Road tolls in UK 'inevitable' to raise public transport cash
A SWEEPING review of UK transport policy today warned that toll charges on trunk roads and in cities were "inevitable" and put a high-speed rail link from Scotland to London on hold.
The report by former British Airways chief Sir Rod Eddington said that charging motorists to drive could generate 28 billion for public transport and tackle global warming.
He also said that while the fast rail link between London and Edinburgh and Glasgow was an option worth considering, he did not regard it as a top priority.
And he said airport expansion should focus on major business hubs and international gateways, like Heathrow. The implications for Edinburgh Airport will be clarified in a progress report on the government's Transport White Paper, due to be published before Christmas.
The 2003 paper identified Edinburgh as the international hub for Scotland and backed a second runway at Turnhouse.
There was a mixed reaction to the report in Edinburgh today, although the decision not to make the high-speed rail link a priority was described as a "missed opportunity".
Sir Rod concludes that the potential benefits of charging motorists for using roads will outweigh the costs of the scheme and the opposition it will generate. But he said any money raised must help bus and rail services.
The report says: "Given the scale of the congestion challenge, I believe there is no attractive alternative to road pricing. Without a widespread scheme by 2015, the UK will require very significant investment in transport infrastructure."
Edinburgh rejected congestion charging in last year's referendum, forcing the city to take it off the agenda for a decade.
But current Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander is pressing ahead with preparatory work for trial road pricing in eight English areas, including Tyneside, the West Midlands and Cambridge.
On the campaign for a new rail link, he said it should be an option on the table but that upgrading existing services and tracks must take priority. Sir Rod also supported an expansion of the UK cycle network.
Council leader Ewan Aitken said today: "I can understand Sir Rod Eddington's stance [on road tolls], as environmental considerations and increasing volumes of traffic are major concerns for the future which will require robust measures to address.
"Nationally, perhaps a charging scheme will be necessary eventually. However, Edinburgh Council has no plans to introduce any form of congestion charging. The people have spoken on this issue within the city. I am much more concerned that Sir Rod does not consider high-speed rail links a higher priority."
John Barrett, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, said: "I am extremely disappointed that Sir Rod has come down against out a high-speed rail link between Scotland and London. This is a real missed opportunity to get to grips with our over-crowded transport system, cut emissions and provide people with a fast, environmentally friendly alternative to domestic flights."
And John McGoldrick, co-ordinator for The National Alliance Against Tolls, said: "Road pricing would be the greatest folly that Britain's politicians have ever inflicted upon the people.
"Drivers do not want tolls in any form. That was clearly demonstrated in the referendum in Edinburgh last year."
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, said: "If the policy shift suggested by Eddington is to become a reality, it should usher in a golden age for public transport. However, road-pricing will not solve the problem on its own.
"We need a commitment to a new high-speed north-south railway, but we also need massive investment to integrate an upgraded railway network with low-emission buses and an expanding tram system."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said: "We will look at what affects Scotland in the Eddington report with interest."
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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