Congestion Charge For Cambridge - But Not Till Improvemets To Public Transport Have Been Made

PUBLISHED: 16:40 22 July 2009 | UPDATED: 10:58 04 May 2010

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CAMBRIDGESHIRE S independent transport commission has backed a congestion charge for the city of Cambridge - but only after more than £500million has been spent on improving public transport and cycling facilities across the county. Commission chairman Si

CAMBRIDGESHIRE'S independent transport commission has backed a congestion charge for the city of Cambridge - but only after more than £500million has been spent on improving public transport and cycling facilities across the county.

Commission chairman Sir Brian Briscoe is adamant that an application to Government Transport Innovation Fund cash should bring benefits across the entire county, not just to the city.

The commission was set up late last year following a split in the controlling Conservative group on Cambridgeshire County Council over the issue of congestion charging.

The decision to ask Sir Brian and his technical assessor Professor Tony Travers to look at the issue in depth was designed to kick the issue into the long grass until after last month's county elections.

But with yesterday's report Sir Brian has kicked the ball firmly back onto the field of play, urging the council to lose no time in renewing its £514million bid before Whitehall's parlous financial position sees the money dry up.

The commission heard from more than 1,000 local residents via an online survey and directly from 119 witnesses at 15 public hearings.

The report said that the package of transport improvements suggested by the county council as part of its Transport Innovation Fund submission should go ahead for the well-being of the county and the country as well.

He told the Ely Standard: "The case is easily made. The £500million makes sense and is broadly supported in the county. The county council should be making the bid and not rolling out a congestion charge until those measures are in place. Then the decision should be made locally on the basis of proper measurement [of congestion]."

The commission recommends Cambridgeshire submit a TIF bid to Government for funds to improve cycling, walking, public transport and the roads. It states that a congestion charge may be needed in the future, but no earlier than 2017 and should be considered only after the £500m TIF improvements are in place and working, and crucially only when congestion reaches a level - to be agreed with the Government - where nothing else will help.

Such an agreement will need a consensus across the county that the council should actively pursue in the meantime, Sir Brian concluded.

But the council must act quickly. "It is realistic to assume that unless a decision is made soon about a Cambridgeshire TIF bid, then the money will cease to be available.

"Cambridgeshire thus faces a stark, time-limited, choice. Either it can produce a TIF bid that commands reasonable local public support and which can also convince the Department for Transport that its conditions for bidding have been met, or the TIF resources will be lost for the foreseeable future.

"If this were to occur, the county and its residents would have to deal with congestion and transport needs within their existing (probably reduced) budgets."

If the report's recommendations were to be implemented fully, "There is a real possibility that Cambridgeshire could become the outstanding UK exemplar of sustainable economic growth".

The full report will be considered by the council's cabinet in September and will go to the full council at its October meeting.

Sir Brian said: "It would be wrong to introduce a congestion charge before the proposed transport improvements are introduced, the A14 widened and the Chesterton Station project completed. The earliest date is 2017 - eight years time at least.

"It is up to the public, business and the councils to agree a point with Government when congestion charging would be introduced. Of course, if people decide to use the transport improvements and transfer from their cars in sufficient numbers, this point can be put off into the future," he explained.

"We suggest Cambridgeshire reaches an agreement with Government that funding is given for transport improvements with the understanding that a congestion charge will be brought in only if and when congestion reaches a certain level that is measurable. That level needs to be debated and locally agreed."

The report praises the transport improvements, such as park-and-ride, that have already been introduced, but says bus ticketing and information should be significantly improved.

It also says that the county council should ensure that improvements benefit the whole of the county and rural areas, not just Cambridge.

Prof Travers told The Hunts Post: "One thing we have been convinced of is that there are many parts of the county that have limited, if any, access to public transport. Here we were impressed by community transport schemes, which are low cost and highly efficient. We were also convinced that towns outside Cambridge have transport needs as well."

Sir Brian said transport improvements would persuade many people to change their travel habits, but believed the congestion charge might be needed to generate wholesale modal shift in part of the 'golden triangle' - bounded by London, Cambridge and Oxford - and its immediate surroundings, in which one-third of the UK's wealth is created.

"It is almost certain this area will be where the UK is most likely to develop its post-industrial economy successfully in the decades ahead," he adds in the report.

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