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Wednesday, November 3, 1999 Published at 07:49 GMT

UK: Scotland

Motorway tolls U-turn welcomed

Proposals for road tolls were proving unpopular

Pressure groups and opposition parties have welcomed the Scottish Executive's plans to drop plans to introduce motorway tolls on existing roads.

After studying the responses to a consultation paper, ministers have decided to abandon the controversial proposal - but will press ahead with plans to introduce charges for motorists in congested cities and impose a workplace parking levy.

Transport Minister Sarah Boyack has refused to comment ahead of a formal statement to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday.

Unpopular suggestions

Sue Nicholson, from the RAC Foundation, said: "There is no doubt that all of the suggestions contained in the document are unpopular.

"Nobody wants to pay what they consider as 'twice' for using the road network."

Road Haulage Association spokesman Phil Flanders said: "We never saw the need for it up here because the whole purpose was to tackle congestion.

"We don't believe the motorways are over-congested in Scotland."

Alex Salmond: "It's a humiliating climbdown"
SNP leader Alex Salmond said: "I think after three months of sustained political attack on their plans for a toll tax, we've sent the government homewards to think again."

He continued: "This government has started to rely on indirect, backstairs taxation, whether it be the proposed toll tax or tuition fees, or the fuel price escalator.

Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie said: "They still intend to press ahead with their city entry tolls and their tax on workplace parking - two more blatant schemes to milk the motorist by stealth.

"If Sarah Boyack's policy pirouette on motorway tolls is intended to buy us off, she and her Scottish Executive colleagues should think again. We can't be bought."

Retreat criticised

But the transport pressure group TRANSform Scotland criticised the government's retreat.

[ image: Congestion charges may still come in]
Congestion charges may still come in
It said the U-turn removed the possibility that trunk road charging revenues could be used to improve public transport.

Campaign manager Colin Howden said: "The Scottish Executive's retreat on trunk road charging is inconsistent. If the executive chooses to continue to make policy by focus group its supposedly radical attempts to tackle pollution and congestion will soon fall apart."

The executive came under pressure after plans for motorway tolls prompted complaints from opposition parties and business leaders.

The Labour-led administration suggested motorway tolls would raise revenue for improving transport links.

Political opposition

It announced plans to introduce a tolls experiment which was due to get under way on the M8 near Edinburgh next year.

Ms Boyack, who bore the brunt of criticism, has now heeded those complaints following consultation and is preparing to drop tolls altogether for existing motorways.

[ image: Sarah Boyack: Tolls rethink]
Sarah Boyack: Tolls rethink
However, they may be resurrected for new projects built in the future.

Ms Boyack is due to announce that the executive is considering other options in an attempt to encourage revenue and attract more people on to public transport.

Sue Nicholson, from the RAC, added: "The feedback we have had from most motorists has said they would be much more willing to consider schemes like local road user charging and congestion charging because they do perceive a problem there."

Executive sources will stress that all money raised from such charges would have to be devoted to boosting Scotland's wider transport network.

It is not yet clear what decision Labour will take over plans for a sister pilot scheme on the A61 into Leeds.

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