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Wednesday, 20 December, 2000, 18:01 GMT
Green light for road charge bill
Traffic jam
Traffic congestion is a growing problem
A bill which gives councils the green light to introduce charges for cars entering town centres has been approved by the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Executive's Transport Bill - which gives local authorities powers to improve bus services and introduces a minimum concessionary fare - got the go-ahead from MSPs on Wednesday.

And Transport Minister Sarah Boyack also accepted a late amendment allowing councils to introduce "home zones" in which traffic will be strictly controlled.

Sarah Boyack
Sarah Boyack backed the home zone plans
She introduced the legislation in February with the aim of delivering a more modern, integrated transport system.

It is one of the administration's flagship bills, but environmentalists say its a little bill when compared to the original big ideas.

Plans for motorway tolls and provisions for workplace parking charges have been dropped and there are no targets for traffic reduction.

However, Ms Boyack said the bill was a major achievement for the new parliament.

Road charging

It will pave the way for an integrated transport system, balancing the use of public transport with the private car.

Councils will now have the power to introduce road charging for cars entering town centres, with the money raised ringfenced for public transport improvements.

Edinburgh City Council is the only local authority actively considering the scheme at present.

Officials have been drawing up details of how a scheme to charge motorists up to 2 for access to the city centre at peak periods might work.


The Scottish Conservatives continue to oppose city entry tolls and road charges that will result from this bill

David McLetchie, Scottish Tory leader
An amendment by Scottish Tories' leader David McLetchie requiring any congestion charging scheme to be approved by parliament was defeated after a vote.

"The Scottish Conservatives continue to oppose city entry tolls and road charges that will result from this bill," he said.

"Toll schemes should not be motivated by their revenue generating potential, but the reality is that this is precisely what road charging will be."

But Ms Boyack said the point of the legislation was to give councils themselves the choice of whether or not to introduce charges.

And she said local authorities could only bring proposals to ministers for consent once they had the approval of residents.

Safe play

The bill will also introduce a minimum level of concessionary bus fares for pensioners and the disabled, and allow councils to introduce speed limits and other restrictions on traffic near schools and in residential areas.

MSPs unanimously backed the creation of these "home zones", which were proposed by Liberal Democrat MSP Nora Radcliffe.

She said they would create a safe play environment for children.

"It would make residential areas a space for the community rather than the car, foster community spirit and cut down on vandalism," she said.

Robin Harper
Robin Harper has attacked the bill
Ms Boyack said: "The benefit of home zones is that they will improve the environment outside the home, leading to an improved quality of life and leading to the development of vibrant local communities, and also improve the health of children by encouraging walking and cycling and safer play."

A Scottish National Party amendment calling on the executive to set up a disabled person's travel advisory committee was withdrawn after Ms Boyack moved her own amendment making the same recommendation.

However, the bill has been attacked by Green MSP Robin Harper, who said it did not contain a pledge to reduce road traffic levels.

He said: "I'm calling on the parliament to approve a real reduction in road traffic over 10 years, and reject any increase in traffic which may happen if the bill goes through as it stands."

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