Anger over spy in the sky to monitor drivers

A CONTROVERSIAL “spy in the sky” scheme to monitor motorists in Essex and charge them for the number of miles they drive has been heavily criticised.

James Hore

A CONTROVERSIAL “spy in the sky” scheme to monitor motorists in Essex and charge them for the number of miles they drive has been heavily criticised.

Essex has been short-listed for the Government's trial because it is said to be one of the counties across the UK considering local congestion charging.

But the announcement has angered council bosses, who are now calling for Roads Minister Paul Clark to “clarify his intentions” on the project.

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According to the Department for Transport, the voluntary trials will help local authorities who want to introduce congestion charging.

But that statement has left the council bemused because it has no formal plans for such a policy.

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Under the scheme cars would be monitored by satellite and charged by the mile, meaning motorists would only pay for the amount of miles they drive.

Trials are expected to begin this year and be completed around the end of 2010 or early 2011 although the Government has stressed they do not mean that national road pricing is going ahead.

Norman Hume, the councillor in charge of highways and transportation, said he could not support a scheme which could punish drivers, especially those who live in rural areas and are reliant on their cars.

He has requested an urgent meeting with the Government.

Mr Hume said: “I would have significant concerns about any possible trials taking place in Essex.

“I have written to the Minister to request an urgent meeting on this matter. We cannot support something that would potentially unfairly penalise motorists in this way.”

He has also asked for more information on the companies short-listed to deliver the schemes.

“Furthermore, I would like to understand how the Government intends to consult local authorities on the use of roads in their area. Local decisions affecting local residents should be taken by their locally elected representatives.

“It is important that the Government also understands that a large part of Essex is rural, and for many residents the only option is to use their car to carry out their normal, everyday activities,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said the trials were about giving people choice.

“These voluntary trials will help inform the work of those local authorities who are considering taking forward local congestion charging.

“The Government will get on with bringing forward creative measures like active traffic management as well as continuing investment in public transport to give people more choice over how they travel.

“Our priority now and over the next decade is on tackling congestion in our cities and on our motorways, and we have been absolutely clear that any proposal for national road pricing would need to offer long term value and address the legitimate concerns people still have.”

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