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Call for referendum on proposed road-charging for Cambridge is rejected by Cambridgeshire County Council

A call for a referendum on proposed road-charging for Cambridge failed to get enough support after councillors said the issue was “too complex for a yes or no vote”.

Second Cambridge rally against the congestion charge. Picture: davidjohnsonphotographic.co.uk. (62657638)
Second Cambridge rally against the congestion charge. Picture: davidjohnsonphotographic.co.uk. (62657638)

The Conservative group at Cambridgeshire County Council had put forward a motion calling for a local poll on the Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ) proposals.

However, others argued the complexities of the discussion could not be included in a simple yes or no vote, and that the authority should wait to see the responses to the public consultation on the wider proposals.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) set out its plans for the STZ last year which included a proposed £5 weekday charge for drivers travelling into and around Cambridge, between 7am and 7pm. A number of exemptions to the charge were proposed, including for people on low incomes.

The road charge would help fund an expanded bus network, including more frequent services with cheaper fares.

The GCP said it would implement the public transport improvements before any potential congestion charge was introduced.

A public consultation on the proposals was held, and received more than 23,000 responses. A report on findings from the consultation is expected to be published in June.

At a county council full council meeting today (Tuesday, March 21), a petition was presented to councillors signed by 15,663 people opposing the scheme and calling for a referendum to be held.

Cllr Chris Boden (Con, Whittlesey North) said people across the county were “asking when their views will be taken into account”.

Cllr Mark Goldsack (Con, Soham North and Isleham) said the entire county needed to be able to have a say on the proposals.

The Conservative group proposed that a referendum should be held on May 4, the same day as the local elections, to ask people a single yes/no question on the congestion charge proposals.

The group asked for £1.5million from the county council reserves to be allocated to cover the costs of the poll.

Cllr Lorna Dupré (Lib Dem, Sutton) said the proposal for a “simplistic yes, no referendum” was the “worst way to solve a complex set of issues”.

She also said there were people who could be impacted by the proposals who would not be able to vote in a referendum, giving examples of young people under the age of 18, and people who live over the county council border in Royston or Saffron Walden.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham), leader of the county council, said people took time to fill out the GCP’s consultation on the proposals, and it would be “rude and disrespectful” to “ignore” the responses by holding the referendum.

She added that the issue would come back to the county council to be “determined by elected representatives”.

When the motion was put to a vote, 24 councillors voted in favour of holding a referendum, and 32 councillors voted against.

Look out for more analysis and reaction in this week’s Cambridge Independent - out from Wednesday, March 22.

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