THE GOVERNMENT is considering a U-turn over congestion and workplace charging that will allow local authorities to introduce such schemes ahead of vital public transport improvements.
The move has been prompted by fears that delays bringing in new transport schemes will hold up the introduction of charging schemes. This, the Government believes, could threaten local authority revenues which are vital to the implementation of its 10 year transport plan.
A draft working document has now been issued by the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions (DETR) proposing a more flexible approach to congestion and workplace charging. This could also see charging schemes introduced gradually, starting at a lower price or in a more confined area.
Local authorities welcomed the draft guidance. 'The DETR guidance is very helpful. There is now a lot of flexibility and realism about how schemes might be taken forward, ' said a source at Cambridge City Council, which is considering a workplace parking levy.
The draft guidance will also ease local authorities' fears over the high risk of raising private finance on the back of future charging revenues. 'The partnership solution with the private sector has been a very discouraging feature that has certainly caused us some problems, ' said the Cambridge source. Last week the ICE transport survey showed that support for charging schemes had dropped to its lowest ever level. However, the latest consultation has prompted local authorities among the 35 planning schemes to feel more positive.
Nottingham City Council said it was on schedule to introduce workplace parking charges with the opening of line one of its light rail scheme in November 2003. It will consider a trial for council workers six months early.
London has ended public consultation on its proposed congestion charge and is expected to publish a firm proposal in the summer. Other big urban areas such as Birmingham and Manchester are reported to be falling behind because of the difficulty of getting agreement from so many stakeholders.