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Congestion charge: Green lobby hails road-toll extension

By Barrie Clement, Transport Editor
Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The westward extension of London's £8 congestion charge yesterday was greeted with strong expressions of support and howls of protest in equal measure. Business leaders and residents in some of the richest urban areas in Britain attacked the decision by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, but green groups hailed it as a major step in the right direction.

The number of people signing an anti-road pricing petition on the 10 Downing Street website reached almost 1.6 million yesterday. The deadline for signatures is midnight tonight. The Prime Minister has promised to respond to the signatories and the Department for Transport (DfT) said it welcomed the chance for road pricing to be debated. However, it is known that the Transport Secretary, Douglas Alexander, has been angered by the petition, placed on the Downing Street site by Peter Roberts of the Association of British Drivers, a pro-motoring group. Other organisations, including the Green Party and Friends of the Earth, have said the petition has given a false picture of road pricing and Gwyneth Dunwoody, chairman of the Commons Transport Select Committee, described the petition as "idiotic".

In London, the Centre for Economics and Business Research estimated that the virtual doubling of the congestion zone to include areas such as Notting Hill, Kensington and Chelsea would cause 6,000 job losses and £236m in lost business. But Mr Livingstone calculated the toll would cut traffic levels in west London by between 10 and 15 per cent. He pointed out that congestion in the existing zone covering central London had been reduced by 20 per cent since the charge was introduced in February 2003.

Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth's transport campaigner, said the scheme had reduced congestion, increased bus and bicycle use and cut carbon dioxide emissions. "We now hope that the Mayor will bring forward proposals to encourage people to use greener cars by charging gas-guzzlers more and fuel-efficient vehicles less to enter the congestion charge zone."

He pointed out people living in the extended zone would no longer have to pay the full charge for driving into central London. "The Mayor must ensure the westward extension does not lead to an increase in traffic levels across central London."

Gordon Taylor, chairman of the West London Residents' Association, said only about 5 per cent of the roads in the newly included area were congested and only at certain times.

Paul Watters, the AA's head of public affairs, said confused drivers wandering into the area unintentionally and those using through-routes would find bailiffs pursuing them for £100 fines.

"The London congestion charge could become a monster. Such a beast only survives through punishing mistakes, with more than 30 per cent of income currently coming from penalty charge notices."

Mr Livingstone reported traffic flowing freely in the extended zone. Drivers entering from outside the zone as a whole would pay £8 a day on weekdays between 7am and the new finishing time of 6pm - half-an-hour earlier than previously.

Mr Livingstone said: "London is again taking the lead in tackling the problem of traffic congestion and emissions which blight virtually every major city in the world.

"Congestion charging in London has already cut the number of cars in the central area by 70,000 a day with all of the associated benefits in terms of air quality, climate change and road safety, with dramatic increases in the number of bus passengers and people choosing to cycle or walk. This has contributed to London seeing the world's first significant shift from the private car to public transport and, as a result, cities all over the world are looking to London's example."

Coming to a city near you?

The Government has made £18m available to the following areas so they can draw up plans for road-pricing:

* GREATER MANCHESTER

Councillors are considering introducing road tolls on 15 main routes

* WEST MIDLANDS

A group of authorities are considering satellite tracking of vehicles

* SHROPSHIRE

A charge is being considered for driving into Shrewsbury

* BRISTOL

Tolls could cover congestion 'hot spots', motorways and arterial roads

* READING

There could be charging schemes on the A33 and A327, which link the urban area with the M4

* TYNE AND WEAR

Charges are possible across the whole region or on the A1 and A19 around central Tyneside

* DURHAM

Existing congestion charge area could be extended beyond the city centre, turning long-stay street parking to short stay

* EAST MIDLANDS

Possible introduction of a congestion charge to drive into Derby, Leicester and Nottingham

* NORFOLK

Proposals for entry charge to Norwich city centre

* CAMBRIDGESHIRE

A range of possibilities include a rush-hour charge to drive into town centres, including Cambridge.

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