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Labour council’s ‘punitive’ congestion charge scrapped after backlash

20mph road sign
20mph road sign - Matthew Horwood/Getty

A Labour council’s plans for a congestion charge in Cambridge have been formally abandoned after the “punitive” levy was rejected by the public.

Car owners were facing a payment of £5 a day to drive at peak times, with Cambridge City Council leaders hoping to use the cash to fund local transport infrastructure.

But the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) confirmed on Thursday that the plan will not be carried forward after it was rejected at a public consultation by three in five respondents (58 per cent).

It follows a backlash to schemes in Labour-run London and Wales with motorists subjected to additional taxes and sweeping 20mph speed limits as part of a drive to lower carbon emissions.

Responses to the survey included fears among residents that the charge would be “unfair or punitive” amid cost-of-living pressures.

Earlier this month, the Labour group on the council voted to withdraw support for the proposal and said it was worried about the “impact on low income families”.

Elisa Meschini, the chairman of the GCP, said: “It seems completely clear from the debate that’s gone on that we are not in a position to recommend that the county council receive the scheme for further work.

“As a result, that recommendation today will not be made.”

Other options considered

Local leaders are now considering other options, including a workplace parking levy, as Labour’s Cambridge City Council admitted there was not enough support for any congestion charge proposals to be taken forward.

Schemes in London and Wales have faced a backlash after motorists were subjected to additional taxes or speed limits as part of a drive to lower carbon emissions.

It comes as Tory MPs warned the Left “see driving as a bad thing” amid reports Rishi Sunak is expected to introduce a raft of new pro-car policies.

Anthony Browne, who has represented South Cambridgeshire since 2019, urged a pragmatic approach as he warned against measures designed to penalise motorists.

Mr Sunak is set to use the Conservative Party conference in Manchester at the weekend to scale back low-traffic neighbourhoods and curb the powers of councils to introduce new 20mph speed limits.

It comes a fortnight after the Welsh Labour Government introduced a 20mph limit on all “restricted” roads, which are defined as having lampposts placed no more than 200 yards (180m) apart.

Mr Browne told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is absolutely true that there is a mood, certainly I think on the Left, to try to stop people driving as much as possible, to get them out of their cars. They see driving as a bad thing.”

He added there was “obviously a case” for lower speed limits outside of schools and in market squares, but dismissed the approach taken by the Welsh Government.

“If you go where Wales has gone where it’s become the default position, 20 miles per hour, then that is basically a punitive thing against motorists,” Mr Browne said.

Cars are ‘essential’

Greg Smith, the Tory MP for Buckingham and a member of the Commons transport select committee, added that cars are “essential” for his constituents and the countryside will be hit hardest by the new policy in Wales.

“For the vast majority of Britons, cars aren’t some luxury or nice-to-have,” he said.

“They are essential for getting to work, taking the kids to school, going to medical appointments and doing a family shop – especially in rural communities.

“The Left have always had a problem with the freedom car use and ownership brings and that has manifested itself time and time again in anti-car policies like we are seeing in Wales under Labour right now.

“Those of us who are politicians need to remember we are here to serve the public, not hinder them, slow them down or cost them more to just go about their daily lives. We need pro-motorist policies that recognise driving isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity.”

Mark Drakeford, Labour’s First Minister of Wales, is pressing ahead with 20mph limits at a £32 million cost to taxpayers despite his own advisers warning they only reduce speeds by 3mph.

In a raft of policy announcements at the Tory conference in the coming days, Mr Sunak will reportedly dilute a number of active travel schemes introduced during the pandemic and make it easier for drivers to challenge parking fines.

The Prime Minister recently scaled back or delayed a number of the Government’s flagship net zero policies, promising to spare the public the “unacceptable costs” of the legally binding target to become carbon neutral by 2050.

A shock Tory by-election win in Uxbridge and South Ruislip in July has refocused the wider debate around net zero as voters punished Labour for Sadiq Khan, the party’s Mayor of London, expanding the ultra-low emissions zone (Ulez) across the whole of the capital.

Mr Khan has since doubled down on his defence of Ulez, which sees about one in 10 motorists in the capital charged £12.50 a day because their vehicles do not meet the necessary green criteria.