The western extension of London’s congestion charge is to be scrapped after a majority of respondents to both an informal consultation and survey said they opposed the scheme.
During the campaign for May’s elections, Mayor Boris Johnson promised to consult Londoners on the future of the extension zone. Earlier this year he launched a consultation process offering three options, keep the extension, modify it or remove it.
Te extension was introduced by former Mayor Ken Livingstone in February 2007 despite opposition from many local residents and councillors, although it was backed by many in the environmental lobby.
According to City Hall, 86 per cent of businesses responding to the public consultation supported the removal of the zone. Nineteen per cent stated that they wanted the extension kept as it is, and 12 per cent supported changing the scheme to improve the way that it operates.
The Mayor says he will now instruct Transport for London “to begin work on the process of a formal consultation on the removal of the Western Extension.”
In addition to the consultation TfL commissioned a survey to gauge the views of 2,000 Londoners and 1,000 London-based businesses. Axing the extension was the preferred option of 41 per cent of members of the public with 30 per cent saying they were in favour of keeping it. Half of businesses surveyed wanted the extension scrapped and 23 per cent supported keeping it. Fifteen per cent of members of the public and 14 per cent of businesses said they would change the way the scheme operates.
Despite today’s announcement he extension cannot be removed until a statutory consultation procedure has been completed and the Mayor is required to take into account the views expressed in the formal consultation when deciding whether or not to confirm his decision.
The statutory consultation will last 12 weeks commencing summer 2009 and assuming the final decision is to scrap the extension, the earliest this could happen is 2010.
Today’s news has been welcomed by Liberal Democrats on the Assembly. Transport spokesperson Caroline Pidgeon said: “It is good that that this ill-conceived idea will be abandoned. The western extension of the Congestion Charge zone encouraged thousands of residents to drive into central London, putting the original scheme at risk.”
Pidgeon said the Mayor should now “explore with London’s boroughs a more sophisticated system of road pricing, and the Mayor should direct TfL to use the latest technology to target local congestion “hotspots” across greater London because there are many people, in all parts of the capital, who wish to see something done about traffic congestion in their local area.”
Labour’s Val Shawcross said Johnson’s decision was “a foolish and backward step” which would “lose TfL £70 million a year that could have been spent on improving our public transport system and will increase traffic and air pollution in one of the dirtiest and noisiest areas of central London.”
Sharon Grant, Chair of passenger watchdog London TravelWatch, warned that the resulting “loss of revenue flows will also create serious difficulties for Transport for London (TfL) and impact other services.”
Grant added: “there is no doubt this is a hugely significant decision, which signals a sea change in transport policy in London. It goes against the grain of the wider public concerns about both the environment and prospect of ever more congested cities.”
Green Party Assembly Member Jenny Jones commented: “The congestion charge has been an incredibly successful method of traffic reduction. Scrapping the Western Extension will almost certainly lead to a sharp rise in traffic, more congestion, more air pollution and more climate change emissions.”
A spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the decision marked an “important milestone for many of the capital’s hard-pressed businesses” and said the body wanted the Mayor “to launch a root-and-branch review of the original charging scheme in the central zone.”