Nobody could spend any time in Manchester these days without noticing that there is a big transport debate going on, with a proposal for massive public transport investment paid for with a congestion charge (the Tif bid). I won't go into the basic details - there are a range of sites from both proponents and opponents for you to sift through (various links in the text) - but this has been a more difficult subject for us Greens to deal with than you might think.
Colleagues in groups like Friends of the Earth express surprise that anyone other than a diehard motorist should oppose the scheme; it improves public transport, it discourages cars - surely it must be a good thing. Greens campaigning for other congestion charge schemes around the country might feel the same. However detailed reading of the consultation documents raises a number of issues from a true Green point of view.
The first issue is with the rationale of the whole proposal; it isn't for environmental benefit, it is to support continued economic growth in the City region. The problem to be solved is the negative impact of congestion on business.
The environmental aspects of the proposal are tacked on as an afterthought, indeed the 24 page consultation document sent out to households contains just 2 brief paragraphs on the environmental impact.
Reading the small print one finds out that the reduction in carbon claimed by the scheme is only a reduction in the increase that would result from a 'do nothing' strategy. A low carbon option was put forward by consultants Steer Davies Gleave in their Strategic Environmental Assessment; this was rejected by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) as being too radical. Walking and cycling have a low profile despite the fact that 17% of car journeys in the conurbation are of less than 1 km and 51% are of less than 3 km. And there is always the worry that AGMA will have an incentive to keep car use at a level such as to pay off the loan via the congestion charge for years to come.
Much of the public debate (particularly in the business-obsessed Manchester Evening news) has centred on the pro and anti business groups, ('United City' and 'Greater Manchester Momentum Campaign' respectively) slugging it out over which outcome will best suit their interests. The motoring lobby has of course been vocal in framing it as 'another stealth tax on the poor motorist'. Community groups may well be deeply involved in the consultation process, but if so, it is under the radar and one wonders how much say they will actually have.
Anyway, decision time approaches. The question is - from a green point of view is the scenario which would result from a succesful bid better than the balance of likely scenarios if it falls? Most green-minded people might answer yes, but it can be argued both ways.
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