Boris set to halve congestion zone

London Mayor honours election pledge by scrapping western extension of charge
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Indy Politics

The western extension of the London congestion charge zone is to be scrapped by the Mayor Boris Johnson, amid huge opposition to the traffic-calming scheme.

Originally the £8-a-day charge applied to the City of London and the West End but the former mayor, Ken Livingstone, widened it in 2003 to cover most of the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, as well as Bayswater, Belgravia and Pimlico.

Mr Johnson made reversing the move a central promise in his campaign to win control of City Hall and commissioned new research into feellings about the extension after his victory. The consultation reported that two thirds of people who responded – including 86 per cent of businesses – said they wanted it scrapped.

Shops and restaurants have complained that the extension has hit business and, although residents receive a 90 per cent discount, they protested they still had to pay just to visit hospital or take children to school.

Mr Johnson will formally announce his decision today on a visit to Portobello Market, which has lost 40 stalls since the zone was expanded.

His decision will mark a distinctive break with the administration of Mr Livingstone, who insisted the extension was essential to reduce traffic levels and help fight global warming.

Mr Johnson said yesterday: "During the election, I promised Londoners a genuine consultation on the future of the extension. Londoners have spoken loud and clear, and the majority of people have said that they would like the scheme scrapped.

"One thing everybody should be assured of is my determination to make it easier for Londoners to get around our great city."

Mr Johnson promised new measures to even out traffic flows, including re-phasing traffic lights and better planning of roadworks.

The earliest that the western extension can be scrapped is spring 2010 once statutory consultation procedures have been concluded.

Transport for London (TfL) will lose £70m per year in income, profits from which were reinvested in buses and trains. Fares may have to rise to compensate for the lost revenue. It acknowledged that the move would lead to a small increase in levels of pollution but insisted there would be little significant difference to air quality in the area.

TfL said development of environmentally-friendly vehicles, such as hybrid and hydrogen buses, and reducing power consumption by trains were already cutting transport emissions.

But Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, said: "People in the rest of London will wonder why Boris is meddling with a policy to reduce traffic at a time when London is struggling to improve air quality and to reduce our impact on climate change." Richard Bourn, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said traffic levels in the western zone had fallen by 10 per cent since the extension came into force.

He said: "Now traffic will grow again and congestion and carbon emissions with it. London is rapidly losing its reputation as a leading city in progressive transport and environment policies."

The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it was delighted that "common sense has prevailed". It said: "This is an important milestone for many of the capital's hard-pressed businesses and we urge the Mayor to launch a root-and-branch review of the original charging scheme in the central zone."