Prescott’s plans for congestion charging and car parking tax included in Queen’s Speech

The UK Labour Government's third legislative programme will include a long-awaited transport bill that will allow local authorities to charge motorists for entering urban centres and to tax business car parking.

Queen Elizabeth II opened Parliament with her annual speech outlining the Government’s legislative plans. Downing Street referred to the 28 bills it hopes to pass as a “radical and reforming programme based on promoting enterprise and fairness, and creating a modern Britain”. Commentators have pointed out that the programme is very full and have questioned the Government’s ability to ensure that the bills are properly constructed and thoroughly debated.

Announcing the transport bill, which is seen as the Deputy Prime Minister’s most important contribution to this Government, the Queen described its aims: “My Government are committed to creating a modern integrated and safe transport system, providing more choice for the travelling public. Following the recent tragedy at Paddington my Government will ensure that rail safety is a top priority. A Bill will be re-introduced to establish a Strategic Rail Authority. It will contain measures to improve bus services and reduce road congestion. It will include measures for National Air Traffic Services to separate safety regulation from operational matters, and deliver major investment in the next generation technology.”

The transport bill will include:

  • establishment of a Strategic Rail Authority that will regulate the industry more closely
  • provision to allow local authorities to develop customised programmes to charge motorists for the privilege of entering congested areas
  • provision to allow local authorities to set up programmes to tax companies’ car parking spaces
  • partial privatisation of the National Air Traffic Services
  • power to local authorities to create public-private partnerships to improve local bus services

Although the transport bill will provide local authorities with the power to charge motorists for entering urban areas (known as congestion charging) and to tax car parking, individual authorities’ plans will still be subject to approval by central government.

The Conservative leader William Hague accused the Government of “a declaration of war against everyone who drives a car” and stated that “people work hard and save hard to own a car.” The transport editor at UK daily The Guardian assessed the plans for congestion charging and tax on car parking and declared that “the legislation is not likely to result in a mad rush to introduce such schemes”. He cited Manchester’s avowed reluctance to introduce such charges.

Friends of the Earth (FoE), welcomed the transport bill and challenged the Deputy Prime Minister to go further. The group stated that it “will campaign for the Transport Bill to include a clear commitment from the Government to a national road traffic reduction target. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said on taking office that the Government’s transport policy would have failed if there were not fewer cars on the road after five years: ‘It’s a tough target, but I urge you to hold me to it’.”

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