Congestion charges consultation delayed

MOTORISTS face a wait to find out whether road pricing will be introduced in County Durham.

MOTORISTS face a wait to find out whether road pricing will be introduced in County Durham.

The county council had penned in a public consultation on traffic-busting measures for earlier this year, but that has been put off after elections to the county’s new over-arching unitary council in May.

Options include extending the existing congestion charge and greater use of park and ride, and an inner or outer relief road that avoids any charge – with transport chiefs not yet able to confirm what proposals would bring the greatest benefits.

The news came as Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg weighed into the debate in an interview with The Journal, saying he supported road charging “in principle” but warned against local drivers being treated as “guinea pigs” by the Government.

It comes after controversial proposals for congestion charging in Tyne and Wear have also emerged, although transport bosses insist there are no immediate plans to introduce it. Tens of thousands of motorists could face a £1 fee to enter an outer charging zone and £2 to enter a city centre area under two schemes based around Newcastle and Sunderland.

Durham and Tyne and Wear were handed Government cash to carry out studies into measures to tackle traffic, which could include better public transport and road pricing. The research could open the door to the Government’s Transport Innovation Fund that will provide £200m a year for traffic-busting schemes.

Carol Woods, Lib Dem deputy leader of Durham City Council, claimed the study had been delayed for “political reasons” before the unitary council elections.

Improved bus services, cycle and pedestrian routes and solving the “school-run” problem should considered instead of an inner ring road, said Ms Woods who sits on the study’s steering group but said it has not met this year.

Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said it was right to wait to hold a consultation until the new council was in place.

She warned against an inner road, but said the current congestion charge had been “incredibly successful” at getting traffic out of the city’s historic area.

But any extension must be accompanied with alternatives for people, such as public transport or park and ride.

Roger Elphick, Durham County Council’s Head of Highways Management, said assessment of the various options was now being finalised but stressed it was not a “straightforward” task to predict ways to cut traffic while maintaining the city’s vitality.

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