On Tuesday the 10th of March 2009 I attended a public evidence gathering session of the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission.
The independent commission has been set up by the county council, possibly in an incredibly cynical move to prevent the Conservatives having to defend their support of congestion charging during the forthcoming county council elections in June.
Personally I have committed to oppose a Cambridge congestion charge for at least a decade; none of the major political parties offer such a commitment. A vote for Labour at the next election is a vote for a Labour government, and it is a Labour Government which is trying to bribe us into having a congestion charge rather than letting us make a local decision here. The Conservatives have been pushing the congestion charge at the county council, and the Liberal Democrats have no consistent policy.
This session was focused on perspective of business on the proposals for transport improvements in the region. The chairman started by drawing attention to the ongoing public consultation: he reported that eight hundred responses had been received already and the deadline has been extended until Friday the 13th of March. We were told that next Wednesday the commission would be hearing from the County Council on the Transport Innovation Fund proposals, and the week after would see evidence taken from Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council. There would be additional, as yet unscheduled future hearings hearing from stakeholders, members of the public, and others.
The session heard evidence from:
- John Bridge of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce
- Dick Jarvis of Cambridgeshire Federation of Small Businesses
- Martin Garrett of the The Greater Cambridge Partnership
- Jonathan Barker of Marshall of Cambridge (Holding) Ltd. Mr Barker also heads “Cambridge Futures”.
They were giving evidence to, and being questioned by the “commissioners” Sir Brian Briscoe and Professor Tony Travers.
During the meeting I reported some of the key and interesting points to emerge live using Twitter:
- Mr Garrett of the Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership said “The Cambridge high-tech cluster is reaching the limit set by regional conditions – there is a need to act”
- A couple of witnesses suggested a Cambridge orbital road. Models suggest this could result in 6% reduction in city traffic.
- Mr Barker of Marshall’s in favour of investigating “pods” http://www.atsltd.co.uk/ and tunnels
- Cambridgeshire Federation of Small Businesses: “congestion charge will adversely affect their members”
- Damage to Marshall from the congestion charge will be significant says Mr Barker of Marshall.
- Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce members would pay 2% more business rates if the revenue raised was spent on area’s infrastructure
John Bridge of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce
Mr Bridge said that his organisation covers 5 chambers, across the county, he said that he was focused on creating the economic environment for business to succeed. The Chamber is not against road pricing, but are against an “isolated local congestion charge rather than a properly integrated national road pricing scheme with integrated tax changes”.
The Chambers of Commerce were critical of inadequate investment in the county’s infrastructure and said that this lack of investment had led congestion. Mr Bridge even put some numbers to what he was saying claiming that there had been a £2 billion deficit in the in the investment in the region’s road infrastructure.
The commission was told that the Chambers of Commerce thought that there was a Government inability to provide the necessary funds and the investment necessary particularly with respect to the ambitious growth agendas. Mr Bridge said the Chambers of Commerce considered the TIF, as it requires funding to be conditional on a congestion charge as blackmail by the Government.
From a motorist’s perspective; Mr Bridge drew attention to the high price, the high taxes which motorists currently play and drew attention to the disparity between £45 billion per year collected from motorists yet only £7 billion is spent on roads infrastructure. He said that escalating road taxes would not be accepted, particularly in light of the inadequate road network.
He said that for that reason his organisation was skeptical of additional charges.
What he was more positive in relation to was any charging being offset by changes in the tax system, he was supportive of fiscally neutral measures intended to change behavior. Mr Bridges noted that the government was dependent on road related taxes and very cautiously aware political consequences of demand management. He said that he felt the Government was trying to look at ways of introducing road pricing without them suffering political consequences. The commission was told that the Chambers of Commerce felt that road pricing on a national basis was fair to all.
My own view is that a national road pricing scheme which would involve the state knowing where you were at all times would be a massive invasion of privacy. I am appalled that a national network of automatic number plate recognition has appeared on our roads without a national debate. I think that the information from these cameras ought be very tightly controlled, and information on my location ought be only accessible to the state following a process akin to that required to obtain a warrant to search my home.
