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U-turn on revenue-neutral road user charge promise

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MOTORISTS WILL be worse off after road user charging is introduced, transport minister Stephen Ladyman said this week.

The news contradicts previous promises from transport secretary Alistair Darling that the proposed scheme would be 'revenue neutral' with no impact on overall motoring costs.

Ladyman also warned there was no guarantee that all income raised from road user charging would be ploughed back into roads.

But he said that rush hour motorists would pay more so that the government could fund capacity increases on the busiest roads.

'What the driver needs to see is not some notion of revenue neutral. He's going to want to see what the deal is, ' Ladyman told a fringe meeting at this week's Labour party conference in Brighton.

His comments came as West Midlands business leaders threw their weight behind congestion charging schemes.

Ladyman said that motorists would need to be sold a 'deal' that included a guarantee of better roads for those that chose to travel at peak times.

'The deal is that the motorist will save money travelling off peak under road user charging.

But what he gets by travelling in peaks and paying more is a guarantee that traffic keeps flowing, ' said Ladyman.

'We have to remember that not all fuel duty is paid back into roads; it is all part of the revenue pot. So nobody can say all road user charging revenue is going to go into roads, ' he said.

The government is seeking a major city to trial an area wide congestion charging scheme.

A number of local authorities are understood to have bid for funds to set up a charging scheme as part of their Local Transport Plan bids. Birmingham is understood to be a front runner.

'The West Midlands is very keen, but there is a whole range of other cities. It depends on how innovative their ideas are, ' said Ladyman.

Birmingham's bid was strengthened this week when local businesses came out in favour of charging.

'There has been a seismic shift in the way the business community looks at demand management, ' said lobby group Birmingham Forward chief executive Simon Murphy.

'It is about retaining our competitiveness and congestion affects that.

'We want to engage with the government on road pricing. Initially it will be hugely unpopular with the public, but we know that the situation will only get worse if we do nothing.'

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