- The authorities are looking at how to improve transport into the city from the south-east;
- There are three options, all bus-based, being proposed;
- A public meeting this Thursday will explain all: details below;
- There’s a consultation waiting to hear all of our views: details below.
(As ever, this is a personal view, and not that of the Queen Edith’s Community Forum, of which I am an active member)
The City Deal Mess
Let’s begin with a bit of history. I think it’s fair to say that in the three or four years since our local authorities managed to get hold of significant sums of money to improve transport in the area, they’ve done a really poor job. Before any proper specialist team had been set up to manage this massive project, let alone develop a strategic plan, bus-obsessed senior County Council officers started to try to push through long-held desires to build bus lanes down Milton Road and dedicated busways out over the West Fields. Residents have had to organise like never before to fight the worst of these schemes, and to date, our MP Heidi Allen has not had to make good on her offer to “stand in front of the bulldozers” if necessary. But organisations like Milton Road Residents Association and Coton Busway Action Group are still having to fight to get alternatives considered.
Eventually a specialist ‘City Deal’ team began to be assembled, but they couldn’t stop alarming ideas from continuing to be flung out without any over-arching strategy. A seemingly random scheme for city centre road closures (actually not without merit, but terribly communicated) alarmed so many people that 18 months ago, a protest march brought Mill Road to a halt. The ‘City Deal’ team’s response was a classic 21st century PR ploy: to ‘rebrand’ themselves and attempt to start again.
They Know What’s Best For Us
The ‘new’ organisation calls itself the ‘Greater Cambridge Partnership’ (GCP) and is at last coming up with some sort of strategic vision of how the region’s transport should look in the future, which is good news, if two years late. The GCP’s name reflects that it is a “partnership of councils, business and academia“; you’ll notice there’s no place for residents (only councillors with their party political baggage, none from the south of the city); and there’s also no place for the new Combined Authority Mayor’s office. Unfortunately the Mayor is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on pushing his own transport schemes, and I don’t know how easily these fit into the GCP plan.
The GCP Turns To Queen Edith’s
While still trying to calm down the furore in the north and west of the city, the GCP has turned its attention to the south-eastern access, which is us. This is the quadrant region radiating out from Queen Edith’s, as shown here (click to enlarge):
The area has Queen Edith’s at its apex, and has the A1307 as its spine – this is bringing in traffic from Haverhill and from Essex, becoming Babraham Road and eventually Hills Road. The road gets progressively more congested as it gets closer to the city. With the growth of the Biomedical Campus, Granta Park and Babraham Research Campus, the aim is to stop it getting more congested still.
If you took a close look at the strategic vision mentioned above, you’ll see that all this area is planned to get in the next 30 years are “bus, cycling and walking improvements”. So forget about reopening the railway to Haverhill or any sort of tram/light rail system; the huge area fanning out to the south east of Cambridge is most likely only going to have ‘bus improvements’. But more on that in a bit.
Decisions Are Imminent
Ideas for how buses can solve our existing congestion issues have been brought together under the title “Cambridge South East Transport Study”, which makes it seem like an academic exercise. It is not. The GCP wants to make decisions this summer.
The scheme’s success (or otherwise) will affect Queen Edith’s significantly. Despite this, the GCP has – we assume – been concentrating on engaging with the outlying villages, because we haven’t heard much about the plans here. There was a ‘Local Liaison Forum’ process last year which was keenly attended by a representative from the Queen Edith’s Community Forum, as well as residents representing Hills Road, Babraham Road and Trumpington. Disappointingly, our elected city councillors did not get as involved in these deliberations as much as residents’ groups did.
What’s On The Table
In the Cambridge South East Transport Study, the GCP has come up with three options, or ‘strategies’. These have been drawn up in isolation from discussion about the impacts of the Cambridge South railway station on the far side of the Biomedical Campus, which looks like it will be built. The modelling of their impacts is questionable, not least because it is dependent on improvements being made for traffic needing to reach the city centre.
