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

Counting what counts?

Roger Tomlinson asks: ‘When is a consultation really a consultation?’

Government in the UK – local, regional, national – can be ambivalent about ‘consultation’. On the one hand it wants consultation to help engage communities in the issues facing them, on the other it doesn’t want adverse views and criticisms to get in the way of moving projects forward as quickly as possible. And there is a special fear of NIMBYism (Not in my back yard) stopping progress.

Something like the advisory referendum on the EU becomes apparently a definitive decision to Brexit, but consultations of the public on planning and transport are definitely “advisory”. Indeed, the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) is anxious to emphasise that the various consultations it is running across Cambridge are neither referenda nor binding expressions of public views.

You would think councillors would use expressions of public views to inform their decisions, but the three councillors taking the “Executive” decisions for the GCP Board publicly stated the contrary in 2016. Does that mean that something like their “Big Conversation” across Cambridge is just a cosmetic “public relations” exercise? The short answer is of course Yes and No. Yes, because unfortunately GCP will have chosen some schemes they want to push through regardless of public views. And No, since one of the ambitions of the GCP is to help people understand the dilemmas in growing Cambridge and to help them be more informed about proposals. That is difficult to reconcile in practice while pushing fixed ideas.

‘Phase One: the assault on the Green Belt and the West Fields’

You can watch this coming apart in slow motion on the Cambourne to Cambridge Better Bus Journeys consultation, now running until 29 January 2018, which ought to be entitled ‘Phase One: the assault on the Green Belt and the West Fields’. This story actually started in 2014, when, without consulting the public, various options for a guided busway route from Cambourne to Cambridge were considered, and officers made a selection, in the process eliminating some which the public later thought would be better routes. Note from the start the emphasis on buses, excluding other transport options such as light rail or trams. Then in October 2015 there was the first public consultation on their chosen scheme, complete with misleading information,  inaccurate maps and poor descriptions of the options, with a fatally flawed paper and online survey – don’t worry they said, ‘staff have been advised how to interpret the responses of the public’!

Forward to November 2017, for a second, and crucial, round of consultation, but restricted to only the route from Madingley Mulch to Grange Road; there is no explanation of why the whole route is not being considered. In the meantime, the Local Liaison Forum that GCP set up, a key device to engage the public and local communities, has been working with the GCP officers on the details of the options and development of the schemes. That hasn’t gone well, because trust has evaporated with GCP through recurring evidence of misleading information, slanted studies, inaccurate data from both officers and consultants.   Consultants Atkins, engaged by GCP repeatedly, even said they were preparing a rebuttal of the public’s views!  So you would think this was a key second chance moment to re-establish trust and make sure the consultation was conducted in a way to secure public engagement and achieve integrity of results that would be believed.

The Local Liaison Forum has a technical group with a couple of well-informed Parish Council reps and a District Councillor and they offered to review the GCP documentation to be issued to the public. When they saw the draft, they responded with nearly a dozen pages of corrections and comments. Unfortunately, when the 28 page consultation brochure thumped through letterboxes on 13 November it still had quite a few errors, didn’t present the information in a fair and balanced way, and contained a spectacular typo confusion of the route descriptions, only spotted when over 1,900 had already been delivered. Time to stop the process, quickly re-print and re-issue with a covering letter and some stickers. Unfortunately some people had already responded to the printed and on-line surveys, the latter needing changing too. Time for another ‘don’t worry, staff can recognise the affected responses of the public’!

no longer a consultation, but simply a selling mission

If there is concern about the adequacy of the information in the consultation brochure, then there is a touring exhibition – in a specially commissioned bus or in local venues – with officers on hand to answer questions and supplement the information. ‘Mystery shopping’ these has found some of the wrongly printed brochures are still in circulation, complete with the covering letter! But sadly the bigger challenge is the responses to questions asked of the officers and their consultants present supposedly to help. This is no longer a consultation, but simply a selling mission, pushing the guided busway and criticising all other options, often challenging opinions based on hard facts. Sometimes the statements are plain daft: My favourite is still that a hedge alongside their concrete guided busway will increase bio-diversity (! compared to uninterrupted green fields?). For me, this just beats the answer that the guided busway will make no difference to the Green Belt because Madingley Road already goes through the Green Belt and so is just as bad.  And talk about misunderstanding: a question about “how would the busway be allowed to go through the Green Belt’ got the supposedly re-assuring answer that transport infra-structure can ignore the Green Belt and planning rules, so not to worry, it would be built anyway!

