Azara Blog: Some Tory councillors apparently are opposed to the Cambridge congestion charge

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Date published: 2007/11/08

The Cambridge News says:

Rebel Conservatives could scupper controversial plans for a congestion charge in Cambridge.

Coun Lister Wilson, who represents Bourn ward, has blasted the scheme which he believes would cost city residents as much as £1,000 per year and "turn hardworking families into hard-pressed ones".

And he believes more than half of his fellow Tories on Cambridgeshire County Council are opposed to the proposals, fronted by leader Shona Johnstone, which would see residents and visitors paying £3- £5 to use the city's roads between 7.30am and 9.30am.

He told the News: "We think we can identify at least 22 Conservative councillors who are opposed to the congestion charge."

Coun Wilson criticised the elaborate £20 million system of 37 detection cameras and roaming detection vans which would enforce the charge, saying: "It will be a system of surveillance unrivalled outside prisoner-of-war camps, and you will be spotted even tying your shoelace."

He said the move could place a massive financial burden on less well-of f households in Cambridge.

The Litlington resident said: "Politically we Conservatives don't raise taxes, we like to cut them, and we certainly don't impose new ones.

"It will turn hard-working families into hard-pressed ones. In this I am standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the leader of the Labour group, Martin Ballard, because of the excess burden it will place on the poor and the rise in the cost of living it will impose on the rest."

He claimed the charge would amount to an extra tax on people living and working in the city, and could have massive knockon effects with drivers trying to avoid paying the charge.

Coun Wilson added: "It will be a bigger burden to the poor, people will not find it convenient to pay unless they buy a special 'chip' for their cars, people will re-schedule their journeys to avoid the tax and queue outside the city waiting for free access, and few will know in advance how many journeys they're going to make."
[ Coun Johnstone, Tory leader of the council, ] disputed the projected £1,000 per year cost, saying the charge is expected to be "considerably less" than £5.

She said: "How many people do you know who work 52 weeks a year? That's what the £1,000 figure is based on. I'm not saying the cost would not be significant, but it would not be as much as that."

Johnstone has been totally disingenous about the (so-called) congestion charge from day one. If she wants to claim this new tax will be £3 instead of £5 then she should say so directly rather than make silly comments. Most people work over 200 days per year. So at £5 that works out at over £1000.

And one thing that nobody seems to have pointed out is that a large fraction of this £1000 is going to go to some horrible company (like Capita) running the scheme. This means that the people of Cambridgeshire are effectively handing over millions of pounds to the rest of the UK for no great reason. Even worse, the Cambridge scheme will be totally redundant and pointless a few years after its introduction, because there will then be a national road pricing scheme, so we are throwing away a large capital investment almost immediately. All in all, the council might as well just take a large fraction of their council tax revenue and put it on a bonfire in their car park. This is what the people of Cambridgeshire are effectively being asked to do.

The two main victims of this new tax are the workers and the school run. While very few people have much sympathy for the school run, it is ridiculous that the workers are being asked to shoulder the largest burden of everyone. Meanwhile, shoppers (i.e. the non-workers) get away not paying a penny. Workers will be forced either to cough up or to work even more anti-social hours than they do already (unless they have a lenient employer who does not mind if they show up to work at 10 AM). This is the first generation of politicians who have devoted themselves to purposefully making the lives of their workers worse.

There is very little actually worthwhile in the proposed scheme. But Cambridge being Cambridge, a large section of the ruling elite (including all the transport planners) hate drivers (except for themselves of course) and so are happy to screw drivers, whether or not it makes any sense.

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