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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”.

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‘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

 

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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

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 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