Surprisingly, there was nothing about road tolls in the Coalition’s Mid-Term Review published on Monday.
Well, nothing obvious. As AA president Edmund King tweeted after some head scratching, ‘Coalition mid-term review [to] invest in infrastructure by debt guarantees to support £40bn of privately funded infrastructure investment. How?’
At regular intervals last year the government dropped hints it was developing an initiative on road tolls, culminating in briefings to the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and the Financial Times on the last day of business before Christmas.
We watched the public reaction carefully and concluded that while there was (vocal) opposition, it was nothing like the overwhelmingly negative response seen in 2007 when the idea was last suggested.
It seems we are not alone in this assessment. According to the Financial Times yesterday, ‘George Osborne believes that the public would support paying to use roads if that boosted the likelihood of major improvements to the network.’
The FT says the idea is not being kicked into the long grass and that a timetable and consultation would be set out to make the idea work.
To recap: the government’s idea is to use road tolls to fund improvements via private investment with a structure similar to the utility industries.
The government is clearly treading carefully but apparently not slowly. Already this morning we read on a Kent news website that local (Tory) MPs Damian Collins and Charlie Elphicke have both been talking up the government plans.
One thing in particular has been bothering us. The EU is planning to roll out its own proposals for pan-European ‘Road User Charging’ in June but there has been no reference to it in the UK press. Surely even worse than tolls would a system at odds with what the rest of Europe will be doing?