Taxes and charges on road users - Transport Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360 - 373)

WEDNESDAY 28 JANUARY 2009

COUNCILLOR SHONA JOHNSTONE, MR JASON GOODING AND COUNCILLOR JOHN WALSH OBE

  Q360  Ms Smith: Do you know whether the NHS in Nottingham actually does charge for parking at the moment?

  Mr Gooding: It does, yes. At its key sites it already has a permit system in place. It is tiered over the salary ranges and types of users, so there are public and private users who pay the charge.

  Q361  Ms Smith: If it is already charging its staff, why would it be absent from this levy? It is not always an emergency service, is it? For many people it is a visit to the hospital to see a patient, or they work in a non-emergency sector of the hospital?

  Mr Gooding: Yes, it could be administration staff, for instance. The Nottingham scheme actually feels it is in line with Government policy to look at providing an NHS discount, so it has looked at their draft guidance that was available in developing the scheme and feels that is in line with Government policy to look at emergency services and NHS premises and to provide a discount. It also considered things like educational sites, but decided not to pursue that.

  Q362  Ms Smith: So education sites would pay?

  Mr Gooding: Education sites will pay, yes.

  Q363  Graham Stringer: Was the City Council and its depots and departments part of the 17% support for the scheme? You said 83% were against it.

  Mr Gooding: No, the City Council did not respond on the consultation in terms of that, although some of its employees could have.

  Q364  Sir Peter Soulsby: Could I return to the Manchester experience and just ask Councillor Walsh, you referred a number of times to the way in which the proposal was being perceived and I would like to explore with you whether it was a matter of perception and the way in which it was sold that was the problem or whether there are fundamental lessons about what was on offer that needed to be learnt if the scheme was to be made acceptable.

  Cllr Walsh: I think they were probably very perceptive. I think it was actually what was on offer that was the key to all of this. I described earlier that the elements of it covered a number of areas which had previously been and would in other parts of the country have been mainstream funded—additional rail carriages and rolling stock, announced in 2007, in July, by the then Secretary of State nationally. "Why should Greater Manchester have to pay a Congestion Charge to get additional rolling stock?" was a question which was regularly asked. Rail stations—there was a couple of major improvements to rail stations, one in my own borough of Bolton. A bus interchange link to the rail station has been in the programme and was approved for construction in the 2012-14 period, perhaps brought forward by 15, 18 months had the Congestion Charge been implemented. The perception was, "If that is going to happen, why should we have the Congestion Charge?" So it was almost the case that these are mainstream projects which ought to have been, and initially had been, approved for implementation and why therefore impose a Congestion Charge? I think with that argument it was interesting that the neutral stance adopted by the Greater Manchester Transport Authority and AGMA to try to put that message across failed singularly to convince the public that this Congestion Charge would improve and speed up the implementation of these projects.

  Q365  Sir Peter Soulsby: Do you think with different benefits on offer it might have been acceptable?

  Cllr Walsh: I think the fact is the quantum was woefully inadequate for the pain that would be borne. It would have needed a much larger project or series of projects, it would have needed a much higher incentive and I think the scale involved was de minimis in terms of the actual pain which would have been borne and I think some of the other fears referred to by previous witnesses, though because there were two charging zones proposed for Greater Manchester, an outer and inner, were changing almost by the week because as one community objected the boundaries seemed to change to reflect objections. So there was uncertainty even up to the time of the referendum, or the poll, as to which boundaries would be implemented, but the worry was that you would actually get at a number of points huge car parks created, particularly if the Metrolink was improved, if the cross-city transport links were to be improved on the scale indicated, and there were real fears by residents in those areas on the major arterial roads into the city.

  Q366  Sir Peter Soulsby: Do you think the experience of Manchester suggests that a referendum could never be won in any circumstances, or do you think it is just a matter of getting enough in there to make it attractive? I am not suggesting the evidence from Greater Manchester -

  Cllr Walsh: I do not believe that a local poll—and it is not a referendum because it is not binding under the Local Government Act—would ever vote for higher taxation.

  Q367  Chairman: You think whatever the benefits it would not happen?

