Public Affairs: Soap Box - Gareth Elliott, consultant, Insight Public Affairs

The Government faces a dilemma. The nation's roads are at capacity, yet people's desire to own a car shows no sign of abating.

New roads are expensive yet the public sector purse is empty. The Government's solution is to get the private sector to fund new roads but there seems little appetite for that. The M6 toll road, the UK's only major privately owned road, has struggled to achieve the number of users originally planned.

The Government hopes a feasibility study, currently being carried out by the Department for Transport, will shed some light on realistic solutions.

Perhaps even more worrying for the Government is the very real concern about declining revenues from fuel duty and vehicle excise duty.

Paradoxical as it may seem, increased car ownership is resulting in decreasing revenues. As cars are become more efficient and, if the expected uptake in electric vehicles is realised, current policies will mean greener cars pay no duty.

The RAC Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies have predicted a fuel tax revenue shortfall of £13bn to the Treasury by 2029. To bridge the gap, fuel duty would have to rise by 50 per cent - political suicide.

Could the solution be road pricing? It removes the reliance on fossil fuels by charging road users regardless of energy source, and encourages better use of road space by incentivising travel at less busier times of the day.

The problem is that the last time this policy was considered, a petition was raised against it on the Downing Street website attracting two million angry signatures.

Is the question of how we deal with our roads likely to reopen Pandora's box, much as HS2 and Heathrow already have?

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