Open letter to Rt Hon. Heidi Allen MP

Dear Heidi

We were going to attend your Drop-In surgery at Caldecote on Saturday, rightly cancelled because of the weather. We urgently need your help to challenge the agencies and local authorities pushing  infrastructure schemes through on the wrong routes in the wrong places, regardless of value for money, environmental impact and quality of life.  Government needs to be aware their criteria are not being met.

Here in Coton in the Parish Council, the Coton Busway Action Group, and Cambridge Credible Transport, we have always worked with others in the surrounding villages and with the residents’ associations on finding the right answers to public transport and access to Cambridge and the economic development sites.  This is not NIMBY but more BIMBY – beauty in my back yard.

Our thinking is always whether what is proposed is the right solution whereas the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the County Transport Officers think more about spending the budget from Government and their legal powers to push a scheme through.  Are they distorting their case to get it through Department of Transport guidelines?

wrong routes in the wrong places

By any standards the Cambourne to Cambridge Better Bus Journeys guided busway scheme has been continuously challenged as the wrong solution in the wrong place from the beginning.  Of course, the public were never asked to consider what most think is the right solution – a route along the A428 to an all-ways junction at Girton with a Park and Ride there and access to a Cambridge ‘metro’ into the centre. Instead County Transport Officers and what we see as their ‘tame’ consultants have remorselessly pushed at every stage their preferred Off-Road guided busway route through the Green Belt and the West Fields. Hours and hours have been put in by the Local Liaison Forum chaired by Helen Bradbury and all the Parish Councils west of Cambridge that object to the Off-Road scheme, advocating for a better solution, but to no avail.

not what they say, but what they do

You and others have encouraged us to trust the officers and to rely on the three voting councillors on the Board of the Partnership, but we’ve seen no evidence of responses to public input, and our own District Councillor (who is Chairman of the Partnership) disagrees with us and says he is advised we should communicate with him through lawyers.  It is not what they say, but what they do that counts for us.

There is a huge democratic deficit here. With the Government funded Partnership operating with just three elected members in control, it appears that for them the most important thing is to spend the allocated funds on time, rather than having the right cost-effective scheme. Now the Government-backed elected Mayor and the Combined Authority seem to be stamping on their accelerator to push through faster their ambitious schemes without democratic over-sight, with consequences for decades ahead.

democratic deficit

You wouldn’t think it possible to unite the concerns of the residents’ groups and Parish Councils across the City and surrounding villages, but the feeling of democratic deficit, not being listened to, no thought being given to impact, has managed to alienate most people.   ‘Cosmetic’, almost cynical, consultation doesn’t help.

OK, we understand the County Transport Officers are required to go through a multi-step process which includes public consultation, supposedly to inform decisions – not evidenced in the past – and we understand, even if we don’t like it, that they don’t have to take into account our views in choosing the scheme they prefer. In Coton we started the process of Judicial Review and got as far as ‘Mediation’ to realise the County can go ahead with schemes regardless of public opinion, and our views don’t really count. Getting them to re-run the consultation on an accurate and fair basis would be pointless, since they can ignore the results. You have seen for yourself that they have done so to date.

wider craziness for Harston & Hauxton

But the busway is just one part of a wider craziness. We know you are concerned at the increased frequency of trains starting soon, with no solution to the level crossing at Foxton, where a bridge/underpass on the A10 should have been planned to arrive by now. And the Greater Cambridge Partnership proposal for an enlarged Park+Ride on a new site west of the M11 at Junction 11 at Hauxton will increase traffic, and related pollution, on the A10 through Harston and at the Foxton level crossing. Common sense says put the Park+Ride at Foxton Station and offer Park+Rail as well as buses. But is anybody listening and learning?

And it is a shock to see all the work on the Cambridge Connect light rail/metro scheme swept aside for what is frankly a ‘fake’ metro scheme, based on guided buses. But the pattern here has disturbing repetitions. Too many ‘tame’ consultants, some involved in previously flawed studies and projects, are expensively advancing proposals which many in the public question or reject, and fear will be much more expensive than described.  Disturbingly, the reports are full of  what look like fiddled figures, skewed and distorted comparisons, and frankly specious cases, presumably all intended to bamboozle us and the Department of Transport. Quite why some of these consultants turn up at consultation meetings to advocate for their recommended solution is not explained.  They rarely have answers to public questions.

It feels that this is getting political, with the accusations of NIMBYism, but we have seen you as an MP taking into account all the views to get the right answers. This will be a crunch issue in the local elections. We thought the Mayor, like you, was prepared to defend the community against wrong schemes, but he appears now to be part of the ‘rushing ahead’ agenda. We don’t see South Cambs District Council intervening to get the best solution.  We accept that much of this transport infra-structure planning is happening late, but we thought the authorities were capable of planning properly ahead.   Now we see they aren’t, but you don’t catch up by rushing through the wrong schemes!

Cambridgeshire local government looks a mess, too many authorities and agencies, beggared by austerity, desperate for the economic growth that is going to come, too many wrong or impotent or ideological decisions, actually cutting bus services!  But Cambridge as we now know it is not “in the way” of a future with planned growth: it just needs better joined-up solutions that value the communities we have and deliver quality of life with the jobs and houses. We have to get all the local authorities and Government to stop and think about a real future-proof solution, where the people who live here, the environment, our landscape and cityscape, are part of the answers that benefit everyone.

The Government is the primary source of funding kick starting the investment in this, and will need to approve the schemes.  It needs to call to account the local authorities and agencies to get this infra-structure right. It will get the blame if it goes wrong.

Roger Tomlinson

Coton Parish Councillor.  The views expressed here are my own.

3 March 2018

I have written a couple of blog posts about the severe problems with consultation, linked here:

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