Londis said its 1800-strong lorry fleet delivering into central London from next February will cost the group £10,000 a year in congestion charges.

However, the bill could have been £27,000 had the authorities not decided to reduce the charge for commercial vehicles from £15 to £5, according to Londis operations director, Jon Peggs.

Peggs said the group had decided to register its entire Thamesmead fleet in advance and pay at the slightly higher cost of £5.50 per lorry a day.

This was to avoid costly fines if drivers changed their route or if Londis failed to report when a vehicle had driven into the charging area.

Peggs believes congestion charging will have a limited effect on Londis stores in central London. And could even result in a changing rush hour, as people drive into London before 7am and leave after 6.30pm to avoid paying the charge.

London’s mayor Ken Livingstone expects the £5-a-day charge to raise up to £150m to be used to improve public transport and cut congestion in the city by 10-15%.