On the 25th of June 2009 the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission held an evidence gathering session in the University Centre. I was one of a number of Cambridge residents asked, on the basis of our written representations, to speak to the commissioners in person. My submission is available via this link.
I introduced myself as a completely independent individual, speaking on my own behalf, and said that my interest in the commission’s work arose from an appreciation that the growth of the region and the associated transport challenges is one of the biggest challenges facing the region.
I oppose the proposed congestion charge. I’d like to use my opportunity to speak here to focus on three reasons why:
- The bribery element of how we as a country are proposing to distribute the money available to invest in transport.
- Privacy and civil liberties – I want to raise that because particularly as I think its an important aspect and one which has not been covered in the evidence so far.
- The potential effect of the charge on the viability of the city.
We would not be considering a congestion charge if it was not for central government trying to bribe Cambridge into running a congestion charge experiment in the city.
I would prefer to see funding, not be a bribe for an experiment, but to:
- Follow development, and be closely linked to housing growth.
- Be treated more like “investment” – the nation ought invest its money for transport improvement where it is expected to generate the best return in terms of improved economic productivity in an area.
- Also be investment, for example we could be investing in new technologies which the country could then sell abroad. Projects such as the ULTra pods appear attractive from that point of view.
- I think, as a general point, much more public money ought be genuinely “invested” rather than merely spent, we should always be looking at the return.
This is not something I’ve heard mentioned in evidence so far, but I think it is something which matters to Cambridge residents. I think one main reason why so many vote Liberal Democrat is their record on privacy issues, and the organisation No2ID is strong in the city. The Congestion Charge would be highly intrusive. The charge will result in all movements in and out of, as well as within, the city being monitored by the state. I am very uncomfortable with this. My location is private and personal information. In London shortly after the congestion charge was introduced we saw all records handed over to the police and security services to be data-mined. I believe that such information should only be available to the police after they have gone through a process akin to obtaining a search warrant. I have asked questions such as how long will information be kept about things like where my car was on a particular night, who I drove down the road behind but not had any assurances.
[The commissioners put this latter question to County Council representatives during the final session of the Transport Commission; no confident reply was forthcoming, and the commissioners noted it was hard for people to judge the proposals with such key bits of information missing]
Viability of the City
A congestion charge threatens the economic viability of the area. We heard from earlier evidence this evening that the retail sector expected it might reduce its takings by 8%. It might make companies decide to locate elsewhere. Cambridge businesses are of enormous importance to the UK. We need to ensure the city remains viable for as broad a range of people, businesses and activities as possible. I would not like to see Cambridge become a university theme park, the city has a broader role than that.
One of the driving forces for any transport strategy in the current climate is carbon emissions / energy use. One of the primary ways Cambridge can contribute to reducing the amount of energy used, reducing energy costs and pollution and improving energy security is through the academic research which goes on in the Universities and the technologies developed by high tech businesses in the area. We need to keep the city attractive to academics and businesses and maintain the cluster we have here. If we reduce emissions from the city’s transport infrastructure, but negatively impact research into areas such as photovoltaics, battery technology, renewable energy, nuclear physics and many other areas where Cambridge’s innovations have the potential to change the world we will not be having a beneficial effect overall. We need to keep the national, and global picture in mind. There is a need to keep Cambridge attractive to world class academics and international businesses.
The congestion charge is a tax which will remove money from the local economy, it will make a wide range of services from deliveries to plumbing more expensive as well as perhaps raising the prices of goods in the city’s shops.
- I don’t think there was a sufficient contribution to this process from the police. While PC Holgate presented interesting and valuable perspective it was not complete. It might be the case the police think the Congestion Charge might reduce crime – reduce the ability for criminals to move about unmonitored? We’ve not heard evidence on that, and we also don’t know what information the police will be seeking from the system. [I had suggested to the Police Authority that they ought send someone more senior]
- Many democratic representatives such as opposition councillors from the city have not yet given evidence [We also didn't hear from MPs]. City Conservatives have quite different views to those currently in the ruling group on the County Council, or it would have been interesting to hear from them. Given Professor Travers’ passion for democracy the omission surprises me. A significant number of people positively vote Labour and Conservative in the city. [The commissioners responded on this point and said they had not wanted the commission to become a forum for political debate, and that such councillors could have made representations as members of the public]
- A congestion charge will be an inequitable tax; poor hardest hit; and will benefit those who want to see an idealistic utopian city where everyone walks and cycles everywhere – that’s out of touch with the practicalities of businesses and families.
- I finished by suggesting that existing methods to deter people driving through the city centre such as pinch points and whole areas you can drive into but not out of were effective and could be extended. I suggested the use of more cobbles, painting the roads red or similar deterrents.
While I didn’t have time to include them, other items on my notes included discussing unrestricting the M11 and A14 junctions (or building link roads) – which I believe would reduce the number of people coming into the city centre to go back out again.
I also don’t think I mentioned my suggestion that now traffic models for the city have been produced at huge public expense they ought to be available for ideas from members of the public to be tested. We ought see what the models say about tidal flow on certain roads, making certain roads one way, or even having a one way ring-road as proposed by some giving evidence. Personally I am very sceptical of computer models, but now we have them we might as well use them. (I’m not sure if they are in public ownership, or if, as was the case with the modelling for the CB1 development, an ex. member of county council staff is hired as a consultant to provide modelling related services.)