Congestion charge plan proves unpopular

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Lancashire Evening Post readers have given the thumbs down to controversial plans to introduce congestion charging in Manchester.

In a survey commissioned by the LEP, three-quarters of all the respondents said they would not support a system of congestion charging in Manchester.

The Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority (GMPTA) is proposing to charge drivers up to 5 for entering the city at peak times on weekdays.

And transport leaders have come under pressure to formally consult Lancashire's motorists before any decision is made.

But Sir Howard Bernstein, clerk to the GMPTA and Manchester City Council's chief executive, said: "Any survey which asks 'Do you support congestion charging' is bound to generate a negative response.

"A more balanced survey would have highlighted the link between the proposed weekday, peak-time only congestion charge and the 3bn investment into public transport which accompanies it.

"What is absolutely vital is that people are aware that the vast bulk of public transport improvements will be in place ahead of the congestion charge coming into operation."

The overwhelming majority of people who travel into Manchester, 79%, use their car to get into the city centre.

Of those, 72% say it would not be viable to make their journey by public transport.

And just 35% said it would encourage people to travel by bus or train instead of in their car.

County Coun Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for sustainable development, admits he is "not surprised" by the results.

He said: "When London introduced the congestion charge, 65% of people were against it.

"But I can understand why Manchester is looking at it as a possible answer.

"I don't have to drive into Manchester very often during peak times but when I do it's awfully busy with a lot of single occupancy cars.

"And the local authorities have to wonder how sustainable that is before it completely grinds to a halt."

Chris Dale, vice-chairman of TravelWatch North West, said: "The councils are getting money to upgrade the public transport system in Manchester to get people out of their cars and on to buses and trains.

"But the councils need to recoup the cost somehow and that's how congestion charging comes in, as a contribution towards the new system that's in place."

But Brian MacDowall, of the Association of British Drivers, said: "This is simply extra tax on top of everything else motorists have to pay for."

Just over half of respondents, or 58%, said congestion charging would encourage them to shop in Preston, which is good news for local businesses, according to Preston Chamber of Trade's Nicholas Watson.

He says: "It will definitely be to the advantage of traders in Preston.

It has the opportunity to benefit from people's decisions not to go to Manchester so frequently.

There is a very good offer here from a retail perspective despite the perception that Preston doesn't have a large selection of brands."

And he believes it is not only the retailers who will benefit.

He said: "It will also make deliveries in Manchester for Lancashire firms much easier if there is less traffic on the roads."

Coun Tomlinson said there were no plans to introduce the system in Lancashire for the forseeable future.

"Any thoughts of congestion charging in Lancashire are a long way off."

To have your say on the proposals for congestion charging in Manchester, contact the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority on 0161 2441000.

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