NORTH East business representatives have reacted angrily to suggestions that a congestion charging system like London's could benefit businesses in the region.
A report from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) shows businesses could benefit from as much as £80m per annum in areas such as Newcastle city centre if the additional road tax was introduced.
The report also says that local firms would also benefit from significant public transport improvements, which would see revenues used to reduce congestion into major towns and cities to allow for faster and more regular bus services.
Congestion charging has been a hot topic over recent years, with many transport leaders arguing the case for a scheme in the North East’s big towns and city’s as well as an extension to the Saddler Street toll road in Durham City, the only system outside London.
The CBI report, which assumes a maximum charge of £5 per day, takes into account companies’ circumstances, and considers four types of business: financial and business services; freight and distribution; manufacturing; and retail.
Liz Mayes, CBI North East assistant director said: “This report is useful in moving forward the debate on congestion charging, highlighting that it can bring business benefits – but only if the conditions are right. For the North East, recent regional work has shown that now would not be the right time – and analysis in the report reflects this. Smooth movement of transport throughout the North East is of critical importance to business and congestion charging can’t be ruled out for the future depending on how conditions develop.”
However, many believe that a charge in areas such as Newcastle and Sunderland would prove too punitive.
Sean Bullick, the chief executive behind Newcastle City Centre Business Improvement District (BID) management firm Newcastle NE1, said: “The fact is that the centre’s biggest rival is the MetroCentre, which has almost 10,000 free car park spaces, which means that those choosing to shop in Newcastle are already being taxed in a way. Adding to this would only increase the MetroCentre’s competitive advantage, to the detriment of businesses in Newcastle.”
Plans to introduce a congestion charge in Manchester were overwhelmingly rejected in a public referendum in December.
Senior Newcastle Liberal Democrat Greg Stone said: “I still don’t think there’s enough support for congestion charging in the North East. We need to be more creative with our traffic calming proposals,.”
The report does say charging schemes should not be applied to areas that can’t benefit from public transport improvements. The Tyne and Wear Metro system is currently in the middle of a £300m refurbishment programme.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “There are a number of options to consider before we look at further congestion charges. Also, people will want to see a higher percentage of the charge spent on improving the transport infrastructure, as I believe only a small percentage is currently used for this purpose in charging zones.”