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Government denies road charging 'blackmail'

Rubbishes 'stalking horse' claims

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The government has rejected suggestions by MPs on the Transport Committee that it is "blackmailing" local authorities into introducing congestion charging schemes. It said that it will not support charging unless there is a robust investigation to show that it will be beneficial.

The comments are made in the government's response (pdf) to the committee's report, published this summer, on the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF). The fund will deliver £290m next year and a massive £2.5bn by 2015 to support innovative local transport projects to tackle congestion and improve public transport.

TIF should be open to all local authorities, including those for whom road charging does not represent the best solution to their congestion problems, the MPs had said.

While the government agreed that there is an important role to be played by "softer measures" in tackling congestion, it said that in some cases these will not be enough.

"Road pricing offers the greatest potential to lock benefits in over the long term," according to the government. "That's why we have been clear that proposals must include an element of hard demand management, and that we are most likely to fund packages involving road pricing."

However, the government emphasised that the key to the success of TIF schemes will be the combination of demand management with investment in the transport network.

On national road pricing, the government said that no decision had been made and that new legislation would be needed before any national scheme could be introduced.

"The government is clear that any such decision would need to be informed by experiences from local charging schemes and should only come after a full and informed public debate," it said.

At a meeting of the committee in May, the chair Gwyneth Dunwoody suggested that the government was using local authorities as a "stalking horse" for a national scheme.

Philippe Martin, Kable's senior transport analyst, said: "The Department for Transport appears to have taken a lesson from the 1.8m signatories of a Downing Street e-petition opposing congestion charging and is being more cautious in its approach to a national scheme."

Many of the committee's views on TIF were welcomed by the government. It agreed that consistency and interoperability are important parts of a road pricing scheme, and that proper consultation is important.

The committee's report had urged the government to ensure that its statutory guidance on the protection of privacy in charging schemes is tough enough to address public concerns.

In response the government said it is "determined" that privacy should be safeguarded in the design of road pricing schemes. It said that its guidance to local authorities highlights that privacy is a key issue which they must address when developing schemes. Also, road pricing schemes will have to operate within the bounds of the Data Protection Act.

Greater Manchester has been the first authority to bid for TIF money. In July the city made an application to the Department for Transport for £3bn to support a range of transport innovations, including a pricing regime to cut road congestion.

The government's response to the committee was published on 17 October 2007.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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