South Circular road sign
The boundary of the congestion charge zone would run through Woolwich, Eltham, Lee and Catford if the proposal went ahead

Updated story: Sadiq Khan and his Conservative rival Shaun Bailey have united against proposals to expand London’s congestion charge to the North and South Circular roads.

This huge increase to the charging area is believed to be a government condition in ongoing negotiations for a new Transport for London (TfL) bailout, which has been extended for two weeks after being due to expire tomorrow.

Ministers could give the network just half the £2 billion cash it is asking for, and impose more cuts to free travel for pensioners and children, Sky News reported last night.

Heidi Alexander, Khan’s deputy mayor for transport, said City Hall opposed the plans to cut travel concessions and extend the congestion charge.

“Neither the mayor nor I can see that it would be right to ask people to pay £15 to drive a mile from Wandsworth to Clapham or Catford to Lewisham,” she told TfL’s finance committee, which held an emergency meeting today.

The mayor was unwilling to comment himself on the negotiations, but told LBC radio today he was “annoyed” that serious funding discussions with the government did not start until this week.

But a source close to Khan said City Hall would not accept damaging conditions. “Negotiations are ongoing to do a deal to keep TfL services running,” they said.

“Conditions such as extending a £15 congestion charge to the North and South Circular and taking free travel away from children and older people would be totally unacceptable to the Mayor and he would not ask Londoners to accept them in these exceptionally difficult times.”

Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey also condemned the congestion charge proposals. “Under no circumstances would I back an extension of the congestion charge zone, regardless of who proposes it,” he said.

“Any extension would hit hard working Londoners in the pocket and death knell for small businesses.”

The congestion charge is now £15 a day: it was increased from £11.50 under the conditions of the first TfL bailout.

The mayor plans to extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone – which currently covers the same are as the congestion charge – to the North and South Circular roads next year.

But it is unclear how the congestion charge could be extended at present, because there are no traffic cameras to police the area.

TfL has relied on government cash during the coronavirus crisis, after its income from passenger fares fell 90 per cent during the first peak of the virus, and is still taking £45 million less each week than before the virus.

If a new deal cannot be agreed with government, the network will be forced to issue a Section 114 order – the equivalent of bankruptcy for a public body.

The transport authority would then only be allowed to operate services it is required to by law – the Woolwich Ferry, taxi licensing and free school buses for some children. Most bus services, the Tube, Overground and tram network would stop running.

TfL boss Andy Byford said a 14-day extension was a “sensible, pragmatic solution”.

“The two weeks will keep people’s minds focused but it does now mean we can get this deal done,” he told TfL’s finance committee.

“We are very close. It’s absolutely top priority for all of us to get this thing across the line and I believe that the two weeks will suffice.”

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Jessie Mathewson is the Local Democracy Reporter for the Greater London Authority. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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