Belfast Telegraph

Experts challenged over rise in toxic gases from our vehicles

Highway engineers are set to be challenged at a conference in Belfast today over Northern Ireland’s alarming rise in vehicle emissions.

The summit comes after the disclosure by the Belfast Telegraph last week that emissions of carbon dioxide from road transport in Northern Ireland have increased by 38% since 1990.

Sustainable Development Commission director Jim Kitchen will be among the keynote speakers at the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) event today.

The figure, which contrasts with a rise of just 7% across the UK as a whole for the same period, is primarily because of our car usage, with private vehicles contributing more than half of total traffic emissions.

Mr Kitchen said he welcomed the opportunity to speak about the impact of climate change at a session on sustainable transport at the event, which takes place in Waterfront Hall.

“I’m pleased that this important conference is devoting one of its three sessions to the vital issue of sustainability,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“In Northern Ireland our transport emissions are going in the wrong direction, as this latest research has shown, and the transportation budget is still skewed towards road development.

“But to be fair, the DRD is starting to get a handle on the situation, and there is evidence of a more sustainable approach being adopted, particularly in terms of promotion of public transport and provision for cyclists.”

Mr Kitchen said that although Northern Ireland Railways will be introducing new trains, current funding restraints meant that further expansion of the public transport network was likely to be bus-orientated.

“It would be nice to see the rail network being extended but in the current climate it is just not going to happen,” he said.

“But there is scope to enhance existing bus and train services and to make public transport attractive to greater numbers of people.”

Mr Kitchen said he intended to remind the engineers that world energy issues were likely to have an impact on strategic planning sooner, rather than later.

Geoff Allister, the national president of CIHT, who will be chairing the conference and was responsible for inviting Mr Kitchen to speak, said he looked forward to his contribution.

Mr Allister, who is chief executive of the Department for Regional Development’s Roads Service, said he believed it was important for CIHT members to face up to environmental challenges.

“I wanted to make the conference programme relevant to the issues which are confronting us day and daily and so we are devoting one of the sessions to ‘Transport and the Environment’.

“Some will see this as a hot potato but the reality is that sustainability is already a byword in the profession.”

Also speaking at tomorrow’s conference is Malcolm Shepperd, the CEO of Sustrans, the body that campaigns for sustainable transport.

Mr Allister said: “In this challenging economic climate, we need across the UK to ensure that we make best use of the infrastructure assets that we have.

“Our members come from a wide spectrum of transportation interests, so it would be wrong to characterise them all as road engineers.

“We have open minds, and we look forward to a lively debate on Friday.”

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