Together with a considerable number of local residents, I have been campaigning for the scrapping of the Cambridge congestion charge since it was first proposed by the GCP.
I therefore welcome the news that local Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians have finally pressed the pause button on this dreadful scheme.
Following their bruising defeats in the Longstanton and King’s Hedges by-elections, both parties are now terrified of the potential voter backlash on this issue in the upcoming general election.
They previously refused to allow a referendum on the congestion charge and are likely hoping that voters will have forgotten about this betrayal by the time they next head to the ballot box.
However, neither party has ruled out reintroducing it after the General Election, so I am calling on them to make an unequivocal promise to abandon the congestion charge once and for all.
Unsurprisingly, Labour’s official statement on the matter attempts to shift the blame for this major U-turn.
Firstly, they blame the Liberal Democrats for withdrawing their support for the congestion charge and then accuse the Conservative government of turning ‘a blind eye to the needs of communities.’
This demonstrates a shameful lack of contrition and self-reflection.
The responsibility for this fiasco lies entirely with our local Labour and Liberal Democrat political leaders, who control the GCP and have actively promoted the so-called ‘Sustainable Travel Zone’.
By contrast, the Conservative government is getting on with delivering improvements.
They are investing over £200 million in delivering Cambridge South Station, have spent £4.2 million on 30 new zero-emission buses for Cambridge, have subsidised the £2 bus fare scheme across Cambridgeshire since January 2023, have committed to the East West Rail project, and set aside a staggering £0.5 billion for the GCP.
Unfortunately, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have shown themselves to be entirely incapable of managing the GCP’s money effectively.
They have squandered nearly £17 million on the City Access and Making Connections scheme, with very little to show for it.
This is in addition to the £16.5 million spent on the CSET busway (now on hold) and £18 million on the car parks at Hauxton (not yet started) and Foxton (now on hold).
To date, the GCP has spent over £160 million on transport projects that are years away from being delivered if they ever will be.
This is an absolutely shocking waste of taxpayers’ money and all the while; we still have no credible transport plan for the future.
The Labour Mayor, Nik Johnson, has shown absolutely no strategic leadership on transport policy since his election.
He has remained on the fence regarding the congestion charge, seemingly afraid to take a clear stance on the issue.
Indeed, our current situation can be traced back to his decision to cancel the Cambridge Autonomous Metro and focus entirely on buses and active travel to solve our problems.
It was evident to many of us that this approach was never going to work.
It is impossible to see how the current leadership of the GCP can be trusted to continue.
Highly paid officials have put the City Deal funds at risk by relentlessly pursuing schemes that were doomed to fail one way or another.
They have ignored expert and public criticism and adopted a bunker mentality, burning through precious public money with little to show for it.
The Liberal Democrat and Labour politicians on the GCP Executive Board, who are ultimately responsible for making its spending decisions, have shown a total lack of leadership.
They have overseen this wasteful spending and have failed miserably in their role as a scrutiny body. It simply cannot be allowed to continue.
At this point, we must cut our losses and dismantle the GCP – as I have told the Government.
We now need new leaders to fix our transport system. All options should be on the table. We need open-minded, high-calibre individuals and technical experts to come together.
And we need to look beyond buses.
I have been calling for a commitment to explore the feasibility of reopening the rail link from Cambridge to Haverhill, adding stations to our existing railways, and opening new lines, including the possibility of a light rail network, which uses reliable technology that is already adopted across the globe.
Anthony Browne is Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire. He will contest the new St Neots and Mid Cambridgeshire seat at the next General Election.
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