Author Archives: Editor

Summer guided ‘Great West Walks’ programme

Saturday 6th April 2019 sees the first of a series of guided walks on the first Saturday of each month through till October. This is a Coton Busway Action Group initiative in partnership with conservation charity Cambridge Past Present and Future.
This year (2019) there will be two walk routes: the first starting from the newly re-opened Martin Car Park on Grantchester Road just south of Coton village, and the second starting from Great St Mary’s Church opposite Senate House in Cambridge City Centre. More details below.
The purpose of the walks is to bring people out to enjoy the countryside and in particular some of the great views and landscapes of the West Fields and the Coton Corridor.  The walks will be led by Terry Spencer and/or Roger Tomlinson.
Yes we might mention that environmental philistines in the Greater Cambridge Partnership think they can run a guided busway through this part of the Green Belt and disrupt a treasured, conserved landscape forever, when there are obvious (and cheaper) alternative routes.

Walks Programme for Summer 2019
Route & meeting place at 10am           Distance (miles)
Saturday 6th April – Martin Car Park, Coton on Grantchester Road 7.5 miles
Saturday 4th May – Great St Mary Church, Kings Parade, Cambridge 6.5 miles
Saturday 1st June – Martin Car Park, Coton 7.5 miles
Saturday 6th July – Great St Mary Church 6.5 miles
Saturday 3rd August – Martin Car Park, Coton 7.5 miles
Saturday 7th Sept – Great St Mary Church 6.5 miles
Saturday 5th Oct – Martin Car Park, Coton 7.5 miles

These are serious walks, taking up to 5 hours, parts on earth paths, with opportunities to visit the Coton Village Hall produce show and The Plough. More details of the April 6th and walk starting Martin Car Park:…/coton-countryside-walk-april

More details of the Great West Walks here

How dishonest is ‘planning’ in Cambridge?

I am thinking about the ‘planning system’ here, those elements, some open, some hidden, that combine to plan for us the unsustainable growth which many residents clearly don’t want. Are we really getting the future Cambridge we want, recognising the impact of climate change, pollution, on our quality of life?  Are the people who are supposed to protect the City and its residents’ interests actually doing that?

Are we really getting the future Cambridge we want

I have used the word ‘dishonest’, but some people have said ‘corrupt’ when talking about this subject.  I think they mean the classic English corruption, when it is not what you know but who you know that ‘oils the wheels’, and respectable people think laws and regulations are probably excessive and ‘there to be gamed’.  In planning there is a whole profession of chartered surveyors and valuers whose very existence is based on gaming the planning system for developers, with, it appears, few ethics applying to their conduct.

few ethics apply to their conduct

Pity the lowly planning officers up against these people, and the councillors severely constrained by Government restrictions on planning powers: how far would you go if you knew the professional advisers could tie you up in expensive legal knots?  And what is it like to know you are up against developers, etc. who will always over-promise and under-deliver, where the design standard is likely to be ‘aim low and miss’.   House builders, who can apparently make up to £66,000 profit per house, still campaign to build around Cambridge new housing with some of the smallest rooms in Europe, still try to avoid providing needed affordable and social housing in the right numbers.  If CB1 was proposed on the basis of what has actually been delivered, would it be approved now, with that non-existent traffic-clogged public square; would people buy the property in “Stationary Road”?

There is a lot of excitement amongst developers about the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway proposed by the Government to deliver massive housing and supposed economic growth in the “Arc” between the two cities.  Did you know this has long been lobbied for as an outer ‘Outer London beyond the M25 orbital motorway’ with the A421 and A428 effectively part of the M4 to M11 connection – all racing to the incomplete Girton Interchange?  How out of date does that concept and planning sound? But it is apparently to be embraced with enthusiasm, though Oxford City Council has voted firmly to reject it.  Read this analysis and commentary on the politics behind the Arc:

yesterday’s transport solutions delivered years into the future.

The only good part of it is that East-West Rail is also proposed for completion to close the Bedford to Cambridge gap, with a northern rail line likely to serve St Neots and Cambourne/Bourn and link Cambridge South/Central/North stations with the East Coast Mail-line and the Midland Main-line.  Consultation details here:  Their consultation sessions suggest completion mid-2020s but Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) officers suggest it will be decades later and want a southern route option so they can still justify their busway plans. Apparently the planning system thinks we are not worth rail or light rail infra-structure, so we get yesterday’s transport solutions delivered years into the future.

