Congestion charge plan scrapped

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to introduce a congestion charge in Norwich were today scrapped.A £500,000 year-long study into the potential for road pricing in the city has concluded that it would not be an effective way to reduce congestion.

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to introduce a congestion charge in Norwich were today scrapped.

A £500,000 year-long study into the potential for road pricing in the city has concluded that it would not be an effective way to reduce congestion.

The report, paid for with £250,000 from the government and the same from County Hall coffers, concluded that such a charge would not relive traffic jams and would in fact add to overall tie.

Officers also found it would not raise enough funds to pay for wider transport improvements and that time and money was better spent on Building the city's controversial northern bypass.

Today, Norfolk County Council came under fire for agreeing to the feasibility study, with civic leaders and transport campaigners claiming the money would have been better spent on other road improvements.

Meanwhile, there were also claims the authority had produced a “sham” study in order to justify building the controversial Northern Distributor Route (NDR).

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Norwich North MP Ian Gibson said: “There's no real appetite for congestion charging in Norwich, and until public transport in the city gets up to the standard needed, I can understand them not wanting it.

“I think that's the reason why it's been scrapped, apart from the fact that people don't like paying extra money. It has been a bad misjudgement by the county council, and money that could have been used on something else has been spent on it.”

Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, who had called for the study to be dumped last month, said: “There's never been justification for it on the basis of need and I'm sure a lot of people in the city will be delighted that we've won the argument.

“There's not enough congestion in the city to justify it and it was a distraction from the real problems and it's good that it's come to an end.

“We need to look at encouraging people to use their cars less often and more effectively, getting more people walking and cycling and we support the NDR as long as it's associated with improving the environment in the city and helps keep through traffic away from the city centre.”

The county council was one of only 10 areas nationally to be given cash by the government through its Transport Innovation Funding (TIF) scheme to look into how road pricing could be implemented in the city.

The study looked at options for either an inner or outer ringroad charging zone based on either a £2 or £3 levy during the morning rush hour.

However, from day one the study proved controversial, with many criticising it as a waste of money. Within days of its launch an e-petition had been launched on the 10 Downing Street website against the proposals.

However, Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for planning and transportation at County Hall, said that although he was not surprised by the findings, the study had been worthwhile.

He said: “I'm pleased that the study has been done and it shows the NDR is absolutely crucial to reducing congestion in the Norwich area and to cutting down the amount of rat running and extra distance travelled by drivers seeking to avoid the congestion.

“It's note worthy that the report shows that any reasonable amount of road pricing is not the solution to the traffic problems.

“It doesn't surprise me because of the large number of cross-Norwich movements. People don't just come into Norwich and stop but they travel through and people under-estimate the number of these type of journey taken but it's brought out by the analysis that's been done.

“The fact that the study has been done puts us in a stronger position in asking for grants for the region for the NDR now we've actually looked at alternatives.”

The study found that although journey times would fall by 19pc if a charge alone was introduced, compared to 16pc for a new bypass and 20pc if you had the two together, it concluded that a charge would pay for itself but not fund other major transport schemes.

The report, which is being circulated to local authority partners in the Greater Norwich Development Partnership before going to the county council's review panel, and cabinet on May 19, recommends that work on the feasibility study should not be continued.

While many today welcomed the findings of the report, others think it is a way of the county council getting the NDR “through the back door”.

Conservative group leader at City Hall, Antony Little, who launched the e-petition said: “It will be huge weight off a lot of people's shoulders as lot of people, especially those in the suburbs, were worried about the impact it would have on the cost of their lives especially at a time when so many things are rising in price.”

John Peacock, chair of the Norfolk and Norwich Transport Action Group, said: “We did not think it would really go through. Norwich does not have the volume of traffic to warrant this in the city, maybe some time in the future, but not at the moment."

Andrew Boswell, Green county councillor, said: “We warned in 2006 that the TIF congestion charge project was a 'wheeze' for the Council to do modelling work to justify the Northern Distributor Road.

“We have been proved right. It is a disgrace that Government money intended to promote sustainable transport has been used to help develop an old-fashioned road-building project.”

Norwich South MP Charles Clarke added: “I'm disappointed with this outcome of the analysis, though I certainly believe that there are very significant hurdles to be overcome if any congestion charging scheme is to operate. But I will now study the report with care.”

Last summer, Norwich was named one of the least congested cities in the country, after experts spent two weeks studying traffic in the city centre.