When do you take a stand? Cambridge looks like a victim, when government, councils, agencies, developers are all committed to growth, and as one County Council officer memorably said “Cambridge is in the way”.
Iain Sinclair and Richard Sennett said at Cambridge Literary Festival at the weekend that Cambridge has no room for more cars, vans and buses in its historic and famously non-porous City Centre. Yet current plans could bring in more than 250 buses an hour into that centre. And planners are still trying to optimise ‘arterial routes’ into the centre, despite that not being the destination for many people.
David Runciman also said at the Cambridge Literary Festival that “liberal representative democracy’ is under threat, especially if consultation and public engagement is pursued, then ignored, and negative and divisive politics and processes lead to fights against abusive authorities. That could apply equally to Brexit as to the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP).
Community groups across Cambridge are getting together – meeting last Friday – because GCP is putting democracy on the line. Less than a handful of councillors appear to hold the fate of Cambridge and its surroundings in their hands, and you won’t hear concerns about the historic townscape, landscape, and environment from them. The GCP has a terrible track record of not listening – while apparently pursuing public engagement and feedback – and doggedly pushing through past nodding councillors whatever the officers first thought of.
Some say this is getting political. From my own experience as a Labour candidate in South Cambs, and a Parish Councillor, I can say that on the doorsteps Labour in the City gets some blame for wanting to make connections to the satellite towns and villages without much interest in what is “in the way” or the chosen routes, and making easy accusations of NIMBY (Not in my back yard) opposition in the villages. That does rather ignore that campaigners in SouthCambs – Labour, Tory and LibDem – all argued not to stop routes but for alternative better routes. And the Mayor of the Combined Authority stood in his election opposed to the routes.
When everyone argues in favour of a different solution, you’d think the GCP would listen? When the voters elected LibDems, who took control of South Cambs District Council, united in opposing the officers preferred Cambourne to Cambridge busway off-road route, you’d think the GCP would stop and re-consider? You’d be wrong.
The ballot box is being ignored. Democracy is clearly failing the communities that actually voted for better answers – the A428 to an all-ways interchange with the M11 and A14 at Girton.
As Smarter Cambridge Transport and many other bodies have pointed out, the County Transport officers got route selection wrong for Cambourne to Cambridge in 2014. By what environmental perversity did the officers choose a route through the Green Belt which put a Park+Ride site at Madingley Mulch on top of one of the highest points in view for miles around, then slashing across a view above Coton described as one of the most splendid in Cambridge, through fields owned to protect them from any development by conservation charity Cambridge Past, Present and Future, covenanted by the National Trust, through a 100year old orchard, into the West Fields where a High Court judge had ruled them inviolate to protect them from development, and then ending bizarrely at Grange Road? This certainly looks like a deeply prejudiced choice from people who think Cambridge is “in the way”.