Azara Blog: Alistair Darling visits Cambridge

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Date published: 2005/12/15

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Cambridge will not be press-ganged into charging motorists for driving on its roads.

That is the pledge from Transport Secretary Alistair Darling following top-level talks with council chiefs in the city.

Cambridge has been picked as one of the first areas outside London to investigate how congestion charging scheme might work.

The Department for Transport is giving Cambridgeshire County Council £385,000 to mount a detailed study, which is expected to be finished by the summer of next year.

On Wednesday, Mr Darling came to Cambridge for initial talks with the council about the idea - and he later spoke exclusively to the News to allay fears the scheme would be imposed on the city.

The minister said: "Cambridge is a very popular city, with lots of people coming in to visit and to shop. That means its road problems are going to get worse not better.

"Unless we start now on trying to sort it out, Cambridge will be completely gridlocked in 20-30 years time.

"That will be bad news environmentally, and also economically. Businesses will start choose to locate somewhere else, not in Cambridge. We need to plan ahead to stop that happening and that's why we have given Cambridge the money to look into what can be done."

Mr Darling said if the study found congestion charging might work in Cambridge, the city might get further funding to try a pilot project, adding: "I have made it very clear to councillors the Government is not interested in working with conscripts - we want to work with willing partners.

"We need to test whether or not a scheme will work in the area - but I am not interested in working with people who feel they have been press-ganged. If a scheme were to go ahead, there would have to a consensus locally that it was worth doing.

"What we need in Cambridge is a full and open debate. Residents have a good sense of what could happen if we do nothing, and this a unique opportunity. Not everyone will be in favour, I know, but the challenge to them is what would they do instead?"

Darling is rather taking the piss. First of all, Cambridge does not need to be "press-ganged", the Cambridge ruling elite hate cars and would love nothing better than to have yet another way to attack drivers. They have also done everything they can to make congestion as bad as possible over the last decade, and then blame drivers for the mess. And Cambridge, like the rest of the UK, has no real choice about (so-called) congestion charging. The government will impose it, period. Everywhere. Of course the people doing the study about congestion charging in Cambridge will have an inducement to say it should all go ahead. After all, they will then get even more business telling the council how it should be done.

And there is plenty there could be done instead. Such as sacking all the Cambridge transport planners. And building some new roads in strategic locations, such as at Addenbrooke's. Well, they are supposed to build an access road to Addenbrooke's from Trumpington, but they hate cars so will almost certainly make it not work as well as it should (hint: there is not nearly enough parking on the Addenbrooke's site, and they will do nothing about that). Another thing (national) government could do is to insist that children attend their nearest school unless there is a bloody good reason to do otherwise. That would remove a lot of the school run traffic. Of course the current idea is instead to let parents send their kids to whichever school they want. The government could also put shopping next to good road links (e.g. the M11) instead of forcing everyone to trudge into over-crowded Cambridge (and then curse them for daring to drive a car to get in). (People who live west of the Cam are particularly badly affected since all major shopping is east of the Cam.)

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