Country dwellers could be charged up to £1.30 a mile to drive into their nearest town, if the government’s pay-as-you-drive road taxing scheme is introduced. So far more than 500,000 people have signed an online Downing Street petition calling for the proposals to be scrapped, fearing road taxing would transform country communities into ghost towns and destroy rural businesses.

‘We are very deeply concerned about the potential impact of such a scheme,’ said Oliver Harwood from the Country Land and Business Association.

Road-charging must become mandatory within the next 10 years to tackle congestion and amass £28 billion for the UK economy, according to a government-backed report by Sir Rod Eddington. A charge of up to £1.30 per mile would be levied for using certain roads at certain times. The report prompted Peter Roberts, an account manager from Shropshire, to launch the online petition and forward the link to 30 friends (http://petitions.pm.gov.uk). Within days the campaign had become the most popular on the government’s website.

By Christmas more than 50,000 people had signed and in the first week of January the petition passed 100,000. Campaigners hope more than a million people will have signed by the February 20 deadline. ‘We believe it will quickly grow towards the 1 million mark as media coverage increases,’ said Nigel Humphries from the Association of British Drivers (ABD).

Drivers across Britain are outraged that they would have to pay to use roads as well as pay tax on fuel. ‘I have always reacted strongly against the idea of paying per mile to use the roads,’ Mr Roberts explained. ‘It is going to be unfair, and will limit our personal freedom and economic activity. It will be colossally expensive to implement and time consuming for drivers as they work out how to minimise the cost of their journeys ? or even whether they can afford to travel at all.’

The road taxing proposals are of prime concern to those living in isolated country locations: ‘It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs’, Mr Roberts continued. Rural businesses could also be affected as people opt against making journeys into the countryside.

A Bill making way for road-taxing trials is due before MPs during the current parliamentary session. Ministers are looking for a trial scheme within five years as a precursor to a national road pricing scheme by 2015.

To add your name to the petition click here

Download a copy of the Eddington Report