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9 June 2004

Ruffley slams Government and Regional attack on rural motorists

Local motorists face new tax threat – not just from higher fuel duties

At a time of soaring fuel prices, David Ruffley MP warned this week of a new assault on local motorists, via Government plans to roll out congestion taxes, toll taxes and workplace parking taxes across the country. Labour’s regional government attacks on motorists are compounding the central Labour Government’s already high taxes.

The new anti-car taxes are being rolled out via regional assemblies through their ‘regional transport strategies’ which councils are being obliged to follow. NEW RESEARCH (see below) HAS REVEALED THAT THERE ARE PLANS IN THE EASTERN REGION FOR WORKPLACE PARKING LEVIES AND ROAD USER CONGESTION CHARGING. THIS IS YET ANOTHER UNDERHAND STRATEGY TO FORCE PEOPLE FROM THEIR CARS.

Mr Ruffley said:

“At a time of soaring fuel prices, the last thing we need is even higher taxes on our motorists. Conservatives have already called on Gordon Brown not to introduce the planned fuel tax hike in the autumn.

This is another disgraceful attack on rural dwellers by an urban-minded Government. They are showing once again a complete disregard for rural people. For my constituents living in rural areas the car is not a luxury it is a necessity.

“This is at a time when drivers in this country already face the second highest fuel prices in the EU, and when 58 pence of every litre of fuel is going to the Government in the form of taxes. Labour is now taxing the motorist until the pips squeak.

“Yet the Labour Government has already brought in new laws to allow local authorities to levy additional anti-car taxes. Most local councils are fearful of the strong opposition of local residents to these taxes.

“But Labour, supported by the Liberal Democrats, is intending to sidestep this local opposition, by transferring powers to the so-called regional assemblies, who intend to force councils to levy them.

“Labour and the Liberal Democrats fail to understand that there aren’t viable enough public transport alternatives in Bury St Edmunds and that extra taxes will hit the vulnerable the hardest – like the elderly, the less well-off and those in isolated Suffolk areas.

“Only Conservatives have pledged to oppose these new taxes.”

Notes to Editors

Regional Transport Strategies

The Labour Government have introduced a series of ‘Regional Transport Strategies’ as part of the process of transferring powers away from local councils to regional assemblies. These strategies are part of ‘Regional Planning Guidances’ published by the self-styled, unelected ‘regional assemblies’ and Government Offices for the Regions. Following the passage of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, the Strategies will become part of binding ‘Regional Spatial Strategies’ drawn up by the ‘regional assemblies’.

Regionalisation of transport planning

These regional strategies marginalise the role of local councils, making it easier to introduce new taxes. A document from the Department for Transport explains,


‘Government should require policy to be handled at a similar, strategic, level across all regional policy documents. This would increase the level of mutual understanding between agencies about broad policy positions, provide a sound basis for collaboration on action programmes and be more robust in the face of uncertainty… The Regional Transport Strategy should provide a common framework for the actions of Government agencies (such as the Highways Agency and the Strategic Rail Authority) and the local authorities. This would improve the prospects for coherence of different transport modes at regional level and for integration of action programmes between national and local agencies’ (DfT, The Integration of Regional Transport Strategies with Spatial Planning Policies, March 2004, p.9).

Local authorities who try to obstruct regional bodies will have their funding cut.

‘LTP [Local Transport Plan] allocations should be used to reward collaboration and to strengthen sanctions against local authorities that breach regional policies’ (ibid. p.10).

These regional bodies are clearly intended to be the driving forces for introducing new anti-tax taxes. As John Prescott’s national planning guidance asserts, ‘Regional planning bodies should consider including in their transport strategies, as part of draft RPG… guidance on the strategic context for demand management measures such as congestion charging and levies on private non-residential car parking’ (PPG11, Planning Policy Guidance 11: Regional Planning, 2000, para 6.3).


The Department for Transport notes how the regional bodies will help the introduction of these taxes.


‘Policies for transport charging are crucial to RPG/RTS integration in two ways: first, as a component of demand management, reconciling the economic need for accessibility with the environmental and social need to limit transport-driven dispersion… and secondly, because the resources generated are a necessary component of a realistic approach to regional transport resourcing’ (DfT, The Integration of Regional Transport Strategies with Spatial Planning Policies, March 2004, c.4.3.4).

‘The failure to deploy the strategic potential of transport charges is because local authorities that are in a position to make significant money from local charges are concerned about (a) losing development to neighbouring areas, and (b) losing conventional funding. Locating responsibility at regional level could powerfully further the Government's devolution agenda’ (ibid., c.4.3.5).

East of England Regional Assembly

The East of England ‘Regional Assembly’s Regional Transport Strategy: Final Report (April 2003) advocates the roll-out of new anti-car taxes:


‘There is an urgent need for the fiscal framework within which the transport system operates to be reviewed. The benefits of a high quality accessible transport system to society and transport users should be reflected in the price users pay.’ (p.66)

‘It is within this context that the potential of workplace parking levies and road user congestion charging needs to be considered. The introduction of charging would create the opportunity to capture an additional revenue stream, which would fund service and infrastructure improvements that would increase the attractiveness of alternatives to the car and the lorry. The emerging evidence from the multi-modal studies suggests that the changes in the charging mechanism for road use are potentially the most effective mechanism for affecting a change in the balance of the transport system.’ (p.66)

‘It is in the context of the multi-modal studies that the implementation of the road user charging would be best suited. It is likely that there will be a need for some form of charging mechanism for workplace parking to be introduced within the time horizon of this Strategy in at least part of East of England. Any such proposal would have to be set within the context of the parking regime for the area covered by the charge. Even though this will be implemented on a local level it is felt that the following Policies give some Regional direction to Local Authorities to seek to implement a consistent approach across the Region.’ (p.66)

‘In the short term such demand management measures can be realised through parking controls, but in the medium term (as the highway improvements are implemented, and alternative public transport measures are also put in place) there will be a need to change the balance of prices between highway and public transport. In the medium term this may consist of a combination of cordon charging and parking controls and pricing in the major urban areas, whereas in the long-term area-wide congestion charging may be appropriate throughout the region, possibly as part of a national scheme.’ (p.69)

Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrats support the introduction of new taxes by local authorities to drive in city centres. Tom Brake MP, as Liberal Democrat spokesman for Transport, has called for congestion charging across the country. ‘Congestion charging looks like it will be a success. The Government must provide leadership so that other local authorities considering introducing a similar system can proceed with the backing of the Government’ (Press Association, 24 February 2003). He has added, ‘we welcome road congestion charging’ (HC Debs, col. 1183, 9 July 2003).

Liberal Democrats also want to introduce new taxes on parking at work, parking to shop and parking at leisure facilities. They would: ‘Allow local authorities to establish private non-residential parking levies (including out-of-town retail and workplace parking)’ (Liberal Democrats, Policy Briefing 24: Policies for Transport, March 2003).

They would allow regional assemblies to levy these new taxes, imposing them irrespective of the wishes of local communities and local councillors. LibDems want regional assemblies to develop ‘regional transport strategies’ which could involve ‘the strategic co-ordination of congestion charging, workplace car park charging’ (Liberal Democrats, Quality Innovation Choice, ratified by their Party Conference on 25 September 2002, p.29).

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