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County council puts brakes on congestion charge plans

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County council leader Steve Count has accused the Greater Cambridge partnership of “overstepping the mark” in relation to congestion charging plans.

Conservative Cllr Count tabled a motion passed by the county council last week saying that a congestion charge was “not a solution” or a “necessary step” towards improving air quality.

The Greater Cambridge partnership, whose other members are Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council, plus business and academic representatives, has been looking at a wide range of possible remedies to traffic congestion in the region, poor air quality, high carbon emissions and poor public transport.

Councillor Steve Count. Picture: Keith Heppell.
Councillor Steve Count. Picture: Keith Heppell.

Cllr Count has warned the GCP that any decision to impose a congestion charge to remedy these problems is not theirs to make.

He explained: “Congestion charging is a county council responsibility - it's not a GCP or a mayoral responsibility. I have told the GCP quite clearly they cannot progress with the congestion as it is not within their remit and to put it bluntly I believe they have overstepped the mark.”

He put forward a motion to a full council meeting last week, which was accepted, stating: “A joint approach is needed to deliver improvements in air quality, but it is our firm belief that the policies we propose should be positive and not punitive, promoting behavioural change and technological advancement and not penalising those who are already at a disadvantage due to their economic circumstances or geography.

It added: “Draconian charging solutions, such as air quality charging and congestion charging are at best a distraction from implementing permanent and acceptable solutions. - These types of additional taxation are not a solution and are not a necessary step at this point in time. - The introduction of charging solutions, alienate the public we were elected to serve, increase social inequality and fail to follow evidence of good practice elsewhere.”

Instead he would like to see an increase in the ‘green canopy’ of trees and shrubs; consultation on the use of bus lanes for electric vehicles and motorcycles and scooters; premium green licenses for taxi and expansion of the transport hub network, where you can leave your car and get on public transport. But he does not believe congestion charging should be introduced to fund a better bus service.

Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer. Picture: Keith Heppell.
Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer. Picture: Keith Heppell.

But GCP leader Cllr Aidan Van De Weyer has asked that all options - including congestion charging - are left on the table: “We welcome the ambition on air quality expressed in this motion but it is really vital that we integrate policy on air quality with what we are also doing on carbon emissions and congestion and that's what the GCP is trying to do. They need to be looked at together or else we risk doing contradictory things.

“The GCP is focusing on building up an evidence base on these issues and all the measures we can take to improve things, but there do need to be some more restrictive measure and we need to keep everything on the table and look at all the options. The county council is rightly raising concerns around some of the charging mechanisms.”

And the Cambridge Ahead board, who represent local businesses, supported the idea of a congestion charge, saying: “Both the Better Choices for Journeys survey and the Citizens’ Assembly demonstrate that there is a support for the introduction of some form of charge, in recognition of what this could achieve as part of an overall package of measures.”

And Cambridge Network wrote to Cllr Count, saying: “Your motion indicates that improving the alternative to the motor car is a priority but does not comment on how this would be funded. It is our view that the step change in public transport provision needed to deliver that alternative across the travel to work area will come at significant ongoing cost. The introduction of a form of road charging could be expected to offer a clear and direct funding source at the required scale, and we remain keen to see the modelling of potential revenues through the City Access programme. We cannot currently identify any alternative source of revenue funding that would enable this to happen. “

They added their letter was supported by Cambridge Network and the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce.

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