Residents groups when they meet together infer that the real planners for Cambridge are Cambridge Ahead and the Cambridge Network, together with all those professional advisers, enmeshed with some of the councils, with the University part of the hidden developer-oriented lobby for growth, at the expense of Cambridge’s Green Belt, heritage and landscape.  It is not clear how the individual Colleges (or their students), many of them local landowners, feel about the pursuit of growth without regard to sustainability.  It is possible that councillors, desperate for Council Tax and Business Rate income, are therefore desperate for growth.  Is this political – no party appears to be willing to act against developer interests in Cambridge?


There is a degree of ‘green-washing’ from developers keen to be seen to invest in replacement environmental activity, rather forgetting what is being lost in the first place.  Some claim this threatens local environmental bodies like Smarter Cambridge Transport and Cambridge Past Present and Future into having to work with the enemies of a sustainable future.

due diligence is non-existent

All this appears to create a mind-set where due diligence is non-existent and genuine scrutiny of the planning process in the public interest disappears.  For example, in relation to GCP some councillors have criticised members of the public for challenging officers, when the officers and their consultants have been revealed to be misrepresenting information and, in practice, depending how strongly you feel about it, either misleading or lying.  Coton Parish Council documented much of the detail of the misconduct of GCP and circulated many councillors and stakeholders; astonishingly the response in most cases was to ignore the misdeeds and argue for the need to push infra-structure development through.  So some people have determined their ends justify the means, regardless of the probity of the process or what the public thinks.

Adults now need to listen to children

But ultimately, communities depend on consensus, and our quality of life depends on working together to achieve the right sustainable future.  That means we need to change the planning system, or I suspect the degree of public objections will escalate to protests about taking away our sustainable future.  Adults now need to listen to children and pay attention to the consequences of what we decide today.

Roger Tomlinson

Coton Parish Councillor

The opinions here are my own.



What’s worth fighting for?

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”.

Democracy on the line?

Politics hasn’t got the best reputation at present, as the chaos of Brexit and the Trump presidency bring politicians into disrepute, with little consensus on the way ahead.  Does it seem a stretch to apply this to the politics around whether the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) can force their preferred off-road route option through the Coton Corridor?

It had seemed that democracy had resolved the issue.  The new Mayor of the Combined Authority for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer, (a Tory) had stated as part of his election campaign his opposition to an off-road busway through the Coton Corridor and the West Fields.  Then, in the South Cambridgeshire District Council elections in May 2018, councillors (LibDem and Tory) were elected who had also stated their opposition to the proposed busway, the LibDems taking control of the Council.  That seemed to establish clearly that the scheme would be stopped on principle.

Enter into the political equation the Mayor’s desire for a region-wide ‘Metro’ solution to solving the transport and growth problems.  In May 2018 he imposed a six month pause on GCP while there was a review of his Metro proposals.  That ended in October and to everyone’s surprise he handed responsibility for the Cambourne to Cambridge busway back to the GCP,  provided it was compatible with his proposed Metro concept.  This is remarkably bus-like, since it runs on tarmac track, doesn’t have rails, and is effectively a tram-like long bendy bus which can also run on ordinary roads, but could be in tunnels under Cambridge city centre.  Any other solution than tunnels looks unfeasible for the volume of buses GCP proposes to feed into the City Centre.

GCP have responded by proposing the off-road route through the Coton Corridor again, despite this being rejected by 64% of those consulted in December 2017/January 2018.  Frankly, the GCP have dreadful form with this approach.

GCP appears to value consultation and public engagement, judging by the huge sums it spends on it, but it has a track record of ignoring public input and the views of participants in their engagement processes.

It is worth noting that despite emphasising consultation, the development of route options for Cambourne to Cambridge went through a series of five iterations, reducing 34 options to four, then becoming six with cosmetic variants, BEFORE any public consultation started in 2015.  The public said the County Transport Officers chose the wrong routes but the officers have championed their chosen route ever since.

Now the GCP has the effrontery to claim that “gathering and then reflecting public and stakeholder support and views are a key factor in option selection. As such the robust public consultation has informed and shaped the scheme and optioneering process which has led to the strategic option.”

That is quite simply not true.  (Politicians would call it a “lie”)

The County Council ‘s lawyer had told Coton Parish Councillors that consultations were not statutory and the County Council (which services the GCP) had the power to ignore the responses.  So why the expenditure on consultation if it is meaningless?

Attenders at the LLF, “workshops”, “focus groups” confirm these have been ‘contentious’ between participants and the officers and their consultants, because of the clear intention to push forward with the officers recommended scheme, despite any public views to the contrary.  The route options suggested by the public but not chosen by the officers have never been fully evaluated.

