Cambridgeshire County Council has refused to call a referendum on Cambridge’s proposed road toll

A call for a referendum on proposed road tolls for Cambridge failed to gain sufficient support after councilors said the issue was “too complex for a yes or no vote”.

Cambridge second march against crowding charge.  Photo:  (62657638)
Cambridge second march against crowding charge. Photo: (62657638)

Cambridgeshire County Council’s Conservative group has put forward a motion calling for a local ballot on proposals for a Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ).

Others, however, have argued that the complexities of debate cannot be brought into a simple yes-or-no vote, and that the authority should wait to see responses to public consultation on the broader proposals.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) outlined its plans for the STZ last year which included a proposed fee of £5 on weekdays for drivers traveling in and around Cambridge, between 7am and 7pm. A number of fee exceptions have been proposed, including for people on low incomes.

Road tolls will help fund an expanded bus network, including more frequent services at cheaper fares.

GCP said it would implement transit improvements before any potential congestion charges are imposed.

It held a public consultation session on the proposals and received more than 23,000 responses. A report on the results of the consultations is expected to be published in June.

At the county council full council meeting today (Tuesday 21 March), a petition was presented to the councilors signed by 15,663 people opposing the plan and calling for a referendum.

Cllr Chris Boden (Con, Whittlesey North) said people across the county were “asking when their views will be considered”.

Cllr Mark Goldsack (Con, Soham North and Isleham) said the whole county needed to have a say in the proposals.

The Conservative group has proposed holding a referendum on May 4, the same day as the local elections, to ask a single yes/no question to the crowding charge proposals.

The group requested £1.5 million from the county council’s reserves to cover the costs of the survey.

Cllr Lorna Dupré (Lib Dem, Sutton) said the “simplified yes, no” referendum proposal was “the worst way to solve a complex set of issues”.

She also said there were people who could be affected by the proposals who would not be able to vote in the referendum, giving examples of young people under the age of 18, and people living on county council borders in Royston or Saffron Walden.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham), the chairwoman of the county council, said people had taken the time to fill out the GCP’s consultation on the proposals and it would be “rude and disrespectful” to “ignore” the responses by holding the referendum.

She added that the matter would be up to the provincial council “to be determined by elected representatives.”

When the motion was put to a vote, 24 members voted in favor of holding a referendum, and 32 voted against.

Find more analysis and reaction in the Cambridge Independent this week – starting Wednesday, 22 March.

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