Boris Johnson was today accused of turning his back on carbon emission reductions and turning "petrol blue" after announcing he would scrap western extension of the London congestion charge.

Johnson's decision to rip up Livingstone's extended congestion charge zone will see the area of London covered by a charge on motorists using London roads almost halved.

The decision - first revealed on Dave Hill's London blog - followed a public consultation exercise in which the mayor promised to "listen to the people of London".

Johnson will now begin the legal process required to remove the western extension of the congestion charge zone introduced by former mayor Ken Livingstone last year amid a clamour of protests.

Johnson's decision to revoke the charge in the extended zone was today hailed by London's business sector as a "common sense decision" but condemned by opposition parties in the London assembly, who said the decision tarnished Johnson's avowed green ambitions for the capital.

Johnson, who earlier this week sought to hail his green credentials in his first keynote speech on the environment, attempted to play down the expected increase in pollution caused by removing the charge.

"It will be a marginal increase in traffic that will result," said Johnson. "As for increases in CO2, they are trivial from the change we are bringing about. This is the right thing to do from a democratic point of view, and an economic point of view."

Traffic entering the extended zone, which covers the borough of Kensington and Chelsea and parts of Westminster, has been cut by 14% since the charge zone was extended last year, equivalent to 30,000 fewer cars each day, according to TfL.

London Assembly Green Party member Jenny Jones said Johnson's decision would "lead to more traffic and more pollution", while the Campaign for Better Transport said the mayor had "turned his back on carbon reductions".

Val Shawcross, Labour's transport spokeswoman, also condemned the move, which comes just a couple of weeks after Johnson cancelled some major transport projects due to budget pressures.

Transport for London estimates that abolishing the western zone will result in an annual loss of £55m-£70m.

Shawcross said: "At a time when TfL's coffers are tight and the mayor is scrapping major transport projects, they will now have the added costs of removing the cameras, changing road signs and removing street furniture, which cost £100m to install. The mayor has shown his true colours today: petrol blue."

The Conservative mayor said that Tfl's estimated figures in lost revenue were "exaggerated".

The mayor, who insisted he was not "in principle" against pricing road schemes, said today that the results of a five-week consultation exercise had given him a "clear mandate" to scrap the scheme.

Almost 28,000 took part in the consultation, of whom 67% and 86% of businesses supported the removal of the zone.

Nineteen per cent stated that they wanted the extension kept as it is, and 12% supported changing the scheme to improve the way that it operated.

Johnson turned up at Portobello Road market in Notting Hill this lunchtime to give the news in person to delighted market traders, who had complained that the charge was deterring customers.

Johnson said: "I have asked Transport for London to begin the legal process to remove this charge with all convenient speed, and that doesn't mean we can do it overnight because that would be irresponsible, but it does mean we can now accelerate congestion busting measures that we need.

"A new public scheme for road works that will inflict real penalties who dig up the roads without permission and leave them unattended day and night. We will rephase the traffic lights to allow the traffic to flow more smoothly, we will be installing a bike hire to encourage people to get out of their cars so that we can lift this tax within fourteen months at the absolute outside and hopefully earlier than that.

"In doing we can offer hope to hard pressed businesses when they most needed but also we have show Londoners that when they speak we will listen. The people of London have spoken. We have listened. In the words of General de Gaulle 'Je vous ai compris'."

Johnson gave reassurances he had no plans to scrap the scheme altogether. Speaking of the original zone, which has been up and running for five years, the mayor said: "The existing zone works well. People just did not want this."

Johnson had pledged to scrap the extended zone charge in his mayoral election campaign earlier this year.

He later appeared to move towards keeping the western zone in a modified form, such as introducing a charge free period during the middle of the day, but promised to abide by the views of the "people of London".

The compromise option of keeping the zone but reducing the charging hours to peak-time only received little support in the consultation exercise, however.

A separate survey of 2,000 Londoners and 1,000 London-based businesses conducted by TfL suggested that the majority of Londoners were in favour of retaining the charge in some form – in conflict with the consultation's findings.

The survey, carried out to show how representative the consultation responses were found 41% of the public against the charge and 30% in favour of keeping it.

Half of businesses surveyed wanted the extension scrapped and 23% supported keeping it. Fifteen per cent of members of the public and 14 % of businesses said they would change the way the scheme operates.

The Conservative mayor insisted there were "abundant" economies to be make up the lost revenue, which TfL estimates will cost city hall coffers between £55m and £70m a year.

Describing the estimate as exaggerated, Johnson said: "I have absolutely no doubt we can deliver it financially.I think we will have no difficulty in finding the necessary economies out of the £8.3bn [TfL] budget."

The congestion charge was first introduced in 2003 by Ken Livingstone, Johnson's Labour predecessor, who then extended the scheme to west London in February last year. The charge was originally £5 and rose to £8 in 2005 and was widely opposed by the Conservatives as a tax on motorists.

The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry said its members were "delighted to see that common sense has prevailed".

An LCC spokesperson said: "This is an important milestone for many of the capital's hard-pressed businesses and we urge the Mayor to launch a root-and-branch review of the original charging scheme in the central zone."

Johnson's decision to remove the western extension will now be subject to a 12-week statutory public consultation, due next summer, coupled with a separate consultation conducted by TfL

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said it was important that "local congestion charging schemes are locally driven, not forced on people from above".


Hélène Mulholland

The GuardianTramp

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