Featured post

‘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

 

Featured post

You have to ask WHY?

This is a personal opinion, but WHY do planners think and behave the way they do? Why do we need to march and have to shout to make our case for a better solution? – hopefully you’ll be there on Saturday 2 September 2017 starting from The Backs, Garret Hostel Lane at 11.00am.

March on Saturday 2 September 2017

The former City Deal, now the ill-named Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), is following a process along a time-line which requires them to consult at various stages.  Note that it doesn’t appear to require them to listen and take note of public views, and their track record is entirely to ignore them.

This was brought home to me at the July meetings of the GCP Joint Assembly and their Executive Board.  These appear to be the key “democratic” opportunities, drawing in councillors and selected representatives of parts of the community.  This appeared to be working at the Joint Assembly when Cllr Bridget Smith asked if any members would ever vote for a Park and Ride site at Crome Lea on top of Madingley Hill, near Madingley Mulch; since the majority said no, it was proposed and agreed that the Crome Lea site should be removed from further consideration.  Obviously, the transport officers servicing the meeting witnessed all this.

Democratic deficit demonstrated

However, at the Executive Board, the chair of the Joint Assembly was not present to explain what had happened and instead the transport officers recommended Crome Lea remained in consideration, essentially because it had been under their previous consideration (and that of their paid tame consultants)!  So it was put back in for further consideration.  Democratic deficit demonstrated,  transport officers clearly pursuing their own agenda, ignoring the public and the elected and selected representatives. So we plan to march and shout loud.

The GCP transport officers also hold “workshops” to try and engage local residents and their representatives in the detail of the planning process – many people recommend against participation since it can be used to say the community helped plan the details of an opposed scheme.  Bizarrely, the next one on the Park and Ride sites, including Crome Lea, on 22 August 2017 clashes with the Hardwick and Coton Parish Council meetings which are discussing the options for the guided busway and the Park and Ride sites….

Considerable criticism of what the planners have actually achieved

Transport officers and planners around the world have form on this, and quite a few have been recorded saying how they disregard public opinion to get their way.  BBC Four TV recently showed Citizen Jane: Battle for the City on 9 August 2017 (still on iPlayer till early Sept 2017) about the historic conflicts between planners and residents in New York, from which we can learn a lot.  There is also considerable criticism of what the planners have actually achieved.  Here in Cambridge there is not exactly a surge of praise for either the Leisure square around The Junction or the new CB1 around the Station.  And Antony Carpen (Puffles) has researched lots of past examples in Cambridge’s history of what has been lost for little gain.

The most current example is the frankly disastrous construction and maintenance costs for the guided busways from Huntingdon/St Ives to Cambridge and out to Trumpington (ironically built on old railway lines).  Originally estimated to cost £64 Million, it actually cost £181 Million and currently scheduled repairs will cost another £36.4 Million with suggestions from consultants that eventual repair costs will exceed the original construction cost! Smarter Cambridge Transport has reviewed this nightmare: http://www.smartertransport.uk/guided-busway-defects/ and asks whether it is design flaws as well as construction defects.  Why did the County Council settle the dispute with their contractor out-of-court?  Apart from being dangerous and having more accidents than any railway, it now looks like costing much more than rail would have done, and runs slowest in the City where rail to the stations would not have been delayed.

Memorably described Cambridge as “being in the way”

What is hard to believe is that the same transport officers behind that scheme are the ones pushing a guided busway from Cambourne to Grange Road in Cambridge (Yes, it is odd that it doesn’t attempt to reach the City Centre, but Bob Menzies, the responsible officer, memorably described Cambridge as “being in the way” of their plans).  And it is “fake news” says Cllr Francis Burkitt that GCP are considering a bus interchange of some kind on The Backs at Silver Street, despite it being referred to in the papers for the Executive Board meeting in July and Atkins having worked on a study for one in May.

So what is it that motivates our planners and transport officers to build these daft schemes, which don’t meet any reasonable objectives such as improved journey time, but do damage the fundamentals of the Cambridge environment?  You will often hear arguments that this is corruption at work: close relationships between councillors who want to improve their city (sometimes to earn more council tax and business rates), planners, land owners and developers out to maximise their profit out of new development.  Unfortunately, in Cambridge add in the University as landowners, and a whole industry of consultants eager to spend public money to the planners agenda.  Ironically, we British criticise other countries where this happens, but accept it as our way of business life at home, and, more ironically, spend our limited public funding on helping it happen.