The latest GCP report has a table purporting to show the actions taken in response to public input, presumably to justify their approach to an off-road choice, but no reference to the public and their elected representatives proposing alternative routes since 2015.

This table under-represents the public supporting an on-road route; independent analysis of the data shows that over 64% rejected the off-road route options and wanted on-road bus lanes.  The pattern of ignoring the public input has recurred throughout the progress of this scheme – and is a feature of other GCP schemes such as Milton Road, Histon Road, Harston/Hauxton, the South-East Corridor.

What is distressing is that this press-on-regardless approach completely negates local democracy if they proceed ignoring public input, including from local elected representatives and councillors.  By what authority do they think they can trample over South Cambridgeshire District Council for example, whose leader Bridget Smith and newly elected councillors are all in stated opposition to this scheme?

Can we remember that the Coton Busway Action Group, behind Cambridge Credible Transport, are not NIMBYs (though Fiona Reynolds did  give an invigorating talk in November 2017 which made us want to be BIMBYs – Beauty in my back yard).  We have always wanted better transport solutions for Cambourne to Cambridge, including for cycling and walking.  We know there are better solutions than the limited options the County Transport Officers chose back in 2014, without consulting the public.

For example, there is unanimity amongst most Parish Councils and elected representatives that the preferred route should be along the A428 to an all-ways junction at Girton with the M11 and A14, and a Park+Ride transport hub, which would be an ideal connection into a Metro for Cambridge, whether bus or tram.  Now that the Government has announced an Oxford to Cambridge Expressway (along the A428 locally) and the expediting of the Oxford to Cambridge rail link, for which a northern route linking to St Neots and Cambourne is proposed, the A428 and Girton Interchange look to be critical solutions.  But this has never been properly evaluated.

So now is the moment when democracy has to intervene.  The County Transport Officers need to understand that it is not about the public versus ‘their scheme’ but about getting the best solution for Cambridge.  South Cambridgeshire has to stand up and insist that better solutions be found.

Is it worth saying that the officers choosing a route through the Green Belt which put a Park+Ride site on top of one of the highest points in view for miles around, and then slashing across a view described as one of the most splendid in Cambridge, through fields owned by a conservation charity to protect them from any development, covenanted by the National Trust, into the West Fields where a High Court judge had ruled to protect them from development, does seem peverse if not madness?  Quite where this act of environmental vandalism came from is known only to them, but it certainly looks like a deeply prejudiced choice.

South Cambridgeshire deserve better.





Great West Walks launched

Coton Busway Action Group, whose website is, launched at Coton Village Fete on Bank Holiday Monday their Great West Walks – three circular routes around the Coton Corridor and the West Fields which can be accessed from Cambridge or Coton.  The launch included a poster design competition for young people to enter – winning entries and winners details soon.

The Coton Busway Action Group has always been concerned with the protection of the environment and the Green Belt landscape, and, importantly, the quality of life for visitors and residents.  The ‘green lungs’ of Cambridge deliver quality of life, at a time when there is increasing emphasis on access to beauty and green spaces to reduce stress and improve community health.

Cambridge is a unique City, with a historic core centred on its many colleges, providing a wonderful cityscape.  This is punctuated by numerous green spaces and the River Cam, creating a very special environment. And within a few hundred yards you can be walking by agricultural fields, because the countryside famously comes right into the City.

The West Fields

Looking back across the West Fields to Cambridge City Centre from The Footpath, taken in May 2018

That means you can walk (or cycle) straight from the centre of Cambridge through lanes and out west into the countryside, and in a short time – just a few minutes – reach idyllic villages, catch breathtaking distant views, and find some great gastro-pubs and cafes/garden centres.

The Great West Walks offers a choice of three different circular routes and stop-off points centred on Coton, taking walkers through the renowned Coton Corridor, the West Fields, and Cambridge Past Present & Future’s Coton Countryside Reserve.

red meadow hill#2

View from Red Meadow Hill looking south-east in Winter

The walks can be started from either the City Centre or Coton Village, or at other points on the circuit, with options to vary the routes to make the most of the landscape.  And with great spots for lunch in a pub/cafe or a picnic outside, great views from the high vantage points – Yes Cambridge has some – these are ideal excursions into the countryside for all the family.

More details, with PDFs of route descriptions and schematic maps are here: Great West Walks

The Great West Walks were prepared for the Coton Busway Action Group by Alistair Burford, Carolyn Postgate, Terry Spencer and Roger Tomlinson.

