London transport chief moots 'Belfast congestion charge' at IoD lunch

Could Belfast introduce a London-style congestion charge to alleviate traffic congestion?
Could Belfast introduce a London-style congestion charge to alleviate traffic congestion?

THE Belfast-born transport commissioner who keeps London's 30 million journeys-a-day rail and roads network running has mooted the introduction of a congestion charge for the northern capital.

Queen's University-educated Mike Brown, who has held the £355,000-a-year Transport for London (TfL) chief's role for just over a year, told the Institute of Directors that the idea should be considered if the region was to move forward with an integrated transport policy.

In 2003 London ushered in the initially much-disliked congestion charge (it's currently £11.50 daily) to drive through certain central zone between 7am and 6pm on weekdays.

But Mr Brown told the IoD's annual lunch that the charge was the catalyst for material change in the way people in London behaved, and "began to end their love affair with the car".

He said: "Northern Ireland could learn from from this - a combination of brave policy-making that actually invests strategically in infrastructure, despite the democratic cycle, that in the long term really makes a material difference to the provision of services required, though recognising that it does require upfront capital funding."

It's not the first time a congestion charge for Belfast has been discussed as a potential solution if its clogged streets are to cope with the expanding population.

In 2007 Belfast City Council submitted a document to the Assembly's finance department hinting that, with road taxes becoming increasingly prominent, some sort of congestion charging could be considered providing all the funds were re-invested back into the city's transport system.

But the idea was knocked back,with Larne and Lisburn councils among those claiming the idea would be "unacceptable to the public".

His comment came on the same day that business chiefs demanded a dramatic rethink of how traffic is managed on London’s roads as the capital approaches mega-city status and a population of 10 million.

Ironically the London Chamber of Commerce urged a rethink of the congestion charge, claiming it might not be as effective as originally planned, and in a submission to the London Assembly transport committee’s congestion inquiry, called on mayor Sadiq Khan to come up with “new and innovative” ideas to keep the city moving.

Mr Brown revealed that nearly two thirds of his annual £1.2 billion budget in TfL supports economic activity outside London.

He said: "Indeed 1,000 jobs in Northern Ireland are directly there because of Transport for London contracts with businesses here like Wrightbus and Windell and Boomer."