Tuesday, 7 December 2010

London congestion charge changes threatened with judicial review

The London Evening Standard reports that a group of environmental activists and former Mayor Ken Livingstone are threatening judicial review of Mayor Boris Johnson's decision to scrap the Western zone of the London Congestion Charge.

"Clean Air in London" is a ginger group comprising Friends of the Earth, Environment Protection UK, ClientEarth, the Campaign for Better Transport, London Forum of Amenity and Civil Societies with Ken Livingstone and former Green mayoral candidate Sian Berry.   It has an explicitly political agenda regarding reducing overall levels of emissions and regards the scrapping of the Western extension to the congestion charge as likely to increase emissions.

The Evening Standard report claims that NOx and particulate emissions will rise 3-4% according to Transport for London estimates once the charge zone is reduced in size.  The campaign group claims that this will break EU laws requiring action to be taken on ensuring pollutants don't exceed maximum WHO standards in public spaces.

The background to this is that former Mayor Ken Livingstone, against some advice, decided to expand his successful central London congestion charge zone to include the wealthy western suburbs of Kensington and Chelsea in 2007.  This reduced traffic volumes in that zone, although it did mean the 90% discount for residents was applied to some of the wealthiest London residents who faced a reduced charge for driving into central London.

Current Mayor Boris Johnson campaigned on abolishing the Western extension, which was seen by some as Ken Livingstone's tax on rich Londoners who did not vote for him.   It was seen by businesses just within the charging zone as punitive, because the London congestion charge period is from 0700-1800, meaning no respite at all from the charge during off peak hours.

Johnson's consultation saw a majority support abolishing the zone, so he decided to do so, despite the loss of millions of pounds in revenue.   In effect the London congestion charging zone will shrink by around half, but the price for the central zone is to increase from £8 to £10 (US$15.80) and a range of other changes are being introduced (such as tightening discounts for low emission vehicles).

Whether a judicial review is undertaken or not is unclear, and will no doubt depend on legal advice to the activists, but still it raises the real issue of what now to do about traffic in the affected area.   I don't think the Western extension as it was introduced was the right option, but London's traffic congestion problems are not eased by the central zone alone.  Nor can they be eased by pricing alone.   However, I doubt if they can be eased without more pricing.

London congestion charge zones, Western extension is the left half, original central zone on the right. Dark blue routes are the free "bypass" routes that complete the ring roads around the two zones (vehicles are not charged for using those routes).

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