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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Row over motorway tolls report
Traffic grinds to a halt on the M5
Motorway charges are recommended by consultants
The transport department has denied it is planning to make motorists pay to drive on motorways.

Independent consultants employed by Transport Secretary Stephen Byers' department have warned that road tolls are the only way of tackling traffic congestion.


It is rubbish to allege that there was an attempt to conceal news

Transport department
The consultants are continuing their study and the government says no decisions will be made until their research is complete.

Their proposals were published on the department's website on Tuesday - the day of the Queen Mother's funeral - prompting claims that it was trying to hide new proposals.

Mr Byers' former special adviser, Jo Moore, was heavily criticised after suggesting 11 September was a good day to "bury" bad news, and it has been suggested that the latest episode echoes that controversy.

But the government has rejected the claim that the consultation paper was published on the day of the funeral to minimise coverage on a controversial issue.

Taxes reduced

The report is a summary of a seminar for consultants employed by the government to help counter motorway congestion.

Research for the study suggests 60% of drivers on the M1 would be prepared to pay tolls, especially if other motoring taxes were reduced.

There are recommendations too for the M25, the London orbital motorway.

Theresa May, shadow transport secretary
Theresa May says motorists are already priced off the roads
The report says: "The most promising strategy for reducing traffic levels and managing demand on the M25 is as follows:

  • apply urban congestion charging over the whole of London and the urban areas outside the M25

  • apply ramp metering or charge tolls for entry to the M25."

    The Conservatives are accusing the government of publishing the report "by stealth".

    Shadow transport secretary Theresa May acknowledged the study was consultants' proposals and not a policy announcement.

    Bus and train alternatives

    But she argued the government's acceptance of congestion charging in London and use of high fuel taxes suggested ministers would favour the new ideas.

    "There is no point in trying to price the motorists off the road when public transport alternatives are not available - it's putting the cart before the horse," she said.

    Ms May told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that her party opposed congestion charging as a principal weapon against roads gridlock.

    The transport department stressed the study was not a government report.

    "Given that there was no obligation to publish this internal consultant's report, it is rubbish to allege that there was an attempt to conceal news," it said.

    'No plans'

    No minister was involved in the timing of the report being put on the website, said the department.

    A spokesman added: "There are no plans by the government to introduce road user charging on any roads in the UK.

    "The papers on road user charging put on the website are simply technical documents, produced for an internal seminar."

    Congestion charges in central London are due to begin in 2003 and other British cities are introducing similar plans.


  • Talking PointTALKING POINT
    MotorwayIn a jam
    Would you pay to use the motorway?
    See also:

    17 Mar 02 | England
    26 Feb 02 | England
    26 Feb 02 | UK
    18 Feb 02 | England
    25 Oct 01 | England
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