Page last updated at 13:18 GMT, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 14:18 UK

City congestion charges ruled out

Belfast city centre
Belfast congestion charges are unlikely any time soon

Congestion charges will not be introduced to Belfast in the "foreseeable future", the roads minister has said.

Conor Murphy said his department had examined the issue and concluded they would not benefit the travelling public or the city.

The decision comes despite a recommendation by Belfast City Council.

It said charges should be considered as a method of reducing traffic levels and providing income to local authorities.

In a report submitted to the assembly's finance committee in the autumn of 2007, the council pointed to the success of congestion charging in London where, it is claimed, traffic levels have been reduced by a third since their introduction six years ago.

Mr Murphy said emphasis would instead be placed on other traffic calming measures, including additional bus lanes and park and ride schemes.

"I do think it's about getting a balance. It's about making sure the city is accessible so that people can travel to and from work, to shop, to socialise but also trying to reduce congestion and pollution.

"The option for congestion charges remains on the books but currently we don't see any major benefits to either the travelling public or to the city by its introduction,'' he said.

Reacting to the decision, Lisa Fagan, of Friends of the Earth, urged the minister to adopt a number of measures.

"He should: increase investment in public transport; require out-of-town shopping centres to levy parking charges; and severely restrict the availability of free all-day parking in the city centre [to encourage commuters to make the switch]," she said.

"That said, congestion charging is a powerful driver for behavioural change, particularly when the revenue raised is ring-fenced for public transport."

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