Cycle Lanes To Addenbrookes: Who’s In Charge Here?

I’m not sure where to start at the moment with all the issues I have over local politics. But let’s begin close to home, at Monday evening’s city council local area committee meeting. There’s a video by Richard Taylor below of the item in question, if you want to see for yourself, but I’ll summarise the sorry state of affairs.

Over the weekend we’d discovered that in order to complete the Hills Road cycle lanes down to Addenbrooke’s, the council is proposing to close that section of Hills Road to traffic for five months later this year. This was to be revealed, possibly as a fait accompli, at an exhibition about the scheme at Addenbrooke’s on Tuesday. So it was a very fair question from resident (and Queen Edith’s Community Forum chair) Sam Davies to ask councillors when they found out about this, and via what means?

Here are the responses:
Councillor Tim Moore (Queen Edith’s) – “Sam Davies …kindly let me know”.
Councillor Nick Avery (Trumpington) – “I read about it in the newspaper today”.
Councillor Russ McPherson (Cherry Hinton) – “I found out about it today as well”.
Councillor Amanda Taylor (Queen Edith’s) – “I was advised at about the same time as you, Sam, by the County Council Project Officer Vanessa Kelly”.
Councillor George Pippas (Queen Edith’s) – “I heard about it today as well, I got an email from …Vanessa”.
Councillor Mark Ashton (Cherry Hinton) – “I found out earlier (today) from the leader of the City Council, but it’s the County Council which are doing this”.
Councillor Zoe O’Connell (Trumpington) – “I’ve just checked my email and I’ve heard nothing. This isn’t the first time they’ve pulled this kind of stunt”.

So we have one of the most significant road closures in memory coming up, and our own councillors don’t have any warning about it – and clearly haven’t been consulted. Just who is running the show here?

Councillor Moore said that the situation was “a nonsense”, which was partly due to “the project planning mechanisms which the County Council don’t use”.

Councillor Ashton described it as being “unbelievable, bearing in mind the number of issues we’ve had” (regarding previous overruns). Of the County Council officers, he said that “we’ve had to drag them down here to speak to residents – sometimes they haven’t even turned up when asked – and to do what they’ve done shows a blatant (dis)regard for residents and for councillors. We should point out that we do not accept this kind of behaviour. Residents have voted for us to stand up for them and be advocates, and we can’t be advocates when people for some reason believe they can just send an email out on the day and say this is what’s happening”.

A County Council officer has since responded to me (below), for which I am grateful. But my question is this: who is running the show here? The project is being run by the County Council. For us, as residents, the County Council is Councillor Taylor (and a couple of others from Trumpington and Cherry Hinton who never seem to say much). So how can something be announced without Councillor Taylor’s involvement? Who is in charge? Who works for whom?

Surely we elect Councillors to direct the Council officers what to do. But it seems to be that salaried County Council officers think they’re the ones in charge. It’s out of control, as it is with the City Deal, where a couple of County Council officers seem to be dictating what projects are investigated, to much public disquiet. It’s not good enough, and I’m sorry, but South Area Committee’s response, to get Councillor Pippas to write a strongly worded letter to these people, is insufficient.

The second and final “pre-construction event” for the Hills Road and Addenbrooke’s cross-city cycling route will be held on Thursday 26 January from 5:30pm to 7:30pm at St John the Evangelist Church. Scheme drawings and project officers will be available to answer any questions we may have about the scheme. Please do make the effort to attend.

UPDATE
Thursday 19 January, 3pm

I have received the following explanation from Vanessa Kelly at the County Council. Emphases are mine.

Dear Chris,

In light of comments you make, you may be interested to know that all Queen Edith councillors were informed of the road closure 6 days before the South Area Committee meeting (by email).

The project team had to delay contacting local members because of ongoing discussions with the Signals team, Stagecoach, the Ambulance Service and the 3 main contractors to ensure the road closure was workable for all parties.

Cherry Hinton and Trumpington councillors were emailed information about the road closure on Tuesday 17th – with hindsight we should have informed them at the same time as their Queen Edith’s colleagues, especially given the timing of the SAC meeting (Monday 16th). Queen Edith’s, Cherry Hinton and Trumpington councillors received a further briefing yesterday outlining the scheduled programme, setting out the rationale for the road closure and giving additional information.

