Edinburgh Council 'examining' congestion charge for entire city where residents wouldn't have to pay

Edinburgh City Council could charge commuters to drive in and out of the Capital - but residents would be exempt on any toll that could be introduced.

Monday, 30th December 2019, 6:00 am
Edinburgh's transport convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, is 'examining' introducing a congestion charge
Edinburgh's transport convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, is 'examining' introducing a congestion charge

City council chiefs are exploring the possibility of introducing a congestion charge for the entire Capital – but Edinburgh residents would be exempt in a bid to encourage commuters to use public transport.

The SNP-Labour administration insists a “fresh look” at the idea would be a move away from a bid in 2005 to introduce a congestion charge – when residents in some parts of the city, including South Queensferry, would have had to pay to drive into the city centre.

Any new look at a congestion charge would be against changing attitudes on tackling the climate emergency – with new priorities including reducing congestion and pollution in the Capital and to meet meet a pledge for the city to become carbon neutral by 2030.

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Any funding raised by the congestion charge would likely be reinvested into public transport and active travel such as cycling infrastructure.

In the council’s focus group sessions, held with members of the public on next year’s budget, there were “unprompted suggestions” for income generation including “introducing a transient visitor levy and a congestion charge”. But it is thought that some corners of the SNP-Labour coalition may need convincing before any plans would be pushed forward.

An administration insider said: “People are waking up to the idea that we have to make changes in our individual lives and how we operate together as a community.

“Ideas, such as a fresh look at congestion charging might be necessary.”

No detailed or outline proposals have been mooted and it is thought any policy would follow extensive consultation with the public.

Any new look at a congestion charge would mean that all residents living in the city boundary would be exempt – targeting commuters into the Capital from the Lothians and Fife and encouraging them to use public transport.

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The council does not know if it yet has the powers to introduce such a charge and how the policy, if pushed forward, would work in practice. But ANPR licence-plate recognition cameras could be used as a technology solution to enforce any congestion charge.

The council’s transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said: “Against the background of climate change and our 2030 target, we have to be brave about some of the conversations that are needed to change how this city operates.

“These conversations include at least examining some of the big ideals that could help to reduce car commuting from outside of the city.”

But Conservatives have said the move should be ruled out.

Tory transport and environment spokesperson, Cllr Nick Cook, said: “The SNP appear to have wasted no time in insulting the very people who just gave them an election mandate across Edinburgh the Lothians and Fife, by proposing to hammer hard-working commuters – most of whom simply have no financial choice but to live outside of the city.

“Rather than dream up money making schemes, the Scottish nationalists should ensure Nicola Sturgeon reverses her savage cuts to local authority budgets.”

Greens have welcomed the idea of a congestion charge being looked at by council chiefs.

Cllr Claire Miller, green transport spokesperson, said: “We know that the status quo is not sustainable, either for the climate or for our health, and that changes to the way we travel are essential.

“I welcome a conversation on how a congestion charge would help to meet our carbon reduction targets. Residents from across the region must be involved, so that we can design the environmentally sustainable transport network that’s needed for people to live, work and study in the Lothians.”

‘Ambitious plans’ welcomed by campaigners

Environmental campaigners have welcomed the council pondering introducing a congestion charge in the Capital.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s air pollution campaigner, Gavin Thomson, said: “It’s great to hear that Edinburgh Council is considering a congestion charge. The city needs some ambitious plans to reduce car traffic into the city centre, while increasing investment in public transport, walking and cycling.

“The council has set a target for Edinburgh to be carbon neutral by 2030. Road transport is one of the main sources of climate emissions, so getting anywhere close to the 2030 target will need big changes in transport over this coming decade.

Edinburgh’s Low Emission Zone will not come into force until 2025 and will only restrict the very oldest cars from the Old Town. We need measures to reduce traffic and prioritise other road users across the whole of the city. Revenue raised from the congestion charge must be used to improve public transport and to make it easier to walk or cycle in the city. This will ensure a congestion charge benefits all residents and creates a fairer, healthier city.”