Quite why consultants from Mott McDonald and Atkins should be helping advocate for the busway is unclear. No one can answer why this is a “Phase One” which makes no sense without the phases to connect to the City Centre or Addenbrooke’s etc. Weary officers, brow-beaten by the public, admit they are simply being paid to go through this consultation process to get the Park+Ride site fixed and the busway through the Coton Corridor and the West Fields.

AdditionalInfo coverAdditionalInfo inside

Given all the above, you won’t be surprised that local activists are distributing their own information to set the record straight. One example above.

So another communication through the letter box, this time GCP Transport Director Chris Tunstall protesting about one of the leaflets. Just how much are they spending on this? And just how serious are they about getting it right? After more criticisms, on 24th November they responded again, listing no less than NINE more “clarifications.” None of this will help address the fatal flaws in the consultation survey forms. By not asking for postcodes, or email addresses, the forms can be completed multiple times and there is no collection of where respondents live. Questions are poorly structured, so answers are unreliable. It really suggests the process is not taken to need any rigour or geographical analysis.

There is no room here to go through the numerous problems in how the public have been briefed about the options, such as ‘how do you make a fair comparison of routes if you exclude land purchase from the calculations of cost’, or ‘why you don’t explain which Park+Ride sites and Route options are in the Green Belt’.  What is certain is that any hope of genuine public engagement is lost. Instead the process seems to generate anger and disagreement, with officers ‘selling’ in the face of people trying to ‘fact-find’.  Community and residents groups want to be heard, their views taken into account, and respected.

GCP harassment Notice

Apparently GCP officers don’t want to be harassed by the public – this sign was spotted at one consultation – but don’t seem to understand that they are blatantly ignoring public views, and often fact-based challenges. And any hope that the results of the consultation can be treated seriously is also lost. This completely negates all the effort put into this.  GCP say the consultation counts for a very small percentage in the evaluation of the schemes.

The consultation effectively counts zero.

Democratic deficits in The Fight for Beauty

Is Cambridge to be perpetually trapped in a war between those who want it to grow out of all recognition, inevitably becoming somewhere different, and those who want to retain as much as they can of a special cityscape and environment, while accepting that there will be growth? That is not a subtle distinction in the battle between aesthetic and financial interests.

Development doesn’t have to be destructive

Development doesn’t have to be destructive, but why is Cambridge littered with bad examples? Before CB1 at the Station, it was the Leisure Park around The Junction. Now under-delivering Brookgate, who so disappointed at CB 1 are proposing a CB 4 at Cambridge North Station, another under-whelming scheme. Cambridge needs innovation in transport, so how come the St Ives guided busway has gone so wrong in cost and maintenance terms? For a cycling city, we can’t even provide bus lanes that are safe in practice (or cycle parks in new offices that don’t involve stairs). It is not NIMBY (Not in my back yard) to want better solutions.

over 50 residents’ and community groups

While over 50 residents’ and community groups care about that, the majority of the public just trust the planners and their councillors until confronted by some scheme. Even then they assume there are laws and regulations. In practice, that proves over and over again not to be the case. Councillors seem remarkably easy to persuade to overturn planning guidelines, including breaches of the Green Belt, and developers promises seem easily reneged upon.

Of course, this is not new. There is a long history in England of battling to protect and preserve our heritage and landscape. The Green Belts came from opposition to relentless ribbon development, the National Trust to rescue declining estates, their mansions, and treasured beauty spots, and locally Cambridge Past Present and Future came out of a desire to protect the unique character of Cambridge.

What nobody seems to be able to answer is why some people are apparently blind to the value of the landscape they live in, and apparently consciously plan to blight it? We know recent governments have undermined the planning system so it can be dysfunctional. Are we really getting the future Cambridge our planners want? Why don’t we think of the planners as our friends; why so often do they seem to be enemies of common sense, and in thrall to the developers, their advisers and consultants, who are perniciously blind to the environment?

The Fight for Beauty

Dame Fiona Reynolds, former Director of the National Trust, now Master of Emmanuel College, has written about this history in her The Fight for Beauty published by Oneworld in 2016. You can hear her and James Littlewood of Cambridge Past Present and Future talking about this in Coton Village Hall on Wednesday 15 November at 7.30pm. Admission is free.

