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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

Frustration as GCP “plough on regardless”

Yet another day of relentless ignoring of the views of the public by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP). Our colleague Amanda Fuller was in the first part of the meeting at the Guildhall this morning 26th July at 10am, when the meeting started with the appointment of Councillor Francis Burkitt as Chairman – he’s our Madingley, Coton, Barton and Grantchester South Cambs District Councillor, but don’t hold your breath: he supports a concrete busway past Hardwick through the Coton Corridor and the West Fields.
But we are not on our own since South Cambs District Councillor Grenville Chamberlain is opposed as is Cambridgeshire County Councillor Lina Joseph. See below for our future plans, but it probably really is time to contact your local councillors – we’ll get you details.
Amanda had a question about whether the GCP would appoint truly independent consultants to do the new transport study for greater Cambridgeshire which the Mayor and GCP have agreed to commission jointly. We don’t want the officers usual tame consultants such as Atkins or Skanska or Mott Macdonald. Of course we got the usual ‘not really answering the question’ fudge – more on this later.
I joined the meeting at Noon to watch the Executive Board continuing to trample over Milton Road residents while pretending they were wonderfully doing everything the residents wanted. I don’t remember the residents wanting unsafe bus and cycle lane combinations at great expense, to save less than 2 minutes in-bound and just over 4 minutes out-bound by 2031. And it was revealed that in all this, they stopped short of dealing with Mitcham’s Corner, so like the Cambourne to Cambridge Busway proposal, it doesn’t deal with reaching the City Centre.
The meeting continued at 2pm and we then had more of the same fudge, but this time with explanations from the officers that “independent consultants” meant all the ones they were already working with, the ones we are unhappy with.  Councillor Lina Joseph, like Rod Cantrill in the morning session, asked for the whole busway scheme to be paused until the Mayor’s new study was completed and the proposals for very high speed rapid transit (“bullet buses”) were completed.  Ignored.  Helen Bradbury laid out clearly the Local Liaison Forum’s views and, together with Gabriel Fox’s question, challenged the analysis and scoring of the options for busway routes and our alternative schemes.
Now you have to acknowledge when the officers cleverly manoeuvre round objections and Transport Director Chris Tunstall basically said they were ignoring the analysis and scoring, and putting through our Option 6 for evaluation – that’s the on-road bus lane not busway option, possibly tidal, from Madingley Mulch down Madingley Road across the M11 on the existing (widened) bridge to High Cross – so in effect he implied we should back off and wait until September!
That left us in limbo with issues such as bullet buses blasting past Hardwick and Coton at over 100 mph, proposals for a bus terminal on The Backs at Silver Street, and other madnesses just parked, unanswered.
Francis Burkitt has upped the management of the meetings and they did note and discuss the questions and objections and, lo and behold, did deliberate amongst the Board members, and former chairman Lewis Herbert even sounded like he acknowledged some of the issues we raised. But No, they voted to press on regardless, ignoring all the objections and challenges.
They even ignored the Joint Assembly recommendation to remove Crome Lea from the Park+Ride sites being considered. Again Transport Director Chris Tunstall was on manoeuvres with a frankly confusing circular argument that appeared to say that if they had thought Crome Lea was a possible site earlier it had to stay under consideration – quite how you eliminate rejected options under this thinking, I don’t know. I thought the Joint Assembly had comprehensively rejected it, saying they would never vote for it.
We retired angry after 3pm vowing that we have to escalate our challenge to a much louder public scale.  That meant we missed Councillor Burkitt accusing Wendy Blythe, of the combined residents associations (FECRA), of “fake news” when she referred to the proposals for a bus terminal on The Backs at Silver Street – it was in the Board’s own papers circulated for the meeting.  Save the West Fields confirms this was already in an Atkins study dated April 2017.  Yet more reasons to be angry.
So a date for your diary: Protest March Saturday 2nd September 11am starting from Queens Road (The Backs) into the Market Square. We need to be big and loud. More details to come. But please, you plan to come.

One step forward, two steps back

It has been a painful week and it is only Wednesday night. The Local Liaison Forum was steered by Helen Bradbury through 3 hours of intense discussions on Monday night (17th July 2017) in Comberton, then today (19th July) the Greater Cambridge Partnership (the lipstick on the City Deal pig) had been running for 4 hours 15 minutes in Cambourne when I had to leave.
A glimmer of good news though: Councillor Bridget Smith asked Joint Assembly members whether they would ever vote through a Park and Ride site on top of Madingley hill at Crome Lea, and after they said they would not, she proposed that it be withdrawn from consideration; they agreed. But this is only a recommendation to the Executive Board meeting next Wednesday 26th.
The pain is because unashamedly the Greater Cambridge Partnership officers and their consultants have come up with analysis of route options and Park+Ride sites, blatantly skewed the scoring and weighting of these, put forward recommendations based on them, and they and the councillors and Joint Assembly members completely ignored the questions and challenges over this.
Apparently we are supposed to be pleased that Option 6 – the on-road solution with a bus lane, probably tidal, from Madingley Mulch to High Cross down Madingley Road – is still under consideration.  They say they’ll be making decisions in September.
But there is no avoiding that they are planning to route the guided busway close to Hardwick and Coton villages, probably with a Park + Ride at what they call the “water tower site” west of Madingley Mulch on St Neots Road, ploughing through the Green Belt, across National Trust covenanted land, through Coton Orchard and curving south of The Footpath across the West Fields to Grange Road. Oh and this is now proposed for high speed express buses running at 120 mph!  Right behind the school and village houses.
South Cambs Councillor Grenville Chamberlain voiced his opposition and argued for a route running alongside the A428 to the north through to Girton Interchange, which could be a Light Rail/Tram route instead of a concrete busway.  Ignored.
The pain is because we had to witness all the hard work of the Milton Road Local Liaison Forum on their Do Optimum proposal being perverted into a Final Concept that was approved by the Joint Assembly despite not being fit-for-purpose. Yet another scheme where the idea of modal shift from car to bus is suddenly no longer the target and huge budgets are planned to save less than 2 minutes on an in-bound bus journey by 2031.
Fortunately, there is a rising tide of anger with over 50 groups around Cambridge challenging the Greater Cambridge Partnership process and seeking a pause. Quite how we escape from this anti-democratic trap is not clear.
The next opportunity to show our anger is at the Executive Board meeting on 26th July from 10am to 5pm (Yes really) in the Council Chamber, The Guildhall, 1-6 Corn Exchange St, CB2 3QF, Cambridge. Agenda and papers here:
http://scambs.moderngov.co.uk/ieListMeetings.aspx…
If you would like to speak or ask a question you have only until 10am on 21 July 2017 to submit it (and you must be able to attend the meeting at the time your question comes up) to: Democratic.Services@Scambs.gov.uk This doesn’t sound very democratic to me…

