THE Conservatives yesterday pledged to end Whitehall’s “blackmail” of councils to introduce congestion charging in return for vital transport funding.
The promise would end the link between access to the Government’s £200m-a-year transport innovation fund (TIF) and the requirement to introduce local road pricing.
The pledges comes after ministers have been accused of blackmail in forcing local areas to consider congestion charging in return for vital upgrades to public transport services.
Ross Smith, from the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “It has been a weakness of the TIF that road pricing was realistically the only innovation that has been on the table.
“And if we can find a mechanism to pilot some genuinely innovative schemes, both for movement of local transport and development of strategic infrastructure, then that could be a real benefit.”
The proposal came as the Conservatives continued to come under fire after unveiling plans to build a new high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds but excluding the region – although the Labour Government has failed to develop any proposals.
The Journal yesterday revealed that the Conservatives want to build the link between 2015 and 2027, using billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash.
Addressing the fact that it will not be extended to the North East, shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: “It will lay the foundations for a high-speed network that I believe will one day stretch across the country.”
David Clelland, Labour MP for Tyne Bridge and a member of the Commons transport committee, said: “I thought the Tory Party said they were going to make inroads into the North East, but clearly no railways to the North East. That is absolutely ludicrous.”
He said the biggest need for transport was between the South East and North East to tackle regional economic disparities, adding: “For the Tories not to recognise that just goes to show how out of touch they are with the North East.”