They won’t be talking about what the many residents’ groups across Cambridge commonly refer to as the “nightmare” of proposals from the former City Deal, now Greater Cambridge Partnership. That “Partnership” word is a misnomer, since it seems entirely to engage the very developers, their advisers and consultants, bent on changing greater Cambridge out of all recognition, and to exclude all residents. There is a huge democratic deficit, at a time when trust in councillors is at an all time low, with just a handful taking key decisions that affect the quality of so many lives. The notion of a ‘Big Conversation’ is a public relations exercise, since the Partnership has a history of not listening. The painfully embarrassing case of the Cambourne to Cambridge guided busway is a horrible example.

“nightmare” … “Partnership”

That it seems like a war is reflected in the new Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority James Palmer saying he is completely opposed to the guided busway “It must not happen” with the support of Heidi Allen MP who told residents she would “Lie down in front of the bulldozers if necessary”. Meanwhile the Greater Cambridge Partnership stamps on its accelerator to try and push the scheme through as fast as possible. The Partnership starts a public consultation on this on 13 November 2017, though they remind us it is not a referendum and the public’s views count for very little in the formal evaluation.

Remember this is a busway, yet officers have withheld information, in some cases frankly lied, consultants have produced dreadfully biased studies riddled with inaccuracies, consultation documents and survey questionnaires are misleadingly designed, the public ignored, while councillors on the Executive Board keep nodding these proposals through, sometimes despite clear decisions to the contrary by lower tiers: the Joint Assembly and Local Liaison Forums.  More democratic deficit.

You would think a mechanism like these Local Liaison Forums (LLF), to engage local people, would be a good thing, but observing the two for the “Western Orbital” and “Cambourne to Cambridge Better Bus Journeys” it is easy to point to the trials and tribulations. They are still struggling to get a proper basis for journey times, estimated traffic levels, bus passengers, and so on, despite sterling work by Helen Bradbury, while consultants are engaged to develop their preferred schemes, and even rebut the collective views of the forum.

Even when the forum persuades the Joint Assembly to make decisions to consider the LLF alternatives, the Executive Board over-ride them. The LLF is even passing resolutions just to try and get the Partnership to give them the time to involve Parish Councils and residents groups in considering crucial decisions. The Partnership doesn’t develop LLF schemes on a comparable basis to their preferred off-road schemes despite promises.

Residents are disenfranchised.

Because Coton Parish Council, unable to get even agreed decisions of the Partnership to be honoured, wrote letters with a lawyer, the District Councillor for Coton, Francis Burkitt (also chairman of the Partnership), says he will now only deal with constituent’s concerns about this through lawyers.  Residents are disenfranchised.  That has disturbed many other councillors as completely wrong at a time when confidence needs to be re-built. And of course increases the democratic deficit.

Of course, it can seem for the councillors and the developers, including the University, and the strings of firms and consultants that service them, that these pesky residents just know too much. Here “not all the brains are under one hat” might be thought a troublesome impediment to be got round. The residents groups can tell you the detailed ‘network’ of inter-connected people who they think seem to be involved in so many schemes and proposals and the agencies and public bodies  with authority – the classic English “soft corruption” where declarations of interest seem to obfuscate instead of expose. Stephen Barclay MP for Northeast Cambridge has gone out of his way to try and expose how that undermines good government and affects his constituency.

Monstrously, this ignores the loss of our Green Belt

The argument has been put to me that we all benefit from rising house prices, so why stop the growth? Not everyone benefits and many are disadvantaged of course. Monstrously, this ignores the loss of our Green Belt land, the loss of that quality in our lives from space and beauty, the inevitable loss as a City Deal officer famously said “When Cambridge is in the way”. How has that turned into a juggernaut seemingly destined to turn Cambridge into something out of Blade Runner 2049? By that date, we’ll need the huge steel sea wall, as Dutch projections suggest the sea might have reached Cambridge from The Wash, unless we can find a better way to plan ahead responsibly and fight for beauty.

Roger Tomlinson.

Coton Busway Action Group and member of Coton Parish Council

These opinions are entirely my own.

Anatomy of a futile traffic jam

Every morning thousands of commuter’s lives are made miserable as the traffic clogs up on Madingley Road, the A1303 coming down to Junction 13 over the M11 into Cambridge. Most mornings it backs up to beyond Madingley Mulch and the A428 junction. Since the extra junction for Eddington opened, the queue now backs out onto the A428, tailing westwards. But the question must be: Why? Other roads have similar traffic flows and multiple junctions, but don’t have the same problems.

people fume in their cars

As people fume in their cars, do they think this was caused when Junction 14 of the M11 and the A428/A14 at Girton was designed? Someone had decided a connection for traffic on the A428 to turn south onto the M11, or traffic from the M11 to turn west onto the A428 was not needed. Surveys suggest between 20% and 30+% of traffic on Madingley Road is making those missing Girton connections to the M11 at Junction 13 instead.  That’s around 1 in 4.