Upset at the ballot box. Does that make this political?

This is supposed to be a time when politics is discredited and politicians are despised. But sometimes the electoral process is our only real channel to express our views, and politicians come along who reflect them and are prepared to champion them.

spectacular Lib Dem win

The spectacular win by the Liberal Democrats in South Cambridgeshire, ousting the Tories from control of the District Council to only 11 out of 45 seats, is clearly based on their reasoned objection to the Cambourne to Cambridge off-road busway route through the Green Belt, the Coton corridor and the West Fields, at high cost for little gain, with better alternatives available. That absolutely means that people in the villages west of Cambridge made sure they were heard through the ballot box.
Personally, I stood as a Labour candidate, and, though all our candidates were also opposed to the busway, the Lib Dems had a more coherent campaign to that effect, based on a history in the Local Liaison Forum of reasoned objections. They have now appointed a new Board member to the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer.

re-think on the busway

He has issued a press release demanding a re-think on the busway, and criticising the way the Tories have run the GCP.

LibDem GCP press release
This ought not to be a party political matter, but the irony is that the GCP is set up with an Executive Board of the three local councils: Cambridge City (Labour), Cambridgeshire County (Tory) and South Cambs (Lib Dem) so the three are going to have to find a way to work together that changes the bad practices of the GCP. We know that Mayor James Palmer has been concerned that GCP has pressed on regardless when he has urged caution and a focus on a regional solution.
Everyone knows that Cambridge needs answers, but ‘not all the brains are under one hat’ and there are many better schemes than the ones GCP have chosen, before they sought any public input. That is true for both Cambourne to Cambridge and now Haverhill to Cambridge. You have to ask why they should be so misguided in their obsession with off-road guided buses when there are more cost effective alternatives? Disturbingly, this obsession is maintained while the County shows it has little control over budgets on major infra-structure projects, with huge cost over-runs that will hit Council services.


It can seem odd, in this world of public relations, when organisations plainly have a different view of themselves than the perceived reality everyone else sees. Does GCP understand what the public think of their prejudices, behaviour and practices? Claire Rankin has written in the Cambridge independent that “… the team we have developed at GCP is good at listening and making sure we consult enough to get the best workable plans”; whereas the public don’t understand why County Transport Officers and sometimes their consultants lie and mislead about details of their schemes, design proposals ignoring all public input, and distort their analyses and business cases, even the results of consultation surveys, and do the very opposite of listening. I suppose GCP’s senior staff and the councillors have not witnessed their County Transport Officers shouting at residents in their consultation workshops or heard consultants claiming they will rebut the views of the public.

It is not surprising that the electorate has decided to have their say, and demand a change of direction. I am sure that GCP will at least have heard that.
The next stage, announcing selected routes, is due on 4 June 2018.

Roger Tomlinson

11 May 2018

‘Modal Shift’ – to what?

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) argues for every scheme that it wants to achieve ‘modal shift’ – getting people out of their cars, not using cars, and onto public transport.  So far so good, if ambitious.  But the Cambridgeshire County Council Transport Officers behind the GCP want public transport to be buses. Is that the right solution to a problem that is changing by the day?

I have always tried to use public transport when it is convenient.  Moving into Coton 15 years ago I was surprised there was no easy way to get to Cambridge Rail Station without a long walk, changing buses, and typically allowing an hour to get 5 miles.  The Park+Ride bus beckons to access the City Centre, which involves a drive to park, but the service stops mid-evening (earlier on Sundays).  However, this January 2018, as a New Year’s Resolution, I decided to use public transport as a preference around Cambridge to see what GCP wanted me to experience from ‘modal shift’.  Frankly, it has been appalling.

experience ‘modal shift’

Cambridge is one of those places where most bus trips involve two journeys, so, just accessing the station, you need to first get a bus to Drummer Street, the central Bus Station, and then a bus to the Rail Station.

Problems start at the Park+Ride.  Both at Madingley Road and Babraham I have witnessed the bus closing the doors as passengers walked up to them, pulling away to leave them behind.  Complaining to the County staff in the waiting rooms gets the patient explanation that they run the buses like trains and they depart at the appointed time and you need to be on the bus before that.  Except that, like the other people left behind, I didn’t know the appointed time, and the electronic display intended to show services was blank, and I was about to board.  Ten minutes unnecessarily added.  (And the fortunately now redundant Car Park Ticket machines were the slowest in the world).

