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The great road toll fiasco

UK Daily Mail | February 13, 2007

Senior ministers have vented their anger at Downing Street for allowing petitions on its website.

One high-ranking member of the Government said the idea had been dreamt up by a "prat" and was proving to be a public relations disaster.

To make matters worse part of No 10's website crashed after one million people logged on to register their opposition to a plan charge motorists tolls on up to 10 per cent of the nation's roads.

Downing Street hoped the epetitions would encourage greater participation in politics and show Labour was listening to voters.

Ministers are furious, however, that No 10 has provided a platform for political opponents. One said it was "unbelievable", adding: "The person who came up with this idea must be a prat."

There is particular anger in the Department for Transport that No 10 has allowed opponents of road pricing to shape the debate.

It says the online petition presents the negative aspects of toll roads but fails to put forward the benefits to the economy and the environment of cutting congestion.

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander today undertook a media offensive to counter the damaging coverage caused by the website.

He said: "I understand the public's concerns. Frankly if we were proposing what the petition suggests I would share their concerns. Unless motorists and families can see the benefits of bringing in a national road pricing system then it simply won't happen."

The petition claims motorists will be "tracked at all times" and road pricing will be "unfair" on those who "live apart from their families and poorer people who cannot afford the monthly cost".

Paul Biggs, spokesman for the Association of British Drivers, said he was very pleased with the response to the petition. "The only way road pricing can work is to actually price people off the roads. That is one reason they will sign the petition.

"Another reason they will sign it is they are going to be trapped and traced wherever they drive. It is Big Brother - and they don't want that," he told GMTV.

Roads Minister Stephen Ladyman said once the petition closed next week, ministers would start explaining the "real policies".

Since the facility was set up in November, No 10 has received more than 4,391 petition requests.

Downing Street said it was "a popular way for people to get their views heard" and a "landmark service" which would be developed.

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