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Car taxes 'will drive business out of city'.

Birmingham's transport chiefs last night pulled an astonishing U-turn on new taxes to cut traffic congestion as they warned Government plans could jeopardise the city's development.

The city council had backed the idea of a charge on car parking spaces but last night director of transportation Mr David Pywell said Birmingham's renaissance could be "nipped in the bud" by Deputy Prime Minister Mr John Prescott's plans.

Mr Prescott left it up to councils to decide if they want to impose charges on car parking spaces and on congested roads when he unveiled his blueprint for Britain's transport yesterday.

Mr Pywell said Birmingham had wanted the parking space charges introduced as a national policy and the city now faced driving commuters and businesses away if it was first to bring in the new taxes.

The idea of charging for parking at work was suggested as a national policy to Mr Prescott's office by Birmingham, but Mr Pywell said the city would now have to reconsider its support for the idea.

"Birmingham city centre is beginning to turn around with the pedestrianisation. It has got a lot to offer and we don't want to nip that renaissance in the bud.

"If people are choosing to come to Birmingham at the moment members would want to consider very carefully anything that might encourage people to go elsewhere," he said.

Mr Pywell added that businesses looking to move could be put off Birmingham if it was charging companies for parking spaces and other cities were not.

However, Mr Prescott's statement makes it clear money for major public transport improvements will have to be raised locally and Birmingham may be forced to impose the charges if it is to press on with plans to bring a state-ohe-art bus system to the cit y.

Mr Pywell said charging was still an option but Birmingham would have to work closely with other Midland authorities in the hope of getting a co-ordinated policy. It would only work if people could see the benefits of the charges as soon as they were int roduced rather than charging drivers and making them wait years for public transport improvements.

Mr Prescott has said he wants to put the "carrot" before the "stick" and it is thought he may get around the problem by allowing councils to borrow money against projected earnings from the charges.

The decision by Mr Prescott, the Environment, Transport and Regions Secretary, not to introduce charges nationwide was criticised by environmentalists, with one claiming he had left local authorities to deal with the "political angst" of the move.

West Midlands Friends of the Earth spokesman Mr Gerald Kells said the announcement was a step forward but attacked the watered down proposals for charging.

He said: "We know that some local authorities will take a different view to others. What we really need is all the local authorities singing from the same hymn book.

"The real question is whether local authorities will take up these powers."

Support for charging motorists for parking at work and using busy roads was lukewarm among other Midland councils last night. Coventry, Wolverhampton and Sandwell all said they had reservations.

AA spokesman Mr Richard Freeman praised the Government for leaving the decision on charging to councils because people would now be able to vote in local elections on how authorities treated motorists. But he warned that businesses might leave the city c entre if they felt they were being financially penalised for providing company cars or parking spaces.

"It is a real dilemma because if people driving into Birmingham are paying extra for journeys and they cannot see any tangible improvements over a period of time then there will be problems ahead," he said.

Full details of the charging proposals will be released in the next few weeks. Mr Prescott hopes to have new laws in place by the end of this Parliament.

Other measures in his White Paper included an pounds 1.8 billion cash boost for public services, national fare concessions for pensioners, plans to encourage children to cycles or take the bus to school and pilot schemes for road tolls.

He said the paper was not anti-car and added: "Mondeo man can breath a sigh of relief.

"It is not pro-car to allow congestion to escalate. It is not pro-car to allow smoke and pollution to increase. The most anti-car policy is to do nothing," he said.

White Paper details/Page 7

Comment/Page 12
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 21, 1998
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