Livingstone to expand charging zone west

London'S Mayor, Ken Livingstone, gave the green light yesterday to a westerly expansion of the city's congestion charge area despite opposition from residents and politicians.

London'S Mayor, Ken Livingstone, gave the green light yesterday to a westerly expansion of the city's congestion charge area despite opposition from residents and politicians.

The Mayor wants the £5 daily fee to apply to drivers entering some areas of west London, including Kensington, Chelsea and Notting Hill, by late 2006. His decision, following a report from Transport for London, sparked a storm of protest from motoring organisations and London Conservatives.

Mr Livingstone admitted the extension was "controversial" and promised to address concerns about the operation of charging. He said: "An extension in this area is a logical next step for congestion charging, but I accept that the draft proposals may have appeared to be too prescriptive."

Further investigation and consultation with affected boroughs was needed before a final decision was taken.

Mr Livingstone added that there was a case for bringing the end of charging forward to 6pm to assist business, particularly theatres and restaurants.

The charging zone is currently active in central London until 6.30pm. Planners will also look into making the A40 and Park Lane exempt from the charge, becoming "freeways" through London.

The decision comes in spite of a public consultation in which thousands rejected any expansion. Angie Bray, a Conservative London Assembly member, said: "The Mayor's consultation has been a sham all along. A two-thirds majority of residents against expansion is no small margin and yet the Mayor has totally ignored their views." She said 85 per cent of firms within the new area were against extending. The

John Lewis Partnership said: "The Mayor's statement will come as a severe disappointment to the hundreds of retail and leisure businesses in the affected area." An AA spokeswoman said: "It is a high-risk strategy that is going to affect loads more residents and it is going to be more confusing than the current scheme."

Merrick Cockell, the leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said: "When Londoners tell him what he wants to hear he uses their voice to endorse his plans ... What is the point of a London-wide consultation if Mayor Livingstone chooses to ignore it?"

The new charging area would be broadly bounded by Harrow Road, Scrubs Lane, West Cross Route, the Earls Court one way system and Chelsea Embankment.

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