Thursday, March 5, 2009

Congestion Charging in Cambridge: Have your say

I have just responded to the Transport Commission appointed to look at the issue of congestion charging in Cambridge and the County Council's TIF bid. They have been asking for responses to 5 questions, shown below.

The deadline for responses has just been moved to the 13th of March - more details on the Commission and how to respond are available on their website - if you have strong views on this issue, we recommend you get in touch.

Coleridge Conservatives are completely opposed to plans to introduce congestion charging in Cambridge - the Labour government is trying to force Cambridgeshire into introducing the charge by blackmail - claiming there will be no money for transport infrastructure if we don't agree. We think this blackmail should be rejected - as the residents of Manchester have already done - not least because the policy of a new Conservative government would be to drop all requirements for congestion charging in these transport bids.

The questions are as follows, with my responses to the commission below:

1. With the congestion in and around Cambridge and plans to build a large number of new homes in Cambridgeshire, do you think transport improvements are needed?

2. What do you think should be done to improve public transport, walking and cycling facilities, and the road network, to cope with congestion in and around Cambridge now and in the future?

3. Cambridgeshire County Council has bid for £500 million from Government under the Transport Innovation Fund scheme. What are your views on the proposals? Do you think it will help solve congestion in and around Cambridge?

4. Is Cambridgeshire County Council planning to spend the £500million for transport improvements in the right way? What changes would be better, or more acceptable, for local people and businesses?

5. To obtain the £500 million of Government money to improve public transport, walking and cycling facilities, and the road network in and around Cambridge, a form of demand management, such as congestion charging, is needed. This is part of Cambridgeshire County Council's proposals. Does the need to tackle congestion justify a charge for most vehicles coming into Cambridge in the morning peak (7.30am until 9.30am)? Are there alternative ways of reducing congestion and greenhouse gases?

My response follows:


1.1. Yes obviously. There is currently a deficit in transport infrastructure, so investment is required to fill this deficit and support new growth, both in terms of housing demand and the needs to support business and other economic activity.

1.2 It should be noted however that there is already transport investment planned outside the TIF bid, e.g. to improve the A14, through the cycling demonstration town funding etc.


2.1 The key to reducing congestion is to significantly increase transport capacity of all types. The effectiveness of this investment can be increased by planning new developments to reduce the demand for travel.

2.2. Transport improvements within the current City of Cambridge boundaries:In many areas of the city, potential for improving transport infrastructure is already constrained by the physical layout of the historic city, although even here there are measures that can be taken to increase total transport capacity rather than merely reallocating it (e.g. new cycle routes, making best use of existing corridors such as Newmarket Road, and possibly more radical steps such as bus tunnels).

2.3 Transport improvements outside the historic central areas:There are numerous areas where increases in capacity can and should be achieved – upgrading the A14, an Eastern Bypass, new station at Chesterton, new public transport corridors in new developments, but we should particularly focus on building cycle infrastructure into new developments consistent with the very best in continental Europe, such as areas of Holland or Denmark, not merely slightly better than the UK average as is current practice.

2.4 We can reduce congestion by reducing the natural demand to travel, particularly at peak times, through sensible planning policies – for example housing and jobs close to each other or to major public transport corridors.

2.5 Building employment near to housing will not however work on its own. We need to ensure the right types and tenures of property are built. The 2007 Hills Report into Social Housing provides important evidence on the likelihood of residents moving for job related reasons. “the rate of employment-related mobility within social housing is strikingly low. Nationally, one in eight moves is associated with work, but only a few thousand social tenants each year move home for job-related reasons while remaining as social tenants (even within the same area), out of a total of nearly four million.” (Hills Report, p5)

2.6 It is clear from this evidence that merely building housing near to employment is not remotely sufficient to ensure shorter, more sustainable journeys. Overall, the vast majority of people put factors other than proximity to employment such as suitability of housing as higher priority when deciding where to live. From this I would conclude that to avoid a transport problem from significant daily commuting, we need to ensure that the right types of housing (including family housing of all types and qualities) are available near to employment.

2.7 But we also need to recognise from this evidence that the obsession in planning circles for ever higher levels of ‘affordable’ housing, in particular in the social rented sector with high security of tenure at significantly below market rent levels, is disastrous for work related mobility which as noted above is almost non-existent in the social rented sector. This leaves those likely to be hardest hit by congestion charging plans least able to move for employment reasons, and thus providing a double barrier to social mobility. We need to find a way to ensure everyone has access to a choice of housing suitable to their needs at a cost they can afford, but current policies towards affordable housing are clearly not the answer.


3.1 The current TIF proposals are completely unacceptable, because theyinclude congestion charging for Cambridge.

3.2 The proposals would be helping to solve congestion by taxing the poor off the road, which is completely unacceptable on social justice grounds.

