Stores and landlord plan to refund congestion fee

Worried retailers on London's Marylebone High Street aim to counteract the impact of the Congestion Charge through an innovative scheme developed by landlord Howard de Walden Estates.

Fearing car-borne consumers will shun the area after the imposition of the£5 charge on February 17, stores and the property company will refund the cost to shoppers.

Details of participating retailers are being finalised, but those interested include Divertimenti, Grange, Shaker and Conran Shop.

'We are worried that the charge will affect trade on the high street, as a lot of people use cars when shopping in the area compared with other affected central London areas,' said a spokesman for Howard de Walden.

Since the early 1990s, the area has been transformed from a retailing wasteland, populated mostly by charity shops, into its present bustling condition, added the spokesman.

'We don't want to see it return to the earlier state,' he said.

The full details of the scheme are still being worked out, but it is expected to apply on selected days of the week to shoppers spending£50 or more at a participating retailer.

A particular difficulty is likely to be verification that a shopper has paid the charge, and it was admitted that the scheme might be open to abuse.

Crown Estates, the landlord for central London areas including Regent Street, has no plans to introduce a similar scheme.

It said it will monitor the success of Howard de Walden's initiative 'with interest'.