If the car industry wants the Government’s financial sympathy it’d better be prepared to show some environmental intent, writes Guy Bird

‘Tough’ doesn’t come close to describing how difficult the situation is for many in the current economic crisis.

However, any business within the car or transport industry looking for Government bail-out cash – whether in the form of tax breaks, fuel duty cuts, temporary soft loans, liquidity injections, R&D investment or more – needs to make a strong environmental case if they’re to expect any help.

That’s because most of the big money being talked about to alleviate the short-term liquidity of international carmakers is tied up in long-term eco conditions.

Effectively, the holders of the purse strings – everyone from the EU to the US Government – is saying to the industry: “Start making moves to produce greener products in the future or you can kiss goodbye to any more moolah now.” Of course there’s merit in incentivising environmental change and aiming greener, but it will be hard as hell for the car industry in its current plight to avoid using the money for non-green manoeuvres short term.

Manchester muscle

The UK Government is also flexing its muscle in Manchester’s proposed road pricing scheme. Vote ‘yes’ for congestion charging across a massive 80 square miles of Greater Manchester and they’ll pump loads of public money through the Transport Innovation Fund for some new (green) public transport; vote ‘no’, and there’ll be no congestion charging, but also no eco infrastructure improvement investments.

“There is no Plan B,” said new secretary of state for transport Geoff Hoon on telegraph.co.uk last month: “I would not want people to be under any illusion about that. If the vote is ‘no’, there will be no central Government funding. The rules are very clear. There will be plenty of other cities looking to take up the opportunity if Manchester doesn’t.”

The voting finishes this week (Thursday 11 December) but the importance of the result goes beyond Greater Manchester. A ‘yes’ will increase the likelihood of road pricing schemes across the UK; a ‘no’ might stop the Government pursuing national road pricing for years. Allegedly, even US president-elect Obama has his team taking a look at the scheme for possible American transfer.

An exception to the theme of pushy politicians was the public consultation on the future of the Western Extension of the London Congestion Charging zone by new mayor Boris Johnson. Out of nearly 28,000 responses 67% voted in favour of ditching it – including a whopping 86% of businesses. Transport for London was quoted as saying the small increase in emissions that could result will be unlikely to have “any material effect” on measured air quality. So off it goes in spring 2010. With no strings attached. How refreshing.