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LONDON-Deparment store operator the John Lewis Partnership is blaming the London congestion charge for a slump in sales at its Oxford Street flagship in central London. And it is calling for plans to extend the London scheme, or to introduce similar schemes to other UK cities, to be put on hold until the adverse effects are ironed out.

Chairman Sir Stuart Hampson acknowledged that the scheme–introduced in February 2003–had brought about an improvement in traffic flows within Central London, but he said: “The congestion charge is having a serious commercial impact on businesses within the charging zone.” Sales at John Lewis’ Oxford Street store (for the six months) are 9% below those of its other stores since the scheme’s introduction, he said.

Sir Stuart said there is still a high degree of confusion about the scheme amongst those living outside the capital with many unsure about how to pay the charge. There is also widespread ignorance about the fact that the toll does not apply at weekends. He called on the Mayor’s office to launch a publicity campaign to tackle this confusion.

And Sir Stuart gave a warning for all local authorities considering congestion charging schemes “Along with many other retailers, we have already lodged proposals for a reduction in our business rating assessment to reflect the impact of lower property values as congestion charging affects our business,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the financial impact of the scheme on our Oxford Street store over the next six months to support that proposal. Such claims by retailers, restaurateurs and leisure operators could have a very significant impact indeed on future government revenues for local authority spending. This is not costless to the public purse.”

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