City centres and beauty spots to impose congestion charges

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Congestion charging to relieve Britain's traffic-choked beauty spots and city centres is set to start in the autumn.

Congestion charging to relieve Britain's traffic-choked beauty spots and city centres is set to start in the autumn.

Pilot schemes to encourage more use of public transport by imposing charges on motorists entering part of the Peak District and the centre of Durham are likely to come into force by October. The projects are the first to take advantage of the new Transport Act, which came into force last month and allows local authorities to impose charges on drivers to combat traffic jams and pollution.

The two trial schemes could be the vanguard for a series of charging projects. At least five other cities, including Bristol and Leicester, are also considering imposing tolls for roads and workplace parking.

Local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which has to approve the schemes, said such large-scale plans would not be in place until 2003 at the earliest.

But the imminent arrival of smaller schemes in Durham and the Derwent dams area of the Peak District in Derbyshire mean motorists may soon be paying to use previously free roads. Durham County Council is consulting businesses and residents on plans to cut traffic around the city's historic Market Place and Sadler Street by charging each vehicle £2 between 10am and 4pm. Funding is already in place for an improved bus service to the area, which also includes access to Durham's cathedral, university and chorister school.

A council spokesman said: "This is something we have been looking at since 1997 but we have not been able to do anything because we were waiting for the legislation.

In Derbyshire, officials are putting finishing touches to proposals for charging on a road used by 400,000 tourists every summer to visit the Peak District National Park. The charge will be up to £3 a day at weekends and bank holidays.

Some 26 councils on a working group set up last year by the DETR to study the implementation of congestion charging are interested in setting up their own schemes. The systems fall between road tolls, imposed either by a sophisticated vehicle-tagging system or old-fashioned toll booths, and the more controversial option of charging for workplace parking.

In Bristol, transport officials are drawing up proposals for an electronic toll system by 2005 which will charge commuters entering the city from 7am to 11am during weekdays. Leicester may impose company car park charges again by 2005.

The Greater London Authority and city councils in Nottingham, Derby and Birmingham are also planning congestion charging schemes, although firm proposals are not imminent.

The DETR, anxious not to fuel ill-feeling among motorists, underlined that it was up to councils to bring forward schemes, the revenue from which must be ploughed back into public transport and cannot be used purely as revenue-raising schemes.