3.3. The proposals say to businesses thinking of locating here or relocating elsewhere that we do not and will not have sufficient infrastructure to solve transport problems, so we are attempting to reduce demand – in other words, we aren’t fit for business. Recently announced job losses at employers such as Cambridge University Press are a timely reminder that the Cambridge economy cannot be taken for granted by policymakers assuming that the local economy can continue to be successful no matter how business unfriendly we make the area.

3.4. The Congestion proposed is another tax on motorists, who are already overtaxed, in a country that is already overtaxed, and a very inefficient to collect tax at that – it may even cost money to collect it by the time the infrastructure, possibly including yet more snooping cameras, is paid for and maintained, and the scheme administered. Congestion charging is completely unsuitable for a small city like Cambridge, that lacks the significant public transport infrastructure including urban railways, underground and buses of a city like London.

3.5 Not unrelated to all these factors, congestion charging will make the current TIF bid impossible to implement politically, so it can’t contribute to the solution. When you don’t try to rig consultations in favour of people concluding we should accept congestion charging, you realise that it is deeply unpopular.

3.6 We already have plenty of evidence for this from Manchester. I dare say proponents of their TIF bid used responses such as the following from a survey carried out by Manchester evening News: "Is congestion charging a price worth paying to get £3bn Government cash to improve public transport in the region – including the expansion of the Metrolink to Ashton under Lyne, Oldham and Rochdale, as well as South Manchester and Manchester Airport?": Yes – 55%; No – 44% ( However, when the question of congestion charging was put to a straight referendum, over 78% of the electorate opposed congestion charging despite the linkage to the TIF bid funding, including a large majority in every part of the region. Congestion charging is deeply unpopular in Cambridge, and will not be accepted by local residents.

4. My comments on transport investment required are as per question 2.


5.1. Having lead people in to this question by encouraging people to reflect on the current state of transport infrastructure, possible future demands, and the improvements proposed in the TIF bid, your consultation now suggests there are only two ways forward – accept congestion charging as part of the TIF bid, or have no further investment in transport despite the levels of house building that the Government is trying to force on the Cambridge sub-region. This is a false dichotomy, and such an obviously false one at that it frankly discredits this whole consultation exercise, in the same way that the previous sham consultation exercise that you quote on the Transport Commission website was discredited.

5.2 There are many scenarios in which money will be available to support transport improvements in Cambridgeshire without requiring congestion charging.

5.3 For example, if the General Election due by June 2010 at the latest results in a Conservative government, then the County Council will be free to pursue a TIF bid without the congestion charging element, as this is the current Conservative party policy nationally. The Conservatives will also abolish much of the regional planninginfrastructure that is attempting to force unsustainable levels of house building on us, thus removing another element of the appalling blackmail that the Government is trying to use to force Cambridgeshire to be its congestion charging guinea pig.

5.4 Even if the current government continues forever, it is nonsense to suggest that we will end up building huge numbers of houses without any transport investment if we reject TIF – as we should just say no to the housing if the transport funding isn’t available (or not even worry about saying no - its not as if the current regional spatialstrategy is remotely deliverable). It will have been a nice try from the government to persuade us to help with its desired social engineering experiment, but if everyone just calls bluff, there will be no choice but to go back and look again at how best to allocate central resources to transport in the areas that desperately need those resources.

5.5 The solution to the ‘problem’ in so much as there is a problem is simple - significant increases in the transport infrastructure of all types, including roads, cycling and public transport must be built as part of any significant increase in the number of houses in the sub-region, coupled with sensible planning policies that reduce the need for journeys. If the alternatives are in place so that it isn’t necessary for people to sit in traffic jams, then people can either make a personal choice appropriate to their personal circumstances, or the question of congestion charging can then be put to the electorate in a separate referendum, to be considered on its merits uncoupled from the outrageous blackmail of the current TIF proposal.

5.6 How could we pay for the required transport infrastructure? Even in troubled economic times, it is likely there always be an uplift in value from granting permission for new developments in an area like Cambridge, and new residents will provide a new stream of local taxation revenue – the rules, be they local or national could be changed to ensure that these economic benefits from development are channelled into transport infrastructure, rather than being remitted to local Councils via s106 agreements or central government via changes in the Council tax base, to be spent on things that aren’t transport – if these policies were to change to allow existing local residents to benefit from new developments (which again is current Conservative party policy nationally), it might have the happy side effect of making new housing development rather easier to deliver than the current situation, with Arbury Park a half-completed monument to the failure of current planning policy, Northstowe barely off the starting blocks, and the southern fringe on hold.

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