Friday, March 13, 2009

Lib Dems try to bring in Congestion Charging by the Back Door

The Sustainable Communities Act started as a private members bill promoted in the House of Commons by Conservative Nick Hurd MP, and received cross party support. It aims to promote the sustainability of local communities, covering economic, social and environmental issues. There were high hopes it would help Councils to protect independent shops on local high streets, and saving posts offices or community pubs.

The City Council recently held a workshop to discuss the act and how the Council might try use it, and came up with a list of possible actions – none of which would help protect local shops, post offices or other things that build sustainable communities or the local economy, but instead a list focussing on misguided environmental measures, some of which can only be described as barking, and that have the potential to do real damage to the local economy. But this list seems to have been taken seriously, as it is now featuring in an agenda item at Monday’s strategy and resources scrutiny committee. From

Short list of potential proposals for consideration by Panel
1 Enable the Council to positively discriminate in favour of local companies/suppliers when procuring, where this would have local and/or sustainability benefits.
2 Give the Council the power to ban the use of plastic bags or ban free plastic bags in shops – charge to deter their use
3 Require supermarkets to give priority to local food producers and have food packed locally
4 Give the Council the power to ban single occupancy cars from certain routes at certain times
5 Return traffic planning to the City Council. Local areas to enact their own traffic restrictions (assumes existing funding stream also moves)
6 Give councils powers to make local decisions on road pricing rather than under the control of central government
7 Give Cambridge city council Integrated Transport Authority powers under the Transport Act to secure better regulated public transport
8 Charge supermarkets (e.g. Sainsburys, Tesco) retail parks and offices for their car parking space and let Councils reinvest the money on local services
9 Change current legislation to allow the local authority to keep all revenues from council house rents for the improvement and new build of council houses in that authority.
10 Let councils keep business rates to spend locally
11 Make it easier to bring empty homes back into use
12 Give councils powers to charge higher council tax for second homes that are not occupied for most of the year perhaps to help fund more affordable homes

I can see some potential for making progress on reducing plastic bag use, but otherwise there are some real shockers in here.

Yes it is terrible that half the Council tenants’ rents are shipped off elsewhere, but tell me the Council isn’t already doing everything it can to protest about this.

“Make it easier to bring empty homes back into use” – from the Council that has kept Tiverton House empty for 14 months! They can already use compulsory purchase to bring homes back into use, even if the owner is trying to make improvements and neighbours aren’t complaining, such as on Auckland Road in the City. What more do they want - take a 4 week holiday and come home to find the Council has taken your home off you?

“Require supermarkets to give priority to local food producers and have food packed locally”. Supermarkets already do promote locally produced food – as a response to consumer demand. But insist food is packed locally – what planet are these people on? Do they have any idea how it is that our supermarkets are full of a wide variety of food at cheap prices. What next - a state controlled National Food Service anyone?

But it’s the transport measures that have the potential to do real damage to business, as many have been in considered and rejected in the past, and all have the potential to do real damage to the local economy. Last Council meeting, we passed a resolution calling on Cambridge University Press to do all it can to avoid job losses in Cambridge. Now we are telling them that their staff shouldn't drive in to work without finding someone to share the journey with, could be charged for entering the City, and then charged to park when they arrive at work. Employers won’t have to worry about needing to make people redundant – they will find it impossible to find staff prepared to work in Cambridge.

City Conservatives are fighting hard to ensure congestion charging is ruled out for Cambridge – the last thing we need is the Lib Dems trying to bring it in via the back door through the Sustainable Communities Act. And what a wasted opportunity to use what should be a very useful bit of legislation...

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