CORNWALL LIBERAL DEMOCRATS MEDIA STATEMENT
Date: 20th November 2023
LIB DEMS CALL FOR TAMAR TOLLS TO BE ABOLISHED
Liberal Democrats from across the South West have called for the Tamar Crossings to be fully funded by Central Government so that the tolls can be abolished.
Party members, Councillors, Parliamentary candidates and MPs at the party’s regional conference voted unanimously to support a motion proposed by South East Cornwall Liberal Democrats.
Local party Chair Adam Sturtridge explained how the tolls hurt the local economy, put an unfair burden on local residents, and are bad for the environment too, as they encourage people to take longer routes to avoid the bridge and ferry.
Although the crossings are owned by Cornwall Council and Plymouth City Council, this could be changed by an act of Parliament, but local Conservative and Labour MPs seem unwilling to change the status quo. Every year, MPs get the opportunity to introduce “Private Members Bills” on any issue they choose. But in thirteen years as MP for South East Cornwall, Sheryll Murray has chosen the topics of harbour pilotage, deep sea mining and captive primates, not the Tamar Tolls. Meanwhile the Labour party recently launched a petition calling for a larger increase in cash / card tolls in order to allow smaller increases for those using prepaid tags.
Speakers at the Liberal Democrat conference from as far away as Gloucestershire and Dorset said that even though they had never used the bridge or ferry, they supported centralised funding “because it’s a matter of fairness”.
Ending Saturday’s debate, Cllr Colin Martin (the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for South East Cornwall) pointed out that the total cost of both crossings is just 0.001% of annual Government spending, which he claimed would have no noticeable impact on the national budget, whilst providing a real boost to the hard-pressed families and businesses of South East Cornwall and Plymouth.
Scott Slavin, Vice Chair of The Tamar Toll Action Group, welcomed this decision: “We thank the Liberal Democrat Party for their recognition of this critical transport issue, which impacts many thousands of people across South East Cornwall and the wider South West. We look to other parties to note this strong lead and consider their position on the matter.”
Cllr Martin will now ask Cornwall Councillors of all parties to show their support for abolishing the Tamar Tolls at the next meeting of Cornwall Council on November 28th. He is encouraging local residents and businesses to show their support by signing the petition at www.seclibdems.uk/tamar-tolls
Wording of online petition at www.seclibdems.uk/tamar-tolls :
We the undersigned call for:
- The Tamar Bridge Act 1998 and its predecessors to be revoked
- The tolls on the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry to be abolished
- National Highways to take responsibility for maintenance of the Tamar Bridge
- Government to fund the Torpoint Ferry in order to maintain the essential 24/7 transport link between Torpoint and Plymouth.
Hundreds of protesters marched across the Tamar Bridge on Saturday calling on the Government to abolish the tolls, but local MPs weren't there to listen.
Cornwall Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr Colin Martin thanked those who organised and took part in the event, but criticised Conservative MPs Sheryll Murray and Johnny Mercer and Labour MP Luke Pollard for failing to attend, despite having been invited weeks in advance. "I was meant to be on holiday with my family this week, but I changed my plans because I wanted to show my support for this important cause" said Cllr Martin. "If our MPs don't treat the tolls as a priority, then neither will the Government. The £14 million annual cost of running the bridge and ferries is a huge burden on the thousands of local people who use it, but equates to just 0.001% of Government spending."
Cllr Martin's speech compared the annual cost of the tolls to other Government priorities: 35 minutes of the NHS, 2 hours of the armed forces, or 6 hours of the money we "sent to Brussels" before Brexit. "Yet military and civilian personnel have to pay to cross the ferry to reach Devonport Dockyard; patients and staff have to pay to cross the bridge to Derriford hospital, and Cornish residents and businesses don't even have 'free movement' or 'free trade' with Devon!".
Cllr Martin pointed out that abolishing the tolls would tick every box: 'levelling up', tackling the cost of living, boosting economic growth and even reducing CO2 emissions by reducing the time drivers spent queuing at toll booths or taking detours to avoid the bridge.
"The only reason these tolls are still being paid by the hard-pressed residents of Plymouth and South East Cornwall is because our Conservative and Labour MPs have failed to do their jobs properly. If you just use your voice to protest, they can ignore you, but if you use your vote to elect a different Member of Parliament you will see real change."
Cllr Martin will be standing against Sheryll Murray at the next General Election. The Labour party does not have a candidate in South East Cornwall.
Cornwall Councillors have voted to show their support for Cornwall’s fishing industry, but faced criticism that the motion will have no practical impact.
A motion proposed by Conservative Councillors commits the Council to doing things it already does, such as “sustaining strong partnerships with Cornwall-based industries engaged in fishing” and “supporting our municipal harbours through the work of the Cornwall Harbours Board”. But opposition Councillors pointed out that it doesn’t actually offer any new support for the fishing industry, which has faced severe difficulties since Brexit.
