Again, the joys of direct democracy.
Despite attempts to bribe Mancunians into adopting an englarged version of London’s congestion charge, as the first step in making drivers pay to use roads across the country, the promise of hundreds of millions of pounds of investment could not win a majority.
A large majority of Greater Manchester’s electors voted against the regressive scheme, a pet project of New Labour which was unwisely supported by the Green Party because of the investment in public transport.
The Guardian reports:
In a referendum, the proposal was defeated by a majority of 4 to 1, meaning there is now little chance of a pay-as-you-drive scheme being introduced for at least a decade. Sir Neil McIntosh, the returning officer, said 1.03m votes were received – a response rate of 53.2%.
Of those, 79% were against.
Voters were unimpressed by the promise of £1.5bn of government money for public transport, and 10,000 extra jobs created by the construction of tram lines and improved buses and trains. Instead, the public appeared to regard it as an extra tax for motorists, which would cost individuals up to £1,200 a year.
The result is an embarrassment to the government, which created a £2bn fund dedicated to supporting local charging schemes. The fund is likely to be reallocated to other projects or become a victim of budget cuts.
The city’s yes campaign may not have been helped by the decision of Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, to abolish the western extension of the capital’s charging zone. It is expected that other cities that had been considering schemes, including Cambridge, Bristol and Leeds, will abandon their plans.
Labour politicians in Manchester had worked closely with ministers at the Department for Transport to try to convince voters. A vitriolic campaign was fought between the yes and no camps.
Had it gone ahead, the charge would have been introduced in 2013, by which time 80% of the public transport improvements would have been completed. There would also have been discounts for the low-paid and exemptions for parts of the city that had to wait longer for improvements.
Motorists would have paid to cross two charging rings during the morning and evening rush hours. The outer ring roughly followed the orbital M60, while the inner ring surrounded the city centre.
Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, who opposed the charge, said: “I am delighted with the result. It’s a brave politician that goes forward with such a scheme, unless it is an extraordinarily good scheme that virtually everybody benefits from.”
He said the result showed there was hostility to road charging: “You have to come up with an extremely good scheme whereby you reduce other road taxes if you ever want road pricing by consent in this country.”
Stringer said it was a pity that three years had been wasted on the “ill thought out” scheme. He said officials must now go back to the government to talk about how they can invest in trams, trains and buses for Greater Manchester.
For more information, check out the Campaign for Free Public Transport website.