Conservatives put the frighteners on Labour yesterday after the single-issue anti congestion charge won them a seat on Cambridge City Council for the first time in 11 years.
Taxi driver Delowar Hossain secured the historic victory by a narrow margin but sufficient to become the new city councillor for King’s Hedges.
Opposing the congestion charge and looking for other options – including light rail – will be part of Cllr Hossain’s campaigning strategy.
Cllr Hossain got 622 votes in yesterday’s by election – with Labour’s Zarina Anwar coming a close runner up with 598.
The seat had previously been held by Labour.
The by election was caused by the resignation of Labour’s former deputy leader Alex Collis who, ironically, quit shortly after securing victory in May. Her decision, she said, was based on her Labour colleagues allegedly not listening to residents concerns about the congestion charge.
Turn out yesterday was 26.7 per cent, five per cent less than in May.
With little prospect of winning approval anytime soon on their current proposals, the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) has delayed any early decision on a congestion charge for Cambridge.
“It is important we relook at the proposals to see if we can find a scheme that addresses the concerns people have while tackling the real challenges facing our region,” was how Cllr Elisa Meschini, the GCP executive board chair put it last month.
She was speaking after the GCP announced that they will develop “a revised package of measures to upgrade public transport, improve air quality and cut congestion on the roads”.
An extraordinary meeting of the executive board and joint assembly was held last month where members debated the options and scenarios for adapting the original proposals.
Cllr Meschini said: “After careful consideration of the findings to the public consultation and the detailed debates by the joint assembly, it is clear that we need to take action now to improve the way we all travel while addressing the issues people had with the original proposals.
“People have told us they want more buses and better cycle infrastructure – they want alternatives to the car so they don’t feel isolated or prevented from getting to work or school by services they can’t rely on.
“But it is also clear there is concern around the introduction of a road user charge to fund a better public transport network.”
She added: “The congestion on our roads is real, with all its negative impacts to journeys, health and its contribution to climate change and air quality.”
“That is only going to get worse with the tens of thousands of new homes and jobs being created across our region over the coming years.
“That is why it is important we relook at the proposals to see if we can find a scheme that addresses the concerns people have while tackling the real challenges facing our region.”
A GCP spokesperson said that the executive board remains committed to improving the region’s transport network to be upgraded to support its growing needs and decided that – while no options should be taken off the table at this stage – the original Making Connections scheme should be modified.
Even within Labour circles there is growing opposition to the mere mention never mind possible imposition of a congestion charge.
Here’s what Andrew Osborne, a Unite representative, posted after the result.
“It takes a certain kind of genius to loose King’s Hedges ward of Cambridge City Council to a Conservative,” he wrote.
“Well done Cambridge Labour Party.
“First, they introduce a congestion charge policy that nobody supports, certainly not the majority of Unite the union branches who passed motions opposing it.
“Cambridge and District Trades Union Council supported the motion opposing it, then they manage to reverse a national swing to Labour at the last elections and generate a 10% swing to the Conservatives in Cambridge.
“And now after a night of bare insanity where they replaced their group leader with a man with the charisma of a reel of industrial cable and forced their deputy leader to resign in utter disgust causing this by election have managed to lose it.
“One of the ward councillors for King’s Hedges representing Edgecombe flats, Campkin Road, Hawkins Road and Sackville Close is a freaking Conservative…… wake up and smell the coffee, listen to the trades unions in Cambridge about the congestion charge and see sense.
“If you don’t talk to us, you’re going to have to deal with the Conservatives and their batshit crazy cabal of supporters.”
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