A COUNCIL draft transport plan is raising concern over suggestions that ‘a strategy for congestion and emissions zones that promote cleaner air’ has been identified for the four market towns of Monmouthshire.

The draft Local Transport Plan has already courted controversy over a statement re-introducing toll charges on the Severn bridges, a charge vehemently denied by the Leader of the Labour-led Monmouthshire County Council, Mary-Ann Brocklesby.

But another section of the council’s draft plan headed “Roads, Streets and Parking” says the plan prioritises and promotes sustainable choices such as active travel and public transport.

The plan adds: “We aim to deliver schemes that will reallocate road space, particularly within the four market towns, prioritising pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport, creating safer and more accessible environments.”

It goes on to say there will be a strategy for congestion and emissions zones that promote cleaner air, adding: “In line with the Wales Transport Strategy, we will upgrade, improve and future-proof our road network, addressing congestion pinch points and investing in schemes that support road safety, journey reliability, resilience, and modal shift. Such schemes will be subject to review and further consideration in the context of the Welsh Government’s Roads Review.”

Monmouthshire County Council does have the power to introduce congestion charges.

MP for Monmouthshire David TC Davies said: “ the only possible interpretation of this strategy is to introduce congestion charging across the four market towns of Abergavenny, Monmouth, Chepstow and Caldicot.

“This is a clear intention that is spelt out in black and white on page 57 of the council’s proposed Local Transport Plan. The only possible interpretation of having a strategy to create ‘congestion and emissions zones that promote cleaner air’ is to introduce congestion charging, as has happened in London and elsewhere.

Sherren McCabe-Finlayson, President of the Monmouth Chamber of Commerce said: “Chambers of Commerce throughout the county have expressed their concern that Monmouthshire County Council are trying to push ahead with a Transport Plan, without giving sufficient time for proper public consultation.

Leaders from Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow and Monmouth complained to the Authority that in releasing the details of their document during December, in the run-up to Christmas, insufficient opportunity had been given for response to the proposals since most people, especially businesses, were focused on preparing for the festive season. There had been very little publicising of the Plan and hardly any public engagement. MCC then extended the period for feedback to 5th January, but this was still seen as being insufficient time for such significant proposals to be properly digested.

“If the Council’s plan goes ahead, the impact on thousands of people will be huge. The fundamental ambition is the implementation of Active Travel – cycling, walking, and wheeling (according to the Report, walking is seen as a form of transport!), and the increasing eradication of private car use. To facilitate travel to work, school, leisure and sporting events, etc., the Plan promises a speedy and radical advancement in public transport but doesn’t explain how a cash-strapped Authority will find the money to subsidise more frequent bus services to predominantly rural areas. There are many more far-reaching aspects of the Plan that can potentially ruin the local economy, not least of which is advocating more working from home.

“Far from improving quality of life and well-being, this could also create isolation and loneliness for many.”

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In the interest of democracy, Monmouth Chamber of Commerce is urging everyone, without delay, to pressurise MCC, via their County Councillor, into extending the period of consultation and making the details of their Transport Plan more transparent and widely accessible.

A spokesman for Monmouthshire County Council said: “Monmouthshire is committed to reducing carbon emissions and improving the air and environmental quality of its communities. We already have air quality management plans in place and recognise the need to put a strategy in place to manage small areas of congestion.

“There is no suggestion in the draft Local Transport Plan of an intention to implement a charging regime. Our intention is to identify opportunities to improve public transport options for residents, businesses and visitors alike.

“Rather than anti-car as has been suggested by Mr Davies, the draft plan states: ‘in line with the Welsh Transport Strategy, we will upgrade, improve and future proof our road network addressing congestion, pinch points and investing in schemes that support road safety, journey reliability, resilience and modal shift’. This demonstrates our recognition that car journeys will remain a key element of the transport network in the county.

“The draft plan has been developed through a series of workshops with local people, organisations and considered by the council’s scrutiny committee and Transport Forum. Rather than dismiss ideas raised in these conversations, they have been captured and are now being tested against wider opinion. Mature organisations have to be open to debate on difficult issues, even where ideas are contentious. How does anything improve without a willingness to consider new options with citizens in a balanced collegiate way?