Drummer Street and its surrounding roads is chaotic, frequently jammed with buses, especially if the exits to St Andrews Street, north and south, are blocked by queuing buses (I counted 14 buses in the queue on one journey).  The Madingley Road Park+Ride bus has to get through this to set down, extending the journey time further.  There is an absence of helpful information to advise where to go to catch buses to different destinations (or indeed what the routes and destinations of the buses might be) though electronic displays in real time tell you when the next numbered bus is arriving at a stop.  You would think services to the rail station would be especially indicated, with a dedicated stop, but no: they go from different stops it seems, though fortunately some do mention the station on the bus front.

buses unhelpfully whizz past

At the Rail Station the buses unhelpfully whizz past it.  There is a large space as the buses turn the corner in front of the station where they could stop and set down passengers, but it is apparently better for us – people with luggage, buggies, in wheelchairs, etc. – to be taken a couple of hundred yards down the road and left to walk back to the station, rain or shine.    Is the service run for the convenience of the public – obviously not.

The return from the Rail Station involves a game of chance.  Those in the know, lurk near the Park+Ride bus stop ready to sprint to a further stop depending on which service first appears, but will it wait as they run up?  There is not just one pick-up point for all buses into the centre, but separate stops, each with a separate display of their services, so you need to walk the length to identify a likely service and wait-time.  Helpfully, the details of the stop and services are unreadable, sited above the canopy of each stop.

transport interchange

I had seen in the promotion for CB1 that we were to have a  transport interchange at the Station, but the most favoured form of transport is the taxi, followed by those being dropped-off or picked-up by car (and cyclists have to go further round the corner).  Bus passengers are especially denied convenience in terms of access and details of services.

Stagecoach of course encourages you to download their Bus App to find out about bus routes and times.  This only provides details of their own services and their mobile tickets.  It thinks Coton Village is a one minute walk from a bus stop on Madingley Road!  So a drive to the Park+Ride is usually necessary.  It does know that what it calls PR4 goes from Drummer Street to the nearest stop at the Rail Station.  Sadly, in my experience, coming back to the station at 20.10 means I will then miss the Park+Ride bus back to Madingley Road!

journeys are made very uncomfortable

The Stagecoach buses, especially the Park+Ride ones, are reasonably comfortable, have wi-fi and even wired connections.  But the journeys are made very uncomfortable by the ride.

We know the County’s roads are very badly maintained, with numerous potholes and broken surfaces, but the buses seem to jolt into every one, with violent rattles and bangs and much jiggling of passengers.  On the Babraham Park+Ride bus down Hills Road, where the join of the cycle lane and road is obviously collapsing, the bus driver actually straddles the cycle lane to avoid the potholes!  I commented to a wheelchair user who was obviously reacting to the rough ride, and to my surprise they asked if I had experienced the Guided Busway, because they would not use it, because of the rough ride.  I decided to take a trip on the famous busway, only to have their experience confirmed.  Is this really the quality of ride that a purpose-built 21st Century guided bus track can achieve? No wonder it is scheduled to cost a fortune to maintain.  Would it, in practice, have been cheaper in the long run as light rail?

I remember that Edinburgh converted their busway to a tram on rails.  I recall my experience in various French and Dutch towns and cities with trams and light rail metros.  Places with historic centres like Montpelier, Tours, Bordeaux, Rheims seem to have managed to install trams with Park+Ride facilities,  and provide both a joined-up travel experience with interchanges and real comfort in terms of ride.

will GCP ever achieve ‘modal shift’

I can’t see how GCP will ever achieve ‘modal shift’ with its present busway-based strategy, apparently reliant on County road maintenance and the eccentricities of Stagecoach services.  The experience (and cost) will not convince anyone.  The insistence on buses and busways flies in the face of other traffic management and transport options, as argued by Smarter Cambridge Transport for example.

I am frankly shocked that the Mayor of the Combined Authority, James Palmer, has apparently so readily endorsed what seems to me to a be a ‘fake metro’ proposal for Cambridge, based on buses running into tunnels under Cambridge.  Even the County’s tame consultants Steer Davies Gleave admit that ride quality will be an issue.  That sounds like something out of the past, instead of a quality plan for the future.  The thinking behind Cambridge Connect seems much more forward-looking, especially if autonomous vehicles are intended.

The argument in most towns and cities is that passengers want and deserve quality as well as convenience and reliability, and that is best achieved by tram or light rail metros.  Rails deliver a much smoother ride if ‘modal shift’ is ever to be achieved.  Don’t deliver yesterday’s solutions tomorrow.

Roger Tomlinson

30 March 2018