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Key questions for London's new leader

CAR TRAVEL

Whether the environmental lobby likes it or not, the car will continue to feature very heavily in the capital's future. But the mayor will have a key role in deciding just how big a place it will be given. While there will be opportunities to persuade people to leave cars at home, maintaining the vast existing road network will require huge engineering and financial resources.

Curbing the car

Parking: The most bullish talk is of an additional charge on 'all non- residential parking spaces in London (retail and office)', as well as road use tolls. Parking charges would be the 'easiest' to introduce, because they could be recycled back to the businesses concerned. Softening the impact on the business community and avoiding the Treasury's (albeit apparently weakening) objections to hypothecation will be important.

The Association of London Government estimates that the introduction of a flat-rate parking charge could raise nearly £2bn for transport projects, provide a business rate rebate of £1.8bn and reduce the number of parking spaces in the capital by 37% over 10 years.

Road closure: A University College London study led by chief government transport adviser Professor Phil Goodwin and commissioned by London Transport and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has shown that closing roads leads up to 60% of the traffic originally using the route to 'evaporate'. Closure of Hammersmith Bridge led one fifth of those who had previously used it in their drive to work to switch to other forms of transport.

Road tolling: Charging motorists to bring their cars into the centre of London is a thorny political issue but one that a mayor would have the power to take on. In principle it makes a great deal of sense - the true cost of car travel is far lower than the cost of public transport and if commuters are to be discouraged from driving into the city the most effective way is to hit their wallets.

The technology necessary to make such a charge is now there or thereabouts, so manufacturers insist. A simple electronic tag in the windscreen linked to roadside detectors could send a monthly bill to drivers and produce substantial revenues for reinvestment in public transport.

And studies in the past by Ove Arup & Partners and by the London School of Economics suggested that a £20 a day charge would reduce the number of cars entering London each day by 40,000 to 120,000 and then easily finance the Tube's £1.2bn backlog of work .

Road maintenance: Although London's road network is now reckoned to be in rather better condition than the average for England and Wales, no-one reading the latest National Road Maintenance Condition Survey could believe there was any cause for complacency in the capital.

For while a visual survey concluded that the condition of London's trunk roads is nearly 25% better than in 1977, its 'urban principal' roads are 12% worse and its 'urban classified' are no less than 42.3% more rutted and cracked than they were 20 years ago.

The mayor's office - Transport for London to be specific - will be responsible for these trunk roads and primary routes, leaving the Highways Agency to look after just the motorways around the capital. And it will have a tough task in recovering from what most observers would describe as years of neglect.

The Government blames maintenance cutbacks made under the previous administration. More money is promised - and it will be down to the mayor to slice up this slightly larger cake between so many competing local authorities; to decide which roads are to be closed or restricted by roadworks, and when.

It is this latter function, the co-ordination of major road and bridge works and their associated diversions to minimise disruption in surrounding areas, which is probably the most important in the eyes of Londoners. Although there has been liaison between local authorities for many years, if road utilisation is to be maximised and the deterioration of the network reversed, then a single authority must be the most effective option.

Maintaining the river crossings: As Baroness Hayman made clear in the Lords last week, responsibility for the future of the ageing Hammersmith Bridge rests with the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham alone. Although the bridge is a key element in a complex network of Thames crossings and trans-capital routes, the local authority could, in theory, decide to close it indefinitely without consultation.

Not so with a mayor in charge. Strategic thinking and strategic decision making would be possible, and with it the appropriate diversion of funding. Critical capital-wide problems could be tackled rather than simply leaving them to local authorities.

But even today, thankfully, no irrevocable decision about London's bridges is taken without intensive discussion within the London Bridges Engineering Group, an ad-hoc body which evolved in the vacuum created by the destruction of the Greater London Council. Its success in co-ordinating the annual funding bids of no less than 33 local authorities has been marked, but illustrates the need for an official co-ordinating body with the clout to enforce its decisions.

There is still plenty for such a body to get its teeth into. Between Blackwall and Kingston upon Thames there are 19 bridges and two tunnels accessible to wheeled traffic. Many have weight or width restrictions, and several are either undergoing major maintenance or awaiting funding for essential works. Some are arguably ripe for replacement and there is a very strong case for at least one new crossing downstream from Blackwall.

THE ENVIRONMENT

This is the area in which London's mayor is likely to find him or herself most frustrated. While having the responsibility to produce various reports and strategy documents on issues such as environmental protection, air quality and waste management, he or she will have limited powers to demand change.

However, it is likely that the mayor's environmental policy will make itself felt in areas where he or she does have director control, such as transport. Also - and depending on the mayor's priorities - action could be taken on improving the pitiful 3% of household waste that is recycled in the capital.

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