  Cllr Walsh: I think whatever the benefits the public take the view, and very strongly expressed the view, that they pay Vehicle Excise Duty, they pay the road fund tax, all the taxes they pay, and that therefore to have an additional imposition is inequitable.

  Q368  Chairman: So you are saying that in your view the public will never vote for an extra charge even if the benefits are greater?

  Cllr Walsh: No, I cannot see on the scale of Greater Manchester—it may well be in other parts of the country one may come up with a more relative scheme, but my perception of the Greater Manchester model is that a poll on that scale with the measures proposed would never produce a "Yes" vote, and I think even in Manchester, which was superficially the greatest beneficiary, a poll of 28 to 72 -

  Q369  Chairman: I think that verdict is clear from what we have heard! Finally, I would like to ask you, what impact did the high fuel prices in 2007 and 2008 have on traffic levels in your areas? Councillor Johnstone, can you tell us anything?

  Cllr Johnstone: I think it is important to remember that I am representing the Local Government Association and I am from Cambridge, but what I would say is that there was evidence that people were starting to make a switch away from their cars onto public transport, but the volatility of fuel prices over the last 18 months makes it very difficult to use fuel prices to influence travel behaviour. It is clear that travel behaviour was influenced last year, but there would have to be consistency in fuel prices. The other point I would make is that high fuel prices, which we have seen in the past with the fuel duty escalator, actually can impact in a very negative way on rural areas where there is not access and will never be access to really high quality public transport. So I think if the Government were to use fuel prices to try to influence travel choice and travel behaviour they would need to think very carefully about the impact upon the rural communities as well as the impact on congested urban areas.

  Cllr Walsh: I have some figures actually which are quite interesting. The forecast for the reduction of traffic into Manchester for peak periods with the Congestion Charge was around 12%. That was within the TIF submission. I think it was the RAC Foundation, though I stand to be corrected on that, which produced some figures before the poll took place which showed that as a result of higher fuel charges and the economic downturn around October/November last year the reduction had been 15%, but if you say to a motorist travelling into Manchester, "Has there been a reduction of traffic?" I suspect he would say, "No, there has not." So although the forecast was a 12% reduction, the current reduction is around 15% because of those factors and the public still believe that there is congestion, so therefore it laughs in the face of the benefits of the Congestion Charge.

  Q370  Chairman: Is there any evidence of the impact of the recent fall in fuel prices?

  Cllr Walsh: I can only quote the figures that I was given. I think it was the RAC Foundation which published these figures just before the poll was implemented last year.

  Q371  Chairman: Councillor Johnstone, have you any information on that?

  Cllr Johnstone: I have no recent information on the impact of the fall in prices, but it would not be unreasonable to suspect that people may go back to using their cars. Having said that, the impact of the recession and job losses may well again force more people back onto public transport, so I think there is a lot of work to be done to look at quite what the impact is and why people make the travel choices they do at a particular time.

  Q372  Graham Stringer: One supplementary, Councillor Walsh, on this particular issue. We were on the same side in the referendum, but I would be interested in your views. You mentioned in your previous answer that this was not a referendum in actual fact, it was a poll under the Local Government Act and therefore there were different rules and participants had less rights then they would have done under a formal referendum. Do you think that if there are to be these kinds of large referenda, polls, the Government should change the rules, change the law so that there is a clear basis for a referendum in that?

  Cllr Walsh: I do not believe—and, as you say, you were closely involved in the polling and the opposition to the implementation—the public have within their own minds a clear thought that this is only a poll and therefore for guidance, as opposed to a referendum, and therefore enforceable. The view was, "We don't want congestion charging and we will vote against it." I do not believe we would have seen a greater different result had it been the one rather than the other.

  Q373  Sir Peter Soulsby: Could I very briefly return to Mr Gooding? It may be something I just missed, either already said or in the evidence we already had, but I just wondered if you could remind us, if we have already heard it, how much Nottingham were expecting to raise from the workplace parking levying? I am not sure we had that.

  Mr Gooding: The charge actually starts at £185 per year and it rises up over the first five years to £364 per year per liable parking space. It expects to collect in the region of £6 million, rising to £12 million per year.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming and for answering our questions.






 
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