Fears are growing that Britain’s city centres are about to get congestion charging following London’s decision to extend its zone.
Local authorities across the UK were expected to beat yesterday’s deadline to bid for funding from the government to set up congestion-reducing schemes in their local areas.As part of its Transport Innovation Fund, the Department for Transport has set aside £18m to support the schemes.
Businesses in London have already been dealt another body blow following the Mayor of London’s decision to extend the congestion charging zone to include most of Westminster and parts of Kensington and Chelsea despite scores of retailers and 43% of Londoners being opposed to the scheme.
The Forum of Private Business said that the extension was “an absolute body blow for small businesses in London” as they were already under pressure from existing congestion charging and a slump in trading.
A spokesman said that the Forum was planning protests, with more than 80% of members opposed to the extension.
Despite the FPB’s calls, the Association of Convenience Stores said that its members did not feel congestion charging was a major problem. However,
retailers within the zone had witnessed lower footfall and higher delivery costs, it said.
The Freight Transport Association said that lorry operators were already paying more than £200m a year to do business in the existing zone.
Louisa Perry, FTA’s policy manager for London, said: “Lorries and vans are the lifeblood of London. Essential vehicles should be exempt.”
Major retailers are also opposed, with Sainsbury, Boots and M&S all voicing opposition to the extension.
Sainsbury said that its customers would be extremely unhappy about being asked to pay to travel to the supermarket, while Boots said the decision was “insensitive to retailers”.
M&S joined the CBI in calling for more analysis on the economic impact of the zone on businesses, while the London Retail Consortium urged Ken Livingstone to delay the extension until the retail climate had stabilised.
Beth Brooks