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City hat in ring for road pricing.

Byline: By Jonathan Walker Political Editor

A national road pricing scheme is opposed by the public but could become popular if it was piloted in regions such as the West Midlands, Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said.

Local trials will provide evidence that charging works and change minds across the UK, he claimed.

Seven West Midland authorities, including Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country, have drawn up plans for to act as guinea pigs for a pricing regime.

In a major speech in London, Mr Alexander highlighted proposals from the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, although these are only two of many from councils.

Shropshire County Council has developed its own proposals, and is pushing for Shrewsbury to be chosen for the testing.

Whichever area is chosen is also expected to receive hundreds of millions of pounds in funding for public transport improvements.

But the plans are so controversial that the West Midland councils have yet to confirm officially that they want to host the pilot. Instead, they say they are merely consulting the public.

Mr Alexander was speaking at a conference organised by think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research.

He said pilot road pricing schemes would begin over the next four to five years, and a national scheme would start around 2015.

But he admitted: "While the public accept that congestion is a problem they don't think a national scheme is the answer. This is why we will not rush headlong into a national scheme.

"Once the reason for the scheme is palpably demonstrated - successfully demonstrated - then the public can see the case for road pricing as a solution.

"This is why our approach to pilot schemes in local areas makes sense."

He added: "Officials in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands have presented initial proposals to their local political leaders which show that these great conurbations face growth or gridlock."

Mr Alexander warned: "Without significant action congestion will only get worse, hindering economic growth and affecting our quality of life."

Congestion was set to cost the economy pounds 24 billion a year by 2025, he said. "The economic case is clear."

But road pricing would be accompanied by an increase in spending on public transport, he said.

"Road pricing is not a stand-alone policy but is part of a wider transport policy. We intend to introduce a packet of measures, for example, to improve bus services."

The West Midland authorities have produced a consultation paper which suggests a range of options including charging motorists up to pounds 5 a day for travelling in the region.

It warned that congestion was costing the region's economy pounds 2.2 billion a year.

They face opposition from some of the region's MPs who are firmly opposed to the plans.

jon_walker@mrn.co.uk
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 5, 2006
Words:463
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