Mr Bridges said that the County Council had to bid for the TIF as no money was being offered from any other source and doing nothing was not an option. He said that in Cambridge Congestion has grown, and that despite the lack of investment there were successes such as the park and ride. With respect to the TIF, he said the key problem was that there was no plan B, no alternative than the TIF, and the TIF proposals were dealing with effects of congestion not the causes. He said that the TIF bid, and the associated congestion charge was being relentlessly pursued by council officers at the county council for reasons that only they understand.
A comparison with Manchester was made and Mr Bridge said that money is now appearing for some schemes that the people of Manchester were told would not be funded if they did not accept the congestion charge. Mr Bridges said that this showed that there is other money available and there are are other alternatives.
In Cambridge we have already seen Chesterton Station funded by sources outside of the TIF, despite it being originally included within the TIF. The refusal of most of the people of Cambridge to embrace the government’s blackmail is already succeeding in calling the Government’s bluff, I think we need to keep it up.
Mr Bridge said that there was overwhelming opposition to local congestion charing and that the current plan was ill-founded. One problem with it he said was that it was designed on basis of the number of vehicles needed to pay the charge inorder that the system covered its costs, he said that is why the area covered by the proposed Cambridge City charge is so large.
On behalf of the Chambers of Commerce Mr Bridge said that business had been shut out from discussions and workshops, after the very initial sessions. He said he had received apologies for this. He said that he had his organisation had only heard of the proposed introduction of road pricing (by which I presume he means the congestion charge) when it was announced in the press. He also said that the commission had been in different way than the Chambers of Commerce were told it would be set up. The commission were told that the Chamber of Commerce had asked to be involved in an economic impact assessment, and they had been told that it was now underway (presumably without them) and that it was not going to be independently audited. He complained that this was yet another change in the way in which the congestion charge was being assessed by the County Council.
Mr Bridge stated that overall there was a need to £1.2-1.3 billion to be spent on the alternative options to personal car travel which need to be developed in Cambridgeshire. He noted that many of those currently traveling in the charge zone during the proposed times had said, when consulted, that there were currently no alternatives open to them and they would have no choice but to pay the charge.
Commenting on the political background, Mr Bridge said he was quite surprised that as a Conservative controlled council Cambridgeshire were pursuing it, particularly given Birmingham and Manchester had rejected the options. He noted that the Conservatives in Cambridge City and Labour in South Cambridgeshire were against the scheme. To me this again makes clear that voting on the basis of parties in the upcoming election makes no sense, electors need to look very carefully to find out what their candidates views are on key issues such as transport, growth of the city, and the congestion charge.
Mr Bridge said that one thing Cambridgeshire was good at was developing true partnerships. He said that a local congestion charge was regressive tax, penalised the poor the most, he said that it was unfair. He noted that the congestion charge cannot work work without punitive charges, charges which would he said harm the region’s economy. He quoted ex. Prime Minister John Major who had said: “If it’s not hurting, it’s not working”, he said this would apply to the Cambridge congestion charge. Mr Bridge pointed to the fact that the collection costs of the congestion charge would have to be levied on top of existing taxes, those costs were money lost to the economy. He also said that the public sector had a poor record of delivering projects on time and on cost. The TIF was described as a distraction and something which would adversely affect the local economy, if not the national economy. He said that any charge must show benefits to business and road users and noted that these had not yet seen. Summing up he made the rather odd statement that: “those charged need compensating” and proposed a local referendum on a congestion charge before its introduction.
Brian Briscoe clarified that the Mr Bridge in representing the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce represented 1300 business which employed around 48000 employees. He said that all chambers thought that a congestion charge for Cambridge would be negative, though he joked that some businesses in Peterborough can’t wait for Cambridge to have a charge, as the disincentive for companies to locate in Cambridge might result in Peterborough being considered more favorably. Many businesses in Peterborough conduct work in Cambridge so were overall opposed to the introduction of a congestion charge.
