James Grundy MP: Investigation needed into CAZ scheme
There has been considerable public concern recently regarding the proposed Greater Manchester Mayoral Clean Air Zone Charge, or CAZ.
This is the proposal by the Greater Manchester Mayor and 10 local authorities, one of which is Wigan Metro, to create a nearly 500 square mile charging zone including the entirety of Greater Manchester, affecting van drivers, taxi cab drivers, minibus drivers, HGV drivers, bus and coach companies, farmers and pretty much every other form of transport larger than a private car, with charges ranging from the merely swingeing to outright crippling, on a daily basis.
For the mayor and councils to create an inescapable and economy destroying scheme like this baffles the mind, especially when other local authorities in other parts of the country created much more nuanced and targeted schemes, such as the Birmingham CAZ, which covers just five square miles of the city centre, or invested in junction improvement, traffic light resequencing or new bypasses to deal with the problem of air quality instead.
The mayor and councils, now realising how unpopular this scheme is turning out to be, have desperately tried to blame the Government, but they cannot escape the fact that the Government only directed them to deal with the issue of air quality.
The mayor and councils drew up the scheme they are now trying to escape blame for entirely on their own, and they cannot evade responsibility for the hard reality of the situation, which is that every other council in the country under the same clean air direction has come up with very different and far more sensible schemes to the one that the mayor and councils have proposed.
Many residents have expressed online their anger that the CAZ scheme bears an uncanny resemblance to the Greater Manchester Congestion Charge that was rejected in a referendum back in 2008, and felt this was just a sneaky way for the mayor and councils to bring those proposals back by the back door.
I met with the Secretary of State for the Environment George Eustice last week to raise the concerns of my residents in the Leigh constituency, express my total opposition to the CAZ in its current form and ask him to intervene to stop this business and job destroying madness.
The same day, the mayor and councils, realising the matter was about to be taken out of their hands, referred their own failing plan back to the Secretary of State.
Obviously, matters are moving very fast at the moment, but I am hopeful that the Secretary of State will have a positive announcement for us soon.
We all want clean air, but this mayoral scheme would have been a disaster, as many small businesses and drivers have already told me.
Questions remain however, about how the mayor could progress so far with a clearly unworkable scheme, wasting millions of pounds in taxpayer funding as a consequence.
I strongly believe an investigation must be held into how this CAZ scheme came about, and why so much money was spent on it before its likely collapse.
This is clearly a failure of governance at local level, and shows the danger of concentrating so much power in the hands of one man at mayoral level, and of the poor outcomes that come with near one-party states at council level.
There are lessons to be learned from this absolute debacle and I hope we can start doing so as soon as humanly possible.
Otherwise, in a year or two, the same mistakes will be repeated again, maybe not on the same subject, but certainly in the same manner.
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