Drivers face paying local congestion charges within four years despite the need for transport improvements, the Government yesterday confirmed.
Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said he expected 10 areas, including Durham and Tyne and Wear, already looking at road charges and other traffic-busting measures, to submit proposals in the summer with the first pricing schemes going live in four to five years before any national system is introduced.
Mr Alexander also invited companies to take part in demonstrations of potential road pricing equipment, starting from next spring, which will test how charging drivers to use certain roads could be done and how motorists' privacy can be protected.
He also said the demonstrations would inform development of local schemes that will be eligible for up to £200m in extra funding annually.
The news comes after ministers pushed ahead with legislation paving the way for local "pay-as-you-drive" schemes, although Tyne and Wear and Durham insist congestion charging is not inevitable.
Regional business chiefs have also warned transport improvements must come before any pricing scheme, while the Government has previously admitted that the North-East road network is not up to scratch.
Last night, Blaydon MP Dave Anderson said road charging would be difficult to sell to the public unless there was a transport system that worked for motorists and other travellers.
"Why it has been a success in London is because it is integrated in a public transport system that is effective," added Mr Anderson, referring to the capital's controversial congestion charge.
Senior Newcastle councillor Greg Stone said there were no plans to introduce congestion charging in the city, adding it would be a "non-starter" unless the Metro system was modernised and other transport improvements made.
Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said the demonstrations would improve understanding of how road pricing schemes could work reliably while safeguarding people's privacy.
"We recognise that people are concerned about the possible impact road pricing might have on their privacy and they want to be reassured that any road pricing schemes would be fair," said Mr Alexander.
He also stressed the need for different schemes to be compatible for motorists and insisted no decisions had been made on moving towards a national road charging system.
"It is only on the evidence from local schemes that any such decision could be taken and the Government has made clear that there would need to be a full public debate," said the Transport Secretary.
Gordon Brown urged to take notice of thousands calling for North A1 upgrading
Gordon Brown has been told to listen to thousands of people calling for the A1 to be upgraded as he prepares to become Prime Minister.
Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said he hoped that Mr Brown had got the "strong message" from nearly 5,000 people signing up to an online petition on the Downing Street website calling for the route to be dualled between Berwick and Morpeth.
"I hope that it will convince ministers that this is an item that needs to move up the agenda," said the Conservative MP, who has signed the petition.
Berwick campaigner Kenny Patterson, who launched the petition, also called on the Chancellor - who will become Prime Minister within weeks - to take note of the need to upgrade the A1 to boost safety and the economy.
Mr Patterson urged more people to sign up to the protest to send a clear message to ministers, adding that leaflets are now being distributed around Northumberland to spread the message.
"If we can get into five figures they will start paying more attention to it," added the campaigner.
Website bid to help journeys
Travelling in one of the North-East's most congested areas is set to be improved by the launch of a new website yesterday.
A new dedicated Team Valley interactive website has been launched in a bid to improve journey times affecting local and through traffic in and around the busy trading estate in Gateshead.
It is hoped the initiative will also reduce congestion on the A1 Western bypass - one of the busiest routes in the region.
The website www.accessteamvalley.co.uk will enable users to calculate their travel costs, plan their journeys to work, find fellow car sharers and, for employers, assess benefits for their business.
Bosses hope more than 1,000 journeys by single car users can be shifted to car sharing or public transport.
North tests desire for StreetCar
Passengers in the North-East are set to trial a new form of public transport.
Aiming to bridge the gap between buses and trams, the futuristic StreetCar will be put on trial for two weeks in the region, starting next Monday.
The vehicle, which is designed to look like a modern tram but operates on rubber wheels on dedicated road space in congested areas is being piloted by bus operator Go North East.
Working in partnership with Metro operators Nexus, Gateshead Council and the MetroCentre, the company will test the new technology on the same route as their Centrelink service between MetroCentre and Gateshead - taking advantage of existing bus priority lanes.
As well as piloting the StreetCar, a package of measures aimed at raising the quality of passenger service will also be tested.
This will include off-vehicle ticketing which will enable passengers to buy tickets from stand conductors before boarding, to speed up the process. Commercial director Martin Harris said: "We're excited about testing StreetCar. It offers a sophisticated mode of transport that has the potential to provide a high quality alternative for car users on some routes."
The StreetCar also has a low floor for easier access and ramp for wheelchair users. It is also more environmentally-friendly with carbon emissions kept to a minimum. For more information visit www.simplygo.com or call 0845 6060 260.