Boris Scraps Western Extension of London Congestion Charge

London Mayor Boris Johnson has decided to scrap London’s Western congestion charge zone. The extension, covering Kensington and Chelsea and part of Westminster, will disappear in spring 2010 when legal procedures are completed.

It was only last year when the western extension was introduced by his predecessor, Ken Livingstone.

The decision follows a dispute between the mayor and senior officials in his transport authority, who accused him of ignoring the benefits of the £8 daily charge and acting on a flawed public consultation.

Transport for London will lose £70 million per year in income from the scheme. All profits went to public transport and fares are likely to rise.

Boris said he was acting on the results of TfL’s consultation, in which 67 per cent of the 24,800 individual respondents and 86 per cent of businesses that responded wanted the extension to be abolished. Many responses were co-ordinated by campaign groups, such as the Friends of Portobello, which was concerned at the loss of trade to the new Westfield shopping centre, just outside the charging zone. However it has also emerged that another survey had found more people wanted to keep the £8 charge in some form than scrap it.

In its report on the consultation, TfL said it had commissioned an independent survey of 2,000 Londoners because “consultations can tend to over-represent those with strong opinions or who feel most directly affected by the issue”. The survey found that 41 per cent wanted the charge removed but 45 per cent wanted to keep it. Boris said he supported the original central zone, which would be unchanged, and would make up the £70 million shortfall from the “abundant economies to be found in TfL’s £8.2 billion budget”.

Boris says he plans to tackle congestion by adding one or two seconds to the green phase for traffic lights, which sounds slightly dangerous. TfL admitted that air pollution would rise slightly inside the western area.

Meanwhile, as Manchester votes on introducing a charging zone, Ofcom has banned a TV commercial on ITV1 promoting the introduction of congestion charging in Greater Manchester for breaching its political advertising code.

The media watchdog received seven complaints about an ad broadcast on ITV1 in the Granada region in north-west England promoting a poll in the Greater Manchester area on a transport plan that includes a congestion charge scheme.

Complainants said that that the ad, which featured a presenter summarising the consequences of voting yes or no, was biased in favour of congestion charging and therefore “constituted propaganda”.

During the ad the name, logo and web address of the Greater Manchester Future Transport organisation appeared “prominently”.

Ofcom investigated whether the ad showed partiality and whether by featuring the web address it was “directed toward a political end”.

ITV took the ad off air, but said that its aim was to “educate” the populace of Greater Manchester on the implications of the transport plan, not to “campaign for the purpose of influencing legislation”.