Proposed business rate increase irks C-charge backers

Date published: 11 August 2008

A new row has broken out among business leaders over the alternatives to bringing in a congestion charge for travel into central Manchester.

The charge would pay for £3 billion of investment in public transport, including bringing trams into the heart of Rochdale.

An alternative to the controversial Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) deal — which will go to a referendum in December — is suggested in campaigning leaflets by the Peel-led Greater Manchester Momentum Group (GMMG) of firms opposed to the charge.

They say the money could be raised by selling off Manchester Airport and increasing business rates by 2p.

GMMG is also calling for the removal of millions of tonnes of freight from the roads but Lord Peter Smith, leader of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities said: “This irresponsible and indiscriminate policy would represent a body blow for many businesses.
“These proposals from Peel Holdings and their GMMG colleagues would be a triple whammy to Greater Manchester business by increasing rates across the county, suggesting the wholesale privatisation of public assets and the potential decimation of the road haulage industry.”

The 2p rise in business rates is included on leaflets distributed by GMMG, encouraging negative responses to the appearance of AGMA’s transport exhibition in Hazel Grove.

Lord Smith’s complaint was backed by the United City alliance of pro-TIF businesses which said its members were staggered.

A spokesman said: “Their other alternative, privatising Manchester Airport, would see an immediate increase in Greater Manchester’s council tax, and would remove what is a well-run and lucrative operation for our 10 councils.

“It is short-termism at its worst and an ill-thought out suggestion.

“TIF, on the other hand, places the financial burden on those road users who, by choosing to drive on clearer roads rather than use what will be a new and improved public transport network, will actually be causing the congestion that threatens Greater Manchester’s economic growth.

“The £3 billion TIF investment dwarfs any other funding option, and involves more than £1.5 billion of funding from central government.”

Defending the suggestions, a GMMG statement said the group represents more than 230 international, national and local businesses which believe the current congestion charge proposals for Greater Manchester would be bad for business and bad for commuters.

It adds: “Current proposals simply assume a charge is the only way of tackling congestion.

“We strongly believe there are many alternative approaches which are yet to be fully explored, supplementary business rates are just one option.

“The main issue is AGMA’s refusal to enter meaningful debate about the region’s long-term transport strategy, looking at a full range of alternatives.”

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