Monday, May 25, 2009

Bower's Blueprint #2 - No to a Cambridge Congestion Charge

This is the second of a series of posts on Bower's Blueprint for Coleridge - a set of pledges to which I would work if elected as county councillor on 4th June.

No to a Cambridge Congestion Charge!
I fully oppose congestion charging for Cambridge. We do not need another Labour stealth tax and particularly not one so inequitable that it would tax the poor off the roads. I have been campaigning against the idea ever since it was first floated and will continue to do so.

How did it get to be on the cards?
Having been forced by the government to build unimaginable numbers of housing in the "Cambridge sub region" Cambridgeshire County Council needs funding to put in place the transport infrastructure that the developments require.

Unfortunately the government compounded the problems by offering the requisite funding with the blackmail condition that the county must implement congestion charging in return.

Our record
Cambridge Conservatives have had some successes in opposing congestion charging:

1. Under our pressure the county council decided to set up a transport commission to look at all the options for transport in the county, meaning that congestion charging was not an inevitable outcome.

2. Richard Normington, the Conservative Parliamentary Spokesman for Cambridge, wrote to Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Transport, asking him to follow Conservative Party policy and drop the link between TIF and congestion charging. Cambridgeshire County Council then followed our lead. (There are signs that this could be successful - see below.)

Also to be congratulated are our neighbours, the Conservatives running South Cambridgeshire District Council, who have formally rejected the tax.

The other great development in the battle against congestion charging was the decisive rejection of a TIF bid for Manchester that would have included congestion charging. It was rejected by 84% of voters including a majority in every district.

Despite scaremongering from pro-TIF groups, i.e. all the other parties, recent news reveals that Manchester has been given £1.4bn of extra transport funding in place of the abandoned TIF bid.

Where do the other parties stand?
Labour - the government is blackmailing us with the charge and locally Labour have been in favour of road pricing in the past although at the moment they are appearing to oppose the charge, so we can't be sure exactly what they think. The Labour PPC was several months late making up his mind - sort of.

Lib Dems - in favour in principle. Not that you would have thought it from some of the literature they have put out. They are not known as the 'all things to all men' party for no reason... They are of course trying to get the best of both worlds by opposing specifics and stoking up the worst kind of nimbyism with irresponsible suggestions that their audience is not responsible for congestion and should somehow be exempt. This is a completely unworkable solution of course - even without a discount/exemption the charge would cost more to run than it would raise - with one it would be a complete financial disaster!

Green Party - in favour in principle and practice.


Anonymous said...

So Labour telling us in their leaflets that it is a Conservative idea and that the city and county council are for it is actually a load of guff! Again it comes down to Government interference and idiotic plans to turn Britain into a concrete jungle and charge people to walk along the street!

Martin L-S said...

If I may offer a personal observation ...

So, according to the article which you cite, Manchester is getting £1.4bn from a variety of sources:

1) £700m made up from:
a) borrowing against increases in the part of council tax bills - three per cent in each of the next six years
b) 40 per cent of this money from each of Manchester's constituent councils' transport budgets
2) future revenues of the expanded Metrolink system
3) the airport contributing towards its new tram line.
4) £165m for a by-pass

So, given these alternative sources in Manchester's case, precisely which sources were you suggesting would make up for the loss of £500m investment in Cambridge?

None of those seem relevant to Cambridge, or did you mean you intend to increase Council Tax?

I'd love to see some serious estimates of where anything like £500m of investment could come from, which those opposed to congestion charging in Cambridge will be responsible for throwing away, making dealing with housing growth difficult. No-one so far seems able to give any realistic suggestions.

Where are you proposing investment on the scale needed to sort out Cambridge's transport problems will come from, especially with tens of thousands of new houses? Or will houses not be built?

Chris Howell said...

Hi Martin,
Thanks for commenting - Andy will probably want to reply as well, but I would observer:

We want to see a stop put to the housing growth unless there was no strings attached government funding for transport, and until schemes were brought forward that had the active consent of current Cambridge area residents - so we wouldn't want to be in the situation of accepting the housing growth without adequate funded transport improvements.

The next Conservative government has promised both to abolish the housing targets, removing that pressure, and to remove the congestion charge requirement from TIF bids.

Finally, even if congestion charging was accepted in order to seek TIF funding, firstly I understand local taxpayers would still be required to come up with some of the cash, and there is no guarantee we would get the TIF cash anyway. Knowing the bunch of shysters in Government at the moment, they are just as likely to welcome our acceptance of the principle of introducing a congestion charge, and still fail to come up with the dosh.

Richard Taylor said...

Part of the question is: How do we as a country decide where we are going to spend money allocated for transport improvements? The current government has decided to try and blackmail cities into running a congestion charge experiment in return for the funding. I don't think this has been a reasonable approach and would like to see central government funds invested where the return in terms of improved national productivity is greatest. Those cities or regions which make the best case for transport improvements on that basis ought be the ones which receive the funding.

Not all funding has to be allocated in the same way, some could be linked to factors such as increased housing or true "innovation". Supporting innovation can be a wise investment for the country as technologies developed could result in the establishment of new, green, transport related industries capable of exporting their products.

With respect to housing while keeping prices down to an affordable level has to be top priority we need to ensure that everyone, not just landowners and developers, benefit from the wealth created by the decision to build new settlements. A significant fraction of that wealth generated ought be directed to transport improvements.

Martin L-S said...

Why is this particular government initiative being singled out as 'blackmail'?

How is the requirement to get funds when a policy is implemented any different from the vast amount of other stuff local authorities have to do to get funds in particular areas - what exactly is different about this?

RichardJ said...

Am I missing something? The County Council who are proposing the congestion charge is Conservative controlled isn't it?

Chris Howell said...


I would suggest the line between incentive and blackmail depends on:

- how unpopular the policy being proposed is (we believe at least 2/3rds of Coleridge is against congestion charging, many very vehemently),

- the magnitude of the penalty - in this case huge.

- the fact that it is a penalty rather than a bonus - Cambridgeshire will desperately need and deserve Government cash for significant transport improvements when large scale housing developments start to come on line.

- the other aspect is motive - the government is looking for a guinea pig for its social engineering experiment, and Cambridgeshire would never think of introducing congestion charging if it wasn't for the blackmail element.

Government trying to bully local authorities into acting as local branches of national government with ring-fenced funding and qualifying criteria is one of the more pernicious aspects of New Labour's awful style of government.


Andrew Bower said...

Hi Martin,

Thanks for your coment.

The composition of the £500bn wouldn't be free either - Cambs would have to stump up money too.

You also need to take into account the financial disaster that congestion charging would be.

The point is that we are seeing that turning down TIF does not end the story. The government cannot escape responsibility for infrastructure to match the demands that they are imposing.

We should say 'no' to developments until they face up to their responsibilities.

Your objection to the use of the term 'blackmail' seems to be based on an acceptance of the social engineering basis to Labour's ring-fenced grant-based funding model - something that I don't share!

Chris is spot on about the root causes of the problem - government housing targets and their propensity to offer pots of constrained funding to ensure their policies are implemented locally. The challenge locally is for strong-willed councillors to stop local authorities from, to use one of my favourite phrases, acting as local branches of Whitehall.


Andrew Bower said...


The county council isn't proposing it, the government is.

The county council is against congestion charging but trying to find the best way forward.

They are trying to get Labour to remove the link between TIF funds and congestion charging - as Conservatives have promised to do nationally.

RichardJ said...

I believe it was also the Labour government that forced the misguided bus on the unwilling citizens of Cambridge too, because they wouldn't stump up the cash for a proper transport scheme. Or are the Conservatives claiming credit for this scheme?