Building this week launches a "Chop the Charge" campaign to get the construction industry exempted from London mayor Ken Livingstone's congestion levy.
Industry associations and leaders have failed to lobby effectively to obtain a discount from Transport for London and will now face extra bills for transport costs that will run into millions of pounds.

As yet, Transport for London has refused to listen to argument over exemptions or discounts for the construction industry.

A TfL spokesperson said: "There are no plans to review the charge or hear the case of any industry that is planning to lobby for concessions."

So Building has taken on the fight on behalf of the industry to urge Livingstone to exempt contractors from the congestion charge.

Industry leaders have rallied behind the Chop the Charge campaign and plan to present the mayor of London with overwhelming evidence to support the case for scrapping the charge for construction firms.

Strategic forum chairman Peter Rogers promised his support. He said officials were calculating how much the charge would cost the industry.

He said: "We cannot let this charge become a direct tax on contractors. The industry needs to develop a strategy that can be put forward to make a case for an exemption."

Rogers added, however, that firms needed incentives to reduce the number of trips they made into the capital.

Skanska director Keith Clarke said: "If you want to regenerate London, it makes no sense to tax the regenerators. This is effectively a logistics tax, and it's inconsistent with the policy of increasing density in the inner cities."

Specialist contractor firms also backed the campaign. They said the congestion charge could cost millions, even without calculating the hidden costs of administration.

Stef Stefanou, the chairman of concrete trade association Construct, said the charge would cost the biggest firms a minimum of £800,000 a year. If contractors failed to pay on time, that figure could rise to £6.4m.

Stefanou said: "I support the Building campaign. The only thing we can do for the time being is to lobby and pester TfL collectively and individually, association by association and company by company."

Stefanou also pointed to problems with the computer equipment used in congestion charging. He said that there was an error rate of 15%, which meant that thousands of vehicles could be wrongly identified or missed. He said: "If you add to this an IT error at the DVLC, [the organisation that provides car owners' addresses] then you start to see a mammoth problem emerging."

Construction unions also promised support for the campaign. Paul Corby, national construction officer at electrical and engineering union Amicus, said the charge would have a dire effect on small firms. He said: "When you have small firms that employ people on relatively low wages, the charge could cause hardship."

Leaders of organisations representing small and medium-sized firms have united to back the campaign.

Ian Davis, director-general of the Federation of Master Builders, said the FMB had tried win an exemption but failed.

He said: "It is now up to the construction industry to unite to urge that the tax is cut for firms."

National Federation of Builders chief executive Barry Stephens said that he had lobbied for concessions through the Construction Confederation, the umbrella body to which the NFB belongs. Stephens warned the charge could soon be extended to other cities.

He said it was time to present alternative plans to Transport for London to win concessions for the industry. He made it known that the Construction Confederation was already holding talks with TfL.

Stephens said: "One idea could be to introduce a discount-based on a special license or permit that contractors could display in their commercial vehicles." He added that the congestion charge would also mean contractors incurred other costs, such as paying to have food delivered to sites.

The Construction Confederation president John Gains refused, however, to back the campaign. Gains, who is chief executive of Mowlem, said that charges would be passed to the client.

Gains said the congestion charge would help firms by enabling them to travel around t he capital more easily. He said: "I believe this will have benefits for contractors in terms of time and costs."

How construction is paying over the odds

After Building revealed at the beginning of the year that the construction industry had missed the chance to lobby for concessions, the Corporation of London estimated that the congestion charge would cost the average London site an extra £50,000. The corporation worked out that a typical central London project lasts about 18 months and receives about 15 deliveries a day. This means that a congestion charge of £5 a vehicle a day would add at least £30,000 to its construction costs. Drivers who have not paid by 10pm on the day of their visit will be charged an extra £5. Those who do not pay the charge at all will face fines of £80, rising to £120 if they do not remit the money within a month. The boroughs in the capital to be affected are Southwark, Camden, Westminster, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Islington and Lambeth.