Birmingham and the West Midlands could lose out on Government transport infrastructure projects worth hundreds of millions of pounds as a result of the region’s reluctance to volunteer for road pricing experiments, a senior political figure has claimed.
Sir Albert Bore, a former leader of Birmingham City Council who now heads the opposition Labour group, said on Monday that Birmingham would have given its “back teeth” for a share of the £3 billion bus, tram and rail improvements earmarked for Greater Manchester, where councils have agreed to impose a £5 daily congestion charge on motorists wishing to enter Manchester city centre.
He told a meeting of the Birmingham cabinet that the West Midlands risked being left behind if councils in the region continued to oppose road pricing.
Earlier this year the seven West Midlands metropolitan councils and the transport authority Centro pulled out of the bidding to run the first major congestion charge scheme outside central London.
After researching possible options for almost two years, political and business leaders told the Government they feared the region’s economic competitiveness would be damaged if motorists had to pay to drive into city centres and other urban areas.
They found a charge would have only negligible benefits in Coventry, Wolverhampton and the Black Country and would only reduce congestion in Birmingham to 2001 levels.
They opted to push forward with a series of “quick wins” to ease traffic congestion, which is estimated to cost the regional economy more than £2 billion a year. These included the re-sequencing of traffic lights, using the hard shoulder on motorways and the introduction of workplace and school travel plans.
Sir Albert said Manchester, like Birmingham, had insisted on public transport investment being in place before putting any road pricing in place.
By agreeing a £1.5 billion grant and a £1.5 billion loan to the Greater Manchester councils the Government had opened the way for dramatic improvement in transport infrastructure of the sort Birmingham could only dream about, he added.
Sir Albert said: “I don’t see the same sort of drive in the West Midlands. There is a lack of investment in Birmingham and the other urban centres and there doesn’t seem to be any prospect of that investment coming forward.
“If we don’t solve the traffic problems, this region won’t be able to compete with the likes of Greater Manchester.”
His comments were rejected by Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby (Con Harborne) who said he did not accept that Birmingham stood to miss out.