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Motion to oppose a Cambridge congestion charge defeated

By Josh Thomas | Local Democracy Reporter

Congestion charge boundary sign in central London
Congestion charge boundary sign in central London

South Cambridgeshire district councillors keep options open despite fears it would be a 'pernicious tax' on people who can't afford to live in the city.

There are claims a “carrot and stick” approach is needed to reduce congestion on the roads to help commuters get in and out of Cambridge.

The move to defeat the objection to a congestion charge means the council could support such a scheme if a congestion charge were to be proposed.

Better public transport was cited as being important, as was the idea of a congestion charge – making drivers pay for bringing polluting vehicles into the city centre.

Many, however, are opposed to the idea, saying it would hit people who could not afford to live in the city.

A motion “that this council continues to oppose congestion charging for Cambridge” was put to South Cambridgeshire District Council yesterday (July 19). The motion was defeated, keeping the council’s options open, meaning it could now elect to support a congestion charge. Had the motion succeeded, any plans would have been rejected out of hand.

Conservative Cllr Grenville Chamberlain, who put the motion to the council, said: “I believe it would be a pernicious tax on south Cambridgeshire residents who have had to move away because of unaffordable Cambridge house prices.”

The council also heard a charge could sound the “death knell” for high street shops, which were already struggling.

Lib Dem Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer said it would not be a good idea to bring in a charge unless there was an adequate alternative for people getting in and out of the city.

Lib Dem Cllr John Williams said measures, like a congestion charge, to dissuade car users had to go hand in hand with improved public transport.

Cllr Williams said: “You have to have a stick as well as a carrot. The mayor’s metro, if it ever does come about, won’t be built for at least another 10 years. We have to do something now about congestion.

“Without a stick, we won’t encourage people out of cars and onto public transport.”

Conservative Nick Wright maintained a congestion charge would amount to a tax on people living outside the city who had to travel in for work.

Cllr Wright said: “It is a problem for all of our residents in south Cambridgeshire. It is a tax on our residents.”

Former Conservative council leader Cllr Peter Topping revealed to the chamber that he used to work driving a milk float. He said he turned up late on the first day, only to be told by his boss he would be sacked unless he was on time the next day.

Cllr Topping said many workers had little control over the terms of their work and would need to get into, and around, Cambridge reliably. He said these workers would end up bearing the brunt of a congestion charge because they could not afford to be late or absent if busses were unreliable.

“You can’t carry a bag of tools on the bus,” said Cllr Topping. “These are the people who would miss out if this was brought in.”

There are no firm plans for a congestion charge on the table, but the Greater Cambridge Partnership is looking at how to manage the level of traffic entering the city.

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