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Press Release 16 February 2004
CAST.IRON Calls on County Council to Reveal True Finance Costs of the Guided Bus
Cambridgeshire must learn lessons from the failed Translink guided bus scheme.
Cambridgeshire County Council's transport team have repeatedly said that their guided bus scheme would not require any subsidy from Council Tax bills.
Last week however, they admitted that the Council would have to borrow over £32 Million to finance the scheme. But Cllr Shona Johnstone, Cabinet member for Environment and Transport, still insists that "there is no direct cost to the Cambridge tax payer".
Figures seen by CAST.IRON indicate otherwise - that the additional finance costs to the Council would in fact more than double the running costs of the guided bus system. These finance costs were not included in the Council's financial projections for the scheme.
CAST.IRON Chairman Tim Phillips called upon the Council to learn lessons from the similar Translink guided bus scheme, which has just been abandoned by Bedfordshire County Council.
A Transport and Works Act Order application was recently made for Translink, a guided bus from Luton to Dunstable, but three days after public consultation finished, Bedfordshire County Council has voted to withdraw the application.
Their vote followed similar revelations about the true cost of financing the scheme. Just as in Cambridgeshire, central government required the Council to borrow money for the Translink scheme. Part of the cost of this borrowing would then have been met by government, through the 'Revenue Support Grant'. Cllr Bill McKenzie of Luton said that "we have a high level of grant in Luton - approaching 80 per cent of our total costs".
Even so, that left a gap of over £400,000 in finance costs to be found from local funds.
This is not the only striking resemblance between the Cambridgeshire and Translink schemes.
- The Translink guideway was intended to run along a disused railway line.
- It promised only a mere 1% reduction in car traffic.
- The final scheme was much less attractive than had been originally been promised to Councillors and public - in fact the Advertising Standards Authority even made a judgment against Translink.
- Since the project was evaluated in 2001, the government announced a major expansion at Luton Airport, so that a new solution is now needed that would take account of the new traffic pressure.
- Translink claimed that local road improvements were dependent on the scheme, but government has now given independent go-ahead for these improvements.
- The extra financing costs left Translink with the choice of raising bus fares or raising council tax.
"Cambridgeshire faces the same dilemma," said Jerry Alderson, CAST.IRON Technical Officer. "The County's own figures show that if it raises guided bus fares to meet the financing costs, passengers will simply move to other bus services, leaving the guided bus system running at an even greater loss. Whichever way you look at it, the Council Tax payer ends up with the bill."
After voting to drop Translink, Bedfordshire County Councillors called on the government to consider a strategic rail connection instead.
"The expansion plans for Stansted mean that a strategic rail connection is needed in Cambridgeshire as well," said Tim Phillips, CAST.IRON Chairman. "The CHUMMS study took no account of expansion at Stansted. That alone means that its recommendation of a guided bus system is now flawed". Expansion plans at Stansted mean 120,000 extra passengers travelling to Stansted daily. The government has said that improvements to the rail system are essential to avoid the Stansted expansion causing serious new traffic problems on the A14.
END OF PRESS RELEASE
EDITORS' NOTES ABOUT THIS PRESS RELEASE
A press release on the Translink scheme is available on the Bedford County Council's website.
Just as in Bedfordshire, under the Transport and Works Act Cambridgeshire County Council must hold another vote on its guided bus scheme after the public consultation period for the scheme to progress.
CAST.IRON will restore regular timetabled rail services to the dormant Cambridge to St. Ives railway line, creating Britain's first community commuter railway.
Details and full costings of CAST.IRON's plans were made public for the first time at a public meeting on 2nd December at the Holiday Inn, Impington, Cambridge and are now available by visiting www.castiron.org.uk/VisionDoc.php.
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