Congestion charge schemes to roll out nationwide

Plans for nationwide road charging came a step closer this week when local authorities in seven areas were given £7 million to develop local congestion charging schemes.

Urban areas such as Bristol, Manchester and the West Midlands Conurbation, were chosen along with more rural areas such as Cambridgeshire and Shropshire.

The idea is to pilot local demand management schemes as a national road-pricing scheme is developed (see related story).

Announcing the measures at the CBI annual conference, Transport Secretary Alastair Darling said that congestion was one of the biggest threats to economic expansion and hurts local economies.

He said that continued investment was essential, but that effective demand management was the key.

"Local and regional pilots are essential if we are to explore and understand the possibilities of road pricing at national level. It's good to see local authorities across the country recognising that congestion is an urgent problem and that planning to avoid future problems needs to start now."

The Government has invited the seven local authorities to join a new Road Pricing Local Liaison Group which will be responsible for developing a consistent approach to road pricing - looking at technical standards, design and scheme appraisal.

Prior to the announcement, the CBI had released figures showing that 48% of companies said that transport problems were having a substantial impact on their profitability, while 63% said they thought the transport system would get worse in the next five years.

Rather than demand management, however, the CBI believes building more roads is the answer.

"We should all make more efficient use of transport - but unless we invest more to renew and upgrade the network, the economy cannot reach its full potential," Sir Digby Jones, Director-General of the CBI said. "We also need reform to the decrepit planning regime, which is still stuck in the 1940s, so that new projects can actually get built."

The CBI believes the minimum needed to deliver improvements over the next decade is £300 billion of public and private investment and has called on Gordon Brown to commit £1 billion over the next two years to smaller scale road and rail projects in his pre-budget report next week.

David Hopkins



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