What you need to know about the Cambridge Congestion Charge as survey shows majority opposition

Congestion charge sign in London.
Credit: PA
Congestion charges are already well established in cities including London and Birmingham. Credit: PA

Cambridge has become the latest UK city to put forward plans for its own Congestion Charge Zone, following in the footsteps of London and Birmingham.

The proposal has led by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), a body that includes three councils, academia and businesses.

The idea is that having a daily charge in certain busy areas would discourage drivers from entering high-traffic areas, leading to less congestion on the roads and reduced pollution, and allowing the council to raise money for better public transport services.

But it has been met with protest and opposition and a recent survey found a majority of respondents were against the idea.

Following the backlash, the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Nik Johnson said the organisation would "fine tune" the proposal and look for ways to make the idea of charging motorists more palatable.ITV News Anglia takes a look at the issue in detail.

What is being proposed?

The proposed Cambridge congestion charge is to be paid by drivers travelling within Cambridge city centre and is designed to reduce the volume of traffic in the area.

The Cambridge congestion charge plans were announced in 2022 and, if approved, would be implemented by 2028 - although the plans are subject to delays and changes.

Car drivers would pay a daily fee of £5, van drivers would pay £10 and lorries £50 to enter or drive within a Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ) in the city between 7am and 7pm on weekdays.

Protests against the charge have been held in the city Credit: ITV Anglia

What area will Cambridge's congestion charge zone cover?

The zone would cover the entirety of the city centre, extending out as far as Trumpington, Teversham, Newnham and King’s Hedges.

The charge will apply to drivers of private vehicles who enter any part of this area, even if they do not drive into the main part of the city centre.

This area includes the University Campus, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge Science Park and Cambridge City Airport.

Map showing proposed Sustainable Travel Zone Credit: Greater Cambridge Partnership

Will there be any exemptions?

Exemptions would include emergency vehicles, military vehicles, disabled tax class vehicles and breakdown services.

A series of discounts and reimbursements are also being considered for certain journeys that cannot be made by another form of transport.

These could include NHS patients who need to access A&E or who have been clinically assessed as being unable to reasonably travel to an appointment using public transport.

Where will the money go?

The charge will be paid to Cambridgeshire County Council which will use the money to improve and expand bus services.

The expansion of the public transport system to a "London-style" bus network would cost £50m a year.

Cycling and walking infrastructure improvements have also been promised.

Proposed 'London-style' bus network Credit: Greater Cambridge Partnership

What has the reaction been to the proposals?

A survey was carried out by the Greater Cambridge Partnership and published last week.

It received more than 24,000 responses to the consultation - a record for the organisation.

The key findings were:

  • More than half - 58% - said they opposed or strongly opposed to the congestion charge. Those aged 55 to 64 were most likely to oppose them, but a majority of under-25s were supportive;

  • 78% of respondents supported proposals to create a bus network with cheaper, faster, more frequent and reliable services;

  • 71% supported the overall aims of reducing carbon emissions, tackling pollution and congestion;

  • 68% supported reducing traffic to improve walking and cycling options;

  • 52% supported reducing traffic to improve public spaces;

  • 27% considered that more frequent bus services should be a priority;

  • 19% considered that cheaper fares for buses should be a priority;

  • 32% felt that if money was spent on reducing fares, then the introduction of flat fares would be supported;

  • 31% felt that if money was spent on reducing bus fares, then lower fares should be offered across the region.

Who is in favour and who is against? Since the plans were first announced, there have been rallies both in favour and against the controversial proposals. Local business owner Neil Mackay, who runs the Mackays of Cambridge hardware store, said he feared it would destroy retail in the city centre.

"As far as they [GCP] are concerned, businesses are regarded as collateral damage," he said. "They just think 'oh, they'll move out of town' but what that will lead to is a retail desert in the centre of town. It will affect not just us, but so many independent businesses."Meanwhile, Josh Grantham, of Cambridge cycling campaign group CamCycle argued that the idea was good in principle, but the proposals needed further work.

He said: "In some form, we think a road charging is required. It's really just working through the details of how it can be delivered in an effective way.

"We can see from the consultation that there is super strong support for improving walking and cycling infrastructure and public transport but there is a disconnect from that and the funding mechanism, so we need to do a better job in aligning those things."Councillor Elisa Meschini, of the Greater Cambridge Partnership, said that the group was ready to think again about how best to implement the congestion charge, after the publication of the consultation findings.

She said: "We will look again at whether it can be made any fairer, and we will look again at whether the charge can be dropped.

"We can look again at whether the hours can be made shorter or whether businesses can be helped with discounts or not having the charge set as high as it was in the original plans, and just how we manage to deliver as many of those buses as well as we possibly can with as much money as we can find." What happens next?

At the Combined Authority Board meeting on 31 May, it was agreed to defer a report recommending approval of the wider Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP), to allow "further work" to take place.

The GCP is now expected to alter its original proposals.

The organisation's Joint Assembly will meet to discuss the proposals and consultation results on the afternoon of 8 June, and its board will discuss them at a meeting in July.

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