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Queen confirms congestion charging powers for London

URBAN CONGESTION charging will be introduced for the first time in the UK by the proposed Greater London Authority, the Government confirmed this week.

A bill enabling the creation of the GLA, with its powerful directly elected mayor, was included in Tuesday's Queen's Speech. Briefing notes issued by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions confirmed that the legislation will 'include new powers to introduce road user charging and a workplace parking levy'.

The bill will also set out the GLA's other powers, including urban regeneration, along the lines set out in this year's White Paper (NCE 2 April). The GLA is likely to come into being during the first half of 2000.

The other significant piece of legislation for the civil engineering sector is the Local Government (best value and capping) Bill. This heralds the end of compulsory competitive tendering, which will be replaced by a best value regime.

Local authorities will have to review all their services over a five year period, as well as setting 'new and demanding targets' for each service published in local performance plans.

New external audit and inspection arrangements will be introduced, with ministers taking powers 'to intervene where local authorities are failing to provide best value services'. The legislation is also likely to make it easier for local authorities to work in joint venture with the private sector.

Other measures included in the Queen's Speech are:

Plans to set up a 'shadow' Strategic Rail Authority by next spring 'to lead to changes to the way the rail network is planned and regulated, in advance of legislation'. The SAR is intended to 'ensure that the railway system is run as a network; is properly integrated with other forms of transport; and that freight operators' plans are taken into account in the planning of the network'. It will take some of the responsibilities of the DETR and Rail Regulator and be given 'new, tougher enforcement powers'.

An announcement that the Government will publish new sustainable development and waste strategies next year.

A bill to privatise the Commonwealth Development Corporation. The Government will retain a minimum 25% stake to help safeguard investment policies driving a current 1.6bn spend in 54 developing countries.

A bill to increase Scottish's Enterprise's 'financial limit' to a possible 6bn. The previous limit of 3bn is due to be reached in June 1999.

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