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Referendum petition over Cambridge road-charging proposals to be debated by Cambridgeshire County Council

A petition signed by more than 15,000 people calling for a referendum on road-charging proposals will be heard by councillors tomorrow (Tuesday, March 21).

Second Cambridge rally against the proposed congestion charge. Picture: davidjohnsonphotographic.co.uk.
Second Cambridge rally against the proposed congestion charge. Picture: davidjohnsonphotographic.co.uk.

The petition, launched by the Cambs Against Congestion Charge group, says the “ill-considered scheme” will cause “untold hardship and inconvenience for the majority of our community” within the city and beyond.

Kieron Johnson, chair of the group, said: “We feel so strongly that the general public should have that right on a matter of such impact and importance to all Cambridgeshire households.”

The petition has been signed by 15,241 people, meaning it has now achieved more than five times the 3,000 names needed to be debated.

All signatories have to be within the Cambridgeshire area for the petition to be considered valid.

“I’d like to thank everybody for your help and support with getting the petition to where it is,” said Mr Johnson.

Cambridgeshire County Council will consider the petition along with a motion from Conservative group leader Cllr Steve Count.

Cllr Count’s motion calls for a “local poll” to be conducted in Cambridgeshire on congestion charging as part of the Sustainable Travel Zone proposed by the Greater Cambridge Partnership.

He will call for the poll to be held on the same day as this year’s local elections on May 4 to “help to keep costs down” and for a “credible independent agency” to draft a single yes/no question to ensure it is “clear, unambiguous, and unbiased”.

Cllr Count will also ask that £1.5m be allocated from reserves to cover the cost of a poll.

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 in a Sustainable Travel Zone across Cambridge, but excluding Park & Ride sites.

Car drivers would be charged £5 to drive in the zone between 7am and 7pm on weekdays, while van drivers would pay £10 and lorry drivers would pay £50. The GCP says the money raised would enable flat bus fares of £1 within the city or £2 from outside, up to a maximum of £4 across the upgraded network.

Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, said ahead of the debate: “People don’t want this charge, but the GCP may well come up with a different plan from the current proposals. What they absolutely must not do is assume that any revised proposal will be acceptable to the people of Cambridgeshire.

“And yet, when I wrote to Councillors asking them to make their position public, only two responded – and one dismissed the views of 15,000 people as a ‘joke’. To 15,000 residents across Cambridgeshire, this is no laughing matter. If the council is, in direct defiance of democracy, preparing to settle this issue behind closed doors, I have news for them. Their residents will not accept it.”

The GCP says it is currently analysing the results from about 24,000 responses to its consultation in 2022, with the results expected this summer.

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