MOTORING organisations yesterday condemned the prospect of new tolls being imposed on some of Britain’s roads as part of a UK government plan to overhaul the motorway network.
The possibility of new tolls on roads south of the Border – or motorists paying some of their road tax to private companies – is being proposed in Whitehall discussions on transport policy.
The reforms, which could give private investors control over some of the biggest and busiest routes in the UK, may be included in the new policy agenda for the second half of the coalition government’s reign.
Private companies could be allowed to levy tolls on any new road capacity, such as new lanes or bypasses, as part of a radical shake-up of how roads are financed.
The Whitehall feasibility study of new ownership and financing models for the network, which has been ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron, is due to report in the new year.
Peter Roberts of the Alliance of British Drivers said there would be a massive backlash from voters – pointing to a 2007 petition against nationwide road pricing which attracted 1.3 million signatures.
“I think people have made their views on road tolling, road pricing, very clear. I think it would be electoral suicide... kind of like the poll tax on wheels. Most drivers already believe they are paying too much for the roads,” he said.
AA president Edmund King said: “Drivers don’t like paying more taxes, but our research suggests they don’t want the roads privatised or have to pay tolls and access charges.
“The simplest, fairest, easiest way to enforce measures would be to gradually introduce a ring-fenced road excise duty to top up fuel duty paid at the pumps.
“As cars gradually become more fuel efficient, the duty is increased but can only be spent on road maintenance and improvements.
“This would be better than losing control of our road network and forking out ever-increasing tolls and charges.”
He added: “The Government needs to go back to the drawing board or they could end up with a poll tax on wheels.”
In Scotland, the SNP Government has been against the imposition of road tolls – removing the charge for crossing the Forth Bridge as one of its first acts after coming to power in 2007.
Shadow UK roads minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: “As motorists struggle to cope with the busiest travel day of the year and higher costs at the fuel pumps, it is clear the priority of this out-of-touch Government is dreaming up new ways to make them pay even more.
“Less than a year ago, David Cameron clearly ruled out tolls for existing roads. Breaking that promise let down millions of motorists – but the Government definition of what is an existing road seems to be shifting. The revelations uncover how the government is considering bringing in privately-run toll roads by stealth. David Cameron must now come clean and be honest with hard-pressed motorists.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The government has made a clear commitment not to toll existing road capacity and this has not changed. We have always said we would look at schemes which would fund significant new capacity through tolling. This would be in very limited circumstances and only where schemes deliver new roads or transform an existing road literally beyond all recognition.”