The referendum was meant to take place as a postal ballot between Monday 7th February and Monday 21st February, giving residents fourteen days to register their vote. However, the process seems to have broken down after a legal challenge to the plans has been accepted.

This legal challenge has been brought by Fife Council, West Lothian Council and Midlothian Council, who argue that the plans are unfair as their residents will have to pay the charge, while drivers in rural west Edinburgh areas, such as South Queensferry, would get off scot-free.

It will be heard during next week, and during two days in March – long after the initial referendum was due to have finished. Yet, the result of the challenge would, no doubt, influence the way many people vote in the referendum.

Despite this, Edinburgh City Council’s Transport convenor, Andrew Burns, said there would be no delay, and that he was confident that the issue would be settled by the people of Edinburgh in a court of democracy, not a court of law.

The delay is only the latest episode in the congestion charge drama. Campaigners on both sides have been highly vociferous in their views. Campaigners in favour of the charging zone, this week marched in front of the Liberal Democrat’s Scottish HQ with coffins bearing the message: “RIP clean air. Cause of Death – Liberal Democrats”, after several Lib-Dem members said they would be voting against the charge.

Nationally, and in England, the Lib-Dems support the idea of a congestion charge to lower emissions and improve air quality.

Friends of the Earth Chief Executive Duncan Mclaren said: “In Edinburgh 240 people die each year from air pollution. If we are to see that toll reduced we need to see action to cut traffic levels and improve alternative forms of transport. This is exactly what city residents would see if they vote ‘yes’ in February’s transport referendum.”

However, opposition groups, such as the aptly titled, ‘Edinburgh Communities Against Congestion Charging’, say the plans will increase congestion and are little more than a way for the council to create revenue. They add that it will also hit city retailers hard.

The proposed daily charge for Edinburgh’s congestion zone is £2.

By David Hopkins

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