Regards,
Vanessa

UPDATE (2)
Monday 23 January – some Twitter reaction

20 Replies to “Cycle Lanes To Addenbrookes: Who’s In Charge Here?”

  1. I agree it sounds bit of an omnishambles but we desperately need the work doing– the Long Rd/Hills Rd crossroads is a nightmare with masses of Addenbrookes cyclists going diagonally across the junction at peak times into oncoming traffic. Can we put politics aside and just get on with it?

      1. Of course we all want something done. But the whole point is, whether we want it done quickly or slowly, we’re not getting a say in it through our councillors. What’s being done, when it’s being done, and how it’s being done is being decided by council officers who consider public involvement in decision-making to be an irritant.

    1. From a design front, if you look at the drawings nothing very much is changing on the pavement on that corner. So as I understand it the roadmarkings will now legitimise cyclists making that diagonal manoeuvre but the pavement they arrive on will be the same width as now and unsegregated as now. It seems positively dangerous to encourage bikes into conflict with pedestrians and other cyclists (moving in both directions) as well as pedestrians waiting to use the pedestrian crossing.

      Chris’s article is rightly focussing on the process side of the project, rather than the design detail because that seems to be where the most acute failures are. But I still contend that if the officers had actually been interested in working with local knowledge of pinch points and traffic flows, we wouldn’t have ended up with such an unwise layout at that point.

    2. Do the plans really address that, or just assume cyclists will cycle straight on and use the roundabout. They originally had a plan to block southbound traffic turning left from Hills Road into QEW precisely on that assumption. This is nothing to do with political differences, incidentally, but the sidestepping of a democratic process. This is far more important as it affects planning across the whole city and not just roads.

  2. Jeremy Lander seems to be missing the point. It seems that we are being dictated to by council officers, as are our councillors – who, unless I am mistaken are the employers of the officers. So much for democracy!

  3. The councillors have abdicated their responsibility. County employees should not be dictating a plan, nor should they be creating one without public input. Their behavior is arrogant and outrageous. I wrote to Councillor Herbert yesterday and have not received a response.

      1. It may seem like the councillors have abdicated their responsibility, but there’s little they can do if the council officers want to keep them out of the loop. That this can happen in the first place is where the system has really broken down.

        I will say that the South Area Committee’s previous chair (Labour, Cherry Hinton), council officers were frequently ordered to appear in front of the committee and the public. Under the current chair (Liberal Democrat, Queen Edith’s), I don’t see any sign of that sort of forcefulness. It’s very disappointing.

  4. I agree that it needs to be done. I also agree that the tail is wagging the dog regarding the planning and implementation and that’s wrong, but the bit that boggles my mind is that some hundred odd metres of cycle lanes are going to take FIVE MONTHS of road closure to complete! I know that doubling the number of workers doesn’t halve the time, but at sensible levels it comes close. So put more people on the job and do it quicker!

  5. Given the fact that the completion time for the most recent Hills Road cycleway project dragged on from the projected 9 months to well over 20 months (with the greenery still not restored two years later), and we have never had straight answers on cost overruns, I am not optimistic.

  6. I agree with Sam that the design needs careful review and we should not let the outrage of the lack of consultation obscure this.
    I believe that the new cycle lane should give priority to cyclists as happens on the inbound side. The essential problem outbound is that the cycles have a different flow from the vehicles, with the the majority of cyclists turning right (or half right, but that’s yet another issue) and the majority of drivers going straight on.

  7. I attended the showing of the plans at Addenbrooke’s and was told that closure would be for FOUR months. Needless to say, I did not believe this statement and am interested to see that it appears to be untrue.

  8. I hope to make the 26 Jan ‘Feedback’ session.

    I copied this ditty from the CCC website, does it tick all the boxes as far as us mere mortals the local councillors and residents are concerned?

    Corporate governance of Cambridgeshire is based on the following principles:

    Focussing on the purpose of the Council and on outcomes for the community and creating and implementing a vision for the local area.
    Members and officers working together to achieve a common purpose with clearly defined functions and roles.
    Promoting values for the Council and demonstrating the values of good governance through upholding high standards of conduct and behaviour.
    Taking informed and transparent decisions which are subject to effective scrutiny and risk management.
    Developing the capacity and capability of members and officers to be effective.
    Engaging with the local people and other stakeholders to ensure robust public accountability.
    Full details can be viewed in the Code of Corporate Governance.pdf (59.22KB) document

  9. Evening everyone. Just to let you know that I have registered my list of concerns about the 24-7 closure with the County Council — see this article here.