Liberal Democrat Leader Colin Martin said his party supported the motion, but called on the Council to carry out an online survey asking people how they have been affected by changes to the fishing sector over the past five years and what specific, practical changes they would like to see. “Unless we give everyone in the industry a genuine chance to tell us what support they need, then this motion is nothing more than a flag waving exercise that doesn’t help the sector. We all have great respect for those who risk their lives at sea in order to put food on our plates, but it seems like some politicians don’t actually want to hear the truth about the problems the industry is facing.”
Cllr Martin’s proposal was seconded by fellow Liberal Democrat Thalia Marrington, who represents Newlyn, Cornwall’s largest fishing port. Cllr Marrington expressed concerns that too many decisions were being made without taking into account the views of small family businesses. “Big businesses know how to make their voices heard, and there’s a danger that this can distort the way decisions are made. As Councillors we should ensure we’re as informed as we can be before we make decisions so getting clear information and views on challenges, threats and opportunities from all involved in the industry seemed a sensible and welcome addition to me.”
The proposed survey was rejected 32-33, with Conservative Councillors voting overwhelmingly against. The original motion was then approved with cross-party support.
The Liberal Democrats on Cornwall Council have announced a new leadership team after Cllr Edwina Hannaford formally stood down as Group Leader. Deputy Leader Colin Martin had been ‘acting up’ as Leader for most of the past year since Cllr Hannaford took a back-seat due to illness. Cllr Martin was unanimously elected as Leader at a group meeting on Saturday, and thanked Cllr Hannaford for the important role she played in pulling the group together after the disappointing election results of 2021. “Edwina’s kindness, compassion and experience made her the perfect Leader during a difficult time, and we all wish her the best with her ongoing treatment.”
Cllr Martin represents Lostwithiel and Lanreath on Cornwall Council, and is also the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for South East Cornwall. He is an experienced campaigner and says that after a string of stunning by-election wins across the south-west, the Lib Dems will be looking to take the fight to the Tories.
Joining Colin, popular Bodmin Councillor Leigh Frost was unanimously elected as Deputy Leader, and is keen to present the Liberal Democrats as a positive alternative for Cornwall. On his appointment, Leigh said, “In only two years of Tory rule in Cornwall, we’ve seen disastrous policies implemented, budgets spiralling out of control, and precious time and money wasted on vanity projects such as an unwanted mayor. I’m delighted to have been elected as Deputy Leader to support Colin and the Liberal Democrats in holding the Conservatives to account for their failures and fighting to get a better deal for Cornwall.”
Leading Liberal Democrats have reacted angrily to the absence of all six of Cornwall's MPs from a Parliamentary vote on Boris Johnson's misconduct.
The privileges committee (which has a Conservative majority) reached the unanimous conclusion that the former Prime Minister repeatedly and intentionally misled the House of Commons. All Liberal Democrat MPs and a third of Conservative MPs voted to accept the report, with just a handful of Conservatives voting against, but hundreds of Conservatives (including all of Cornwall's MPs) simply didn't show up.
Cllr Colin Martin (who will be standing in South East Cornwall at the next General Election) said "Any MP who failed to vote in favour of this report is telling us one (or more) of the following:
"So whether they're lazy, easily confused, drink at work or simply don't care about telling the truth, anyone who failed to support this report is clearly not up to the job of holding the Government to account. Cornwall deserves MPs who are diligent, intelligent, sober, and above all, committed to telling the truth!"
Phil Hutty, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for North Cornwall said that the vote was about more than whether lockdown rules were followed: “This is bigger than party politics: MPs on all sides of the house supported the report because telling lies to Parliament to cover up your mistakes is fundamentally bad for our democracy. People expect their representatives in Parliament to always put the integrity of the system above their loyalty to any party or individual.”
Ruth Gripper, the Lib Dem candidate in Truro and Falmouth, said: “People tell me they are really fed up and angry about the behaviour we’ve seen from the Conservatives in government - the partying during lockdown and trying to cover it up. This was a chance for our local MPs to show that standards and integrity in public life matter, irrespective of party politics. Instead, they ducked the vote. Honestly I think the public deserves better.”
Joanna Kenny, Lib Dem candidate for St Austell and Newquay said “ I have more respect for the seven MPs who voted against the Privileges Committee report, however much I disagree with them, because they had the courage of their convictions, than I do for those Tories who failed to vote, including all six of Cornwall Conservative MPs.”
Road safety campaigners say they have one last chance to secure funding for safety measures on the A38 from Trerulefoot to Carkeel in South East Cornwall.
