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Nationwide road tolls 'outlined'

BBC | August 6 2006

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander will seek powers to create toll roads across the UK, reports have said.

In a leaked letter in the Sunday Times, he outlines plans for a bill for widespread tolls to combat congestion.

Local authorities currently set charges - such as London's - but in the letter Mr Alexander says he should be able to set simpler national standards.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it had no intention of imposing road-pricing on local authorities.

Ministers currently give their approval for local schemes like London's congestion charge.

In a letter to Leader of the Commons Jack Straw, dated 20 July, Mr Alexander argues he should set national levels to prevent confusion that would arise if different cities adopted different schemes.

Drivers would be charged on a pay-as-you-go basis, with black boxes in their cars working out how far they drive on toll roads.

"The main purpose of the bill would be to support our efforts to cut congestion and improve public transport, particularly in the major cities outside London," the letter said.

"It would also help to pave the way for a national road-pricing scheme in the medium to long term.

"I would propose reforming the current arrangements for approving local road-pricing schemes, providing better targeted powers to ensure that schemes are consistent with a national framework.

'See benefits'

"Current legislation offers very limited powers for pricing on the trunk road network outside of the area of a local scheme.

"We are considering pilots on the trunk road network as an important stage towards national road-pricing."

A DfT spokeswoman said: "The government has been very clear about the need to explore road pricing as a way to tackle congestion.

"It is only right that we explore what legislation might be required to do this.

Guarded welcome

"With any scheme it will be important that the motorist can see the benefits - improving reliability and tackling congestion."

Motoring organisations have given a guarded welcome to the plans.

Paul Watters, head of roads and transport policy for AA Motoring Trust, said: "We can't have charging schemes coming along without a degree of uniformity.

"It makes sense to have some sort of universal system."

Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, agreed the system would be "a complete mess" if there were "congestion charging schemes in different areas, without there being any national standards".

Queen's Speech

But Mr King pointed out a recent survey conducted for the body found "nine out of 10 motorists don't trust the government to deliver a fair system of road pricing, with reductions in fuel duty".

Mr Straw is drawing up the list of bills to be included in the Queen's Speech in the autumn.

In another letter obtained by the newspaper, Mr Straw is reported to outline 13 bills expected to also be included.

They cover criminal justice; consumer protection; digital switch-over; criminal trials; free bus travel for pensioners; further education; new powers for the London Mayor; health and social security; House of Lords reform; local government; organised crime; pensions; and Child Support Agency reform.

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