The government has given the thumbs up to plans to implement a peak-time congestion charge in Manchester from mid-2013.
Transport secretary Ruth Kelly – the MP behind the controversial introduction of Home Information Packs – has unveiled a £2.8 billion funding package to improve public transport in the northern city and tackle road congestion.
The congestion scheme would be two-tiered with drivers paying around £5 for using their cars during peak periods when traffic is at its worst. Kelly says this would give them choice about how and when to travel.
"Manchester's economic renaissance is a major British success story,” she adds. “It is one of the fastest growing economies in the UK, but congestion has become an increasing brake on its future prosperity, with the potential to cost the city as many as one in seven of future jobs.”
Other measures to improve public transport in Manchester include up to 22 miles of extension to the Metrolink tram, improved bus services and 120 extra yellow school buses. There will also be the upgrade of 41 train stations, and the doubling of park and ride provision on the rail and Metrolink networks.
Campaign for Better Transport, which supports environmentally friendly transport measures, says congestion in Manchester is a serious issue that is likely to get worse unless measures are adopted to encourage some drivers to leave their cars at home.
"The opponents of the scheme seem to ignore the fact that Manchester suffers from congestion now and this is likely to get worse, with real impacts on people and businesses,” executive director Stephen Joseph says. “With the Netherlands, France and many of Britain's other European neighbours turning to road charging to tackle traffic congestion, the UK risks condemning itself to gridlock unless it takes radical action to manage traffic and improve alternatives to the car."
However, The Greater Manchester Momentum Group, the lobbying organisation opposing the congestion charge, says in a statement on its website: "“We share the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities’ belief that we all have a role to play in reducing congestion, but don’t believe the proposed approach to charging is the best way to do it.
"It will simply unfairly penalise us and our employees and damage the prosperity of the region.”
Meanwhile, Sean Corker, a Manchester representative of the Association of British Drivers, claims the government previously withdrew funding for the Metrolink extension so that it could use the need for this as a reason to introduce the congestion charge.
“It is well known that the government has gained a massive windfall tax from higher oil prices. This money could pay for the Metrolink expansion several times over. To continue with the congestion charge plans at this time is nothing but greed,” he added.