Published: 11:48, 16 February 2021
| Updated: 10:56, 17 February 2021
A petition calling on the London Mayor to drop "disastrous" plans to charge Dartford motorists crossing into Greater London has surpassed 25,000 signatures – and has drawn opposition from the Labour party.
In two years' time it could cost £3.50 for north Kent residents to drive into the neighbouring borough of Bexley.
Dartford residents hit out at proposed Greater London boundary charge
The Greater London Boundary Charge is among the ideas put forward by the Mayor Sadiq Khan (Lab) to raise an estimated £500 million a year for cash-strapped Transport for London (TfL).
It would see drivers with vehicles registered outside the London boroughs charged each time they travel into Greater London at a cost of £3.50 a day, and increasing to £5.50 for the most polluting vehicles.
The levy would be on top of the existing £15 congestion charge and £12.50 ultra-low emission zone (Ulez).
But the move has proven controversial beyond the south circular and a petition against the charge – started by Longfield Parish Councillor George Holt – has now amassed more than 25,000 signatures.
Last month Dartford MP Gareth Johnson (Con) spoke out in Parliament after it was revealed a feasibility study was due to start on the plan, with the aim of introducing the charge in two years' time.
The Dartford Labour Group last week voiced its opposition and has now requested a meeting with the London Mayor.
Dartford Labour group leader Sacha Gosine said: "Charging residents £3.50 to enter London is not something we as Dartford Labour & Cooperative Group could possibly support.
"We have residents who commute into London areas to work, school, see friends and family and even shop at Crayford Sainsbury's.
"Charging residents to go about their daily lives isn't something we could support going forward."
He said he had written to the Mayor's office to make it clear they would not be lending their support and has requested a virtual meeting.
But he hastened to add the proposal was not "set in stone".
It comes after Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite (Con) wrote to all group leaders calling for them to unite with the Tory group and oppose the "unfair and unthinkable charge" in a letter addressed to City Hall.
The Tory leader said: "Any such charge would have a disastrous impact on the residents of Dartford and should be ruled out immediately.
"No publicly-funded feasibility study can make right an idea that is wrong in principle, unfair in practice and which has the potential to hurt people making their way to work, picking up their children from school or even families in the west of our borough travelling to their nearest rail way station to use public transport."
But Cllr Gosine said of Dartford's Conservative councillors' opposition: "The timing of this is no accident, just two months before the May election."
The Labour group leader added: "The Tories have chronically underfunded transport services inside and outside the capital and the collapse of passenger numbers during Covid-19 has made the situation even worse.
"We support measures to reduce congestion and emissions, but this proposal isn't the right way to achieve that.
"The government could have stepped in with adequate funding but they are intent on playing political games at a time when people are facing financial hardship."
But Cllr Kite responded: "The timing is nothing to do with the election, the timing is entirely to do with the Mayor."
He pointed out the Swanscombe and Greenhithe Resident's Association, which is also standing in May's elections, had joined them and Cllr Gosine was offered the opportunity to show opposition without "making it political".
"I'm disappointed he didn't join us," added Cllr Kite. "It’s sad because our campaign would have been far stronger if we had all united together.
"I can’t force them to join us but but I believe it’s a mistake not to have joined with the council’s two other parties to strengthen the case."
"It is just badly thought through and my thoughts are the Mayor will withdraw it."
The Tory leader said the council would now be working on an evidence-based review to highlight the shortcomings of the policy.
He explained it also raised fundamental questions about "representation" for Dartford residents who do not have a say in who presides over City Hall.
Cllr Kite added: "It is just badly thought through and my thoughts are the Mayor will withdraw it."
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has repeatedly urged the government to allow London to retain the £500m of Vehicle Excise Duty paid by Londoners every year but which is currently spent almost exclusively on maintaining roads outside the capital.
But the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps appeared to rule this out earlier this month when he told a select committee the Mayor could not just "raid the national budget" to fix problems.
Without an agreement in place, the Mayor says he will be forced to find other ways of raising money to overcome the "unprecedented financial challenges" TfL faces.
A spokesman for the Mayor of London said: “A Greater London Boundary Charge for non-residents could reduce congestion and emissions whilst encouraging more use of public transport.
"Revenues could also provide funding for investment in London’s transport network. It is proposed that the charge would only apply to vehicles registered outside London which are driven into the capital.
"Subject to the findings of TfL’s feasibility study, already under way, any proposals developed as a result would be subject to a full public consultation where the public – including non-Londoners – would be able to have their say on any potential proposals.”
The Mayor's office claims some of the funds raised could be earmarked to support sustainable travel in boundary boroughs and help TfL fund bus enhancements and new walking and cycling improvements.
It is said to be part of Mr Khan's plans, if re-elected, to ensure a green recovery from Covid-19 and raise vital income to sustainably fund London's transport network, which also runs threatened bus services to and from Dartford.