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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 February 2007, 06:43 GMT
Chamber tentative over c-charge
By Jane Mower
BBC News

Colin Stanbridge
Colin Stanbridge said the scheme must be updated and more flexible

London's business community will be holding its breath when the congestion charge extends westwards into Kensington and Chelsea on 19 February.

Many firms have been affected since the charge was introduced in 2003 and it is unclear to what extent the larger zone will impact on business.

In 2004 research for John Lewis revealed the congestion charge was to blame for a 5.52% drop in sales at its London Oxford Street store.

Despite this the Chief Executive of London's Chamber of Commerce Colin Stanbridge said that the chamber was not opposed to the charge.

But he stressed that the system needed to be more flexible and updated before expansion was considered.

Before the first congestion charge was introduced the chamber took the view that they weren't against it.

But we said that in order for it to work there had to be a real step change in public transport.

We want to see what the outcome of the charge is before it is extended.

GPS-based system

After a few months we were getting real evidence that small retailers were being really badly affected by the congestion charge, some to the extent that they went out of business.

So we started to campaign that with the congestion charge there had to be more flexibility such as a congestion charge-free zone during the middle of the day or to finish at about 2.30pm.

This would get rid of the commuter element and give restaurants, cafes and theatres a chance for people to come in.

We've never said that we want to get rid of the congestion charge but it needs to be flexible and updated.

Shoppers in Oxford Street on Saturday
Research showed John Lewis was hit by the charge
A GPS-based system would help make it a better-run scheme, taking photographs of car number plates is not the best way of doing it.

With a GPS system you would be able to charge people for usage rather than just a blanket charge.

When the western extension came along, we thought, we have had our reservations and there is lots of evidence from our members that this is having a bad effect on business.

So before you extend you ought to see how bad this is. It is the wrong time when evidence is just coming to light and the scheme is inflexible, it does hit businesses badly.

In the last consultation we carried out with members in the new part of the zone 82% said it would have a negative impact on business, 4% said it would have a positive effect and 36% predicted that they would have to lay off staff as a result.

There has to be a balance between reducing congestion and not having a negative impact on business.

Different make-up

There is much less of an argument when you start to extend it and you need to know a lot more about its effects.

The western extension is a different make-up to the central zone and the argument for it is much weaker as there are more small retailers, which we know are the people who get hit, than in the central zone.

We accept that if you restrict people coming in it's going to have an impact. We want to try to mitigate the negative impact.

We think it is too severe at the moment and we think that the western extension will make it worse.

Rather than a win, win situation we think it is a lose, lose one.

Map of zone including the extension

Borough wants congestion charge
07 Feb 07 |  London
Polluting cars face charge rise
14 Nov 06 |  London


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