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Last Updated: Monday, 12 February 2007, 14:23 GMT
More road-charging debate pledged
M6 Toll Road
More than a million people signed a petition opposing road charges
The transport secretary has pledged to listen to opponents of the introduction of UK road charging.

Douglas Alexander said he will hear the concerns of more than a million people who signed a petition opposing pay-as-you-drive road charges.

The government has insisted that doing nothing would lead to a 25% increase in congestion in less than a decade.

But Mr Alexander said it was important to have a proper debate on the subject and consider a range of views.

The petition, which is the most popular on the Downing Street website, calls for the scrapping of the "planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy".

It was posted by Peter Roberts, from Telford, Shropshire, who describes charging as an "unfair tax".

Mr Roberts - whose petition broke through the million-signature barrier on Saturday - believes charging is unfair on poor people and those who live apart from their families.

'No choice'

When asked if he would take into account the views of those who signed the petition, Mr Alexander told the BBC that the government would "listen to people".

It was important to "deliberate, discuss" and then take a decision, he said.

"Ultimately, it will be a matter for parliament to make decisions but it is important that people have the chance to have their say and no doubt people will offer a range of opinions during that debate."

Peter Roberts
Peter Roberts believes road charging is unfair

He added that people needed to recognise that the UK did not have a choice "but to deal with congestion".

"Our roads are literally filling up," he said.

The prime minister's official spokesman said it was a "lively debate" but that "debate in itself does not produce policy".

But Labour MP John Spellar told the BBC's Today programme that the government was too busy looking at the "big idea" to see the "small boring details" that would provide the real solutions to congestion.

We already have road charging. It's called fuel duty
Andy Metcalfe, Leeds

He said flexible working hours, staggered school opening, improved traffic signals and the use of the hard shoulder on motorways would have a significant impact on congestion.

"The big idea doesn't have public acceptance," he said.

'Big Brother'

Paul Biggs, spokesman for the Association of British Drivers, told GMTV that the petition showed that motorists did not want road charging.

He said: "The only way road pricing can work is to actually price people off the roads.

"That is one reason they will sign the petition. Another reason they will sign it is that are going to be tracked and traced wherever they drive.

"It is Big Brother - and they don't want that."

Plans to introduce a nationwide "pay-as-you-drive" system were unveiled by former Transport Secretary Alistair Darling in 2005.

Mr Darling's successor, Mr Alexander, has since suggested that road pricing could be brought in within a decade and that regional trials are planned.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth urged the government to bring it in now. A spokesman said: "Without road pricing traffic levels will rise, congestion will get worse, and transport's contribution to climate change will continue to grow."

Drivers speak out against new road charges

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