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Ministers blamed for council congestion charge apathy

SLOW GOVERNMENT decision making on nationwide road user charging is causing apathy towards city centre congestion charge schemes, local authorities said this week.

Local authorities fear a national scheme could undermine their own plans to impose levies on urban motorists and are delaying their introduction as a result.

Uncertainty is being compounded by the fact that Transport Secretary Alistair Darling does not expect a national scheme to be introduced before 2010.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is to address these concerns by setting up its own congestion charging steering group. It will meet for the first time next month and produce a report by the end of May.

'There could be important implications for local finances, local transport and local planning if there is a national scheme that recoups money to the Treasury, ' said LGA project officer and national road user charging steering group member Lee Searles.

'We did argue strongly for powers to introduce congestion charging to be part of the 2000 Transport Act and so we are going to be looking closely in the next few months at the national scheme.'

London's year old congestion charging scheme remains the only major city centre scheme operating in the UK. It is four years since 35 local authorities stated in their five year Local Transport Plans that they were interested in adopting a congestion charging scheme in their area.

Indecision over nationwide congestion charging has been blamed for delays to the Bristol, Portsmouth, Leeds and Southampton schemes (see box).

In giving the go-ahead for £7bn of motorway and trunk road widening schemes last summer, transport secretary Alistair Darling committed to a feasibility study of road user charging.

A steering group carrying out the study will report to the government ahead of a comprehensive spending review in summer.

Bristol charge scheme on hold Government indecision was this week cited by Bristol City Council as the reason for delaying the development of its city centre charging scheme.

The scheme was planned for 2006, but the council has always said that it would not be introduced until line one of a Light Rapid Transit (LRT) system is fully committed.

But this is stalled while the government rethinks its approach.

'Across the country the government has started to rethink its approach toward Light Rapid Transit (tram) schemes and question whether resources should be invested in new ones.

'This has delayed progress on our scheme. As a result, we are not able to progress congestion charging in Bristol at this stage although we continue to play a part in pan European programmes to test technology, ' said an official statement this week.

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