From October to December 2022, the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) (the delivery body for the region’s City Deal) held a major consultation on transport in Cambridgeshire, called Making Connections 2022. The consultation centred around proposals to implement a road charge in the form of a Cambridge Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ). The income from the road charge would mainly have been used to fund a vastly-improved bus service across the region. In September 2023, however, following a breakdown in political consensus, a decision was taken not to progress the plans for a STZ any further.
The Cambridgeshire Sustainable Travel Alliance was founded in response to the Making Connections 2022 consultation on a Cambridge STZ and campaigned in support of the proposals.
What were the details of the Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ) proposals?
You can find out about the original Making Connections 2022 proposals on the GCP’s consultation website. The GCP also published a consultation booklet and video giving a summary of what was originally planned.
The plans consulted on in 2022 proposed a daily charge (£5/£10/£50 for cars/vans/lorries) for drivers travelling within, into or out of Cambridge STZ between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday. The STZ broadly matched the boundaries of Cambridge, but excluded the Park&Ride sites.
The majority of the income generated every year by the STZ road charge would have been used to support a vastly improved bus network across the region for the long-term. The proposals to transform buses included cheaper fares, new routes, faster, more frequent and reliable services and longer operating hours. £50 million of upfront investment from the Greater Cambridge City Deal was on offer to put in place the improved bus service before road charging started.
The reduction in traffic levels predicted to be brought about by the scheme (up to 50% under the proposals consulted on in 2022) would have enabled road space to be reallocated for walking, wheeling and cycling, and public realm enhancements. A small amount of the income generated by the road charge would also have been used to fund infrastructure improvements for active travel.
After the results of the consultation were published in May 2023, politicians discussed various ways in which the scheme could be revised to take into account the public’s concerns. A new STZ proposal was then published in August 2023. Major revisions included changing the charging hours to peak times only, offering 50 free days a year for account holders and putting forward plans for a 50% discount for locally-owned SMEs.
A few days later, however, the South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats withdrew their support for the Making Connections package of proposals, followed quickly by Cambridge Labour. The politicians who make up the Executive Board of the GCP were therefore unable to recommend the County Council continue to develop the proposals further.
How did the CSTA campaign in support of the STZ?
The CSTA supported the principle of a STZ, believing the funding and opportunity it presented offered a unique moment to reshape the city and wider county around the needs of its people. We considered that the overall approach of funding significant public transport improvements from road charging was sound, and had worked in other cities, and argued that reducing car traffic would allow space to be reallocated for people walking, cycling, using public transport and spending time in Cambridge.
Some highlights of our actions in support of the STZ are listed below:
October 2022 to December 2022 (during the public consultation)
- We published a consultation response guide. This was intended to help people understand the proposals, share the Alliance’s position and assist people to respond to the consultation in a quick, but meaningful way.
- We conducted our ‘If not now, then when?’’ (INNTW) campaign to highlight the urgent need to take action now and motivate consultation responses, distributing over 50,000 leaflets (generating 5000+ click-throughs) and getting publicity in Cambridge newspapers and the wider region. The INNTW slogan was then used by the media, e.g. by a presenter on BBC Politics East.
- We put forward a positive vision of how Making Connections could contribute to the region, publishing interviews with supporters and ensuring voices in favour featured in press articles.
- We published opinion pieces from influential organisations and individuals in support of the STZ and highlighted the problems caused by the region’s poor bus services.
- We submitted our own consultation response, as reported by the Cambridge Independent.
- We supported CSTA member organisation Cambridgeshire Parents for the Sustainable Travel Zone in arranging a march supporting the Making Connections proposals, demonstrating the extent of local support.
January 2023 to April 2023 (after the public consultation had closed, but before the consultation report was published)
- We commissioned a YouGov poll about the proposals, which demonstrated that local support for the STZ proposals was higher than some were claiming. The poll was discussed on a local politics radio show.
- When a motion was brought to Cambridgeshire County Council calling for a referendum on the proposed road charge, we published a briefing paper on the topic. Councillors told us the paper informed their arguments and the motion was defeated (as was a subsequent one at South Cambridgeshire District Council).
May 2023 to August 2023 (after the Making Connections consultation report was published)
- We published a blog summarising the findings of the Making Connections consultation.
- We published a statement on the findings of the Making Connections consultation, in which we urged decision makers to get on quickly with the necessary task of developing the Making Connections proposals further, so that they could be supported by a larger proportion of the public.
- As the GCP began to discuss ways of amending the Making Connections proposals in response to the consultation findings, we summarised the potential alternatives under discussion in a blog.
- When it became apparent that politicians were proposing altering the Making Connections proposals in ways that would reduce funding for public transport and active travel, we published briefing papers suggesting an alternative way to make the scheme more effective and more equitable. We also published information based on the relevant legal principles that suggested a separate consultation would not be required to pursue the changes we were recommending.
- We carried out a survey of bus users in Cambridgeshire. We sent the results to local politicians and used them to call for better funding for the region’s bus services. The survey also featured in the Cambridge Independent (27 September), in an issue that highlighted current problems with bus services and explored how poor public transport makes accessing education difficult for young people in Cambridgeshire.
- We attended all the GCP meetings at which the Making Connections proposals were discussed in person. We asked public questions in support of the STZ on each occasion and also motivated our member organisations to ask public questions so there were often 5+ supportive questions per session.
September 2023 (when it became clear the STZ would not proceed)
- We raised public questions at GCP meetings to hold politicians to account for their failure to be bold.
- On the day politicians decided not to debate the revised Making Connections proposals at the GCP Joint Assembly, we issued a statement to the press saying that ‘When transformational change was within reach, our local politicians chose not to lead the way’. This was published as an opinion piece on CambsNews and featured in an article in the Cambridge Independent.
- On the day the decision was taken not to progress the STZ plans, we issued a statement to the press saying that ‘the politicians who voted against the proposed Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ) road charge today leave a legacy of failure’. This was reported by CambsNews and the Cambridge Independent (4 October).
What could happen next?
Unless action is taken, congestion is likely to get worse in Cambridge and bus services across the region will probably decline further. Higher congestion levels will increase delays and make travelling in Cambridge more frustrating, wasting time and money. Poor public transport already makes it hard – especially for those on low incomes, younger people and older people – to access employment, education, healthcare and social activities, and as public transport gets worse, inequality and social isolation will increase. Schemes to reduce traffic levels and improve public transport are also needed for the region to meet its net zero targets, improve road safety and improve air quality.
Now that the decision has been taken not to progress the STZ, the GCP is expected to restart work on other projects to reduce congestion and improve active travel and public transport. These projects will likely include the GCP’s plan to reclassify Cambridge’s roads (the ‘road network hierarchy review’), which could see certain routes recategorised to prioritise buses, walking, wheeling and cycling, and the ‘integrated parking strategy’, which considers whether changes could be made to car and cycle parking in Cambridge to promote sustainable transport.