UK motorists are overtaxed, says Tory MP Greg Smith
Car fan Greg Smith MP sticks up for UK drivers in an exclusive chat with Auto Express
“The motorist is the most overtaxed creature in the country.” They weren’t the words we were expecting to come from the mouth of a sitting Conservative MP, but Greg Smith isn’t afraid of putting across an honest view, even if it’s in stark contrast to that of the current Tory Government.
Self-confessed car fan Smith, who also sits on the Transport Select Committee, has taken to the roads around his 335-square mile Buckingham constituency in a classic Land Rover Defender, holding surgeries from the back seats of the off-roader that’s being powered by P1 sustainable fuels.
We met up with Smith in the market town of Princes Risborough, where he gave us his views on everything from potholes to EV charging, and also talked about his love of Formula One – handy as his constituency covers part of the Silverstone circuit.
We started by asking him if he felt drivers had a right to feel persecuted these days?
“I think there has been a big movement that has an undertone of anti-car about it in recent years,” he says. “And you can divide that into multiple columns.
“There’s a column of people that just don’t like private transport. They would rather everyone got on a bike or a train or a bus, or whatever it might be. I’m certainly not anywhere near that column. I’m an opponent of that mindset.
“Then you’ve got the columns of people who for good reasons want to do something about the pollutants in the atmosphere – they have taken a stance on vehicles. But I think it’s a false stance. The Ultra Low Emissions Zone in London is a prime example of this, but it’s happening elsewhere in the country. That to me is just false because cars, through technology, are getting cleaner and cleaner.”
When it comes to electric cars, Smith feels that the Government’s current proposal to outlaw the sale of internal combustion-engined cars in 2030 needs to be reviewed. “I think 2030 needs pushing back,” he said. “I think we need to have a sensible debate about what actually is a net-zero or carbon-neutral, de-fossilised vehicle. The Government’s zero-emission mandate talks about the tailpipe, so that’s immediately writing synthetic fuels off.”
Smith has a passion for synthetic fuels, as is evidenced by the Land Rover he’s using for his ‘Landy Tour’. But he also thinks the push to EVs should be given more time. “I’m much more in favour of letting the technology develop. And there’s no doubt that there is a future in battery electric cars across the world. But is it the answer for everything? My contention on that is no.”
The other issue, of course, is charging, and Smith has a firm view that the push for more chargers is putting the chicken before the egg. “We’re way behind” on infrastructure, he continued. “I think there’s a couple of things, and the Transport Select Committee has looked at this both within our recent EV inquiry and now the Fuelling The Future inquiry.
One of the big challenges we’ve got is grid capacity. Everyone’s rushing to put in the chargers without realising you actually need to supply them.
“We are putting ourselves into this doom loop if we can’t actually power the network. Everyone’s focused on how many public chargers we’ve got in Buckinghamshire – in Princes Risborough, Buckingham, Aylesbury – but the energy issue has to come first. And until we reform the grid to an extent where we can actually get the renewables that everyone’s putting up into the grid, it’s not going to work, is it? Which again is another reason why 2030 needs to be pushed back. We need wholesale grid reform.”
On funding for pothole repairs, Smith said: “It is about money, but it’s also about changing working practices and the way you fix the roads.” His local council has bought a JCB Pothole Pro machine, which is transforming the speed of repairs.
Our roads may need sprucing up, but according to Smith the UK is still a brilliant place to build cars. “We are a great nation of engineers, of car makers, of designers, of aerodynamicists. There is a reason that the pinnacle of motorsports is here, and that everything else feeds from that downwards.
“We’ve got great car manufacturing in this country – we’ve got to find a way of keeping them here. We’ve got to find a way of delivering things, like extending the R&D tax credits, so that they’re developing the tech that is going to make the difference for the next generation and bring even more companies into the UK.”
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