People need to have confidence that authorities will actually deliver plans to “double” the bus network in Cambridge and the wider area, councillors have said.

Cllr Elisa Meschini said the way to repair damaged trust was to “do what is promised”.

Members of the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s executive board agreed on September 28 to hold a public consultation on its plans to improve the bus network and introduce a congestion charge.

Earlier this month, the partnership set out proposals to introduce a ‘sustainable travel zone’ in Cambridge where drivers could face a £5 weekday charge between 7am and 7pm.

The GCP has committed to delivering the improvements to public transport before any potential congestion charge is implemented.

The authority has also proposed a number of exemptions and discounts to the charge, including people on low incomes.

The board meeting heard that there would be “significant benefits” from introducing the combined proposals, including improving access to employment, education, services and leisure.

It is also hoped the proposals would reduce carbon emissions and help improve health through funding more walking and cycling infrastructure and improving air quality.

Liberal Democrat, Brian Miles, from South Cambridgeshire District Council, said many people were in favour of using public transport if it is “reliable and robust”.

He said people need to have “confidence” in the local authorities to deliver the proposals.

Cllr Elisa Meschini, chair of the board at Cambridgeshire County Council, said she had undergone email exchanges with people concerned about the congestion charge who said they did not believe the bus improvements would be delivered.

She said politicians had “failed so many times in the past” and believed the way to repair the damaged public trust was to “really start doing what we promise”.

The cuts to bus services across Cambridgeshire that were announced by Stagecoach earlier this month (September) were highlighted by multiple members at the meeting.

Members raised that bus franchising would give local authorities more control over services rather than private companies.

Cllr Dave Baigent, from Cambridge City Council, said the GCP’s proposals were the “last bus in town” to bring improvements.

He said: “No government is going to throw another £500 million at Cambridge. If we fail to achieve anything, they will take back what has not been used.”

Cllr Meschini said that being able to book travel was the “bedrock of social mobility” in order for people to access education and jobs.

She said: “If we decided to abandon these proposals right now and do nothing, we would have to stand in from of you and defend the status quo as it is now.

“The current situation is completely indefensible.”

She added: “Gone must be the days of showing up to the bus stop to a sign saying ‘no more buses from this stop from tomorrow’.

“Gone must be rural isolation and children unable to follow their educational aspirations because the college they would like to attend is not accessible.

“Gone must be this endless cycle of cuts to the public services we all rely on by companies that run them, not based on need but on profit.

“Isn’t it time that we took back control.”

The proposals for a congestion charge in Cambridge have been met with backlash for some, including Conservative councillors in the area.

Following the meeting, the Conservative council group leader issued a joint statement saying “thousands of people were being ignored” by the board’s decision to move the proposals forward.

They said: “Pursuing this policy, particularly in the current economic climate, is irresponsible and will have terrible impacts on the lives of many residents and businesses in Cambridge and the county as a whole.

“We have already heard from one company that they are abandoning plans to expand into Cambridge because of this proposed charge, meaning a loss of jobs to the area.

“Others have spoken about the need to re-evaluate and are considering redundancies if it is introduced.

“Have the hospitality and retail businesses in Cambridge not suffered enough recently due to the Covid pandemic?”

The group said the decision on the scheme should be made by people in Cambridgeshire and called for a county wide referendum on the plans to be held.”