AWM chief backs road-pricing to help to reduce congestion
Road pricing may still be necessary in order to cut the traffic congestion which costs businesses billions of pounds, the head of the West Midlands development agency has warned MPs.
Mick Laverty, chief executive of Advantage West Midlands, urged Ministers not to axe plans to charge motorists, as he spoke to a House of Commons inquiry.But he warned that road pricing, if it happened at all, needed to be part of an integrated transport plan which included improving the transport network.
Mr Laverty leads the Government body charged with supporting the West Midlands economy, working in partnership with businesses and local councils.
He was speaking after Ministers hinted that they had finally given up on proposals to make drivers pay to use the roads.
Geoff Hoon, speaking just before he lost his job as Transport Secretary earlier this month, said: “I think we’re still a long way short of having road-pricing in the United Kingdom.”
Plans drawn up by West Midlands councils to charge motorists £5 for entry to the centre of cities, such as Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton, were shelved in 2008.
Mr Laverty told the Transport Select Committee that Britain’s road network was unable to cope with the demand.
He said: “There is a lot of evidence that congestion on the network is a major drag on the UK economy. Projections are that congestion will get worse.”
Asked if road pricing could solve the problem, he said: “It is one of a number of things we might want in the toolkit.”
But he added: “It is a big issue and it’s an issue with many different views.
“It very much depends on the situation you start off with. London has a very good public transport system. That can’t be said of some other parts of the country.”
He warned that high-speed rail services planned by the Government would be unlikely to lead to significant cuts in road congestion.
“The impact on short-haul regional air flights, that’s probably where it will make the most difference.”
Mr Laverty said the M6 Toll had reduced congestion on the standard M6 and improved the local economy.
“There have been regeneration benefits along the corridor of the M6 Toll road,” he said.
Business leaders taking part in the session praised the M6 Toll, but believed the toll charges were too high. They range from £4.70 for a saloon car to £9.40 for an HGV during weekdays.
Gareth Elliott, senior policy adviser for the British Chambers of Commerce, told the inquiry: “We have seen from our members great frustration with the pricing mechanism. People aren’t using it, because it’s too expensive. If that was bought down just a little, it would work.”
The Government set aside more than £1 billion to give to local councils willing to run road-pricing pilot schemes.
It is not clear whether the money will ever become available, after no authority took up the offer.