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'Trojan horse'

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Controversial plans by the UK government to introduce road pricing are to go ahead, despite fierce opposition

The government has published a draft Bill laying the ground for local authorities to develop local pay-as-you-drive road charging across England and Wales.

Pilot road charging projects are already under way in 10 local authority areas, including Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridgeshire and Tyne and Wear, backed by the government's Transport Innovation Fund (Tif). So far £14m has been awarded by Tif.

A transport department spokesperson said the Bill, published today, did not mean that the government intended to press ahead with national road charging, however.

He told GC News: "We have made no decision about whether we want a national scheme. What we are doing is working with 10 local authorities who have come to us to express an interest in local schemes. And now we want to see what they come up with."

Last year a UK government-commissioned report by former British Airways chief Rod Eddington found that charging motorists to use roads was the only viable option, against a background of relentlessly rising congestion.

But there is widespread opposition to road charging among large sections of the public, as well as politicians and businesses.

Conservative transport spokesperson Chris Grayling said that despite the government's public denials, the Bill is a "Trojan horse" for national road pricing.

"It's now clear that Gordon Brown is as committed to the government's road pricing plans as Tony Blair has been, despite the petition signed by 1.8m people and official forecasts that such as scheme could cost up to £60bn.

"To make matters worse, they are blackmailing local authorities into being guinea pigs for road pricing so they don't have to take the flack themselves.

"Local road pricing schemes are fine, but only if they are originated locally and agreed locally. It is just plain wrong for ministers to interfere in the way they are doing."

The Federation of Small Businesses said the Government needs to re-think its plans before it does irreversible damage to British businesses. It called for a referendum in areas where schemes are proposed.

One of the world's largest road pricing projects is the central London's congestion charge. The scheme has cut congestion and pollution across the capital, as well as turning out to be a public sector IT success story. Capita, which works with Transport for London on the scheme, supplies the technology under a managed services contract.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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