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Budget: Why the Chancellor should raise fuel duty

Former campaigner's picture

The Chancellor should use the Budget to raise fuel duty and spend the money mending local roads and investing in cycling, walking and public transport.

On 16 March, George Osborne will deliver his Budget. There has been a lot of speculation that the Chancellor is about to increase fuel duty for the first time since 2011. Raising duty is a contentious act at any time, but with the EU referendum fast approaching, political expediency is likely to win the day. MPs are also reportedly urging the Chancellor against any rise, but before knee jerk opposition they should consider what it could be used to pay for.

As their postbags will tell them, most motorists' top priority is potholes. With one in six local roads in poor condition and the repairs backlog standing at over £12 billion, increasing duty could be used to help cash-strapped local authorities tackle this huge problem. 

Osborne may yet have an even more pressing reason to support sustainable travel habits - air pollution. This is implicated in 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year, with engine exhausts by far the biggest contributor. Legal action by environmental lawyers ClientEarth forced the DEFRA into producing an Air Quality Plan at the end of last year, but this went nowhere near far enough or fast enough, and the Government is very likely to find itself back to the Supreme Court in the near future.  

An important part of the solution to this crisis is to up spending on cycling and walking. The Government has committed itself to a Cycling and Walking strategy, but has yet to come up with the resources to turn warm words into a meaningful strategy. Spending on this and buses - which remain undervalued and underfunded - would give more people a decent alternative to the car while helping to tackle both pollution and congestion. 

The Chancellor's passion for big ticket road infrastructure should be reined in, in concert with a fuel duty rise and increased support for sustainable transport. With the National Infrastructure Commission reporting on Transport Infrastructure in northern England, kicking outlandish plans for a road tunnel underneath the Peak District into the long grass represent an early opportunity to do exactly this.

A fuel duty rise in the Budget should not be seen as anti-motorist. Spent in the right way, it could help improve transport for us all. A general increase in fuel duty, or a move to specifically target diesels and company cars, would encourage greener vehicles while raising money that could be spent supporting public transport, walking and cycling.


Image courtesy of Ian via Flickr.