Darling boosts traffic charges in U-turn

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The Independent Online

The Government will announce a big boost for urban congestion charges today in the first sign that it regards Ken Livingstone's scheme for central London as a success.

Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, will say councils can keep revenues from congestion charging beyond the previously planned cut-off point of 2010. The fresh incentive to cities to consider charges is the most important sign that the Government is changing its attitude to bolder projects that will cut car use.

Mr Darling, who will make the announcement at an Automobile Association conference on road-pricing, acknowledges in an interview with The Independent that congestion charging in London has "worked'' and says the Mayor should get credit for it.

At the same time, he cautions against the assumption that all other British cities will follow suit, because they have a much lower proportion of commuters dependent on public transport.

But the extension could swing the balance in some cities, including Edinburgh and Birmingham, which have been considering replicating the London scheme.

So far, Durham has run a small scheme, although revenues have been limited by its unexpected success in reducing city centre traffic. Edinburgh is planning to hold a referendum with a view to introduce a scheme.

Mr Darling also sounds a positive note in his interview on prospects for the long-delayed £10bn to £15bn cross-rail project for London. This week he will commend a business study of the project prepared by Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, and Bob Kiley, who heads Transport For London, but will warn that the City must also do its share to help to finance the scheme.

The new extension means that councils starting a scheme in, for example, 2005 will continue to be able to use the revenues generated for local public transport until 2015.

Previously, the Government had said it would allow the councils to ring-fence the proceeds in this way only until 2010.