Manchester rejects congestion charge proposal

Voters in Greater Manchester have turned down proposals which would have seen the introduction of a major congestion charge scheme in the city.

The poll asked 1.94 million voters whether they support the £2.8 billion of investment in public transport, cycling and walking proposed by the Greater Manchester Transport Innovation Fund alongside the proposed charge.

At 80 square miles, the proposed scheme’s area would have been ten times larger than that currently operated in central London. Under the rejected plans it would not have been introduced until 2013 and would be peak-time only.

As results were read out it became clear the result was a ‘no’ after four councils rejected the proposals.

The ‘no’ campaign website said it had achieved an overwhelming majority of 79 per cent in the result.

“We urge our local authorities to accept the will of the people and vote no to the proposals at next Friday’s meeting of all ten local councils,” a statement on its website said.

Lord Peter Smith, leader of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, said he was “hugely disappointed”.

“We will now have to work towards this without the benefit of £3 billion investment in public transport which would have given a remarkable stimulus to our economy in these difficult times,” he said.

“We can now expect these resources to be reallocated to other parts of the country including London.”

Supporters of the charge had pointed out the limited impact the charge would have, claiming nine out of ten people across Greater Manchester would pay no charge on any given day.

Its opponents pointed out regular commuters forced to pay the charge could have ended up paying £100 a month and warned charging times, pricing and zone boundaries would have been changed after introduction.

Peter Roberts of the Drivers’ Alliance said today’s vote would act as a “sharp warning” for those in government considering similar schemes elsewhere in the country.

“With the taxpayer in Manchester funding £34 million in pursuit of what has been proven time and time again to be an unwanted and unpopular policy, it is time for those responsible for this wasteful expenditure to be held accountable,” he commented.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said the referendum’s result was a major defeat for Labour at the national level.

“It is clear that the government is completely out of touch with the problems people face in Manchester with the economic downturn,” she said.

“Labour’s attempt at bullying the city into accepting congestion charging has failed.”

Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson Norman Baker suggested the government’s “centralised and prescriptive approach” was what had been rejected in the vote.

“Today’s result is not a condemnation of the principle of congestion charging but a response to the specific Manchester scheme and the government’s attempt to force councils to follow one single route,” he explained.