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Scots backlash over toll 'tax'

PLANS FOR Scotland to pioneer motorway tolling may have to be scrapped if the Scottish National Party wins a decisive role in next May's devolved Parliament, it emerged this week.

'We are totally against such trials, which we see as part of a hidden government agenda to privatise all roads,' an SNP spokesman told NCE. 'Charging to use motorways is simply another tax and has nothing to do with environmental issues or encouraging an integrated transport policy.'

The Scottish Office wants to use a section of the M8 east of Glasgow to test direct tolling techniques. The trial is likely to involve windscreen- mounted transmitters activating receivers on overhead gantries. The year long pilot scheme would include volunteer motorists receiving dummy bills for the pounds1 toll.

The tests are seen by the Scottish Office as essential to the early identification of technical and administrative snags which could hamper any future expansion of road tolling from 2003 onwards.

The M8 site is just one of four UK locations competing for the Whitehall- sponsored trials. Scottish Office engineers are said to be keen to be in at the forefront of any new technology. And they accept that any political interference from the country's new Parliament is likely to damage their current pole position to host trials.

But SNP leader Alex Salmond said this week that he would 'fiercely oppose' any pilot schemes, and argued that tolling on any of Scotland's trunk roads would seriously harm commerce and the country's economy.

The SNP is not against congestion charging in cities but claims the motorway trials are 'irrelevant' to such a move.

'If that is what Government is aiming at, then that is where the trials should take place' said the spokesman. 'Income from motorway tolls would simply be lost to the Exchequer and would not go to reducing congestion.'

A Scottish Office spokesman stressed no decision on the trial sites was likely before Christmas and said that toll income was intended to be spent specifically on transport improvements, including roads.

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