Seven local authorities have won grants to explore road tolls and congestion charging as ways to manage traffic volumes. David Czawford assesses the likely impact on property.(United Kingdom’s Department for Transport grants funds to reduce traffic congestion)
FOR THOSE WHO HOPED THAT DURHAM, THE M6 TOLL and the central London congestion charge were about as far as Britain’s road-charging schemes would go, the time has come to think again.
On 28 November the Department for Transport made the first awards from its 2.5bn [pounds sterling] transport innovation fund. Seven English areas will share 7m [pounds sterling] to explore innovative approaches to reducing congestion using new ‘intelligent transport systems’.
The DfT has sold its approach by claiming it is based as much on increasing competitiveness and productivity as it is on environmental concerns. It cites long-term benefits for companies of shorter journey times and easier access to wider pools of employees.
But reducing traffic on the roads and increasing the use of public transport will have wider implications than simply enabling people to get to work more quickly. Property, as a location-oriented business, will be one of the industries most keen to take these into account.
Some areas will become more attractive, but there will be losers as well as winners. This will impact on site values and, in turn, investment and development decisions.
The changes will be most pronounced for the distribution industry. The implementation of the DfT’s proposed national charging system, of which it sees the transport innovation fund schemes as potential local building blocks, will be closely observed.
The first seven transport innovation fund winners represent a broad range of locations: three conurbations–Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear and the West Midlands; ‘Greater Bristol’; Cambridgeshire; and two small cities–Durham and Shrewsbury. Apart from anything else, their early studies will provide a useful insight into potential public reactions.
In the two largest beneficiaries, West Midlands and Greater Manchester, opinion in the business community has been sharply divided. Jerry Blackett, policy director at the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says: ‘Ridding ourselves of the congestion that is crippling the region would transform our appeal [into a place] where companies can do business.’
But Miranda Allan, who chairs the transport and environment committee at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, fears for small businesses. She is also concerned over ‘tag and beacon’ technology of the kind being trialled for upgrading congestion charging in London, which involves a cellphone-sized in-vehicle device identified by a roadside reader.
Tyne and Wear is breaking new technological ground by exploring a local version of the distance-based charging which would be the basis of a national scheme. This could use satellite-based technology.
Bristol, meanwhile, is building on earlier studies for a central area charging cordon and the completion of the Bath ‘bus-gate’. This automatic signal filter has slashed city centre traffic, but retailers have claimed trade losses.
Authorities in Cambridgeshire anticipate that, without intervention, most of an additional 63,000 daily journeys in and out of Cambridge in 2016 will be by car–such a figure would overwhelm existing restraint measures. The county is investigating charging zones, with the scope for compensation/public transport and even tax credits.
Durham beat London to introduce the UK’s first congestion charge in 2002 coveting the city’s historic core. It now wants to investigate either extending this, or installing ‘point’ charging on an arterial route from Tyneside.
The result, it hopes, will be a model for small cities throughout the UK. Shrewsbury is already looking at this system, and has plans for a charging zone inside its River Severn loop. The presence of such small settlements in the DfT’s plans suggests that the government is ultimately planning a charging system on all roads, not just trunk roads and busy areas.
The surprise is the absence from the winners’ list of Nottingham, the champion of the workplace parking levy–a little-publicised alternative to road-charging–as a means of kick-starting planned tram expansions.
The levy is cheap to implement, but it has faced strong local opposition for being a stealth tax and there was relief when no DfT award came the city’s way. However, this relief could be premature, as the proposal remains in the draft 2006-11 local transport plan, and appeared in the successful Bristol and Greater Manchester bids. The latter is exploring a combined parldng levy and supplementary business rate package as an alternative way of funding transport improvements.
While the seven initial projects are under way, all local authorities will be finalising their local transport plans, and later this year the DfT will open the bidding for further awards, including at least one full-scale charging pilot. This year will be one to watch for transport impacts on property.
Source: ITS International