A group of leading Liberal Democrat politicians in Cambridgeshire have reiterated their opposition to a congestion charge on the eve of discussion about the subject by the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s board.
They also suggested future solutions to the transport challenges in the region could include light rail or trams.
Issuing what they called an ‘urgent’ statement on Wednesday evening, the group – including county council leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha and four Parliamentary candidates – said it was “clear” that congestion charging in Cambridge was not the way to fund an improved transport network.
And they pledged: “We make our commitment that the proposals as set out in the Making Connections consultation for funding the improvements to public transport will not be taken forward this year or in subsequent years.”
In the statement, published in full below, they add: “Doing nothing is not an option. We need to work with partners to find those new ways forward.”
They said they backed the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority in pursuing “bus reform” and, on the day the Cambridge Independent’s front page revealed how bus chaos was affecting students trying to get to school, acknowledged local bus services need improving “as swiftly as possible”.
The statement – also signed by the county council’s Liberal Democrat deputy leader Cllr Lorna Dupre – noted: “Looking further ahead we emphasise the need for a long term and ambitious transport vision. This would include better buses, trams, light rail and trains; transport hubs where people can safely transfer between buses, trams etc and from bikes or cars; and combined tickets for our journeys.“
The GCP’s executive board meets on Thursday afternoon to consider revised proposals for a peak-time charge in Cambridge, under which car drivers would pay £5, van drivers would pay £10 and lorry and coach drivers would pay £50 to drive in Cambridge between 7am-10am and 3pm-6pm on weekdays to cut congestion at peak times and fund a better bus network. The board includes the city council’s Labour leader Cllr Mike Davey, the Labour deputy leader of the county council, Cllr Elisa Meschini, Cllr Brian Milnes, from the Liberal Democrat leadership of South Cambridgeshire District Council, along with business board representative Dr Andy Williams and the University of Cambridge’s Prof Andy Neely.
As the Cambridge Independent was first to reveal, political support for the proposals began to collapse when Liberal Democrats in South Cambridgeshire voted against backing them. Cambridge’s Labour group followed suit in declaring their opposition, and Conservatives in the county have been opposed to congestion charging from the outset.
In the aftermath, the GCP’s joint assembly advised the executive board to look at alternatives.
The board, meeting from 4pm on Thursday (September 28), will discuss whether to put the congestion charge proposals forward to the county council, as highways authority for consideration or, as now expected, to change tack.
The Lib Dems’ Parliamentary candidates – Pippa Heylings in South Cambridgeshire, Ian Sollom in St Neots and Mid Cambridgeshire, Cheyney Payne in Cambridge and Charlotte Cane in East Cambridgeshire – know their chances of getting elected would be severely hampered if they failed to distance themselves from the congestion charge proposals.
The group add in their statement: “We must reduce the level of car dependency in our county, not only for environmental reasons, but also to tackle the unequal access for those living in rural areas who do not have access to a car.”
One notable name missing from the signatories on the statement is Cllr Bridget Smith, the Liberal Democrat leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, who is a substitute representative on the GCP board. Cllr Smith has already expressed concern about the proposals.
The Liberal Democrat statement in full
Cambridgeshire is a fantastic place to live and work, but not always so fantastic to get around. The Greater Cambridge Partnership’s proposals are a sincere attempt to improve that situation and were rightly explored fully in consultation, but they have become counter-productive. It is clear that they would negatively impact too many people whilst bringing too little benefit to others.
It’s time to find new ways forward, building on those elements of the GCP’s work that have clear public support: better public transport and better cycling and walking; cleaner air and a safer, less congested Cambridge; a city accessible to all.
For these improvements to take place, our roads do need to be less congested and we do need to find sustainable sources of funding. However, we are clear that the congestion charging element of the Making Connections consultation is not the way to achieve this and must stop.
With policy from the Conservative government changing every week, residents and businesses in Cambridge need some certainty from their local political representatives. We make our commitment that the proposals as set out in the Making Connections consultation for funding the improvements to public transport will not be taken forward this year or in subsequent years.
Doing nothing is not an option. We need to work with partners to find those new ways forward. We give our strong support to the work being done at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority on bus reform, and will work with partners to push for improvements to our local bus services to move ahead as swiftly as possible. We owe our young and older people the commitment to ensuring that they have access to the same educational and work opportunities and health services, whether they live in our villages, towns or cities. We must reduce the level of car dependency in our county, not only for environmental reasons, but also to tackle the unequal access for those living in rural areas who do not have access to a car.
In the immediate term, there are also many ways to improve active travel by providing safer walking and cycling routes, sustainable solutions to last-mile deliveries and behaviour change programmes to support individual and business transitions to greater use of active travel and public transport.
Looking further ahead we emphasise the need for a long term and ambitious transport vision. This would include better buses, trams, light rail and trains; transport hubs where people can safely transfer between buses, trams etc and from bikes or cars; and combined tickets for our journeys. We will work together to put pressure on the government to fund the Ely Area Capacity Enhancements which can transform train services to the east and north, spreading opportunities to those in East Cambridgeshire and Fenland. We will continue to encourage East West Rail to work with communities to ensure a strong business case for excellent, electrified rail links towards Cambourne, St Neots and Bedford. We will work with the Combined Authority to find solutions to link Wisbech into rail services, whether these be via heavy rail, light rail or trams.
Our area is one of enormous opportunities, we are determined that those opportunities are available to more residents, young or old, wherever they live in our amazing county.
Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, leader, Cambridgeshire County Council
Cllr Lorna Dupre, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cambridgeshire County Council
Pippa Heylings, Parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire
Ian Sollom, Parliamentary candidate for St Neots and Mid Cambridgeshire
Cheney Payne, Parliamentary candidate for Cambridge
Charlotte Cane, parliamentary candidate for East Cambridgeshire
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