USERS of university or college car parks may face a new charge as a result of the transport white paper.
While business premises will be targeted, a Department of Transport spokesman said other urban institutions may also be liable. The status of urban universities and colleges is to be clarified soon.
In the white paper, transport secretary John Prescott argues that staff who drive to work and park for free comprise a significant proportion of peak-hour congestion.
Tony Ridley, head of civil engineering at Imperial College, London, and former chairman and chief executive of London Underground, predicts that academics at urban universities will be charged. "Get ready to pay for or give up your free parking space," he said.
Tony Roberts, Bristol University's surveyor and deputy bursar, does not think that urban universities should be given special treatment when other employers nearby are paying the levy. "It could cause problems," he said.
Bristol University has about 1,000 car park spaces for its 4,500 staff. It plans to cut the number of spaces by 20 per cent over the next few years to make room for new buildings. The university adopted some of the key ideas of the white paper some time ago. It has a "transport to work" committee and an environmental advisory group, which between them have produced a green commuter plan, setting targets for greater use of public transport, more walking and reduced use of cars.
Imperial College is already gearing up to charge. Kenneth Young, Imperial's business planning manager, said charging equipment, new barriers and access controls are planned for the over-subscribed 450 car parking space. "There is a feeling that, being a world leader in environmental science research, we should take a lead in introducing these measures," he said.
* Prescott's fee way, pages 20-21