MPs clash in BBC Politics East debate

Action is needed to solve transport problems in Cambridge, but plans for a congestion charge from the city face opposition, a BBC Politics East discussion said.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), a body that includes 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 Monday to Friday will have to pay a daily charge of at least £5.

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

Map showing the proposed Cambridge congestion charge zone

The BBC Politics East debate, held at The Perse School in Cambridge, included representatives from the Conservative Party, the Green Party, Labor and the Liberal Democrats. An invited audience was also present.

Peter Blake, GCP’s director of transportation, said: “We live in a very successful environment. It’s a great place to live, work and educate.”

What GCP says the plans would lead to

  • 20,000 extra trips made by bus

  • The number of car trips in Cambridge was reduced by 50%

  • Carbon emissions from transportation were reduced by about 5%

  • 10,000 additional park and ride spaces provided around the city

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

“These are the possible 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, Camcycle’s CEO, supported the plans.

She 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 and walking and cycling infrastructure.

“We need fairer options 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, from Hauxton, near Cambridge, opposes the plans, saying the prosecution would leave her and her son “socially isolated”.

“I live on the outskirts of Cambridge with my son Leo and I have to drive into the city every day to go to work, see my friends and family, take my son to daycare,” she said.

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

Asked by an audience member if he supported the plan, Daniel Zeichner, a 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 an opportunity to have a proper transportation system for this city. We all know that for a long time this city has had problems with transportation.

“We need a new bus system that is cheap, 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 impeachment because of the impact it will have on my constituents who have absolutely no alternative to getting into Cambridge other than using their cars.”

“They will be charged when there is no alternative. I’ve talked to companies that are really concerned about the impact on their customers and their staff.

“I’ve talked to people who work in the health sector, at Addenbrooke’s [Hospital] that they are concerned about the staff that work there and the people that use the services, who are going to be charged.”

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

Drivers will be charged at least £5 if they drive into or around Cambridge between 07:00 and 19:00 Monday to Friday.

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

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

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

Naomi Bennett, leader of the Green group on Cambridge City Council, said the debate was not just about “yes and no”.

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

“So yes, we’re looking forward to seeing better public transport, but my party has also put out 11 pages to improve the current query which we’re looking forward to.

“This debate cannot be about yes and no. What we have to do is listen to each other and find a consensus that works for everyone.”

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 halt in Cambridge. We have a problem. ‘Can we improve public transport in a sustainable way?’ would be a critical 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 of this. So I welcome a discussion so we can be sure public transport and riding measures can be improved.” bicycle”. “

Professor Andrew Neely, Cambridge University’s professional senior vice-chancellor, 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 improved cycle routes.

Candy Richards, from the Cambridgeshire Federation of Small Businesses, said she was concerned that small businesses would “bear the cost” of the congestion charge.

She said a survey found that 66% of small business owners needed access to a vehicle.

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

Analysis: By Ben Schofield, BBC East Political Correspondent

Let’s start with the areas of agreement.

Pollution and congestion: bad. Better buses in the city and county: good. That seemed clear from all sides.

A consensus also emerged that the current proposals needed changes before they could be implemented.

The disagreements were over how much to change them, or whether the charge controllers should be removed altogether.

But alternative bus fundraising ideas, or precise stipulations about what needs to be changed and how, were frustratingly harder to spot.

Yes, there are 24,000 query responses processed by the GCP, which can propose revisions in the summer.

And the problem with modifying the plan is that with each modification there is a risk that it will not provide the promised benefits.

Oonagh Monkhouse, from Papworth hospital, in the hearing, said how the debate on this is handled is important. The staff, she said, are wondering about their future.

They are not the only ones.

You can see more of this story on Politics East on BBC One on Sunday 5th February at 10:00 GMT, and it will also be available on BBC iPlayer after.

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