All three strategies start by building a new Park & Ride out at the A11, the other side of Babraham. The GCP then reckons that its task is to create a bus service from there into the Biomedical Campus (and the city?) which will be good enough to get people out of their cars.
Strategy 1 goes straight for the jugular and simply involves creating a ‘fully segregated off-road bus route’ (a busway) all the way from the A11/A505 junction near Granta Park to the westernmost end of the Biomedical Campus (CBC). This will go over 5 or 6 miles of Green Belt land, skirting the north of Sawston and Great Shelford. It’s the really expensive plan.
Strategy 2 combines an inbound-only bus lane added to the A1307 all the way from the Babraham Research Campus to the Babraham Road Park & Ride, and then an off-road busway for the last mile from the Babraham Road Park & Ride across Green Belt land, entering the Biomedical Campus halfway along its southern edge.
Strategy 3 is simply to build a 6-metre wide, inbound-only bus lane alongside the A1307 all the way from the Babraham Research Campus to the Addenbrooke’s Hospital roundabout.
The three alternatives have very different winners and losers. The amount of roadworks involved will inevitably be dismissed, but they’re very significant for residents. Is their cost being taken into account? Strategies 1 and 2 may have an impact on Nine Wells local nature reserve. And what about the encroachment on Babraham Road properties implied by Strategy 3? Where is the additional 6m of road width going to come from? Is Addenbrooke’s roundabout going to have to take even more traffic under that plan? Does Strategy 3 even help with getting people to most of the Biomedical Campus?
The knock-on effects aren’t as negligible as they look, either. One of the off-road bus routes neatly encloses an area of Green Belt land which will then be ripe for development.
Ultimately, if much of this is to serve the 28,000 jobs on the Biomedical Campus, what is the position of the Campus on all of this? Who will the GCP listen to, if residents’ views differ from the Campus? Remember that the GCP is a ‘partnership’ which includes business – specifically from the Biomedical Campus. The only representation which those of us who live here have on the GCP are the councillors, and once again (as with city planning, disgracefully), no councillors from the south of the city are involved at Assembly or Board level.
What Do We Need To Do?
Past form gives us every reason to be sceptical about the attention which will be paid to our views, but there is a consultation where we can let the GCP know what we think. Incredibly, this two-month consultation is already halfway through, and I have not heard of anyone in Queen Edith’s getting any information about it yet. There is a decent explanatory booklet, but nobody I know has seen it. And there’s just four weeks left to take in everything which is being proposed and make our representations.
There is a GCP exhibition coming to Queen Edith’s, which is at St Johns on 15 March, just three weeks before the consultation closes. This is not a proper presentation though, just a drop in event to look at some posters and chat to (probably overwhelmed) council officers.
(Event now passed) The Queen Edith’s Community Forum has had enough of this, and is organising its own event, which I’ll be involved in. The Forum has co-opted its AGM evening at St Johns on 8 March (this Thursday), and invited a range of speakers to talk about the whole ‘Study’, including the project manager from the GCP. It’s free to attend, and you’d be most welcome. Full details are here.
As well as its good explanatory booklet, the GCP has put all the relevant information online – you can find it here. It’s all commendably well presented, although for obvious reasons it just gives the facts and leaves us to work out the implications. That’s why the public meeting is so important.
The web page above gives a link to the consultation survey. This is also pretty decent, as it allows you to tick a few boxes quickly, to write long opinions, or both.
It wouldn’t be one of my blog posts if it didn’t have a to-do list at the end, would it? This is a big project, with Queen Edith’s as its focus, and deserves our attention. Here are things we can all do:
- Take a look at the information on the GCP website
- Download the Consultation brochure (which I hope you’ll get a printed copy of somewhere)
- Come along to the Queen Edith’s Community Forum public meeting this Thursday (8 March)
- Drop in at the GCP exhibition at St Johns on Thursday week (15 March)
- Complete the online survey once you’ve got your thoughts together!
If you have any thoughts, feel free to put them in the comments section below. It might be worth waiting until after the public meeting (I’ll post a summary here next weekend if you can’t attend) before completing the survey.