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Cambridgeshire makes road charge last resort

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Cambridgeshire CC councillors have voted for a scheme which would use Transport Innovation Fund money and include road charging – if all else fails.

The county's travel scheme proposes a trigger point for a congestion charge scheme, so that it would be introduced if congestion "reached a critical level and nothing else would help".

However, Department for Transport rules for local authority applications for the £3bn TIF stipulate that bids must support transport innovations and include a pricing regime to cut road congestion.

Alan Mo, senior analyst at Kable, said: "Although Cambridgeshire's bid may help appease local opposition to road charging, the new challenge for the council will be to get official approval for a bid which does not have congestion charging at its centre."

Cambridgeshire's bid, which won backing from councillors in an open vote on 13 October 2009, follows the recommendations of the independent Cambridgeshire Transport Commission, chaired by Brian Briscoe. It was established after the council received mixed responses from the public when congestion charging was initially mooted.

The first part of the bid is for funding for a new railway station at Chesterton, to the north of the city, which would be built in 2012. Roy Pegram, Cambridgeshire CC's cabinet member for growth, infrastructure and strategic planning, said that building Chesterton station was the priority.

"This will immediately help reduce congestion in the city as around 80% of people who use the central station currently travel across the city from the north," he said.

The second part of the bid for the remainder of a £500m package will include a trigger point for congestion charging. The earliest date for introducing congestion charging would be 2017, and only if the county's other TIF investment does not relieve roads. Such a charge would also have to gain the agreement of the public, businesses, partner authorities and government.

"We cannot simply sit on our hands, do nothing, and expect congestion to go away, but neither should we bring in a congestion charge without first revolutionising transport choice," said Pegram.

This article was originally published at Kable.

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