Rural motorists hit by high fuel prices

By Jonathan BarnesSOARING petrol prices are putting unbearable pressure on rural motorists on low wages, a countryside campaign group has warned.Suffolk Acre called for the road tax to be abolished after it emerged fuel prices had risen to an average of more than 90p for a litre of unleaded petrol.

By Jonathan Barnes

SOARING petrol prices are putting unbearable pressure on rural motorists on low wages, a countryside campaign group has warned.

Suffolk Acre called for the road tax to be abolished after it emerged fuel prices had risen to an average of more than 90p for a litre of unleaded petrol.

It said rural dwellers with no other option than to use their car to get to work were being hardest hit by the soaring oil prices and argued drivers should not have to pay both fuel tax and road tax.

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The condition of rural roads has also been criticised by leaders of the asphalt industry, who said many non-principal routes had “suffered greatly” in recent years.

Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk Acre, said British drivers were paying a high percentage in petrol tax.

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“We also pay road tax and it would be useful if the Government could decide on one or the other,” he said.

“It would be difficult to take out petrol tax for environmental reasons, as you pay for how much you use, but I don't see why they can't get rid of road tax.”

Dr Gibson said many motorists in rural areas had to use their cars for journeys to work as they could not rely on public transport.

“People in rural areas are more reliant on their cars and when the prices go up, it's going to hit those on low wages harder,” he added.

Figures from price monitoring organisation Catalist showed the average cost of unleaded petrol now stood at 90.2p a litre in the UK and almost 94p for diesel.

The AA Motoring Trust said that meant a typical British family owning two cars is paying £23.32 more a month for their petrol compared with the start of the year.

Elizabeth Vale, advice and information manager with Age Concern in Essex, said the elderly were also vulnerable to the implications of higher prices.

“Many of them live in rural areas and they need to be able to get out and about with their own transport. Higher petrol prices just means less in the pocket and it's all vital,” she said.

“We run a minibus in Colchester and a mobile toe-nail clipping service across the county and they will cost more to run.”

The latest surge in oil prices came amid fears of instability in the Middle East grow and supply disrupted by unplanned shutdowns of refineries in the USA. It is expected oil prices will stay high for the rest of this year.

Meanwhile, the condition of rural roads has come under fire from the Asphalt Industry Alliance, whose survey of rural local authorities in England and Wales found non-principal roads in rural areas were suffering the most.

It said, on average, authorities only planned to resurface them every 75 years - compared to the recommended maximum of 20 years - and budget shortfalls meant highways departments received less than half of what they needed to maintain their roads properly.

Jim Crick, Asphalt Industry Alliance chairman, said: “There appears to be an insidious attitude that rural roads and their condition matter less than roads in more built-up areas.

“These roads represent a lifeline to local communities which usually don't have a rail alternative.

“It is clear that rural roads have suffered greatly in recent years. It is important that they are maintained to an acceptable safety standard.”

Guy McGregor, Suffolk County Council portfolio holder for transport, blamed the deterioration of the county's rural roads on “outrageous” Government policies, which he claimed focussed only on principal roads.

“We are borrowing the money to carry out repairs on rural roads over the next three years,” he said.

“We are putting in £10million to bring non-principal roads up to standard - we recognise they are an asset to the county and people who live in rural areas are entitled to have roads in a good condition.”

Rodney Bass, Essex County Council's cabinet member for highways, said: “Because of a lack of underfunding and devolved power from successive governments, there's been a marked deterioration in the state of the country's roads in the past 10 to 20 years.

“But we are deliberately trying to stop the rot by putting in additional resources. We've decided to spend an additional £15m a year for the next three years on top of the ordinary budget of £45m to £50m.

“That should have a considerable influence. We're not promising to touch every road - particularly every rural road because there's an awful lot of them - but we will do it in a systematic way.

“At the same time, we hope by doing this it will show central government that we should have more money.”


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