Network of interests refuses to listen or understand

Lobby as hard as we like against a “wrong” scheme, the network of interests refuses to listen or understand.  And as Upton Sinclair wrote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Dame Fiona Reynolds, former Director General of the National Trust and now Master of Emmanuel College Cambridge has written a book about this: The Fight for Beauty, published by OneWorld in 2016, which offers an alternative way forward, but documents the struggles to protect landscape beauty and the quality of the environment.  Dame Fiona will be talking about this at Coton Parish Hall on Wednesday 15 November 2017 in the evening.  Her book makes clear that if you admire beauty, and the coded words we use around it, such as the environment, bio-diversity, ecosystems, natural capital, sustainability, quality of life, you have to defend it and fight for it.  NIMBY-ism is a clever but meaningless criticism of people wanting to defend beauty against environmental destruction.  You can see why we march.

Not NIMBYs

The residents of Newnham around the West Fields, Coton and Hardwick villages are not NIMBYs.  They know the Green Belt was created for a reason, that Cambridge Past Present and Future bought the land in the Coton Corridor to protect and preserve it, and the National Trust put covenants on the land to make it inviolable.  They know that the County Council could have improved traffic flows on Madingley Road years and years ago – there is room for bus lanes from Madingley Mulch down across the M11 bridge to the Park and Ride and High Cross.  We don’t know why some of the County transport officers lied about this to the Parish Councils?  We know the right answer is to keep traffic and buses on the A428 and create a transport hub and Park and Ride site with an all-ways junction for the M11 and A428 at Girton.  We don’t know why the County transport officers have not been lobbying the Highways Agency/Highways England for this for years, and indeed accepted the southbound connection being removed from the current A14 improvement scheme?  We don’t know why we are constantly told that options which many believe could be “right” answers are always “out-of-scope”.

A kind of aesthetic and sensitivity deficit

There are lots of arguments that many planners somehow don’t “see” the environment in the same way as the rest of us, a kind of aesthetic and sensitivity deficit, and that their experience of objections from people who do, makes them reject out-of-hand alternatives and objectives.  There are arguments that they see big over-riding change as necessary, imposing “order” and “over-arching vision” as the road to the future, and that somehow a new paradigm for quality-of-life will be created.  That often means residents and planners are talking a different language and a different agenda, and objectors are dismissed as NIMBYs.  You can see from their body language and behaviour in meetings that listening to public input is not a priority for their attention.

Better schemes, better solutions

We are not NIMBYs because we have always argued for better schemes, and don’t understand why the transport officers won’t consider them.  Cllr Grenville Chamberlain in Hardwick, along with Smarter Cambridge Transport, the Coton Busway Action Group and others argues that any extra busway should be light rail and run alongside the A428 to the Girton interchange, or buses run on the existing A428, where Cambridge Connect argues for a light rail/metro solution into and under Cambridge serving the City Centre and Station.  The new mayor of the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority wants light rail solutions from St Neots and Peterborough in the context of an over-arching strategy for Greater Cambridge.

The Coton Busway Action Group and Coton Parish Council has always recommended the low cost on-the-road option for Madingley Hill/Road, possibly tidal, through to High Cross where buses could enter the West Cambridge University site.  And Coton’s own Colin Harries who devised the Cambridge Connect plan is now discussing with Mayor James Palmer the light rail/metro solution.

GCP won’t pause while feasibility studies are completed

But GCP won’t pause while feasibility studies are completed – they may have already decided what the consultants conclusions should be – and press on regardless.  We are promised a final consultation after they are expected to announce their final solutions in September/October.  Do you really think they will listen then?  Yes we can take legal action, we can force a public inquiry, we can challenge them and their processes, and possibly slow the project down.  But fundamentally WHY is it not possible to get them to listen properly and change their minds for a more cost-effective solution?  So we are going to march and shout now.  Apparently we have our local MP, county councillor and the new Mayor on our side, but we don’t like the democratic deficit we keep witnessing.

For us in Coton – and apparently in Madingley, and Barton – we don’t have the support of our South Cambridgeshire District Councillor, Cllr Francis Birkitt, now Chair of the GCP, who champions the proposed guided busway over the better solutions, and against the views of his constituents.  He says he is standing down at the next election in 2018, so no reckoning at the ballot box, just increasing the democratic deficit for us until then.  Again, we ask WHY he is not representing our views and not taking them into account in decision taking?

Marching and shouting on Saturday 2 September 2017

So we don’t have an answer to many WHYs, and you have to understand why we are marching and shouting.  Be there on Saturday 2 September 2017 starting from The Backs, Garret Hostel Lane at 11.00am

Roger Tomlinson, member of the Coton Busway Action Group

Great West Walks launched

Coton Busway Action Group, whose website is www.CambridgeCredibleTransport.com, 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.

misperceptions

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

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:

https://cambridgecredibletransport.com/2017/12/03/counting-what-counts/

https://cambridgecredibletransport.com/2018/03/02/consultation-re-invented-as-farce/

Consultation re-invented as farce

Consultation was re-invented as farce by Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) at their latest Town Hall-style “workshops” on Tuesday 27 February and Thursday 1 March 2018. Despite the freezing weather, a large number of people from invited community groups crowded four tables to discuss the routes proposed by GCP for Cambourne to Cambridge Better Bus Journeys.

