Azara Blog: Lib Dems say they want Cambridge residents to have a big congestion charge discount

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Date published: 2007/12/31

The Cambridge News says:

Congestion charging in Cambridge will not be supported by the city council unless residents get "substantial" discounts.

Cambridge City Council says plans to charge those living in Cambridge as well as people driving into the city "full whack" will unfairly penalise its inhabitants.

Coun Sian Reid, the city council's executive councillor for climate change and growth, said not only was a discount necessary to make up for a lack of public transport in the city but it needed to be "considerable".

She added the scheme would not work if it was "imposed" on Cambridge without the support of the city council.
A report to councillors by Brian Human, head of policy and projects, says although the council supports many of the scheme's objectives, it has a number of concerns:

Cambridgeshire County Council unveiled plans in July to charge all motorists between £3 and £5 for driving in Cambridge between 7.30am and 9.30am on weekdays.
Coun Roy Pegram, Cambridgeshire County Council's cabinet member for environment and community services, said he would consider the idea of a discount.

He said: "I will quite happily consider any of their views.

"I will wait until the results of the public consultation. A lot of people are in favour (of the congestion charge), a lot are against but to do nothing is not an option. Once I have the responses to the public consultation then I will make an informed judgment, not pure speculation.

"I will take it on board. The decision will be made by full council and cabinet at the county because we are the transport authority. It's no good having consultation, getting the public's views and then not taking their views on board.

The Lib Dems are funny. Normally (nationally, not just locally) they spend most of their political effort trying to screw car drivers. So you would think they would be jumping up and down with joy at the county's proposals. (And one thing the article does not mention is that the city is run by the Lib Dems but the county is run by the Tories.) But here it seems that they have for once decided to represent voters besides their usual academic middle class base. It's astonishing. Perhaps they are worried about being kicked out of office.

On the other hand, the Lib Dems know full well that the proposals barely make financial sense as things stand. Giving Cambridge residents "substantial" discounts would sink the business case irretrievably. And meanwhile how would the Tory voters away from the city respond if they were told that their own councillors supported having them pay more than the residents of Cambridge? So the Lib Dems are just posturing to sink the scheme but still claiming they (somewhat) support it.

But Pegram takes the cake here. He says "a lot of people are in favour" of the congestion charge. What he means is that a large section of the academic middle class favour the congestion charge, because it won't really affect them. In particular, the Cambridge Cycling Campaign fully supports the scheme. But why cyclists should have any say in whether or not there is a congestion charge is a mystery. It should have nothing to do with them.

And Pegram also says he is going to take the views of the public on board, but completely contradicts this by then saying that "to do nothing is not an option". So he has already made up his mind, the question is whether he can get enough of his own side to agree with him.

The odds are that central government won't give nearly as much money to the county as the latter asked for (£500 million), so this tiff between the Lib Dems and the Tories might all be irrelevant in the end.

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