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Throughout the development of the initiative, it was always clear that the charging scheme in particular was risky, and might fail at one of the decision-making stages. The Council therefore put forward two alternative strategies in its Local Transport Strategy (LTS) documents produced in 2000 and 2004. Each LTS included a ‘Base Strategy’ comprising measures fundable from expected conventional funding sources, and a ‘Preferred Strategy’ adding in the congestion charging scheme and associated investment.
Two pivotal decisions have influenced the evolution of the scheme, and arguably affected the eventual view taken by the public. The first decision, in autumn 2002, was to hold a referendum prior to making any final commitment to the congestion charging scheme. This decision1] was made at the same time as agreeing to submit the scheme to Ministers for approval in principle. The Council view was that “the recent, independently analysed, public consultation showed very mixed opinion on the congestion charging proposals. There was not sufficient public support to reach a final conclusion on a single preferred scheme” and “To recognise therefore that before any finalised scheme could be agreed, there needed to be a further test of public opinion and that test should be in the form of a referendum.” The Ministerial requirement for ‘clear public support’ to be demonstrated, although coming after the referendum decision, reinforced the Council in its view that this was the right approach to dealing with this controversial measure. However, Ministers gave no guidance (and still have not) as to how ‘clear public support’ should be demonstrated.
The second pivotal decision relates to the ‘package’ being put forward as the Preferred Strategy. Prior to approval in principle the Integrated Transport Initiative package being proposed to Ministers incorporated the congestion charging scheme, a package of transport improvements including a three-line tram network, and a request for an additional allocation of public funding amounting to £375m (450m).
The additional central funding was considered to be a justifiable element of the package in recognition of the Council’s willingness to take a serious political risk by promoting congestion charging, an important policy tool for government to be able to achieve national transport objectives. A parallel was drawn with Norway, where income from the toll rings introduced in Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim was matched by additional government funding for the linked investments.
However, the approval in principle by Ministers in December 2002 was followed in March 2003 by a further announcement2] that the Scottish Executive would make £375m (450m) available to the City of Edinburgh Council to fund “at least the first tram line” regardless of any eventual introduction of congestion charging. In fact, £375m (450m) was the estimated requirement for the first two lines. Accordingly, the Council determined that it would pursue the development of these two lines independently of congestion charging. The effect of this decision was to move the two highest profile projects in the Preferred Strategy into the Base Strategy. This changed the scheme not only from a presentational point of view, but also in terms of its appraisal outcome.
In particular, this affected the definition of the scheme examined at public inquiry in Spring 2004. The decision to hold a public inquiry was taken at an early stage in the process: not only was the possibility of an inquiry built into the legislation, but it could be called by either the Council or the Scottish Executive. The Council decided to hold an inquiry itself both to demonstrate its willingness to submit the scheme to in-depth scrutiny, as well as to minimise the possibility of unplanned delays to the overall timetable if the Scottish Executive were to require an inquiry at an unknown future date.
In spite of the changed nature of the strategy being examined the report of the Inquiry3] generally supported the proposals, recommending that the Council should ‘proceed with caution’ in taking the scheme forward, but also recommending some changes. The Council accepted many of these proposals, but not the recommended abandonment of the ‘outer Edinburgh’ residents’ exemption referred to earlier. It agreed to proceed with the referendum preceded by an information campaign.
The public inquiry of 2004 did not identify any significant barriers to the implementation of the scheme. In hindsight, the timing of the referendum in one sense created a barrier to be overcome, in terms of the need to win a large enough share of public support at a time when public support for the scheme was likely to be at its lowest.
The main driver for the congestion charging scheme was the Local Transport Strategy. Over a period of time, starting in the early 90’s, this strategy had been tracking trends in transport, identified the growing problem of increasing traffic growth and brought forward congestion charging as part of a preferred strategy going forward.
The evolution of the scheme broadly followed the guidance on development of an Integrated Transport Initiative (ITI) issued in August 2001 by the Scottish Executive4]. This included a two-stage decision-making process, with “in-principle” and “detailed” approvals required from Ministers for an ITI. As well as requiring technical appraisal (STAG5]), the guidance sets out four policy criteria that Ministers require a charging scheme to meet:
Separately from this guidance, Ministers also indicated when giving approval in principle to the scheme in December 2002, that they would expect “clear public support” for a scheme to be demonstrated at the detailed stage.
1] CITY OF EDINBURGH COUNCIL, Minute of Council Meeting, Edinburgh, 17 October 2002.
2] SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE, Press Release: Funding Secures Edinburgh’s New Tram Line, Edinburgh, 4 March 2003.
3] REPORTERS TO THE PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO THE EDINBURGH CONGESTION CHARGING SCHEME, Report and Recommendations, Edinburgh October 2004.
4] SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT, Delivering Integrated Transport Initiatives through Road User Charging – Consultation and Approval Process: Guidance for Local Authorities, Edinburgh, August 2001.
5] SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE, Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG), Edinburgh, September 2003.
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