    I shall be meeting the Cycling Team Leader on Monday afternoon. I can tell you that they have already started rowing back, saying that the closure ‘is not set in stone or committed at this stage’. Have to say that’s how things sounded last week…

    I certainly don’t personify the County Council. Councillors represent their constituents to the Council, not the other way round.

      1. The link between people and decisions is getting more and more tenuous as government becomes fragmented. The City Deal decisions are made by a small board with just three voting members – not as accountable as the old line where a councillor answers to her/his constituents.

  10. It is hard to see how a closure could work. In the mornings, almost all the traffic coming in on the Babraham Road would presumably be expected to divert up Fendon Road to the roundabout there. Some might continue straight on along Mowbray Road (to gridlock Cherry Hinton Road), but much would turn hard left on to the western end of Queen Edith’s Way. This road already queues for half its length, and with the volume of traffic in the mornings, it is easy to imagine that the queue would entirely fill the whole of its length, backing onto the roundabout. This in itself is enough to cause gridlock on the roundabout, but then consider that traffic for Long Road arriving at the roundabout from the eastern end of Queen Edith’s Way and Mowbray Road would also be unable to progress, and other traffic would be unable to get by. So all approaches to the roundabout would be solid, and the effects could cascade quite far and wide.

    This is recklessly dangerous with the hospital nearby, especially for such departments as A&E and Maternity.

    It is vital that our local councillors really think about this issues and ask even more probing questions than Amanda’s opening seven. There are many more than the few points outlined above. What are southbound HGVs on Hills Road supposed to do, for example?

  11. My list of questions is by no means intended to be exclusive. Thank you for your comments, which I will include with my questions. Please put further questions either here or on my own website: http://amandataylor.focusteam.org/2017/01/18/hills-road-closure-seven-questions/#page-content

    I do not believe the Council has given adequate consideration to the impact on the hospital. Hospital staff and ambulances can be briefed and take another route, which may well be less efficient for them – medical needs should not be overridden by the convenience of the Council’s contractor. It could have a very severe impact on people who are not regular visitors to Addenbrooke’s – I am thinking of the couple needing to get to the Rosie in a hurry, or people rushing to A&E. They won’t be thinking about route diversions, and a delay of even five or ten minutes could have fatal consequences.

  12. Some people are grumbling about the design not being what they want, but we’ve been round a fairly thorough consultation on how the junction should work with plenty of input from locals, stagecoach, the cycle campaign and uncle Tom Cobley. Obviously not everyone got what they wanted, but I don’t see the point in re-opening that discussion. It’s a significant improvement of the junction for people on bikes and on foot. (I’ve not actually seen the final plans yet – I look forward to that tomorrow).

    As to a 5 month closure; well, 5 months does seem quite a long time, but I guess they need to do the ends of the Hills Rd bike lanes north of the junction and then more kerb changes to the south as well as replacing the lights, that is going to take a while. Once south of the jn itself then as closures go, it’s about as easy as they get, because everyone just gets to go round two sides a of a short triangle. Relatively painless, I would have thought. Given constraints further up Hills Road, it may not even make much difference to overall throughput – we shall see.

    The alternative is presumably to take much longer over it and not have a full road closure, just single-way working – is that what you’d all prefer? It no doubt costs more to do it that way. I imagine the officers have been careful to estimate the time generously, given how much animosity running over-schedule the main Hills Rd works generated. They’ll want to be able to finish on time for this part, so have included some slack.

    I’m not sure why people are getting so grumpy about the process. I expect councillors to be involved in the details during the consultation on what actually going to be done, but when it comes to working out the plan of works, that seems like a job you’d leave to transport professionals, who know how long it takes to lay 100m of kerb, move a service pipe and rebuild a drain cover to a new height. What sort of input do you expect from councillors? There isn’t much point saying ‘I demand you do it faster’. It is what it is.

    So, yes it’s some disruption, but you can’t get your transport improved without some disruption. And I’m sure we all agree we’re up for improvements.

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