LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg said his party would use road charging to pay for a high-speed rail line linking the North-East with London.

Mr Clegg said that a charge for heavy goods vehicles using the country’s motorways and trunk roads, allied with a tax on domestic air flights, could pay for the link within a decade.

Speaking to The Northern Echo during a visit to Newcastle yesterday, Mr Clegg insisted the Lib Dem’s new taxcutting agenda, promising 4p off the rate of income tax, was driven by fairness rather than a tactic to shore up the party’s southern vote against a resurgent Tory Party.

He said: “I will give £10 to anyone who can explain to me how cutting taxes is not a good progressive thing to do – it’s about lowering taxes for people on lower and middle incomes and making wealthy people pay some more.

“It is about restoring fairness to the tax system. What we are proposing is exactly what a progressive Labour Government should have done years ago.”

The Sheffield Hallam MP insisted that the global financial crash had not undermined his party’s newly-adopted position on income tax cuts, which would be paid for by new green taxes, closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and making Whitehall tighten its belt.

He said: “A recession is exactly a time to put more money in people’s pockets.

“What you don’t want to do when you step into unchartered territory is to take more of people’s money away, so our tax plans are not only socially progressive, they also have an economic logic.

“At a time when the economy is teetering on the brink, but people want to commit to the public services, the only way to square the circle is to make tough choices.

“That’s the reason why I think we should scrap ID cards and put extra police on the streets.

“We want to have extra spending on children from the most deprived families and one of the ways to pay for that is that above average income families should be taken out of the tax credit system.

“I am also proposing we introduce a national road charging system for heavy goods vehicles using motorways and trunk roads, along with a small surcharge on domestic flights and that, over ten years, would yield the money needed for a dedicated high speed rail link for the North- East.”

Mr Clegg said that the Lib Dems’ recent successes in local government elections in Newcastle and Durham would now translate into success in the region at the next Parliamentary election.

He said: “It is now so clear how unpopular Labour is and it is also clear that not only are we a nice theoretical alternative, but once we get into power we get things done, we deliver better services for communities and families and that leads to success at Parliamentary level.

“I am absolutely confident we will do that in Durham and Newcastle, where people have given up on Labour.”