Businesses in West End fear impact as price hike kicks in today
Central London retailers braced themselves this morning as London's controversial congestion charge fee rose from£5 to£8.

Already hit by the consumer spending downturn, many fear a negative impact from the fee's 60 per cent hike for motorists.

Since the road toll came into effect in February 2003, congestion in central London has fallen by a purported 30 per cent, or 70,000 vehicles a day. London Mayor Ken Livingstone estimates that up to£45 million will be raised from the price increase, which he says will help cut traffic levels and improve public transport.

However, opposition parties and London businesses have criticised the move, claiming it is unnecessary and will harm trade. 'This is a serious blow to many of London's businesses, which are already in pain with the charge level of£5,' said Conservative congestion charge spokesperson Angie Bray.

Dr Tim Denison, director of customer traffic analyst SPSL, said: 'Analysis of the original congestion zone charge was tempered by other factors, including the Central Line closure, war on Iraq and the half term.

'However, our data suggests there was a significant impact, but that shopper levels returned to almost pre-congestion zone levels within six months. The latest increase of 60 per cent may see a more sustained resistance.'