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The government's proposals set out in the transport Bill, which will allow councils to charge motorists for driving...
The government's proposals set out in the transport Bill, which will allow councils to charge motorists for driving into crowded city centres and parking at their workplace, came under fire yesterday, reports The Financial Times (p10).

The RAC Foundation described the plan for congestion tax as 'a poll tax on wheels' and said a poll had shown 75% of motorists thought charging was unfair.

Edmund King, chief executive, said: 'The highway robbery technique of pay up or else is a road to nowhere.'

William Hague, the Tory leader, said: 'Most of this Queen's speech is a declaration of war against everyone who drives a car.' For 'Mondeo man' cherished by Tony Blair, he said 'it is another kick in the teeth'.

The Daily Telegraph (p1) reports that Mr Hague poured scorn on John Prescott, the environment secretary, who will pilot the Bill through Parliament, for his failure to live up to the government's environmental rhetoric.

Motorists, he said, did not want to be told not to drive 'by a deputy prime minister whose idea of a park and ride scheme is to park one Jaguar and drive away in another'.

But the British Road Federation welcomed the plan for road charging because it would provide incentives to travel at non-peak times or choose a different mode. But it said charges would be acceptable only if the money counted in addition to existing grants.

The FT says the extent of the legislative package represents a breakthrough for Mr Prescott in his efforts to reduce congestion and revitalise public transport.

The Local Government Association said many councils are enthusiastic to accept the government's invitation to impose workplace parking taxes but there is much greater reluctance to introduce road tolls.

According to LGA research, almost a quarter of the 120 councils outside London with responsibility for highways have expressed interest in launching pilot schemes for taxation of office and factory parking spaces.

Among metropolitan authorities, this figure rises to 42%. But less than a tenth of highway authorities have indicated any eagerness for congestion charging.

But the LGA said it was not surprised by the lack of enthusiasm. 'Many authorities would feel the need to have much more information available about how such schemes are expected to operate before recommending participation to the local population,' it said.

Vincent Christie, principal transport officer, said many authorities felt they were unlikely ever to introduce tolls because they did not suffer any significant congestion.

In contrast to the headline-grabbing transport Bill, there is little coverage in the national press of the new local government bill.

The Guardian (p15) reports that the new bill could be presented to Parliament next week with a series of options to make councils more 'innovative and accountable'.

The LGA claimed last night that a quarter of councils in England had already implemented reforms, mainly with an informal cabinet-style of government, and established scrutiny committees.

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