Road tolls: Paying more to use our A roads

David Cameron standing by the A47 in Norfolk
Image caption David Cameron by the A47, one of the roads where it is claimed charges were being considered

The denials were swift and explicit. "Complete fantasy", said Secretary of State Patrick McCloughlin. "Nonsense", said his colleague Robert Goodwill.

But might there just be some truth in the Liberal Democrat's claim that two years ago the Conservatives considered charging motorists for using some of the region's A roads?

For purposes of context and balance we should point out that the allegation came in the middle of the election campaign from a party which is trying to paint itself as having been the calming influence upon the Conservatives' more radical ideas in government.

And it's noteworthy the man making the claim was Norman Baker, who when in government was a constant thorn in the side of the Tories but nevertheless, a well regarded transport minister.

His claim is that back in 2013 the chancellor, George Osborne, came up with the idea of charging drivers £10 a month to use certain key A roads and the money would be used to pay for road improvements.

According to Mr Baker some of the roads on that list included major arteries in the East in need of improvement: The A120 between Stansted and Colchester, the A428 in Cambridgeshire and the A47 in Norfolk.

Cameras with automatic number plate recognition systems would have been used to catch drivers who hadn't paid.

Mr Baker said he's in favour of road pricing but this idea, he believes, would have gone too far.

"This was something I thought was deeply impractical and unwelcome because it would mean local people using A roads for short journeys would be charged extra to use their local road. It would also lead to congestion on surrounding roads.

"I am proud we stopped this from going ahead," he said.

'Simply not true'

The claim has been denied by Mr Baker's former boss, Patrick McCloughlin.

"This is simply not true," he said.

"It is sad to see him resorting to complete fantasy and low tactics because the Liberal Democrats are facing such heavy losses."

The present roads minister called the claims "nonsense", pointing out the Conservatives have promised to fund road improvements to the A47 and A120 in the next parliament at no extra cost to the motorist.

But Mr Baker stands by the claim saying he saw the papers which suggested the idea.

It is not surprising if such an idea was being considered at one stage.

In 2013 we were regularly reporting the clamour for improvements to roads. But because the economic recovery was not going as well as planned, the government didn't have the money to fund the schemes - instead it came up with the idea of a toll road for the new stretch of the A14 in Cambridgeshire.

At the time Prime Minister David Cameron told us: "If people want improvements to roads they must be prepared to pay towards them."

There are many Conservatives who, ideologically, believe in road tolls - pointing to their success on the continent.

David Cameron suggested, before he became prime minister, the final stage of dualling the A11 in Suffolk could be funded by a road toll.

So to us, it is very possible that somewhere in government in 2013, the idea of charging motorists to use roads like the A47 was being discussed.

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