MPs clash in BBC Politics East debate

Action is needed to resolve transport problems in Cambridge, but plans for a city congestion charge face opposition, a BBC Politics East debate has been told.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) – a body comprising three local councils, businesses and the University of Cambridge – has proposed what it calls a sustainable travel zone, covering most of the city.

Vehicles entering the zone between 07:00 and 19:00 on weekdays will be charged a daily fee of at least £5.

The money raised will be used to pay for the £50 million expansion of the bus network, with the aim of creating a “London-style” service, as well as improved walking and cycling infrastructure.

Map showing Cambridge's proposed congestion charge zone

Map showing Cambridge’s proposed congestion charge zone

The BBC Politics East debate, held at the Perse School, Cambridge, was attended by representatives from the Conservative Party, the Green Party, Labor and the Lib Dems. An invited audience was also in attendance.

Peter Blake, GCP’s transport director, said: “We live in a very successful environment. It’s a great place to live, work and get an education.”

What GCP says the plans would lead to

  • Another 20,000 trips made by bus

  • The number of car trips to Cambridge has been reduced by 50%

  • Carbon emissions from transport reduced by approximately 5%

  • 10,000 additional parking and ride spaces provided throughout the city

But this has created “challenges” around congestion and its impact on the environment.

“These are the potential solutions,” he said.

He said the key element of the proposals was to “significantly” improve the bus network, making it “much cheaper” and more reliable.

Roxanne De Beaux, executive director of Camcycle, has backed the plans.

He said: “We need the Sustainable Travel Zone to reduce the number of cars on our roads and provide the space and funding we need to improve our public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure.

“We need fairer choices for everyone, no matter what form of transport they choose. If not now, then when? It’s time to create a sustainable travel zone for Cambridge.”

Mother Lucy Kingsford, 22, of Hauxton, near Cambridge, opposes the plans and said the charge would leave her and her son “socially isolated”.

“I live just outside Cambridge with my son Leo and have to drive into the city every day to get to work, to see my friends and family, to take my son to nursery,” she said.

“I couldn’t afford to pay for congestion every day and that would leave Leo and I really socially isolated.”

When asked by a member of the public whether he supported the plan, Daniel Zeichner, Labor MP for Cambridge, said: ‘I want a transformed transport system for this city.

“People spend 65 hours a year stuck in traffic jams in Cambridge. What a waste of time and damage to the environment, damage to people trying to get to work and to small businesses.

“We have the ability to have a transportation system that fits this city. We all know that this city has struggled with transportation for so long.

“We need a new bus system that is affordable, reliable and people can believe in. I think it’s worth a try.”

Lucy Frazer, Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire, said: “I am totally against the charge because of the impact it will have on my constituents who have absolutely no alternative to getting into Cambridge other than by using their cars.

“They will be charged when there is no alternative. I have spoken to companies who are really concerned about the impact on their customers and their staff.

“I’ve spoken to people who work in healthcare, from Addenbrooke [Hospital] who are concerned about the staff working there and the people using the services, who will be charged.”

A roadworks sign on one of the main roads into and out of Cambridge

Drivers will be charged at least £5 if they drive in or around Cambridge between 07:00 and 19:00 on weekdays

Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Lib Dems, said she needed more information from the consultation before deciding whether the proposals were the “right answer”.

But she added: “I came here today because I have no choice. I live in Gamlingay. There is no bus service here, but I’m privileged because I have a car. For a lot of people, they don’t have that choice.

“We also have 20% higher carbon emissions in Greater Cambridge than the rest of the country. The only way to deal with that is to take cars off the road. And congestion is bad for people’s health and well-being.”

Naomi Bennett, leader of the Greens group at Cambridge City Council, said the debate was not just about ‘yes and no’.

“The Greens want to see better public transport and fairer choices. The problem we have with this consultation is that it is a work in progress and not a final product,” he said.

“So yes we are keen to see better public transport but my party has also tabled 11 pages for improvements to the current consultation which we are keen to see.

“This debate can’t be about yes and no. What we have to do is listen to each other and find a consensus that works for all of us.”

Addenbrooke’s hospital would be within the congestion charge area.

Dr Michael More, chairman of Addenbrooke’s Hospital, said: “We welcome the debate. I think everyone knows that transport is coming to a standstill in Cambridge. We have a problem. ‘Can we improve public transport in a sustainable way?’ would be a key question for our staff.

“We employ 13,000 people. Some of our staff are very much against it. Some of our staff can see the benefits. So I welcome a debate so we can convince ourselves that public transport can be improved and cycling measures can be improved.”

Professor Andrew Neely, Senior Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said the university wanted to see an improved transport system and was talking to the GCP about its plans to double its investment in buses.

He said he wanted the charge capped at £1 for travel within the city, as well as improving cycle lanes.

Candy Richards, of the Cambridgeshire Federation of Small Businesses, said she was concerned that small businesses were ‘bearing the cost’ of the congestion charge.

He said a survey found 66% of small traders needed access to a vehicle.

Shapour Meftah, of the Mill Road Traders Association, said businesses would “suffer” or have to “pass the commission on to their customers”.

Analyses: By Ben Schofield, BBC East political correspondent

Let’s start with the areas of agreement.

Pollution and congestion: bad. Best buses in the city and province: good. This seemed clear from all sides.

A consensus has also emerged that current proposals need to be modified before they can be implemented.

Disagreements were only about how much to change them or whether charging drivers should be abandoned altogether.

But alternative ideas for raising funds for buses – or precise provisions on what needs to change and how – were frustratingly harder to pinpoint.

Yes, there are 24,000 consultation responses being crunched by the GCP, which may be proposing revisions in the summer.

And the problem with changing the plan is that with every change there is a risk that it won’t deliver the promised benefits.

Oonagh Monkhouse, from Papworth Hospital, in the audience said the way the debate is handled matters. The staff, he said she, are wondering about their future.

They are not the only ones.

You can see more of this story at Politics East on BBC One on Sunday 5 February at 10:00 GMT, and it’s also available at BBC iPlayer After.

Banner saying 'Get in touch'

Banner saying ‘Get in touch’

What is your opinion on Cambridge’s congestion charging scheme? What do you think its impact, if approved, will be on life in the city? E-mail: have your [email protected].

Please include a contact number if you would like to speak to a BBC reporter. You can also get in touch in the following ways:

If you are reading this page and are unable to view the form, you will need to visit the mobile version of the BBC website to submit your question or comment, or you can email us at [email protected] Please include your name, age and location with each submission.

Find BBC News: East of England on Facebook, Instagram AND Chirping. If you have a story suggestion, please send an email [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *