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‘People must change and accept inconvenience but GCP’s Cambridge road-charging plan can create thriving region’, says alliance

A thriving region of opportunity and inclusion would be created under proposals for improved bus services funded by road charging, says the Cambridgeshire Sustainable Travel Alliance.

But the organisation says urgent action is needed to ensure that walking and cycling journeys are made safe, with many routes in poor condition or already at capacity.

Traffic in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Traffic in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

The alliance said in its response to the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s plans: “Progressing with the Making Connections proposal will require people to change. For some, it will bring additional costs, and for others a certain amount of inconvenience.

“However, if the proposals are developed in the right way and supported by clear communications, the scheme should give everyone the opportunity to rely on sustainable transport alternatives, improve journey times as a whole and reduce their existing transport costs.”

The alliance was founded by three organisations: Cambridge Living Streets, Camcycle, and Cambridge Area Bus Users, which campaign respectively for walking, cycling, and public transport and prepared the response.

The GCP has been consulting on plans to provide cheaper bus fares and more frequent services with longer operating hours, funded by a road charge on motorists operating under a Sustainable Travel Zone. The fee would be priced at £5 for cars, with higher fees for larger vehicles, and would operate from 7am to 7pm on weekdays.

The Making Connections consultation closed on Friday, December 23, with about 24,000 responses received.

The alliance says it ‘broadly’ supports the introduction of a STZ to reduce the use of cars and reallocate space and priority to walking, cycling, and buses helps to “solve urban and environmental issues”.

It believes “that £5 is a fair charge” and is “broadly happy with the proposed zone” but raises concerns about the impact on weekend congestion.

On the bus proposals, the alliance states: “These plans are vital in persuading people to switch travel modes and ‘trust the bus’. In this time of increasing economic hardship for so many families, providing cheap, frequent, reliable buses can cut travel costs. The longer operating hours and enhanced rural service would also allow communities to rely on the bus as their means of transport.”

It believes the bus improvements should be delivered through bus franchising and that “this should be in place prior to the full implementation of the sustainable travel zone road charge”.

The alliance response concludes: “At a city level, a STZ would reduce air pollution, increase liveability, improve public space, and reduce congestion. Across the region, it will improve connectivity, reduce social isolation and provide funding opportunities for future infrastructure that supports walking, cycling and public transport.

“At a national level, it will establish Cambridgeshire as a region that sets the agenda and one that is willing to take bold action to meet its climate commitments. In short, we believe the proposals will help to create a thriving region of opportunity and inclusion, where people can travel safely, easily and affordably.”

The GCP proposals have proved hugely controversial, with thousands signing petitions against the proposals, and marches both in favour and against the plans.

A survey by Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, found only six per cent of people in favour of road charging.

Many have voiced fears about the impact on those on low incomes, with the Green Party warning the plans could prolong inequality in Cambridge, and others on the future for small businesses. Conservation charity Cambridge Past Present and Future is among the groups voicing opposition and putting forward alternatives to the plans, while Cambridge United has voiced its concerns over the impact on the community.

Meanwhile, independent city council Sam Davies has written, in this in-depth piece, that the GCP proposals are the ”wrong answer to the wrong question”.

Ultimately, once the consultation results are analysed and final proposals agreed by the GCP, the decision on them will rest with Cambridgeshire County Council, as the highways authority.

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