Brian Briscoe asked Mr Bridge if he was able to proposed alternative ways of funding and financing the transport improvements needed in the region if it was not to be via the TIF bid. Mr Bridge said that in other locations special purpose investment vehicles had been set up to invest in infrastructure over a period of 30-50 year; he said that there were investors wiling to invest private money. Mr Bridges also pointed again to Manchester, where he said his “colleagues” were now finding other sources of funding emerging now the TIF had been rejected.
Mr Briscoe summised what was being suggested was a “Crossrail” type of funding model and went on to ask on if business would be happy with a levy on planning permissions, to which Mr Bridge replied that we all know we need to deal with congestion using much fairer mechanism than a locally imposed congestion charge.
Professor Tony Travers asked what mechanisms Mr Bridge would consider fairer. Mr Bridge again referred to Manchester saying that there funding was now emerging from other sources.
Tony Travers then asked about a “business rates supplement”, putting to Mr Bridges -: “Would an increase of two pence in the pound on business rates to pay for additional transport be acceptable”. I was shocked by Mr Bridge’s answer of: “Yes, as long as it is ring fenced I think they would”. He noted that there is some concern that some of the money raised would be “top-sliced” by centreal government, but said his membership was not concerned if the money was invested locally.
Professor Tony Travers then commented that as a successful region Cambridgeshire pays a lot in taxes and doesn’t get back in spending what it perhaps ought to, he said: “Public spending is never very generous in the East of England”.
Mr Bridges was then asked what he thought could be bought by any private investment “Special Purpose Vehicle”. Mr Bridges didn’t really have the answer to that question. Discussion moved on to other “interventions” which could reduce congestion such as looking at the education sector, where lots of people travel to school at the same time, he commented on the provision of delivery vehicles, reducing the single occupancy vehicle population and suggested retailers changing opening hours.
Professor Travers mused that the charge was not to raise income but more to persuade people not to do what they do during during school term time but to do what they do in school holidays.
In responding Mr Bridges agreed, saying that the challenge is to change behaviour and went back to is point that you can’t change behavior if people don’t have other options to switch to. Mr Bridges said that outside of London there was no sufficient alternative transport options to allow people not to use their vehicles, and that the majority of people cannot change their behaviour as there are no alternative options.
Following up on Mr Bridge’s statement that his members would be prepared to pay 2% extra business rates I needed to look up how much this would raise. The atrocious state of the various council’s websites meant I was just about able to acquire the following information on business rate collection:
|Cambridge City Council||£72,685,000||(07/08)|
|South Cambridgeshire District Council||£57,273,051||(06/07)|
|Huntingdonshire District Council||£44,385,000||(05/06)|
|Peterborough City Council||£74,786,000||(07/08)|
|East Cambridgeshire District Council||£14,274,919||(05/06)|
|Fenland District Council||£25,648,000||(07/08)|
All these figures are for both local, and national pool, non-domestic rate income.
The total is £289,051,970, of which 2% is £5,781,039. This is 100 fold out when compared to the £500,000,000 offered by the TIF, and therefore it is not a clear alternative source of funding (I have exaggerated slightly as the TIF would not be spent in a year). Page 23 of the white paper introducing the business rate supplement indicates that a 2% supplement in Lancashire would raise £7.8m per year which provides a confirmation that the result of my calculation is of the right order of magnitude.
Methods of extracting value from the planning gain on land however do theoretically enable the release of sums comparable with those offered by the TIF, and have the advantage of being directly linked to development.
Dick Jarvis of Cambridgeshire Federation of Small Businesses
Mr Jarvis introduced the Federation of Small Businesses as a “benefits and lobbying organization with 215,000 members in UK and Northern Ireland. He said there were about 2000 members in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, his members are companies with 0-50 employees. He told the commission that the FSB had held an “Open event” at the University Arms Hotel in Cambridge. (This event was not open, while it had the leaders of the City and County Council’s present along with all the key county council officers, highly ironically a charge of £11 was being made for entry. I refused to pay on principle – it had been advertised as an open meeting, and joined others watching the presentation slides through the windows from Parkers Piece.)
Mr Jarvis, reported that the only group interested in congestion charge who were present at the meeting his organisation held were cyclists who felt it might be safer for them during the charged period.
