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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 March 2008, 13:29 GMT
Toll rejection is blow to ministers
By Peter Plisner
BBC Midlands Today transport correspondent

Councils in the West Midlands have thrown out plans for road tolls in major metropolitan areas.

It follows an 18-month study on the impact that charging would have on businesses and residents in the region.

Road pricing plans are set to be thrown out

A report published does not back the case for road pricing, although it does warn that congestion will continue to get worse over the next few years.

It said some benefits would have been seen in Birmingham but it would only have reduced congestion to 2001 levels.

The report, Tackling Congestion, Delivering Growth - concludes that road pricing would deliver "mixed results" in terms of reducing congestion.

It says there would be either "no or negligible benefits" in Coventry, Wolverhampton and the Black Country.

The publication of the report is a further blow for the government which only yesterday was forced to abandon its plans for a national road charging scheme.

Last year a petition by Peter Roberts, from Telford, Shropshire, collected 1.8 million signatures opposed to road pricing.

This report shows that congestion continues to be a problem, but currently road pricing does not offer the solution that we need.
Roger Lawrence, Wolverhampton City Council Leader
This and the recent hikes in fuel prices appear to have been the death knell for a plan which ministers maintained would help to reduce congestion and shorten journey times.

Transport ministers had been hoping that local councils would trial the idea of road pricing prior to an introduction nationally.

Overwhelmingly rejected

The Department for Transport had launched its Transport Innovation Fund, which offered billions of pounds in funding for transport projects in exchange for a commitment to introduce road pricing.

Originally there had been several bids for money from the new fund from all over the country, including one from Shrewsbury.

But its bid was dropped several months ago.

As part of their bid, the West Midlands metropolitan councils were given funds to investigate the impact of road pricing.

Midlands Metro
New funding for the Midland Metro expansion will have to be found

But as in Shropshire, the idea of charges has been overwhelmingly rejected.

The U-turn on road pricing means that councils will have to seek alternative funding sources for improvements to public transport, including the long-awaited expansion of the Midland Metro tram network.

The report builds on an integrated transport strategy launched last year.

It prioritised a 2.7 billion region-wide package of measures including Midland Metro, Bus Rapid Transit schemes and increased rail capacity.

Councillor Roger Lawrence, leader of Wolverhampton City Council and the region's "transport champion", said: "This report shows that congestion continues to be a problem, but currently road pricing does not offer the solution that we need."

Councils suggest that the study sends a clear message to government that there are no simple solutions to reducing the number of cars on the road.

Business leaders have given the report a cautious welcome.

'Work much harder'

Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, said: "Today's decision leaves many un-answered questions about how we will solve congestion.

"We are going to have to work much harder on exploiting measures like active traffic management on the motorway network and red routes on local roads."

Mr Blackett also said that more work should be done on finding ways of changing people's travel habits. There is also concern that alternative funding sources might include new taxes on businesses in the region.

It is something that government ministers have already been talking about.

A further measure could see the introduction of an office parking tax, similar to that already being considered by politicians in Nottingham.

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