Motorway tolls abandoned for at least 10 years

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The Independent Online

The Government has bowed to pressure from motorists and abandoned plans to introduce motorway tolls for the next decade.

The Government has bowed to pressure from motorists and abandoned plans to introduce motorway tolls for the next decade.

In deference to environmentalists, however, ministers have also decided that no new motorways or trunk roads will be built during the 10 years covered by the transport strategy to be revealed next week. Ministers are expected to promote the idea of more speed restrictions on motorways to improve traffic flows, leading to the introduction of extra 50mph limits.

The Government will reveal its spending on roads will be largely limited to motorway-widening - especially on the M6 - and also on bypasses to relieve congestion in "hot spots" around the country.

Resources will be concentrated on speeding up road maintenance projects to minimise delays on local roads. A senior Whitehall source said that the emphasis would be on "getting more out of existing roads" rather than building new ones.

The decision to reject any idea of motorway tolls follows a government retreat on congestion charging in city centres and also on the notion of "taxes" on workplace parking. Ministers have made clear that improvements in public transport should go hand in hand, or preferably precede, any extra costs for motorists.

Having decided against charges on motorways and city centre roads, critics will ask where the money for better public transport will come from. The only motorway toll expected over the next 10 years will be on the privately funded Birmingham Northern Relief Road, which is due to be completed in 2003. If that proves to be a success ministers could change their minds.

A Mori poll for a government advisory body found that the public wanted the "carrot" of better public transport rather than a "stick" consisting of more charges.

The survey also found that just 22 per cent of respondents wanted to see improved conditions for motorists while 66 per cent wanted better public transport. The poll, based on replies from 2,024 people in England, comes just days before the Government publishes a multi-billion-pound 10-year plan for transport.

The Commission for Integrated Transport survey showed that 49 per cent favoured restricting car access to towns and cities. Nearly half would support charging motorists for entering urban areas if the money raised went to improved public transport or cut car tax or petrol prices.

The Government will derive satisfaction from the fact that only 3 per cent backed the building of new motorways while 46 per cent were in opposition. Highest priorities were improved maintenance of roads. Cars were by far the most frequently used form of transport with 46 per cent saying they never used a train and 37 per cent saying they never caught a bus.