Mr Jarvis clearly stated that the Cambridgeshire Federation of Small Businesses’ opinon was that a congestion charge would adversely affect their members as they go about their business. That said he reported the FSB was realistic about something needing to be done in respect of traffic flow. He said there had to be suitable alternatives, so members can continue working without incurring additional costs. He illustrated the problem by saying that a plumber can’t really get on a bus with a ten foot long piece of pipe.
The commission were told that the FSB view had not changed since their September 2007 meeting, and noted that many members based outside Cambridgeshire and many are service businesses. He said that the congestion charge would result in additional costs which could not be passed on to customers, businesses would absorb them and become less profitable and less sustainable or owners would work harder. He described and alternative situation which might apply to certain tradespeople – who would not enter Cambridge during the charging hours, which for the initially proposed 0730-0930 charging time would reduce the working week by ten hours.
Mr Jarvis submitted the results of a survey of his members carried out in early 2008, in which he said the majority of his members oppose the principle of congestion charging, and a significant minority would support it conditional on the revenue raised being used to improve road or public transport. (It is notable they didn’t say where those improvements would take place, as some have suggested money raised by a Cambridge charge might be spent by the county council in rural areas of the county).
The case for a congestion charge having a negative effect on members was made by Mr Jarvis as he drew on a survey the FSB had carried out in London asking their members about the effect of the charge there on them, 55% had said the charge had had a detrimental effect on their business. Suppliers had increased costs, yet only a small percentage of FSB members had raised their own charges, preferring to take the hit on profits. One outcome of the survey was that 6.2 hours a week was reported as being lost to congestion on average.
The commission was told that the FSB wants a referendum on a congestion charge before one is introduced to Cambridge. At national level the FSB is opposed to road pricing as means of raising revenue, however it does not rule out supporting schemes where the money raised is to be spent on genuine improvements in transport.
Mr Jarvis finished by saying that he, and his organisation believed that the simple fact that a congestion charge was in place in Cambridge will deter people from visiting the city, its effects will not just in the hours of operation. (This I assume is due to problems envisaged with communicating the hours of operation of the charge, and perhaps privacy concerns)
Brian Briscoe asked if FSB members were typically plumbers. He was told they were carpenters, delivery services, plumbers… at which point Mr Briscoe interjected: “how many white vans do you have in your membership?” Mr Jarvis continued saying he also represented internet service providers, lots of retailers, small holders, farmers, butches … “You name it” he said, explaining that 95% of the business you can think of will be small businesses, and that small businesses in employ almost 50% of those in employment in this country.
Brian Briscoe said that he’d asked about “White Van Man” as he’d like to meet one and take evidence from one. He went on to ask Mr Jarvis about “this notion a congestion charge is bad for business”. He put forward the hypotheses that a plumber who needed to get to an emergency between 0730-0930 might currently experience a 20 minute delay. He asked if a payment of £5 or £4 meant that he could get there saving that 20 minutes he would be better off. Mr Briscoe claimed that in London the plumber would be making a fortune if he was able to spend £5 to get 20 mins more time at work.
Mr Jarvis said that the FSB had found it difficult to consult their members on the 0730-0930 charge, as members were thinking of the whole day. I think it is likely that his members are simply assuming the charge will extend its hours if it is brought in, so are opposing what they envisage it becoming now while they have the chance.
Mr Jarvis said that small business people often work from the time they get up to when they go to bed, so a charge for any period disrupts them. Mr Briscoe asked the question of why FSB members couldn’t pass on the costs to their customers and was told: “customers don’t like to see thier prices go up they like them to come down”.
Mr Briscoe put the question of if a charge would disproportionately benefit those who need to be moving at that time for business reason rather than those who choose to travel then such as the retired etc. I felt this was a mad question; there surely aren’t any retired people who decide to go out for a drive or go shopping in the morning rush hour!
