The overwhelming vote against a Manchester congestion charge shows that local democracy is not the best of determining complex issues. Sure, this was not the best scheme in the world and mistakes were made in the way that it was promoted, but overall it was better than the status quo. Frankly, most people had little to lose apart from their car addiction.
Yet the 4 -1 vote against suggests that government attempts to pass on the risk of political fall out to local authorities over congestion charge schemes are now dead. It is simply too easy for opponents to muster arguments against any sort of extra taxation to make such referendums winnable. Any move towards road pricing would have to come from the centre and it is already clear that ministers simply do not have the bottle to initiate such a programme. Road pricing was once always ten years ahead, but it now seems light years away.
The interesting question now is how will transport ministers react. They may simply retreat and decide to reallocated all the cash freed up by this decision to more roadbuilding. Or they could be cannier, and decide that could run a competition for a local authority to become a beacon area for sustainable transport and use the money on that. No vote needed!
My guess though, from seeing Geoff Hoon’s early pronouncements, is that he will rub his hands in glee at the prospect of building more roads.