SMALL businesses in York have given a resounding and unanimous thumbs-down to the possibility of congestion charging in the city.

At a meeting on Monday night at the Hilton hotel in York, members of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) had the chance to question a panel of experts in the field – Coun Steve Galloway, City of York Council’s executive member for city strategy; cyclists’ spokesman Paul Hepworth; Coun Dave Merrett, who headed a council committee which looked at the congestion charge and Chris Glen, the federation’s national transport expert.

All gave their views, but only Coun Merrett said he saw no option other than the city introducing a charge in the future, to offset the problems associated with a projected 28 per cent increase in traffic in the city over the next 15 years.

He said council officers had worked out that such an increase would cost businesses around £15 million a year, because of the costs associated with fuel and having employees stuck in traffic when they could be working.

But following questions from the floor he was unable to say how much trade would be lost by people opting to avoid York and going to Leeds, Harrogate or Beverley instead.

Paul Abbott, of Micklegate Traders, said: “Congestion charging will close businesses.”

Frank Wood, of Braithwaites Jewellers, said: “A congestion charge would be an absolute nightmare for York. We have done much better than other cities through the recession, and what we don’t need is talk of congestion charging as that would frighten off anyone wanting to invest in the city.”

Coun Galloway refused to accept traffic would increase by the projected amount, saying the council would continue to mitigate increases.

It was also pointed out that the congestion charge in London was seen as a “stealth tax”, and congestion in the capital was back up to its pre-charge level because people had accepted it as another bill they must pay.

A vote at the end of the meeting resulted in all 30 members of the FSB who attended voting against any future congestion charge.