Mr Jarvis said that “it could do, yes”, but rapidly moved on to talk about one of his members; a supplier of TVs and Videos offering service and repair, who runs ten vans. He said he was looking at the cost at the end of the year rather than anything else and had said everyone wants repair man to come first thing in the morning – as people are often not at home during the day. For that reason this businessman could see a congestion charge costing him a lot of money.
Professor Tony Travers went back to the survey result raised stating that 6.2 hours per week is lost to congestion by FSB members in Cambridgeshire. He valued that at £150 / week lost (£7500/year) and said that all agree congestion has a real cost. He asked Mr Jarvis how he would magic away this significant cost to his members, how he would get rid of this “tax by congestion”. The answer he got was: “improvement to road structures to improve the flow of traffic”. Mr Jarvis went on to list some of the ideas in the TIF bid to put in place “improvements to roads, cycleways, busses and the rest of it” which Mr Jarvis said should reduce congestion, on the basis that if its not going to reduce congestion the TIF would be a waste of money.
Prof Travers asked specifically about those FSB members who deliver things, he suggested one way of alleviating and managing deliveries would be to spread them out. He asked how the behaviour of those doing deliveries could be changed. He was told that those doing deliveries planned routes and schedules very carefully and cleverly, however in terms of reorganising deliveries, he was told the customer was likely to be the challenge, with customers demanding early morning deliveries.
Jonathan Barker of Marshall of Cambridge
Mr Barker briefly introduced Marshall of Cambridge, describing it as one of the largest family companies in the UK employing 3500 people, 2500 of them in Cambridge. He drew attention to the fact that Marshall is celebrating its centenary in 2009. He told the commission that companies within the group worked in a huge range of areas from maintaining the RAF’s fleet of Hercules and Tristar aircraft to selling and maintaining mobile hospitals. He said there was significant export business to countries including Canada and the Netherlands. The company had started in Jesus Lane in Cambridge, and was proud to be a Cambridge company and there was a desire within the company do do what they can to help the city. Mr Barker suggested it was more important than normal given the recession to do everything possible to retain jobs and reduce the cost of doing business.
Mr Barker said his role was “Group Company Secretary” and he was responsible for planning and property matters.
Moving onto congestion he said it was only a peak period problem – for a couple of hours in the morning and a couple in the evening. He was concerned that a congestion charge would simply move the problem as people would avoid it. He noted that the plans had not included space for people, particularly couriers, to park up just outside the zone waiting for the charging period to be over.
Mr Barker said that Marshall strongly opposed the congestion charge. He noted the huge cost paid to the “organiser” in London, referring to the profits made by Capita, the private company who run the system. He said that the charge in London had not reduced congestion, and congestion there was now back to prior levels. He said that there was a risk to the viability of the City of Cambridge as a congestion charge would make it one of the very few Cities in the world, outside London with a charge and he felt this would drive away any international companies. He noted Cambridge’s importance to the UK and its contribution to the national GDP and said this should not be damaged or put at risk. Mr Barker told the commission that Marshall believed a congestion charge would affect people’s perception of the city, even if their activities were not directly effected; he said shoppers would go to car friendly locations. He noted the new Bury St. Edmonds shopping centre and said those there would welcome a congestion charge in Cambridge.
The commission was told that the damage to Marshall from a congestion charge will be significant, of their 2500 staff, about 2000 would have to pay. Mr Barker estimated the total cost on the company and its employees would amount to many millions of pounds a year, he said there would also be an adverse affect on business such as car servicing as customers would have to pay to reach Marshall’s location. He also thought that suppliers would be unwilling to pay the charge in order to make deliveries to the Marshall site during the hours of operation of the charge.
Marshall recommended considering an alternative such as the ULTra Personal Rapid Transit system being used in Heathrow. He described this as a four seater vehicle (pod), running on dedicated tracks which therefore didn’t add to congestion. He said one advantage was that they did not run when there was no demand, contrasting this with the number of virtually empty busses which run down Newmarket Road, he said this waste could be cut down. Mr Barker also promoted other ideas such as staggering school hours. He drew attention to articles in the press the day before claiming young people studied better later in the day. I spoke to Mr Barker and clarified that he was in favour of modifying the TIF requirements so that innovative schemes such as ULTra can be funded without the requirement for a congestion charge.
