NORTH East motorists could be forced to pay congestion charges following the intervention of the European Union, it was claimed last night.
Campaigners allege that the Brussels bureaucrats are drawing up rules on that will result in the introduction of road tolls across Europe – including in the United Kingdom – despite overwhelming opposition from motorists.
The European Commission is developing a long-term transport strategy and supports congestion charging as a way of raising money for cash-strapped Governments.
Decisions made by the commission have resulted previously in public reaction to road charges being gauged across the North East.
Options investigated included a £3 charge every time motorists entered Newcastle city centre or a flat £2 daily rate as well a 5p per mile fee for major roads like the A1 and A19.
A 10p per mile weekday charge for any road in large swathes of Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside was also explored.
The claims come from the Open Europe think-tank, which is openly sceptical of the EU’s current role.
It also argues for reform of Brussels institutions, which it regards as over-loaded and ill-equipped to deal with today’s economic challenges.
Director Lorraine Mullally said: “If Ireland votes Yes to the Lisbon Treaty in its second referendum in early October, the UK Government will lose its ability to veto any proposals it doesn’t like the sound of.
“Congestion charges and road tolls should be decided regionally or locally and as close as possible to the people who will have to pay them, not by the unelected European Commission in Brussels.”
In a consultation document, the commission said action was needed to tackle “challenges” ranging from the environment, scarcity of fossil fuels, an ageing and an increasingly urban population, mass immigration and greater international trade.
It added: “The development of technology – for example on-board units and global positioning systems for tolling – will facilitate the future implementation of this strategy.
“Coordination will be needed to ensure equipment's’ interoperability and to avoid the proliferation of different systems at national level, for example rules and standards for tolling.” And with "correct pricing", transport operators and citizens would make the right choice for the environment and economy "just by opting for the cheaper solution”.
It goes on: “Congestion charges, which represent the cost of infrastructure scarcity, can give a good indication of the needs for additional capacity and can provide funding for expansion of infrastructure or for alternative transport solutions.”
The commission warned of the impact of motorists switching to non-petrol cars, which bring in billions of pounds in tax revenues, with other charges “likely to be necessary”.
The British Government launched a consultation on the policy “options” last month. It ends next month.
However, UKIP Euro-MP Mike Nattrass, the party’s transport spokesman, said: “The Government is asking for our opinion about transport policy, but of course it is irrelevant.
“The policy is set in Brussels and the consultation is little more than window dressing. They mean to increase taxes across the board on all barring their favoured systems.”
Transport Minister Sadiq Khan has said Brussels’ intention is to “stimulate debate” leading to “concrete” proposals expected towards the end of 2010.
And the Department for Transport insisted it did not “give rise to immediate and specific policy considerations” as it was not a formal proposal for EU legislation.
A spokesman welcomed the opportunity to influence policy developments, but added the Transport Secretary had ruled out road pricing for the whole of the next Parliament, with billions of pounds now being spent on roads and public transport to address congestion.
He said national road pricing had to address legitimate concerns, for example over privacy, although councils can introduce local schemes with Whitehall cash to boost public transport.
The European Commission failed to comment.