Public confidence in local authorities’ competence on transport matters is low. For various perverse reasons it is easier for councils to build stuff than fix what we have already, or provide reliable, attractive public transport. For over a decade, they have wrestled with ideas and schemes to solve congestion, and latterly pollution, in Cambridge. But they’re stuck in decision paralysis. Now, Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) is trying a new approach.
In September–October, a Citizens’ Assembly will meet to consider options for reducing congestion and pollution and improving public transport in Greater Cambridge. This really is different from the forums and workshops used to date. The participants will be selected at random from the local population. The selection process seeks only social balance. No-one has a ‘reserved’ place on the assembly. A specialist organisation, not GCP, will be making the selections.
What evidence will be presented to the assembly? That’s partly up to you. Until the end of July, anyone may submit suggestions. An Advisory Group of experts, supported but not directed by GCP, will sift submissions to select those which are accurate, balanced and constructive. This is a genuine opportunity for ideas, such as those promoted by Smarter Cambridge Transport, Camcycle and others, to be given a fair hearing.
A key question the assembly will consider is whether charging drivers is the best way to reduce congestion. The professional consensus is that it is, but political consensus remains elusive, especially across the wider county. Several cities are following London in introducing Clean Air Charging Zones, for which there is broad support. However, popular pressure or political weakness means that, in most cities, drivers of private cars will be exempted. That means the charge will do next to nothing for congestion.
So, the Citizens’ Assembly will have to decide whether Cambridge needs a pollution-congestion charge like Birmingham, a pollution charge plus something to tackle congestion, or some other permutation of measures, perhaps focused on cycling and buses.
You can find out more about the Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly here and propose ideas you want to be considered.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 17 July 2019.