Mr Barker reported that £200K had been raised by to produce a detailed study of transport problems in Cambridge; he said they had used County Council models to look at the effects of schemes such as improving cycle-ways. On cycling he noted many of the city’s cycleways were not wide enough or safe enough and there was a lack of proper parking and lockers. He said there was a need to improve public transport, and suggested buses could be run through tunnels in city centre so that they are not slowed down by congestion in the medieval city streets.
Another proposal supported by Cambridge Futures and presented by Mr Barker was an Orbital Highway. He said we had much of the necessary roads already in place. one possible route is shown on the Cambridge Futures website.
Mr Barker said it could be argued that Marshall ought not be inside any congestion charge zone, and on questioning from Briscoe said that there was congestion which currently affected the Marshall site, from the A14 to the works, and past it in the evenings. Professor Travers asked what the effect of this was, and was told the staff adjust to cope. Mr Barker noted that on newmarket road there was huge congestion on Saturdays.
The commission was told that many years ago Marshall had a large cycle shed as the majority of their staff used to cycle in, then they built car parks, and now they were going back to cycle sheds. Mr Barker said many staff had moved out of Cambridge due to the high cost of housing, people were living further away and spending more time, 30 mins to an hour commuting. He said these people would have to get up very early to avoid a charge, or would have to start work after 0930.
In response to a question from Mr Briscoe the commission was told that Marshall’s staff generally worked normal hours, though there was limited shift and weekend work when required. Mr Barker didn’t know the number of vehicles a day which were serviced, but was told it was a large number and said it would not be possible for the company to pay their congestion charges. On being asked if Marshall would be prepared to change its working hours in response to a congestion charge Mr Barker said that was impractical and asked why schools couldn’t change instead.
The commissioners questioned the rationale of trying something as high-tech as ULTra, pointing out Heathrow was a very different environment to Cambridge, there there is intensive use over a small area whereas Cambridge is large. Mr Barker said the technology was not that high tech, describing the pods as being like an electric golf buggy with a computer. When Mr Briscoe suggested the idea of banks lending money for such a scheme was “distant” Mr Barker pointed out that people said that of canals and railways when they were new. Mr Barker proposed building a small network to try out the principle; he suggesting connecting the Milton Park and Ride site with Chesterton Station and the Science Park.
He pointed out that “someone has raised £100m to try the guided bus”, suggesting funds could be found for trials. Mr Barker suggested that an initial trial might be privately funded, and if proven, asked why it couldn’t receive government support. He said there was an opportunity to build a new green business, which could result in making good use of this perfect opportunity and result in a scheme which overall had a zero cost and was self financing.
When asked if Marshall would be prepared to invest, the reply was that: “we have a history of investing in transport and we have not yet considered doing it for ULTra”.
Professor Travers turned to the subject of tunnels. Mr Barker said he was not an expert, but wouldn’t suggest putting cars in tunnels, but perhaps putting ULTra in tunnels. He suggested Prof Mair be invited to give evidence on the potential for tunneling in Cambridge as he was an expert who considers the idea of tunneling under Cambridge feasible and relatively low-cost.
Finally Mr Barker was asked about new housing development in and around Cambridge. It appeared that Mr Barker had indicated that he wasn’t going to comment on the potential for housing development on the Marshall Airport site. He replied that Marshall did have interests in this area, but told the commissioners they would have to find out about that from others. On the effect of the recession on the “growth agenda” Mr Barker said he hoped the current economic climate was just a temporary problem.
Martin Garrett of the The Greater Cambridge Partnership
Mr Garrett introduced the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) as a group based on the real-world geography (rather than local authority boundaries) of the Cambridge area and as such was broad based and had members from ten local authorities in addition to private sector organisations. The role of the the GCP was described as being to stimulate debate, developing ideas and solutions, and acting as the “honest broker” between interested parties.
