopting the main plank of the EU plan.

"It is right that the EU sets high-level targets for carbon reduction, however it is not right for them to get involved in how this is delivered in individual cities," Mr Baker said.

"We are committed to decarbonising road transport by, for example, investing more than £400m over the next four years to support electric vehicles and promoting alternatives to car travel like walking and cycling."

Environment campaigners welcomed some of the proposals but said there needed to be more investment in public transport to deliver them.

"We are all paying the price for a transport policy that's been heading in the wrong direction for far too long," Richard Dyer, Friends of the Earth's transport director, said.

"Phasing out cars that run on fossil fuels from cities is a good way to kick-start action but despite these headline-grabbing proposals the emission reduction targets in the plan lack ambition," he added.

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