In yesterday’s Birmingham Post Terry Grimley wrote under the headline ‘Manchester’s public transport billions are death for Brum’, and attempts to persuade us that the northern city will win out for their additional £3billion transport funding – their present for agreeing to impose this further tax on ordinary people who are already straining under the weight of various other financial obligations.
The trouble is that Terry is so utterly and completely dazzled by this hefty amount, as well as preoccupied with trying to give the impression of a balanced argument (the occasional nod to the fact that some of us might oppose these measures), that he doesn’t actually bother to consider any potentially negative effects of this charge, not even as a formality.
He enthusiastically defends the charge saying that it will “only penalise traffic going with the flow into and out of central areas in the morning and evening rush hours”. But hang on, who is that will be driving these said cars entering and leaving the city centre at these said times? That’s right, ordinary people going to and leaving work. The same people who are already paying through the nose, squeezed by the government from every possible angle for the money they bother to go out and earn. That’s who this charge is targeting.
Next Terry hits us with some stats, namely the old chestnut about the threat congestion poses to “30,000 jobs”. But over what time period? Well that just depends where you go, answers range from “the next few years” to “the next decade” and the most frequently quoted “15 years”.
And how do we know that these aren’t just completely arbitrary figures that appeared to Sir Richard Leese, the deputy chairman of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities and the most frequent purveyor of such numbers, in a dream (or nightmare)? The answer is, we don’t. And the next logical question is to ask what we do know? Well this article published on Tuesday tells us that congestion in 11 of the 14 centres of Greater Manchester has actually fallen by 2001 according to the urban traffic control unit.
So congestion is falling and scaremongering about job losses is on the up.
But Terry cannot concentrate on things like that (i.e. facts), he’s hypnotised by the £3billion and the “22 new miles of Metrolink” he sees rolling out before him. But he forgets that £1.8billion of this money is a loan, and that means the people of Manchester will have to give it back through paying the congestion charge (although a decent amount of the money they pay will go to the private company running the scheme). Over 30 years it is supposed that enough profit will be made from poor old commuters and people trying to run businesses for this loan to be paid back, but as stated in the article mentioned above, London’s charge doesn’t make as much as they’re expecting the Manchester charge to make, so the likelihood of them hitting that deadline (at least without hiking the charge considerably) isn’t looking good.
And the Metrolink might be great for the likes of Terry, but what about businesses and traders who rely on the roads for deliveries and the likes? Well they will just have to pay the charge, and pass it straight on to – guess who?
According to Terry we here in the West Midlands will be the poor relations, “trying to squeeze our cars onto the same amount of road space”. Yet perhaps if the councils hadn’t spent so much time littering our roads with bottlenecks, unnecessary roundabouts and acres of cycle and bus lanes the roads in and around this region might be a little easier to negotiate, and certainly less congested.
The Quick Wins strategy suggests some easily implementable changes to the local infrastructure that look likely to free up traffic flow hugely. And then of course there are those who would ask what was wrong with building a few more roads…
The writer then shows his colours when he reveals his thoughts on what he calls the ‘motoring “community”’, saying it is:
“…invariably excused from taking a wider view, to factor in such trivial issues as saving the planet, in pursuing its inalienable right to cheap fuel and the freedom to drive where it likes”.
So Terry’s out to save the planet and thinks we should drive where we’re told to. Then he clearly doesn’t suspect that people who would normally go through the city centre might now circumvent it, thus kicking out more fumes into the atmosphere? And what about all these extra buses bought with the billions of pounds he’s been dreaming about? Are they electric?
One of his parting blows is to hit out at the Tory-Lib Dem ‘progressive partnership’ at Birmingham City Council, referring to them as the “hilariously mis-named” and accusing them of turning a blind-eye to transport for not plugging thousands of pounds into research on how to fund extensions of the West Midlands’ pitiable Metro network. It seems that local authorities who are cautious of pumping taxpayers’ cash into a black-hole of never-ending ‘research’ and who take on board the opinions of the electorate when making decisions about road pricing don’t deserve the title ‘progressive’. Well not in Terry’s eyes anyway.
The proposed Manchester congestion charge – however it’s packaged – is a very real threat to local businesses, a strain on working people (pushing only those who can’t afford it off the roads), the promise of a large debt, entirely unneeded in view of falling traffic figures and, most importantly, unwanted by the local people who’ve been well and truly bullied into it.
Should we, like Terry, want this for Birmingham? Let’s hope not.