Earlier this week, Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced that the project would not be included on the list of “major schemes” which would receive funding between 2025 and 2030. But Liberal Democrat Councillor Colin Martin says the proposals should be funded by a different route because they no longer fit the description of a “major scheme”.
“When the road from Trerulefoot to Carkeel was included as a “pipeline development” project for the 2020-2025 funding cycle, we were talking about a brand-new dual carriageway, or at least some significant sections of new road to bypass the worst sections of the old road at a cost of over £100 million. But the proposals on the table now are tiny in comparison, with just a few alterations to junctions, some average speed cameras and a pelican crossing in Tideford. It’s ludicrous to put minor measures like this in the queue for “major schemes” to be funded next decade. National Highways has an annual maintenance budget of around £1 billion, so they could easily afford to deliver these safety measures right now.”
Cllr Martin has written to Cllr Connor Donnithorne, Cornwall Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport, calling on him to arrange a meeting with local MP Sheryll Murray and representatives from National Highways and the Department for Transport to discuss the proposal for alternative funding.
Notes to editors
Image shows Cllr Colin Martin by the A38 in Tideford
Funding for the A38 in the 2025-2030 “Road Investment Strategy” was ruled out by Transport Secretary Mark Harper on Wednesday 3rd May:
A38 Cornwall safety work postponed - BBC News
For further comment or interview, contact Cllr Colin Martin on 07734 434 164
South East Cornwall Liberal Democrats are urgently calling on the government to revoke their decision to not fund the urgently needed safety upgrades on the A38 from Trerulefoot to Carkeel.
Cornwall Councillor Colin Martin said “This road has one of the highest accident rates in the county and is in desperate need of critical safety improvements. Sheryll Murray promised that this road upgrade was a priority for her but once again this has turned out to be a hollow promise. Its’s another example of South East Cornwall being left behind.”
For further comment or interview, contact Cllr Colin Martin on 07734 434 164
Time for proper devolution for Cornwall
Responding to the news that Council Leader Linda Taylor has abandoned plans for a Mayor for Cornwall, Liberal Democrats have called for a bigger and bolder devolution deal.
Councillors have spent months arguing about whether the package of extra funding and powers being offered by Government were worth the democratic sacrifice of having a Mayor who could not be challenged by locally elected representatives.
Cllr Colin Martin, Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Cornwall Council said:
“Today’s U-turn is a perfect illustration of a Leader being forced to listen to the voices of backbench Councillors. Her previous public statements made it clear that she was willing to ignore thousands of people who responded to a public consultation, but under our current system, she could not ignore elected Councillors. The only reason she has backed down is that she knows she doesn’t have the votes to get her plan through Council. A Directly Elected Mayor would face no such checks and balances, which is why the Liberal Democrats have opposed the change.”
“But what next for Devolution? Everyone (including the Conservatives) agreed that these powers and funds were good for Cornwall, so it is wrong to take them away simply because we don't want a Directly Elected Mayor. If the Conservatives punish Cornwall by taking away the things we all agree that Cornwall needs, then the voters will hold them accountable at the next election.”
“It has been a long-standing policy of the Liberal Democrats to give Cornwall the same level of devolved powers and funding as Wales. A Cornish Assembly, with permanent control of a fixed share of the national budget, led by members elected under a fair voting system is what Cornwall deserves and needs.”
For further comment or interview, contact Cllr Colin Martin on 07734 434 164
Cornwall Liberal Democrats' response to the publication of a report on the consultation on the Devolution Deal and Mayor for Cornwall.
Cllr Colin Martin, Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Cornwall Council said:
“This report is an insult to every one of the six thousand people who took the time to respond to the online consultation. It dismisses their views as “unrepresentative”, but the truth is that they are just inconvenient for an administration which has already made up its mind about what the 'right' answer should be!”
The report claims that a survey carried out by an independent polling company is more “representative”, but Cllr Martin argues that the report completely ignores the limitations of using a survey to ask about a complex subject:
“A face-to-face or telephone survey is fine if you’re asking people about something they already know, like "Which football team do you support?" or "Who did you vote for at the last election?", but it’s completely inappropriate for a complex issue like a devolution deal or a change in the Governance of a Council. If someone is stopped in the street whilst doing their Christmas shopping, how can they possibly express an informed opinion on the contents of a 24 page consultation document?”
The Liberal Democrats have called for the Government to deliver the Devolution deal without the requirement for a Mayor, which they say would put too much power in the hands of one individual, who could be very difficult to remove.
“It’s obvious that most people support extra money and power being given to Cornwall” says Cllr Martin, “but the only way to get the right answer on a Mayor is to hold a proper referendum, where everyone’s vote is counted equally and both sides can put their case fairly without the Council’s resources being used to promote one point of view over another.”