I subscribe to the well voiced concerns re social equity, especially for the lower paid, working shifts. I am also not convinced that the proposed transport improvements will actually have sufficient benefits for travellers. On the other hand, it will certainly favour the private businesses that are bus companies, who will be subsidised to use the latest buses and cut their operating costs.
The concern I want to raise, however, relates to the prosperity of the City centre. Much tremendous work of recent years has transformed the physical appearance and connectivity of the centre. However, as the research of the highly regarded national think tank: 'Centre for Cities' has drawn out: perhaps the biggest weakness of the Leicester centre in macro terms is the low percentage of office accommodation and jobs. It is about the lowest of any comparable sized town or centre. And the research points out such employees are, on average, in higher paid jobs that are critical in supporting the economic health of many other sectors of a City centre’s economy from shops to coffee bars.
Leicester competes for new relocating office jobs with comparable cities and in our case also with the Junction 21 Meridian / Fosse Park / Grove Park complex. With regard to the latter this area will have no WPL charges, but stands to benefit from any improved public transport, as a consequence of Leicester funding improvements and the bus companies. That area already has the advantage of free parking. It does not take an expert to see their competitive advantage for new jobs can only increase. I bet Everards, who relocated from the City centre twenty plus years ago and have further expansion plans are probably rubbing their hands in glee. Or would Mattioli Woods have relocated from Grove Park with a WPL in the City?
In relation to comparable or competing cities Nottingham is the obvious example. And it has had a WPL for many years. So am I being a dinosaur? I don't think so.
Nottingham does not have a competitor of the scale of an 'aircraft carrier’ of a Junction 21 etc sitting just outside its boundary and not subject to the charge. It also offered the ‘wow’ factor of a tram, compared with Leicester’s proposal for electric buses; and, finally it has the benefit of integrated public transport controlled by one body. Leicester, on the other hand, still has competing firms, who all want to serve the main routes for profit reasons, but ignore less profitable opportunities. No wonder Nottingham are helping us with our proposal.
I write as a former City Centre Manager and am passionate about the future of City centres in general and Leicester in particular. I feel compelled to raise my head above the parapet and express very serious reservations about the current proposals. The purpose of the current consultation is to generate reactions, not to drive this levy through per se. I endorse that and hope my concerns can be addressed and factored into the debate.