Congestion Charge U-turn by Liberal Democrats and Labour Welcomed, but for How Long?

The news that the Liberal Democrats and Labour have dropped their policy to introduce a Cambridge Congestion Charge will come as a huge relief by the majority of residents, businesses and organisations across Cambridgeshire.

The recent meeting of the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) where the proposals were finally killed off was a slightly surreal affair, with all three voting Members of the Board speaking in favour of the proposals, but then voting against taking them any further.

This speaks to the internal division amongst Lib Dem and Labour politicians, particularly of course at the County Council where they work in partnership to run the Council.  The night before the GCP meeting Lib Dem County Council Leader, Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, released a statement that the congestion charging element of the proposals must stop.  The next day at the GCP meeting, her Deputy Leader Cllr Elisa Meschini, who sits on the GCP Board as the County Council representative showed how badly let down she felt when she revealed that she didn’t know her coalition colleague was planning to release such a statement.

It is also clear that divisions are running deep on the issue in the Lib Dem camp, with voting GCP Lib Dem Member for South Cambs District Council Cllr Brian Milnes stating that he was “not part of the announcement made last night” which he said was made by a “disparate group”.  It was also notable that Lib Dem Leader of South Cambs District Council had not signed the statement. 

Cllr Tim Bick, the Lib Dem member of Cambridge City Council who chairs the GCP Assembly, declared that “I am not a signatory to that statement.” 

Being a close reader of Lib Dem literature over the years, I noted the carefully written words in the statement by Cllr Lucy Nethsingha which only rule out the congestion charging element of the Making Connections proposals – in other words, this leaves the possibility of road charging firmly on the table in another form, both in Cambridge and across the county. 

This was underlined by Cllr Lucy Nethsingha in her BBC Radio Cambridgeshire interview, when she said “it wasn’t the right moment for this particular proposal.”

And if further evidence was needed, it became clear that the Lib Dems and Labour intend to actively pursue road charging when they voted for the Local Transport & Connectivity Plan put forward by the Labour Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Nik Johnson.  The whole thrust of this important strategic document, setting out the future of transport across our county, is to “Avoid, Shift, Improve” and it refers specifically to “Demand Management – pricing interventions”, which includes: 

  • Area wide road user charge
  • Cordon base road user charge

All Lib Dem and Labour voting members, including Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, at the Combined Authority Board meeting on 20th September voted for this policy document.  The vote was lost however, when Conservative Member of the Board representing Peterborough City Council, Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, used his power of veto as one of the two Highways Authorities and voted it down.

We are delighted at East Cambs District Council that the Cambridge Congestion Charge has been defeated for now.  Cambridgeshire Lib Dems and Labour have wasted many millions of pounds of tax payers’ money as well as time and opportunity, on an abortive process.  We have won the battle, but I fear we may not have yet won the war.