Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Common Sense Defeats Compulsory Congestion Charge

This is a rare post in favour of a (belated) measure by the Labour government and a few notes of warning about the nonsense about to come out of the county council's transportation department.

The government is scrapping the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) and replacing it with a new initiative that is not dependant on congestion charging - something the Cambridge Conservatives have campaigned for and I made a personal priority during my time as the parliamentary candidate.

The new Urban Challenge Fund will be available to all councils that can demonstrate they are “tackling congestion” and attempting to cut carbon emissions, but will come with no strings attached - just as the Cambridge Conservatives demanded.

The Department of Transport is going out to consultation on the new fund, but the omens are good at this stage.

The Minister said the TIF’s ,“weaknesses lay in its too narrow a focus on the issue of congestion, the failure to win public acceptance for the more challenging proposals, and inability to transform governance at the same time as delivering radical change.”

Quite right. (Did I say that about a Labour minister?)

Now let's nail some myths before the county council transport officials get them going.

First, TIF was about always compulsory congestion charging and 'road pricing' rather than than the wider aim of helping councils deal with congestion. If it was for the latter then congestion charging would not have been compulsory.The only thing that was certain about TIF was that everyone living in Cambridge would be charged for moving their motors between certain hours, regardless of destination or distance. It was a poll tax on wheels.

Second, TIF was never a straight gift of £500 million. The county was to come up with £40-47 million pounds from its own resources (either cash from developers or, if everything went wrong, council taxpayers footing the bill).

Third, there was no guarantee that the congestion charge would actually make money to invest in local infrastructure. If it made a loss, that loss would be carried by the council taxpayers.

Fourth, you will not need to hit the centrally-set housing targets if the Tories win the next election.

Fifth, smile! You can bid for the Urban Challenge Fund without being seen as Prescott's Congestion Charge poodles. There is a good story to tell about traffic in Cambridgeshire -for example the park-and-rides - and you should tell it (and get back to sorting out the Guided Bus, that's your day job).

Lastly, there is a dire need for investment in the county that the government must recognise. But the ends do not justify the means.

Oh, and, "I told you so."

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't have put it better myself - hopefully as you say the County Council will now focus on getting the Guided Bus finished, and finding acceptable sources of funding to improve transport in the County.

    I'm not sure any credit is due to Labour - locally their County Councillors in Cambridge in Coleridge and Cherry Hinton both voted for congestion charging as part of the TIF bid, and if the Labour government hadn't gone through the distraction of this hamfisted (and doubtless expensive) attempt to ride roughshod over local opinion by trying to force congestion charging onto communities that don't want it, they might actually have delivered on transport infrastructure like the A14 upgrade or Chesterton station by now - they have had 13 long years.