The County Council knew the problems this caused from the beginning, years ago. Yet when the upgrade to Junction 14 was proposed by Highways England (now under construction), adding the missing connections was turned down on cost grounds. Only now, years too late, are our local MPs and the Greater Cambridge Partnership lobbying Highways England for a fix.

Or do the commuters fume and think the delay is now caused by the traffic lights on the Junction 13 bridge over the M11? They’d also be right: County Council traffic monitors confirm this (CCTV, counters and drones, apparently). But this could have also been fixed years ago. The bridge as originally configured had two wide lanes, with a central right-turn lane to the M11 at the east end. The County saw the delays to in-bound buses and added a short stretch of bus lane onto the west end of the bridge.

What they didn’t do, which bridge engineers confirmed they could always have done, inexpensively, was widen the bridge lanes on the existing bridge to either provide three lanes across or the four which would really solve the problem.  It was also proposed they provide an inexpensive new cycle and pedestrian Bridge to maximise the carriageway widths.  No one knows why they didn’t fix it when they had all the information and knew they could. They even misled the local Coton Parish Council that they couldn’t. Instead the County transport officers proposed a £207 million concrete guided busway through the Green Belt, which of course would only help the bus passengers.

Now of course the commuters fume more because the extra junction for Eddington on Madingley Road quickly backs up to interfere with Junction 13, slowing the already delayed flow across the bridge, including dangerously increasing the tailback onto the M11. The new Eddington traffic lights are not co-ordinated/linked to the Park + Ride traffic lights to add to the misery.  And again the County Council traffic monitors confirm this.

The real surprise is that the extra traffic lights for Eddington are controlled by the University (Yes, really), the developer of the Eddington (North West Cambridge) and West Cambridge sites. The planners should have required an underpass to link these two huge development sites, but instead agreed traffic lights, with four protected right turns, building in delays regardless of traffic flows (or traffic actually turning right), compounding the Madingley Road problems. Richard Ling, the County Signals & Systems Manager notes the lights are “not yet running in the most efficient manner … and further work is planned in the coming weeks” by the developer. However this is not expected to remove the extra delays inevitable from the phasing of the lights.

So what’s the result of this autopsy? At every stage the potential for delay was designed in. Even when it should have been avoided, it wasn’t. Indeed, the plans made it worse. Think of those commuters, lost minutes every day, adding up to lost hours out of their lives, with much added stress.  The disruption to their journeys is supposed to lead people to make a “modal shift” from car to bus, but because of their actual destination, most people can’t. And even the Greater Cambridge Partnership, proposing the concrete guided busway, expects very few to do so. The commuter’s misery is planned to continue.

Roger Tomlinson

Coton Busway Action Group and Coton Parish Council

The above opinion is entirely my own

The Executive by John Betjeman

I am a young executive. No cuffs than mine are cleaner;
I have a Slimline brief-case and I use the firm’s Cortina.
In every roadside hostelry from here to Burgess Hill
The maîtres d’hôtel all know me well, and let me sign the bill.

You ask me what it is I do. Well, actually, you know,
I’m partly a liaison man, and partly P.R.O.
Essentially, I integrate the current export drive
And basically I’m viable from ten o’clock till five.

For vital off-the-record work – that’s talking transport-wise –
I’ve a scarlet Aston-Martin – and does she go? She flies!
Pedestrians and dogs and cats, we mark them down for slaughter.
I also own a speedboat which has never touched the water.

She’s built of fibre-glass, of course. I call her ‘Mandy Jane’
After a bird I used to know – No soda, please, just plain –
And how did I acquire her? Well, to tell you about that
And to put you in the picture, I must wear my other hat.

I do some mild developing. The sort of place I need
Is a quiet country market town that’s rather run to seed
A luncheon and a drink or two, a little savoir faire –
I fix the Planning Officer, the Town Clerk and the Mayor.

And if some Preservationist attempts to interfere
A ‘dangerous structure’ notice from the Borough Engineer
Will settle any buildings that are standing in our way –
The modern style, sir, with respect, has really come to stay.