CambridgePPF letter to City Deal Board -public consultation on reducing congestion in Cambridge

9th Jun 2016Planning

The City Deal is poised to make the most significant decision it will ever make on the future growth and
prosperity of the Greater Cambridge area – how best to alleviate the city’s chronic traffic congestion
and create the high quality public transport system that every growing, thriving city region must have.
It is therefore crucial that the decision is the right one – not only in terms of the effectiveness of the
measures proposed, but also in that it has the general support of the public. It is particularly on this
second point that I am writing.

CambridgePPF has until now appreciated the open and consultative way in which the City Deal
conducts its business, so it is all the more surprising that, when it comes to the most important decision
of all, this commitment to democracy is lost.

Why is the City Deal proposing to deny the public the choice between different alternative measures to
reduce congestion? The agenda papers for the Assembly and Executive Board recommend a single
approach when the consultant’s analysis shows clearly that there is a second – a Congestion Charge-led
approach – that would be equally, or most likely more, effective in reducing congestion whilst
generating five times the revenue income.

The option of a road user charge has been dismissed by City Deal officers on various grounds which we
consider to be poorly substantiated and in some respects inaccurate. In particular, we are concerned at
their assertions regarding fairness. All interventions leading to behaviour change will affect some
people more than others, and it is important to look at the implications of the proposed congestion
reduction package as well as those arising from a Congestion Charge. For example:
Is it fair that the Peak Congestion Control Points will leave many commuting journeys by car completely
unaffected, whilst others will become effectively impossible?

  • Is it fair that the poorest, most disadvantaged, and most isolated in our society, who are least likely to have access to a car, will have to put up with a second rate bus service, when an option exists that could provide a truly excellent subsidised service? And is it fair on residents in the rural areas that they may be forced out of their cars without a top quality bus option?
  • Is it fair that city residents will face increased rat-running in their streets by traffic displaced by the road closures? And is it fair that increased commuter parking on residential streets (displaced from the workplace) will put pressure on residents to agree to the cost and hassle of residents’ parking schemes, which they may otherwise not need or want?
  • Is it fair that well-paid employees of small organisations will avoid the Workplace Parking Levy, while low paid people working for large bodies face paying a daily parking fee if the charge can indeed be passed on to employees?
  • Is it fair on future generations to adopt an option which will do less than could be done to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions?All these questions will be of huge interest to the public, in the same way that they would want to
    interrogate the pros and cons of a Congestion Charge-led approach. So rather than taking your officers’ assertions at face value, would it not be right to ask the public? After all, 59% of people supported Congestion Charging in an extensive public consultation in 2008 – why would it be wrong to ask again?We therefore call for the City Deal Board to delay approval of the proposed congestion reduction
    package to allow the public the opportunity to consider the choice between the two alternatives –
    either the package as proposed by the City Deal or an alternative comprising the same package but with the Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) and Peak Hour Control Points replaced by a Peak Hours Congestion Charge. Let the opinion of the public be heard in determining which is the most fair and effective.The Cambridgeshire County Council’s consultation procedures, as set out in its Listening and Involving Strategy, states in Principle A that consultation will be clearly linked to decision-making – but apparently not in this case. The proposed ‘Engagement Process’ does not cover both alternatives in that it is simply a means of telling the public what is in the package that has been already agreed. The City Deal risks being in breach of the Council’s own procedures, and thus exposed to legal challenge.
    A delay of a few months to allow the necessary consultation would also give time for further work on the City Deal package to answers some of the basic questions that were raised during the Assembly discussion but to which no answers were forthcoming:
    1. How will the income from the WPL be spent? If the public could see the proposed benefits, it might help make the package more acceptable;2. What will be the reaction of employers to the WPL, and is it deliverable? The Nottingham experience shows that the WPL has only a marginal effect on congestion unless the charge is passed on to employees. Again in the Nottingham case, this has not happened so it becomes in effect a tax on employment. How will Cambridge react with major employers like the University of Cambridge, the NHS, and the Local Authorities?3. What will be the impact of traffic displacement in the vicinity of the Control Points? Has the displacement effect of drivers trying to find new routes around Control Points and the creation of ratruns on residential streets been modelled?4. How does the proposed package integrate with the bus-lanes planned for Histon and Milton Road and elsewhere? If the target reduction in congestion is achieved, will the new bus-lanes still be needed? Officers are very strident in their assertion that these schemes will still be vital even if the traffic reduction target is achieved, but where is the evidence to support this?
    5. Are the Control Points in the right locations? What about congestion reduction in the northern half of the city? And does their location permit the investment in ANPR technology to be incorporated into a network of sensors for a road user charge should this eventually be required?

    6. How will the effectiveness of the proposed package be monitored? A comprehensive monitoring programme must be set up not just of traffic volumes and journey times but including the impact of traffic displacement, creation of rat-runs, and the impact on people getting to and from their place of work.

    We all recognise that reducing congestion requires changing driver behaviour. It is our belief that the heavy-handed imposition of prohibitions, controls, and penalties is not the best way to achieve this change: success is more likely if people have the opportunity to make choices and have their voice heard. By denying the public this opportunity on this most important of issues, you risk antagonising drivers and reducing the likelihood of success, which will be to the great detriment of us all.

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