I suspect that many of you reading this must reckon that Members of Parliament have an easy life. After all we have a summer holiday that lasts almost three months! Rest assured my wife, Michele, and I have been able to take a couple of weeks holiday (by the time this is published we will have just returned from Morocco). But it has also been a fairly busy time in my office at the Houses of Parliament. One matter where I have been lobbied by many constituents has been in relation to Equitable Life, the crisis hit insurer, and I have played a small part in bringing pressure on the government to hold a full inquiry as to its activities. I shall say more about that in my next column, but this month I wanted to concentrate on an issue which is even closer to most Westminster residents hearts – the proposed congestion charging scheme for central London.
Following his election last May, Ken Livingstone announced his outline plans for a Congestion Charge and in the last couple of months there has been an opportunity for members of the public to have their say in a public consultation. It is clear that the Mayor for London will impose a Congestion Charge here in the centre of London, although I hope that good sense will prevail and that he will not rush it through on the present timetable which would involve its being implemented as early as January 2003. This tight timetable is going to be difficult to achieve with the need to install enforcement cameras, close roads and build speed humps and bollards. More importantly, however, was the pledge given by Mr Livingstone before he was elected that he would only implement such a charge when there had been measurable improvements in public transport. He now realises that large scale improvements to the Underground are going to take ten years and more so he is putting all of his faith in a rapid improvement in London’s bus network. Those using public transport realise that there cannot be a sufficiently quick improvement to take on the increased capacity that the buses will need to bear if there is to be a sufficient reduction in private car traffic in order to keep to its congestion goals.
I am also very concerned about the effect on small businesses within the central London congestion zone. If the Mayor’s advisers are to be believed,the Congestion Charge will lead to a 15% reduction in London traffic, but this will also presumably result in a similar dropping off in passing trade for such small businesses, which will have a potentially catastrophic effect on businesses turnover and profits. I raised this issue in a speech in parliament before the summer recess and have not yet received a satisfactory response.
Ideally I would like to see proper consideration of alternatives to the proposed boundary on Vauxhall Bridge Road/Grosvenor Place and Edgware Road. Ideally the central zone should extend to take in the whole of the City of Westminster if this cannot be achieved, then I hope that the Mayor will consider extending the 90% discount to all the City’s residents including those living in the north of Westminster who can least afford the £5 daily charge. I know that this is a proposal that is supported by most, if not all, Labour councillors in Westminster and I appreciate that they have been working hard to make representations to central government along similar lines. If you want to make your voice heard then you should write to Transport for London, Freepost LON 17505, London SW1H OYZ by 28 September.