A CONGESTION charge in Cardiff would be "commercial suicide," according to the Forum of Private Business.
The lobbying group's condemnation of any charge comes as Cardiff Council has confirmed it is considering introducing such a move. Representatives have met with Derek Turner, a consultant who helped introduce the charge in London.
The FPB has demanded that before Cardiff follow the examples of London and Edinburgh and move forward with plans, a referendum must be held.
Andrew Mathias, the organisation's spokesman in Wales, said, "Introducing congestion charging in Cardiff would be tantamount to sending a wrecking ball into its small business community. An FPB survey of 500 small firms in London, where public transport is much better than Cardiff, found that 58% of businesses had seen a drop in profits since congestion charging was introduced. Meanwhile, just under a third had thought of relocating as a result of the charge and two-thirds reported a drop in footfall."
However a council spokes-woman said Cardiff was committed to spending half a billion pounds on improving transport and that a new revenue stream - such as a congestion charge - would be essential.
Commuter traffic into Cardiff is thought to be growing at 3% a year, 50% above the British average.
She said, "Cardiff Council has recognised that, in the face of the unsustainable growth in traffic, doing nothing is not an option. There is a need to invest heavily, primarily in public transport infrastructures and services.
"In Cardiff such investment will be in the order of £500m and the council is seeking to raise this sum through a private/public partnership. An income stream such as road charging will be necessary to support the investment and to help reduce the demand for travel."
She said no decision on charging had been made as yet but there would be extensive consultation.
"No charging regime would be introduced before 2008 and even then not before very significant improvements to public transport," she added.
Claire Saralis, policy manager at Cardiff Chamber of Commerce, said there would have to be "real choices available" for commuters before a congestion charge or a road pricing scheme could be accepted by the business community.
Mary Cottrell, the director of Everycare Cardiff, employs 200 carers who look after people in their own homes.
She said, "Care workers have to drive across town, so it would increase the cost of delivering our services.
"There's not a big congestion problem in Cardiff. There is not even a rush-hour problem. I come into the city centre every day and I never have a problem".
A Welsh Assembly Government spokeswoman said a road pricing policy was being developed for Wales.