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Blighty's dark Orwellian future may have been put on hold, as news breaks that the Brown government has abandoned road-pricing plans in their current various forms. The city government of London, meanwhile, under the direction of roguish cheeky-chappie Mayor Ken Livingstone, continues to charge ahead with technology-based traffic control solutions.

Reports of the government U-turn on national road pricing appeared first in the Telegraph yesterday. The broadsheet scribes say they've had an advance look at Department for Transport (DfT) draft responses to points raised by backbench MPs around road-pricing legislation.

Apparently, DfT mandarins - no doubt with Cabinet clearance - will tell the parliamentarians that:

"It is not the department's intention, at this stage, to take the separate powers needed to price the national road network."

It seems that congestion - the primary justification for introducing road pricing - is primarily a local problem and thus not suitable for a national solution.

"We agree that there are congestion problems on parts of the strategic road network," says the DfT, "but 88 per cent of congestion is in urban areas. Therefore it is sensible to prioritise the assessment of road pricing in these areas."

The new plan will be to let local governments price or otherwise regulate their bits of the road network as they see fit. So far the main example of this is the London congestion charge, which is enforced by using controversial Automatic Numberplate Recognition (ANPR) technology to track vehicle movements.

Predictably, in the wake of recent clownish "carbomb" attempts, the government has granted terror police routine access to the London tracking system. This has confirmed the widely-held view that no matter the initial purpose of any vehicle-tracking technology, it will swiftly become an automated surveillance tool.

National road-pricing - quite apart from being unpopular in itself with motorists - would by its nature have included means of tracking every vehicle in Britain centrally, with obvious privacy implications. Unsurprisingly, it hasn't been seen as a vote-winner by the nervous new Brown government.

"It has been back-burnered," according to a Telegraph "senior government source".

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