Scottish Cabinet papers: Research concluded lack of trust in Edinburgh council drove defeat over congestion charge

Lack of trust in the city council was an “underlying driver” in the rejection of Edinburgh’s proposed congestion charging scheme in 2005, research concluded, according to Cabinet papers from the following year made public for the first time today. note-0

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The controversial plan, which would have seen thousands of motorists paying a £2-a-day charge, was put to a referendum in February 2005. Turn-out was 61.7 per cent and the scheme was decisively thrown out by 74.4 per cent to 25.6 per cent.

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Research commissioned by the Scottish Government, then known as the Scottish Executive, found a lack of trust in the council and only one in four accepted that the money raised would be used for transport projects, including a projected tramline to the Royal Infirmary.

The 2005 congestion charge would have meant a £2-a-day charge for thousands of motorists. Photo: Lisa Ferguson

The congestion charging plan involved two cordons, one around the city centre and one just inside the city bypass, both operating Monday-Friday. The inner cordon was going to apply from 7am to 6.30pm, while the outer one would only be in force during the morning rush hour, from 7am to 10am. Motorists would have been charged for crossing either cordon but would have paid only one charge per day even if they crossed the cordons several times.

A report presented to the Scottish Cabinet on May 31, 2006, noted Edinburgh' s road-user charging scheme had “collapsed last year after a referendum defeat”.

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It continued: “The Executive commissioned research on attitudes to the proposals to lean lessons and this has now been completed. The research reflected the referendum result with around a quarter supporting it.

“The majority claimed to understand the scheme but focus groups indicated many misconceptions, eg how it would operate; amount of charge.

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“They blamed external factors for congestion rather than their own behaviour; preferred transport improvements to punitive charges; wanted to reduce car use in the city centre; and wanted existing taxation to be maintained.

“Trust in the council was an underlying driver of opposition and only a quarter thought that money raised would be used to improve transport.

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“Only a minority felt the council is finding good solutions to address traffic."

The research found there was no single source where most residents got their information about the scheme.

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And it said most of them seemed to have made up their mind on the plan soon after hearing about it.

The report to Cabinet said: "The study implied, and we agree, that the existence of congestion does not lead to support for charging, and good communications is critical.”

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After the referendum result, the then council leader Donald Anderson said the idea of a congestion charge was "now dead and buried for Edinburgh".

But attempts have been made to revive the notion since then.

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In 2019, former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said it was time for Edinburgh to “bite the bullet”. He described the 2005 scheme with its inner and outer cordons as "bonkers" but claimed a charge focused on the city centre was now "badly needed".

Some critics have said the plans for a Low Emission Zone in the Capital is a return to the congestion charge plan, but the council insists the fines proposed for the LEZ are intended to prevent non-compliant vehicles from entering the zone rather than to raise revenue by allowing them to pay.

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