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Despite a flurry of interest in the idea of a national road pricing scheme in the earlier part of this century, it fell out of favour in about 2008/09 and never regained favour. The 1997-2010 Labour Government looked at a national road pricing scheme in some detail but cooled on the idea after it was negatively received by voters and in the media and faced technological limitations. The Conservative Party has tended to oppose road pricing and has not spoken positively of the idea while in Government over the past decade.  

However, in policy circles the debate never entirely went away and many local road charging schemes have been introduced in the past decade, in the UK and abroad. Recently there has been renewed interest in the idea, partly because of the anticipated changes to travel over the next 20-30 years and the common policy aim of all major UK political parties to decarbonise road transport and the implications of such a policy.

Local and central Governments are facing a perfect storm of poor air quality in towns and cities, the adoption of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) and their long-term impact on car tax and excise duty, and the need to tackle congestion and its knock-on impacts. Together these factors have created a new climate in which some sort of pricing for road use may not only be possible, but acceptable in a way it was not when the Labour Government supported the idea in the mid-2000s.

Over the past decade and a half what surveys there have been of public opinion generally and of drivers specifically, have shown consistent doubts about road pricing. However, they have also shown that these concerns could be ameliorated with certain policies, particularly guarantees that income from road pricing would be spent on certain things (e.g. investment in public transport, road maintenance or reductions in other motoring taxes). That said, there remain many, particularly private motorists, who remain suspicious of the aims of any national road pricing system, what it would achieve and what limits would be set on powers to increase costs without sufficient oversight.

The Government had been expected to respond to the National Infrastructure Assessment by the 2020 Budget, in a comprehensive National Infrastructure Strategy. That did not happen and there is no date set for publication. It is as yet unclear whether the future of motoring taxation, the move to net zero and the question of a national road pricing scheme will be addressed in the Strategy.

Briefings about other roads policy issues can be found on the Commons Library website.

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