This statement was released to the press following the 28 September meeting of the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) Executive Board.
The politicians who voted against the proposed Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ) road charge today leave a legacy of failure.
The decision not to proceed is a deliberate decision to ignore the damage congestion does to Greater Cambridge and a conscious choice not to turn around our struggling bus network. Politicians have opted to ignore high pollution levels and bury their heads in the sand about the need to reduce carbon emissions. And they have put personal political ambition and party politics over the needs of the people they represent. Their decision will impact us all directly or indirectly.
What will we remember them for?
- Ignoring young people and depriving them of a sustainable future. The majority of those aged 25 and under who filled in the Making Connections survey supported the STZ. One in three 16-24 yr olds are scared about climate change. Failure to bring about an STZ blocks action on greenhouse gas emissions, when a third of Greater Cambridge’s carbon emissions come from transport and the past eight years were the warmest on record.
- Limiting people’s life chances and turning a blind eye to inequality and social isolation. People of all ages in our region are deprived of opportunities for education, employment, health services and community life because our bus services simply are not good enough. The poorest fifth of households are far less likely to own a car, and are more likely to rely on buses to get around. The majority of bus users we surveyed in Cambridge, Ely and Huntingdon did not have other transport options to fall back on.
- Abandoning bus services to a spiral of decline Our bus network is already 20% smaller than it was pre-pandemic; 20% of services run late, mainly due to congestion and commercial operators cut services that don’t generate sufficient profit Unless there is better long-term funding for buses, services will get worse and plans to end the current profit-oriented system by bringing buses under local control may not be able to move forward.
- Shutting their eyes to congestion and failing to help people to drive less. Congestion wastes time, increases business costs, reduces road safety and discourages walking, wheeling and cycling. It also makes buses unreliable and limits how roads can be redesigned to boost sustainable travel. Over 70% of those who filled in the Making Connections consultation wanted to see better public transport and active travel facilities, which would enable them to drive less, but these will be difficult or impossible to bring about in Cambridge without reducing congestion.
- Making us breathe toxic air and increasing the burden on the NHS. Cambridge breaches WHO air pollution guidelines for both particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, with levels of fine PM2.5 particles twice those recommended. Toxic air damages healthy lungs and makes problems worse for people living with a lung condition, leading to long-term damage and early death. In contrast, walking or cycling as little as 11 minutes a day has substantial benefits for heart health and reduces your risk of cancer. If more people could travel on foot or by cycle, rather than by car, even just to the nearest bus stop, there would be substantial long-term health benefits.
- Wasting substantial amounts of time and central government funding without result. The Sustainable Travel Zone is Cambridge’s fourth road charging plan, but we have yet to see any action. Meanwhile car ownership continues to rise, more bus services are cut and we are on track for global warming of more than double the 1.5C limit that was agreed in Paris in 2015.
Participants in the 2019 Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly on Congestion, Air Quality and Public Transport were acutely aware that positive outcomes depended on politicians having the courage to take difficult decisions. Their key message to politicians was: “Be brave, be bold and take action”. As one Assembly Member put it: “…have some backbone – we can’t afford not to act on what this assembly has concluded.”
Cambridgeshire’s politicians can only avoid a legacy of failure by finding their courage, burying their differences, and resolving to bring about a series of alternative schemes to reduce congestion, raise revenue for public transport, encourage people to make the switch away from driving and enable bus reform.
And, crucially, they must stay the course and turn their plans into action. They will have failed unless they achieve measurable outcomes. We are watching and waiting.