Category Archives: Uncategorized

‘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


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:

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:

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.