David Cameron has revealed that pay-as-you-drive toll roads could soon become central to rebuilding and managing England's road network.
The Prime Minister said that the use of private investment is the only way to relieve congestion on the country's roads in a speech at the Institution of Civil Engineers.
His speech called for private money to be used to ease congestion by widening 'pinch points' on roads and for schemes such as making it possible for traffic to use the hard shoulder on motorways. The Department for Transport (DfT) has said the cost of congestion to the UK economy is set to increase by up to 12 billion a year by 2025.
Road tolling is likely to be the most contentious part of his plans, but the Prime Minister said that charging drivers will only be considered for new, not existing, 'capacity'. He gave the example of improvements to the A14 in Suffolk being part-funded through tolls.
Labour responded to this by Tweeting: 'Government's definition of 'new toll roads' includes widening or upgrading an existing road. They should be clear that's what they mean.'
It is likely that rural roads would not be included in the scheme, but major roads and motorways currently managed by the Highways Agency could be taken over by private companies in the same way that utilities such as water and electricity have been.
However, the PM says that this would fall short of privatisation because motorways and A-roads would be leased to private operators rather than sold off altogether.
Tell us what you think: Scroll to the bottom of this page to see your comments and the results of our poll on road charging.
What they're saying...
Here are some responses to David Cameron's plans from areas such as politcal opponents, motoring organisations, the business community and campaign groups.
The plans have been met with concern by the AA. The motoring organisation's president, Edmund King, said: 'There is a big leap between reform of the Highways Agency and new ownership and financing models.
'The privatisation of the railway network has hardly been a spectacular success and millions of drivers will be concerned if one of our most important and used national assets, the strategic road network, is sold off.
'The Government has indicated that tolls would only apply on new capacity but many drivers would suspect new ownership is the thin end of the wedge, leading to national road pricing.'
Labour has condemned the plans, with Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle saying: 'Motorists now seem set to be in the firing line for the next phase of the Tories' ideologically driven rip off culture.'
Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: 'British drivers simply don't trust the government to come up with a new way of paying for roads that will not lead to increased costs in the long run.
'Drivers already pay far more in taxes and duties than they get back in investment in new roads.'
Andrew Pendleton from Friends of the Earth said: 'Building and widening roads to tackle congestion is a dead-end policy that will simply lead to more traffic, more pollution - and even more gridlocked roads.
'The prime minister should be promoting alternatives to driving such as affordable buses and trains - and reduce our transport system's reliance on expensive overseas oil.'
The RAC Foundation has already said that England's motorways should be privatised. Its director, Stephen Glaister, said: 'We should cautiously welcome the prospect of private sector involvement. There are just not enough public resources to provide the capacity we need and this offers the chance to make long-term plans for a utility every bit as important as things like water, power, electricity and the railways.'
There was also support from the business community. John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: 'Congestion on our roads costs the UK economy up to 8bn a year, so the Prime Minister's ambition to get much-needed private investment into the strategic network could not have come at a better time.'
The British Chambers of Commerce also welcomed the initiative. The organisation's director of policy, Adam Marshall, said: 'Business is clear that we must find innovative ways to get private sector capital into our road system, or we will lose some of our competitive edge in the years ahead.
'Come the autumn, business people up and down the country will want to see a clear action plan that unlocks investment in the road network for the next decade and beyond.'
The DfT will carry out a feasibility study into 'new ownership and financing models' for roads, and it will report in the autumn.
What you said about David Cameron's plans
David Cameron believes that private investment is the only way that we'll be able to repair our roads after 'decades of degradation'.
Do you think our roads will be safe in the hands of pension funds and foreign governments such as the Chinese? Perhaps you agree that more toll roads and reduced road tax is a fairer way of making people pay for how much the actually use the roads?
Your comments and poll result.
More tolls planned