Some notes I prepared for the North-West Regional Reps’ Meeting of MAG, July 2007:
Early in 2007, it was announced that motorists in Manchester would be charged for travelling along certain main arterial routes. The Evening News carried a map of the roads affected together with a list of FAQs. (personal comment from Regional Secretary: I remember this appearing in the paper and am fairly certain that bikes were exempt, otherwise I would have alerted everybody).
Four days later, purely by coincidence, it was announced that Manchester was to be awarded the licence to build the first Supercasino. Local MPs and councillors gave interviews saying that this was a perfectly sensible and logical decision because Manchester’s bid had been carefully compiled and presented, and the value of the local regeneration was greater. Up to this point all the press speculation had been centred on Blackpool or London; no-one had considered any of the other candidates to have a chance.
In May or June 2007, the House of Lords rejected the culture secretary’s plans for all new large casinos.
Shortly after this, a press release appeared from Manchester council and transport authorities headlined “Bikers to face c-charge” although the text of the article makes clear that no final decision has yet been made, consultation is underway, and low-emission vehicles and bikes may have a valid case for not being subject to the charge. The system of main roads had also been replaced by a pair of boundary cordons, one at the M60 and one near the city centre.
The congestion charge is being sold to the public as part of a package which will secure government funding to the tune of 3 billion pounds to improve the public transport network in Manchester. However, a similar expansion, called the Big Bang, was proposed a few years ago. Lots of property was demolished to make way for the new tram lines (compulsory purchase, disruption of established communities etc) but no further work was carried out. Following this, nobody in Manchester is willing to trust the local authorities on transport funding issues.
So far there have been no absolute definitive statements about the proposed charge, but the council is keen to point out that Manchester could lose 30,000 jobs due to increased congestion over the next 15 years.They very reluctantly admit that more than half of the three billion pounds will be in the form of a loan – to be repaid, with interest, from the proceeds of road charging. It has also been revealed that congestion may stifle the economy, allowing only 120,000 new jobs to be created instead of 150,000 – hence the dramatic figure of thirty thousand job losses.
Because this is the blueprint for road tolls throughout the UK, MAG central is keeping tabs on the debate. The official website (to which drivers are invited to send their views) is www.gmfuturetransport.co.uk
A massive poster campaign has been launched in Manchester, accusing the charge (“Toll Tax”, as they call it) of being designed to keep roads clear for the rich. A website has been set up to challenge the official propaganda. The decision on charging is set to be finalised on July 27th (I think…)
Eventually the council held a public ballot on the Congestion Charge, which was rejected by 70 percent of the respondents.