These “workshops” are so representatives of invited organisations can “help” in the planning and design of the unwanted Cambourne to Cambridge Better Bus Journeys schemes. The On-Road option was discussed on 27 February and the Off-Road options on 1 March 2018.

Of course this follows on from a massive expensive consultation exercise conducted since November 2017, with an exhibition bus, lavish brochures with typos and missing information, consultation meetings, etc.  Given the supposed intensity of their consultation, focus group and telephone research, completed at the end of January 2018, it is odd that they can’t provide any quantitative input from the results to feed into these “workshops”, the results now promised for 23 March.

Tired campaigners since this all started in 2015 are never surprised at the ingenuity of the County Transport Officers, their research team and their tame consultants to slant any scheme or detail to suit their preferred Off-Road guided busway option.  So on Tuesday evening everyone was watching and waiting, and their ingenuity was breathtaking.

From the beginning, the reason for the GCP Off-Road proposal has been the inbound queues on Madingley Hill/Road, fundamentally caused by the M11 Jct 13 traffic lights, now made worse by the Eddington traffic lights. So the proposal has always been at least an inbound bus lane from Madingley Mulch, which the current road corridor can accommodate. GCP had previously tried to say the M11 bridge could not accommodate four lanes, but had to reveal they had a feasibility study which confirmed it could. Now, lo and behold, they use the extra lane NOT for an inbound bus lane, but an outbound only lane! Even Stagecoach was shocked.

Why you may ask? Well obviously any plan to speed journey times along Madingley Road damages the GCP case for an Off-Road guided busway through the Green Belt and West Fields. So leaving some delays in any Madingley Road solution is good!  Could they do more to make the journey times even longer? Yes: add more traffic lights: a new set is proposed for the Madingley Mulch roundabout where there is almost no crossing traffic from Madingley village to St Neots old road. Unnecessary.

And Hardwick, Comberton and Coton residents wonder why the scheme has to fit in extra wide cycle lanes too, when other consultants recommended the planned Greenway link Hardwick and Comberton to the Wimpole Way and the Footpath through Coton, offering a less steep and sheltered route away from traffic noise and pollution.

Of course, arguing about an incompetently designed On-Road option on Tuesday was nothing compared to considering the unwanted Off-Road options.  Amongst people who fundamentally object to the vandalising of the Green Belt and proposed routes through the Coton Corridor and West Fields (according to the High Court to be held inviolable), it was never going to be smooth, but it started with a near shouting match when officers and their tame consultants provided no input on their justification for going through the Green Belt. Indeed their only argument was that the law was on their side and they could use it to push their scheme through wherever they chose.

The round table discussions descended quite quickly into farce. You have to credit the moderators who remorselessly repeated that everything should be written down on Post-It Notes so we could have our say and it be recorded. The only agreement seemed to be that these were the wrong routes in the wrong place. And why were’t the right solutions being considered, such as along the A428 and an all-ways Girton Interchange? How did this fit with the Mayor’s proposed Metro? If there were to be tunnels, where did these connect? What kind of vehicles were being proposed for these routes? No answers.

There wasn’t much actual NIMBYism evident, though some Newnham residents simply wanted to stop a busway or bus lanes near their house by advocating for other routes – not exactly in the public interest. This rather ignored the fundamental flaws in the route proposals. That even started at Madingley Mulch with no clarity of where buses might have come from west of there – the assumption GCP had made was that they did not come from the A428; Hardwick residents not best pleased. Routes closest to Coton village, especially the primary school, and to the houses on Cambridge Road, were explained as so as not to be visible on the hillside from a distance, and to minimise disruption to the Coton Orchard, but right next to houses. No recognition that these are running through historically protected fields.

Choosing routes in relation to the West Cambridge site was pointed out as premature, given the University is still negotiating outline planning permission, and the University apparently likes the Greenway cycle route proposal to link westwards along Wimpole Way through Coton to Comberton and Hardwick. And there is still no decision on where any bus interchange might be, especially to link with the vision of Western Orbital provision, though that seems to be turning into a cloud.

You could see the disappointment on the Transport Officers faces as the participants criticised their proposals, reminded them that the solution was an all-ways Girton Interchange with a Park+Ride located there. And the questions kept coming as to where all these buses were to go, and where the tunnel mouths would be, that the Mayor and GCP are apparently getting on with planning?

If you wanted to despair at the abuse of the public, wasting two hours and more of their valuable time getting there each evening, in a fruitless exercise, now’s the time. Clearly, the only real routes to object to this are the ballot box in the May council elections, and through our MP Heidi Allen.

