Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Stung by Success of C-Charge; AS EFFECTS OF MAYOR'S SCHEME BECOME APPARENT SUFFERING SMALL FIRMS CALL FOR A CHANGE TO THE SYSTEM

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Stung by Success of C-Charge; AS EFFECTS OF MAYOR'S SCHEME BECOME APPARENT SUFFERING SMALL FIRMS CALL FOR A CHANGE TO THE SYSTEM

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID WILLIAMS

THE congestion charge should be limited to the morning rush to counter the effect it is having on London's economy, business and political leaders urged today. Figures released by Mayor Ken Livingstone's outgoing deputy, Nicky Gavron, have suggested 38 per cent fewer motorists have entered the charging zone since it was brought in - nearly three times the official target.

That has ensured traffic flows more freely in some parts of the capital, delays are shorter and the city is safer for pedestrians.

But business groups and some politicians say the charge, in operation between 7am and 6.30pm Monday to Friday, is severely harming commerce in the central area.

Simon Milton, the Tory leader of Westminster council - which last summer failed in a High Court challenge to overturn the congestion charge - said: "There seems to be a lot of anecdotal evidence that people's reluctance to pay the charge is driving them out of central London throughout the day.

"Limit the charge to the peak morning rush, when congestion is at its height. A 12 noon cut-off point for the charge would free up the afternoon for shoppers, visitors and tourists." He was backed by the London Chamber of Commerce, which last month released a study showing a quarter of businesses in the charging zone were thinking of relocating, largely because of the effect of the fee.

The Chamber, which represents more than 3,500 firms, is setting up a forum to look at possible changes to the charging scheme, including relaxing its hours of operation, and a discount for retailers similar to the existing one for residents.

Chamber chief executive Colin Stanbridge said: "There is no doubt the scheme successfully deters cars.

But it also brings with it the unwanted side effect of deterring desperately needed shoppers.

"Retailers blame the charge for driving down demand. Many of these businesses are small with tiny profit margins, and the congestion charge could be the difference between going bust and staying afloat. …

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