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The Debate

Despite efforts to encourage people out of their cars and put extra investment into the bus and rail network, car use and air travel are increasing in the UK. Unless the public’s demand for transport can be reduced, new roads and airports will be required. To meet such demand it will be necessary to develop new land. There is a balance to be struck between economic growth, personal freedom to travel, and environmental impact, but sensible choices can be made where no one interest takes precedence over others. Much of our transport need is determined by how and where we live.

In many ways, building compact urban areas is more efficient than encouraging village or suburban life. But current attempts to build “sustainable” communities, where residents work locally and need to travel less seem doomed to failure. The fact is that matching housing and local jobs will work for only a small percentage, and the majority of people will still need to travel to work and to shop.

At present aeroplanes and cars are powered by fossil fuels, which generate particulate matter, carbon dioxide and gases damaging to health, such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). New technologies to power vehicles such as hydrogen, LPG and electricity have been suggested as a means to reduce these emissions. The extent to which they will replace existing technology is impossible to predict. Will battery technology develop to the extent where a long-range electric car becomes a practical reality? Will viable solutions to the large-scale generation and storage of hydrogen be found? We simply do not know at this stage, but encouraging R&D on several fronts should give the best chance of important new technologies being introduced.

On another level, it is plausible that the need to travel will reduce. Already, many people are getting much of their shopping delivered from supermarkets and specialist web-based retailers. Rapid advances in Information Technology mean that working from home is becoming a viable alternative for many people. And Virtual Reality systems could conceivably become sophisticated enough for video conferencing to reach a whole new level or even for “virtual holidays” to be taken. The possibilities are numerous, and cannot be planned for.