Roger Tomlinson

2 March 2018

Coton Parish Council endorses Greenway

Coton Parish Council response to the Greenway proposal: Cambridge to Comberton 

At its’ meeting on Tuesday 13th February 2018, Coton Parish Council noted the detailed proposals in the consultant’s report on the Cambridge to Comberton Greenway: https://citydeal-live.storage.googleapis.com/upload/www.greatercambridge.org.uk/transport/transport-projects/Appendix%2012%20Comberton.pdf

The Parish Council formally resolved to welcome and endorse the proposals, with some specific points and a recommendation, as proposed by the consultants, to provide a link from Coton to Hardwick and thereby from Hardwick to Comberton.

Many people consulted have said the latter is important. There is a bridleway to Hardwick directly from Long Road which would be a relatively short extension from the route proposed to Comberton. This would give access from Coton to the Newsagents and Post Office and the Blue Lion pub in Hardwick and make it much easier to ride west towards Cambourne on quieter roads. This would also achieve an off-road connection from Hardwick to Comberton. All these connections would provide a mostly off-road improved cycle commuting route to the West Cambridge site and Cambridge city centre, and enable cycling for Coton and Hardwick schoolchildren to Comberton Village College as well as opening up cycle and walking routes further west.

Coton cyclists express concern about the current link from The Footpath towards the Market Square::

  • remove the chicane from the Wilberforce Road junction;
  • add skid-resistant surfacing along Adams road (currently slippery in icy conditions);
  • provide a route segregated from pedestrians along busy Garret Hostel Lane to Queens Road, to avoid clashes, especially with unaware tourists.

Coton Parish Council supports the Greenway:

  1. endorses the route from Cambridge to Long Road
  2. recommends improvements from The Footpath to Queens Road;
  3. recommends an essential connection to Hardwick along the bridle path
  4. recommends the connection to Comberton is on dedicated off-road pathway

Roger Tomlinson

Coton Parish Councillor

14 February 2018

 

New Year, new proposals add confusion

We can all be forgiven for being confused. The more we are told, the less clear things are.  Articles started appearing in the press before Christmas (Dec 2017) about a high-speed bus rapid-transit scheme with tunnels under Cambridge. And the maps had a metro stop for Coton! But we could not read the report this was being leaked from, and it is not yet published.  Yet the consultants engaged by the Greater Cambridge Partnership gave a detailed presentation of the proposals for a recommended version of a Cambridge Area Metro to the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Joint Assembly.  To everyone’s surprise, this is based on using guided busways and not a light rail, tram or genuine metro type solution.

This looks horribly like pre-determination of the decisions facing Cambridge.  Yet the busway consultation grinds on:

When the Cambourne to Cambridge Better Bus Journeys: Phase One. consultation document started thumping through doors on 13 November 2017 some spectacular typos, erros and omissions were spotted. The on-road scheme, put forward by the Local Liaison Forum (LLF), previously Option 6, appeared to have been emasculated into something described as “Route B”.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) halted distribution, re-printed, but also issued some with error slips, then a letter drawing attention to more errors and omissions. What was the correct version to respond to?

More confusion followed when people visited the “exhibition” double-decker bus and at Coton Primary School. We got arguments from GCP officers and their consultants advocating the Waterworks Park + Ride site and off-road Route C through the Coton Corridor, with spurious claims made to try and back-up their preference. This was when we first heard this could also be the route for high speed mass rapid transit instead of buses! We came out none the wiser.

The LLF met in the Village Hall on 5th December 2017, despite GCP not wanting them to, but then Chris Tunstall and Rachel Stopard of GCP agreed to attend. The LLF members trounced the whole flawed consultation to date, and passed a series of critical resolutions. But then Chris Tunstall surprised everyone by saying the consultation was “informal” and he promised that the LLF’s Option 6 would be worked up as a proper alternative, in time for the “Statutory Consultation” required if the busway is approved. Yet more reasons for confusion.

The Parish Council in Coton has constantly tried to make the case, and supported all the efforts of CBAG (Coton Busway Action Group), but felt their legal representations to GCP made no impact. They therefore issued a Letter Before Action to GCP proposing a judicial review. The response to date has been a ‘mediation’ on the consultation, with GCP continuing on regardless, deadline now extended to Midnight 30th January 2018.

Our new Mayor James Palmer of the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority, himself a long opponent of the concrete guided busway, has lambasted GCP in the press for continuing, rightly arguing that this cut across the new study to seek an over-arching transport vision for Greater Cambridge.  This is the report we have not yet seen, but consultants can make presentations about and journalists can write stories on, and officers and councillors can make comments about.

What about the public?  Yet more confirmation of the democratic deficit here.  But we can still answer the original consultation questionnaire, though it now seems increasingly out-of-date and even more misinformed!

 

Roger Tomlinson

Coton Parish Councillor, January 25th 2018