County council backs congestion charge scheme

Cambridgeshire County Council has backed a scheme to charge drivers to enter the city of Cambridge at peak times in a bid for half a billion pounds to revolutionise transport in the county – and to persuade people out of their cars.

In an open vote at a full county council meeting yesterday, councillors voted in favour of the Transport Innovation Fund (TiF) package to help stop congestion from bringing Cambridge to a grinding halt.

The first stage will be funding for a new railway station in Chesterton, which would begin being built in 2012, which the council say is a top priority to help reduce congestion in the city immediately.

A second stage would follow at the end of 2010 with a full bid for the remainder of the £500 million package. This would include a trigger point for a congestion charge to be introduced that would need to be agreed by the public, businesses, partner authorities and Government.

The earliest a congestion charge would be introduced is 2017, and only as a last resort if the record-breaking TiF investment into transport did not help and the agreed trigger is reached.

Roy Pegram, Cambridgeshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Growth, Infrastructure and Strategic Planning, said: “Although I do not welcome the prospect of a congestion charge people in Cambridgeshire recognise that this is what might be needed in the future to keep Cambridge moving.

“It is vital that the public in Cambridgeshire, councils and organisations set the point with Government when enough is enough and congestion charging must be brought in. We cannot simply sit on our hands, do nothing, and expect congestion to go away, but neither should we bring in a congestion charge without first revolutionising transport choice.

“The bid we are putting forward to Government addresses the serious congestion problem we have here, and aims to bring about real benefits to the public.

“If people are not persuaded out of their cars in significant numbers by the transport improvements and we allow the city to come to a grinding halt nobody would thank us as this will damage the prosperity of the county, and in fact the entire country.”

The terms of the proposal Cambridgeshire will put forward to Government echo a report in July from the independent Cambridgeshire Transport Commission. The Commission recommended that the bid should include a ‘trigger point’ for a congestion charge when congestion reached a critical level and nothing else would help.

Council leaders set up the Commission to review the Council’s TiF proposals following mixed views from business people, residents and motorists when they were asked their views on what needed to be done to tackle the congestion problem.

To make sure the public, businesses and partner authorities can be properly consulted on the level of congestion that would trigger the congestion charge being introduced, Cambridgeshire will be putting forward a bid in two parts.