He said: “We see greater Cambridge as the scientific capital of the UK”. He pointed to 1500 high tech businesses employing over 40K people and said: “Cambridge as a city has the highest innovation rate”. The commission were told that there was a very high fraction of companies and individuals involved in the knowledge economy. A statistic mentioned was that 8% of the UK’s venture capital is invested in the region even though only 1% of the national population lives here. As an example of the region’s success Mr Garrett pointed to the University’s Microsoft laboratory, which he said was the first location for Microsoft outside of the USA.
Mr Garrett referred to the Library House cluster report (Noting as he did so the demise of Library House). He said that greater Cambridge was reaching a limit set by regional conditions and that the long term health of the cluster was at risk and the GCP’s view was that something needed to be done.
We were told that the GCP had hosted a major symposium which had discussed the key options and opportunities for the Cambridge area. This had resulted in a series of findings; break-out groups ranged from introducing local business rate supplement to extending the park and ride bus services to include centers of employment and introducing yellow buses and differentiating school hours. Mr Garrett also spoke in favour of cambridge orbital road and suggested that there was a need to lobby Government to introduce national road pricing (as opposed to a local congestion charge). I oppose a national road pricing scheme, we already heavily tax motorists and the national tracking system be it satellite or ANPR based would be enormously intrusive. The freedom to travel ought not be restricted (again, as it has been historically, to the rich elite).
Mr Garrett said the GCP was currently acting in its honest broker role providing assistance to the county council and a report was due later in the year. He suggested that the GCP should meet with the commission in a public meeting when they had their results ready. Mr Garrett said the GCP was hoping to come to a clearer position and formulate a detailed opinion on the benefits or otherwise of a TIF proposal. Mr Briscoe was concerned if the timing of the GCP report and the Commission’s timetable would enable it to be fully considered. Mr Briscoe suggested that the GCP might want to present their findings, before their final report was ready to enable their views to be included in the commission’s conclusions.
Mr Briscoe asked if linking the A14 with the M11 via an eastern ring road was pipe dream. Mr Garrett responded that the GCP was “trying to act as a think tank”. Mr Barker said that modeling suggested that a orbital road would reduce traffic within the city by 6%. He also said that a calculation on the return on the money invested was positive; he said that £240m invested could give a 12% per year return in terms of improved productivity in the region. This he said could enable, through the issuing of government bonds, or the establishment of an “investment vehicle”, private investment. I strongly support this approach of considering money spent on transport as a true investment, rather than simply spending and making decisions based on the expected returns. A commissioner asked if anyone had considered making the eastern orbital road a toll road. Mr Garrett said no, that wasn’t practical, as much was simply junction improvements and road widening.
When asked if he felt congestion was less bad than charging, Mr Garrett said: “That’s probably right”.
Once the evidence from, and questioning of the individuals had taken place there was a short further debate during which questions were put to all four “witnesses”. They returned to the business rate supplement. None had any idea, when asked, of the order of magnitude of the funds which could be raised. (My calculation above suggests about £5m/year). There was consensus this ought only be imposed following a broad based consultation. Prof. Travers asked Mr Barker what the impact of a business rate supplement would be on Marshall. He replied: “We don’t need it”.
Mr Briscoe noted that members of the public responding to the commission’s consultation had commented that there was too much growth planned for the Cambridge region. He asked if the driver for this was industry in the region, if the jobs were really present which required more people to live in the area; he was asking if the new homes were to support the local economy. He was told yes, that was a fair summary. Jobs were driving the need to build new homes around Cambridge; the national need to provide homes, or a desire to reduce house prices was secondary.
The fact that there is a large proportion of public sector workers in Cambridge was expected by those giving evidence make the local economy resilient to recession. That said the business representatives reminded the commissioners that only the private sector creates wealth and there was a need to attract private investment to the area.
Mr Barker re-emphasised that policy to-date had resulted in people working in Cambridge living 30-40 miles away. He pointed out that was a unsustainable way of living in terms of energy usage. He was supportive of expanding the existing settlements around the City, as they could be served by public transport. He also supported more city centre housing, pointing out that some of the most popular and expensive housing in Cambridge and London was very high density city centre flats and houses. He said what we were proposing to build, and were building around the city was low density by comparison.