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Could a workplace parking levy work in Cambridge?

Nottingham’s workplace parking levy has been held up by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) as an innovative mechanism for generating income that can be spent on public transport.

To date, Nottingham is the only UK city to have introduced a workplace parking levy.

A workplace parking levy has been suggested for Cambridge (20415883)
A workplace parking levy has been suggested for Cambridge (20415883)

It has been in operation since 2012 and has brought in more than £60million, which the city council has invested in public transport including tram, bus and railway station improvements.

Those employers that provide 11 or more liable workplace parking places need to pay a charge for each of those places, currently £415.

Recently reported figures show that car use has dropped and public transport has increased. It has also seen a reduction in air pollution.

Over the next two months, the full report from the Greater Cambridge citizens’ assembly will be presented to the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s joint assembly and executive board.

The GCP is expected to respond to its recommendations in early 2020 and has said they would include examples of how other areas facing similar issues have tackled them when they receive the full report from the citizens’ assembly over the next two months.

A statement said: “The Greater Cambridge Partnership is working with partners to develop schemes to transform public transport and significantly improve walking and cycling journeys to give people real alternatives to travelling in and around Greater Cambridge by car.

“Members of our joint assembly and executive board will receive the report from the Greater Cambridge citizens’ assembly, as well as an update on technical work, when they meet in November and December. This will include examples of how other places facing similar issues have tackled these.”

Over two weekends, September 7 and 8, and October 5 and 6, the 53 participants of the assembly listened to talks from experts on air quality, congestion and transport, including hearing solutions tried elsewhere in the world.

The preliminary report showed that by the end of the weekend the assembly said that, of the options provided, its preferred way of improving congestion and air quality was to close roads to cars. A workplace parking levy was one of the least favoured options.

In a poll of preferences, closing roads to cars received 341 points, a clean air zone received 269, 261 for a pollution charge, 259 for a flexible charge, 203 for restricting or removing parking, 172 for a workplace parking levy, 145 for increased parking charges, and 71 points for no intervention.

But some organisations like Smarter Cambridge Transport (SCT), which advocated for a workplace levy in 2015, believe lessons could be learned from Nottingham.

Other local authorities – including Birmingham and Leicester – are also actively investigating the possible introduction of a similar scheme to Nottingham.

Edward Leigh, of SCT, said: “In the official Call for Evidence in that year, several organisations, including Campaign for Better Transport, Sustrans, Cambridge Ahead and the University of Cambridge called for WPL to be considered seriously.

“It seems that, since then, large employers in Cambridge have lobbied against its introduction. Politicians are also convinced that the potential revenue is too small to go after, and that it won’t do enough to reduce congestion.

“We would like to test the assumptions that lead to those conclusions.”

Smarter Cambridge Transport- Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell. (20617354)
Smarter Cambridge Transport- Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell. (20617354)

He continued: “The benefits experienced in Nottingham would still apply in Cambridge. A workplace parking levy would provide a steady, long-term income, which could be invested in bus services (unlike City Deal money, which is restricted to infrastructure). It does not require complex or expensive infrastructure. It can be implemented relatively quickly (compared with introducing a congestion charge). It requires only a small team to administer, unlike a congestion charge which is much more challenging to enforce.”

“We need a sensible and open conversation about how a workplace parking levy might be implemented: the charge, eligibility for rebates and exemptions, and a guarantee that many more bus services will be running before the workplace parking levy comes into effect.”

RMG Photography - March 2018..James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough..Pic - Richard Marsham..RMG Photography - Tel : 07798 758711.www.rmg-photography.co.uk. (20617403)
RMG Photography - March 2018..James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough..Pic - Richard Marsham..RMG Photography - Tel : 07798 758711.www.rmg-photography.co.uk. (20617403)

But Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor James Palmer says could not support any form of workplace parking levy in Cambridge when the current public transport alternatives are “nowhere near good enough”.

Instead, he said: “A levy would penalise many working people and especially those who have been forced into living further away from the Greater Cambridge area due to astronomically high house prices.

“But this is why I’m urgently pressing to deliver a station at Cambridge South, to reform how ourbus network operates, and to deliver the transformational Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro network. If we want to fundamentally change how people travel, we need to provide better public transport alternatives to the private car.

“We need to put the first-class transport infrastructure in before we start charging people who use cars – not the other way around.”

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority recently published a draft Local Transport Plan, which set out a vision to create a world-class transport network for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to support sustainable growth and opportunity for all.

When asked what the SCT hopes will come of the full report of the citizens assembly, Mr Leigh responded: “It will also be interesting to see more detail about the complementary measures that the assembly supported, such as bus franchising, and redesigning bus routes to use the inner ring road (‘lollipop routing’) instead of the city centre as the main hub in Cambridge.”

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