Azara Blog: Many businesses do not like the idea of a Cambridge congestion charge

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Date published: 2007/09/18

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Business leaders met to thrash out the pros and cons of controversial congestion charge plans in Cambridge.

Hundreds packed into a meeting at the University Arms hotel in the city last night to debate what impact a congestion charge might have and air some of their fears and grievances about the proposals.

John Bridge, chief executive of the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, which hosted the debate, was one of those to call foul over the way funding for public transport improvements is being linked to the congestion charge.

The Government has said it will make £500 million available in Cambridgeshire, but only if the congestion charge scheme is adopted. The proposals could see a charge of up to £5 to enter or leave the city at peak times.

Mr Bridge said: "We're being told we have a choice: getting £500 million for our infrastructure and introducing congestion charging, or not getting that money at all. I find that quite iniquitous.

"We have to ask, do we want to be blackmailed? Because that is what it is; there's no other word for it, it is £500 million with strings attached."

He called for any economic impact assessment of the proposals to be independently verified and demanded the public be given the final say on whether the congestion charge is adopted, through a referendum.

Bridge is exactly correct. The government is behaving outrageously by linking these two matters. The county council was trying to be clever by only having the charge from 7.30 to 9.30 in the morning, Monday to Friday, because that way they figured they would buy off the retail sector, since not much business gets done before 9.30. Unfortunately for the council, the business sector seems not to have been entirely bought off. Even if not much business gets done before 9.30, of course one's employees have to get to work, and if they are paying this extra tax, they are going to expect a pay rise in compensation. And the huge cost of implementing this new tax will mean that it is not even close to being a zero sum game. The bottom line is that the council is proposing to make it much more expensive to operate a business in Cambridge, for purely political reasons. If lots of businesses actively oppose these measures, the council is going to have to retreat. The bureaucrats and politicians don't care what the people think (outside of the academic middle class), but they do have to pay some attention to the business sector.

And it should definitely be a requirement that "the proposals [should] be independently verified", preferably by the people themselves (Cambridge after all has lots of people who can do sums) rather than by some expensive consultant (because all transport consultants have a financial interest in seeing these new taxes introduced since it leads to potential new business opportunities for them). The council has fairly obviously not bothered with any real analysis or business plan yet, since they have so far refused to release any details to the public. This is far too important a change in life in Cambridge to be passed with a wink and a nod by the bunch of amateurs who run Cambridge.

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