On Friday I joined Peter Roberts of the Drivers’ Alliance and Sean Corker of MART (Manchester Against Road Tolls) to campaign against the Manchester congestion charge in the run-up to the 11th December referendum.
We travelled around Greater Manchester visiting Stretham, Rochdale, Middleton and Oldham, speaking to local people and businesses in an effort to gauge public reaction to the proposed charge that could cost Manchester families as much as £1200 per year.
Unsurprisingly, these people were hardly keen to shell out for yet another tax/charge in order to use their local roads, particularly in light of the current financial crisis and its repercussions. Many shopkeepers in the towns we visited offered to display the ‘Stop the Charge’ poster in their windows to protest against a road pricing scheme that they feel could slow-down business and leave them significantly out of pocket.Those who couldn’t display posters were happy to take leaflets for their counter or car-stickers for the shop doors, and their own vehicles – in fact, only one single business expressed support for the scheme which can only be bad news for those championing it.
As it stands, the cost to the taxpayer of consultants hired by the city council and a pricey congestion charge marketing campaign is estimated at around £13million, so whether Manchester residents vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on the 11th December, taxpayers have already lost a substantial amount.
Residents in the West Midlands conurbation should be thankful that the proposals for such a scheme here have been placed firmly on the back-burner despite the tempting lump of TIF funding dangled as a reward for those who signed the road pricing pact with central government. It’s also important to ignore those in the north-western city who claim that pushing through these proposals somehow marks Greater Manchester out as more dynamic or innovative compared to the unadventurous West Midlands. Not everything that is sensible and appropriate is jazzy and exciting too and we should be grateful to our local authorities for refusing to sell us out when it came to the crunch.
Clearly unconvinced by what sounded to us like an overwhelmingly negative reaction to the congestion charge (and polling that corroborated our feeling), Manchester is forging ahead with the planned referendum and it’s down to the ‘No’ campaign to counterbalance what has so far been a biased presentation of the congestion charge before the 11th December rolls around. Let’s hope that the residents of Greater Manchester post of their ballots en masse and a resounding ‘No’ vote saves these hard-working taxpayers from yet another strain on their wallets.