Revealed: Eco-friendly spin on road toll scheme

The plans were a precursor to London's congestion charge. Picture: Getty

The plans were a precursor to London's congestion charge. Picture: Getty

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DONALD Dewar’s Labour-led administration attempted to present plans for a controversial road toll scheme as a green policy to tackle congestion, writes Tom Peterkin.

Newly released papers reveal that Scotland’s first transport minister Sarah Boyack privately warned cabinet colleagues that charging drivers money “seemed the only means of raising the necessary resources for investment” in the trunk road network.

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In the knowledge that such a policy would prove deeply unpopular with motorists, Ms Boyack admitted that the proposal would prove “controversial”.

In an attempt to overcome public opposition, papers reveal that Ms Boyack said it was “important to try to broaden the debate from road tolling to place the main emphasis on congestion charging”.

The proposals were subsequently published in a consultation paper entitled: “Fighting traffic congestion and pollution through road user and workplace parking charges”.

Minutes from a cabinet meeting at the time state: “Ms Boyack introduced her paper on road user charging. She said that it was important that the Executive should seek to move the debate on to the role which charging might play in an integrated transport policy.”

Proposals for trunk road tolls were “undoubtedly the most controversial” but because congestion was getting worse “could therefore genuinely be seen as part of the response to congestion rather than simply a way of raising revenue”, the documents said.

The minutes state: “In the autumn the executive would announce the outcome of the strategic review of the trunk road network. Some new road schemes would be critical to the effective functioning of the network and in the absence of other resources trunk road user charging seemed the only means of raising the necessary resources for investment.”

Ms Boyack was urged to examine “whether trunk road charges could be set at a level to produce sufficient revenues to justify their introduction”.

In a restricted policy document on road tolls, Ms Boyack said: “Our policy is to reinvest the proceeds in transport generally. but colleagues should be aware of the pressure for an announcement on the outcome of the much delayed strategic roads review.”

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