Chancellor avoids hammering road users, for now!

Putting 1.25p on a litre of fuel will hit businesses and hauliers in the North East very badly, but it could be seen as road users getting off lightly. Certainly, all the green campaigners who have been baying for motorists to be squeezed till their pips squeaked, have been clamouring to get on the media to tell us so.

But Gordon Brown showed a new reality. Has he become a reformed man? One of the first things he talked about in this week's Pre Buget Report was increasing investment in road and rail infrastructure.

Has he also recognised that it is time to move away from hammering the obvious soft target and tackle some of the really big potential emission targets. Like our homes.

Our homes emit as much greenhouse gases as the transport sector. In the UK we are lagging 'way behind Scandinavian countries in terms of energy efficiency for our houses. On the other side of the North Sea they have had low-energy homes (costing no more than a few hundred pounds per year to heat) and even zero energy homes for years.

That makes the Chancellor's announcement that all new homes should be 'zero carbon' in ten years as enlightened as it is bold. Within ten years - the way technology is going - our cars are almost certainly going to be zero emission in any case, even without tax incentives.

The tax breaks for biofuels are also good news, but something needs to be done to kick start widespread availability of them.

I was over in the USA recently and the farmers there are clamouring for the adoption of biofuels. Their logic is good and not fuelled (excuse the pun!) by environmental concerns. In the UK we have so many fields 'set aside'. As in the USA, these fields could be turned to growing fuel, providing income for farmers, low-emission fuel for our vehicles and reducing use of fossil fuels.

That's a win, win, win situation.

However, the Pre Budget Report's respite is probably the calm before the storm.

Also this week we had the Eddington Report and the National Transport Strategy for Scotland. Both strongly feature road charging.

If the civil liberty concerns of tracking every vehicle's movements could be addressed, road charging might be acceptable if it didn't mean an increase in taxes (in other words if fuel and road tax were scrapped). But you just know that the temptation to rake in another £26 billion on top of the existing £36 billion in road taxes will prove too great.

We need to remember that at the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2006. Taxation may still be a matter for Westminster, but you should demand that your candidates tell you where they stand on road pricing and the balance of overall taxation on road transport.

In the North East of Scotland it road transport costs are absolutely critical to or our economy.
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