In a Valentine's Day PR stunt, a giant chicken has today presented transport secretary Alistair Darling with a 'Congestion Charge Award for Cowardice'. London's congestion charging scheme comes into force on Monday but environmental campaigners have cried fowl, and accuse the government of failing to wholeheartedly back the charge.

Darling, please end your love affair with the car

A "Congestion Charge Award for Cowardice" was today delivered to Alistair Darling at the Department of Transport in London.

Campaigners from environment and transport organisations were joined by a giant chicken carrying a placard saying "Alistair Darling: Congestion Charge Chicken".

The badge of shame was handed to Darling because the government has failed to back congestion charging, and done little to tackle traffic growth.

Specifically, Alistair Darling is blamed for failing to back London’s congestion charge scheme. Traffic levels in the UK have risen by more than seven percent since Labour came to power in 1997.

The chicken stunt was concocted by campaigners from Friends of the Earth, Council for the Protection of Rural England, Transport 2000 and CTC.

London’s congestion charge scheme comes into operation at 7am on Monday.

It is the first large-scale congestion scheme in the UK. Green groups believe that congestion charging in cities can form an essential part of the solution to Britain’s transport crisis, and that it must be accompanied by the provision of high-quality

alternatives to car use.

The government has repeatedly failed to support the London congestion charge. Most recently, responding to a question from Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith as to whether or not the charge was a good idea, the Prime Minister said: "That is a decision not for us but for the mayor. Since we have given the power to local government to charge for congestion, we should let it do so if that is what it wishes to do."

[Hansard 5th February 2003, column 267].

Friends of the Earth’s director Tony Juniper said:

"The government must end its love affair with the car. Congestion charging is essential for tackling rising traffic levels. But the government is scared of upsetting the powerful motoring lobby. This cowardice will ultimately leave Britain’s drivers in gridlock. We applaud Ken Livingstone for his political courage and hope that this scheme will encourage other cities around the country to follow suit.".

Director of Transport 2000 Stephen Joseph said:

"Congestion charging is a brave step forward but one that has to be taken if London is not to grind to a halt. People who oppose charging should say how they would get London moving again."

Executive Director of CPRE Kate Parminter said:

"If we are to deliver an urban renaissance and protect the countryside we need to make our towns and cities more attractive places in which to live. The London congestion charging scheme will help to reduce the negative effects of traffic, such as noise, intimidation and pollution, making the city a more pleasant place in which to live and work."

Roger Geffen, CTC’s campaigns manager, said:

"The number of cyclists in London has increased by 10 per cent in each of the last four years due entirely to the reduction in traffic. If the congestion charge encourages even more drivers to cycle all or part of their journeys then both residents and workers will enjoy faster journey times, less delay and pollution, and substantially better health."

But, if you feel poor old Alistair Darling is getting an unfair kicking, you’re very possibly right. No transport minister likes being in the ‘ministry from hell’, see this article…/2736869.stm


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