A new US ambassador to the UK will not mean a new policy over the congestion charge, the US State Department has said. President Barack Obama's new man in London, Louis Susman, was sworn in two weeks ago, raising hope that more than £3m in fines may soon be paid off. But despite the new administration's "greener" stance, and recent overtures to environmental campaigners, Washington has ruled that the penalties will continue to be ignored.
As of June 3, the US embassy owed Transport for London £3,478,200 in congestion charge fines. The US Embassy has refused to pay up, claiming the levy is a tax and as such diplomats are immune. It is a policy that other embassies share. In all, countries' overseas missions in London owe a combined £28m. But America's fines are the highest, above Russia which owes £2.6m and Japan with fines of £2.3m.
The change of administration has ushered in a new policy towards environmental matters. One of Mr Obama's early decisions was to overturn Bush era policy on banning individual states from setting their own exhaust pipe tax, a move that opens the way for stricter pollution laws. The greener stance raised hopes that the congestion charge policy would be changed.
Last month, London Assembly member Murad Qureshi wrote to Mr Obama urging him to overturn the "mean spirited" policy from the former ambassador, Robert Tuttle: "Many here feel this was an ignoble attitude from the ambassador of the wealthiest country on earth, and one that has set an unfortunate tone, and a poor example for other embassies to follow," he wrote.
Mr Qureshi called on Mr Obama to issue a presidential decree ordering the new ambassador to reverse the decision. But Washington has said the fines will continue to go unpaid: "There has been no change in policy regarding the congestion tax. This is a long standing US policy and is not changed by the change in ambassador. We believe the charge to be a tax that is prohibited by various treaties."Reuse content