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Cambridge Labour reveal they will not support revised peak-time congestion charge

The Cambridge City Labour group will not support revised plans for a peak-time congestion charge and is calling for political leaders to come up with a plan, it has been revealed.

The Liberal Democrats in South Cambridgeshire are also believed to have agreed to oppose the proposals from the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) and Conservatives are already known to be staunchly against them.

Cambridge City Council leader Cllr Mike Davey (Lab, Petersfield) Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge City Council leader Cllr Mike Davey (Lab, Petersfield) Picture: Keith Heppell

The plans are due to go to the GCP’s joint assembly tomorrow (Thursday, September 7), before its executive board decides whether to put them forward to the highways authority – Cambridgeshire County Council – for a decision.

If approved, there would be a £5 charge for cars, £10 for vans and £50 for HGVs and coaches to use Cambridge’s roads on weekdays between 7am-10am and 3pm-6pm to cut congestion at peak times and fund a better bus network.

A statement released by Cambridge Labour today (Wednesday) says: “Over the past year, Cambridge City Council Labour Group has considered the GCP’s Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ) proposals, listening to our residents and offering robust scrutiny at every point in the consultation. While we have been looking forward to further discussion, we do not believe the current proposals on the STZ should proceed.

“We are facing an undeniable challenge, which we as politicians all have a duty to respond to. Local authorities are being forced to find solutions while the Tory government turns a blind eye to the needs of communities. We urgently need radical improvements to our public transport network which is falling apart following years of cuts, and must act immediately to combat the worsening climate crisis and its impact on our health.

“As stakeholders in the decision-making processes at the GCP, we have worked with the Liberal Democrats towards a solution that would address the transport crisis we face in Greater Cambridge. However, their current position makes it impossible to continue having a meaningful conversation on the new proposals.

“Cambridge Labour has consistently maintained that any scheme we would support must be fair for residents, and we still have reservations about the proposals, including the extent of the mitigations for people on low incomes and the impact of a peak-hours only charge. We are also painfully aware of the financial difficulties residents have been facing following years of Tory austerity and the ongoing cost of living crisis.

“At the same time, tackling the climate crisis and improving public transport are key to our Labour principles, and it is imperative we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and tackle congestion. We believe public transport should be in public hands, and private companies shouldn’t be allowed to continue to profit while essential services are cut. We believe everyone should have access to safe, efficient and affordable transport, where the air is clean and everyone can get where they want to go and we will continue to promote this, particularly through Mayor Nik Johnson’s work to consider enhanced partnerships and franchising buses in the region. This work is essential as we continue to ensure that the inevitable economic growth of the region is managed carefully and sustainably.

“We hope that political interests won’t make it difficult for us to face these challenges, and we urge all the relevant political leaders to join with us to bring together a plan for the future that works not only for our residents and businesses but for those who come to our city to work, shop or study.

“We would like to thank the GCP officers for all their work to date, and all residents, organisations, businesses and trade unions for their thoughtful and essential contributions throughout the process.”

The Cambridgeshire Residents’ Group, which has campaigned against the initial and revised GCP proposals, said in response: “Today’s statement from Labour is very clear that they have not listened to the residents and only when they lose support from their Liberal Democrat allies do they realise that continuing with the immoral congestion charge was political suicide.

“One thing learnt from this protracted and hugely expensive process is that you cannot tax the residents, and local business, for something they have already paid for eg buses.

“The CRG remains committed to a best practice solution for Cambridge and has never endorsed congestion charging. We invite GCP board members and stakeholders to discuss practical, fair alternatives that don't burden vulnerable residents or jeopardise local businesses. We’re committed to fostering a more collaborative approach with local authorities for the benefit of all.”

Earlier this week, the Cambridge Independent’s political commentator, Phil Rodgers, was told by a source that the Lib Dem group in South Cambridgeshire voted against the proposals for the STZ at a party meeting. He said the plans are “effectively dead” in the water without Lib Dem support.

A statement from the county council’s joint administration of Lib Dem, Labour and Independent councillors said the authority “recognised the high levels of public concern”.

Meanwhile, South East Cambridgeshire’s Conservative MP Lucy Frazer, the culture secretary, described the plan as “unworkable”. And her party colleague, South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne, said “too much time and money” had already been wasted “flogging this dead horse of a policy”.

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