Friday, March 14, 2008

Congestion Charging

Last night I went to an internal party meeting to discuss congestion charging – it wasn’t a decision making meeting, just a chance for City Conservatives to talk to our County Council Colleagues.

I think our Conservative County Councillors do a great job running the County Council. They are continually dealt a bad funding hand by the Government and deal with it in a way that tries to protect Council Tax payers now and in the future. (In the disasterous period of Lib/Lab control of the County in the 90s, some of the budgets set we’re clearly not designed to think about who would be picking up the mess again a few years later…). With the Guided Bus, they are delivering on a multi-million pound transport scheme that will bring real benefits to the County, when many critics would have sabotaged these plans without any way of delivering an alternative.

But when it comes to the tentative plans for Congestion Charging, I have to admit to considerable disagreement with my County Colleagues. Don’t get me wrong – I drive very little, cycle to work, and would like to see serious action against climate change. But the proposition being put to residents in areas like Coleridge is not one I can sell on the doorstep – here, have a high density housing estate parked on your doorstep, with transport in Perne Road and Newmarket Road predicted to be chaos even under best case scenarios, and we’ll tackle this by charging you for driving to work in the morning.

The case is made that Congestion Charging is the only way to make other transport improvements work in Cambridge i.e. people would prefer to sit in their cars on congested roads rather than use viable public transport/cycling alternatives, unless you setup some hugely bureaucratic system to track cars every move throughout the City and charge them £3-£5 for the privilege - in addition to the car tax, fuel tax, VAT, insurance, depreciation, parking charges etc etc already being paid, when miraculously the drivers will get out of their cars and do something else. I don’t buy this argument – mainly because I think the argument has been constructed around the fact that the County is being blackmailed by the Government. They have said, please make a so called ‘TIF bid’ for millions of pounds to spend on transport improvements, but only if you ask for congestion charging as part of the bid.

Cambridge is too important for Gordon Browns bankrupt government to treat in this shoddy way. Residents are being fleeced for all the new taxes introduced to fund feckless Labour areas elsewhere. We are being forced to accept thousands of new houses when existing residents are very concerned about the effects of this rapid development, and the government is saying we can’t have sufficient funds for the transport infrastructure unless we take part in one of their pet social engineering schemes. This stinks.

My alternative plan – tell Gordon Brown we must have the funds needed for transport improvements desperately needed now, for the A14, buses, cycle routes etc, or we’re not even going to think about building the 60,000+ houses you want to us to build in the Cambridge sub-region. Only after this happens, local residents should decide if they think it would then be a good idea to introduce congestion charging as well.

I again let County Councillors know my views. I am encouraged that they are clearly going to listen to the public consultation (that now closes on 24th March – please make your views known here). I hope the plans will be quietly (or even noisily) dropped after that!

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