But the Coton Busway Action Group is on the case, Coton Parish Council is considering legal action, the residents groups across Cambridge are planning a protest march.  What are you going to do to make your views heard?

Scheme details emerge at LLF on 17th July

Well, they made sure the visuals were blurred, but Atkins, the tame consultants used by Greater Cambridge Partnership, turned up at the Local Liaison Forum in Comberton on Monday 17th to show that their route alignments for the proposed concrete guided busway now run immediately behind the houses and school of Coton village, through the Coton Orchard and into the edge of the West Cambridge University site, south of the Footpath, and then across the West Fields to Grange Road.

This is environmental vandalism on a grand scale, through the Green Belt, across National Trust covenanted fields. And still no answer as to why Grange Road is the chosen destination or how the buses will “speed” into the City Centre?

The Greater Cambridge Partnership officers didn’t do themselves any favours with their blinkered approach, still recommending Park+Ride sites around Madingley Mulch despite overwhelming advice that the Scotland Farm site is bigger and better, and accessible from all directions, and scores better environmentally.

And they plough on with their planned environmental destruction regardless of Mayor James Palmer of the new Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority having commissioned major feasibility studies on light rail and underground in the context of a transport vision for wider Cambridgeshire, recognising for example that Girton Interchange could be the key to unlock some of the problems.

Bizarrely, the Atkins speaker said he was working on a “rebuttal” of the criticism by the LLF’ technical group’ after Coton’s Gabriel Fox demonstrated the bias in the officers and consultants scoring of off-road versus on-road options. Quite why the officers and consultants feel they need to twist the facts to get their schemes through is not clear.

Next chance to show we are opposed to the busway and want better alternatives is the Joint Assembly meeting on Wednesday 19th July in Cambourne at the South Cambs District Council offices starting at 1pm. While local government in Cambridgeshire is looking increasingly stupid and anti-democratic, we need to show the public want better value for money than misguided schemes. We seem to have Mayor James Palmer and our MP Heidi Allen on our side, but that may not be enough.

LLF Update

On 17th March the Local Liaison Forum (LLF) presented their on-road bus scheme (named Option 6) in a packed public meeting in Comberton. On 11th April the LLF then presented Option 6 to the Executive Board of the City Deal. In both meetings, members of the LLF stressed that they regard Option 6 as flexible. The LLF is not wedded to this particular solution but to the principles that underpin it.

At the April meeting, the City Deal Board agreed to the following:

  • To conduct a thorough, fair and transparent appraisal of Option 6
  • To give the LLF sight of the consultation brief for Option 6 that will be issued to Mott MacDonald
  • To convene one or more workshops to discuss the metrics for the Cambourne to Cambridge bus scheme
  • To convene a workshop to discuss Madingley Road east of the M11
  • To provide an official minute at the next board meeting to confirm the undertaking of the thorough appraisal of Option 6 alongside Options 1 (the original on-road bus scheme) and 3/3a (the southerly off-road busway)

Additionally Chris Tunstall, the City Deal director of transport, confirmed that the City Deal is re-appraising potential sites for a Park + Ride west of Cambridge. The Board agreed that the LLF will be given sight of the findings of this process prior to publication and will have the opportunity for input.

A full appraisal of Options 3/3a, 6 and 1 will be produced for the July 2017 Board meeting. The decision on which option to take forward will now be made at the October 2017 meeting.

We have our fingers crossed that the City Deal will honour the commitments they have made, and that after the mayoral elections, we will see a clearer way ahead that achieves more sensible solutions. However, it is necessary to keep telling the City Deal that the community does not want Option 3/3a – if you have not already signed our petition to this effect, please do so now!

Mayoral and County Council Elections

Elections TODAY, Thursday 4 May, for the new role of Mayor of Cambridge-Peterborough and for the County Council, including the ward for Coton and Hardwick.

Mayoral candidates Rod Cantrill (Lib Dem) and James Palmer (Conservative)  are both firmly against the concrete guided busway breaching the Green Belt and the West Fields, and are opposed to City Deal policies and practices. Cllr Kevin Price for Labour (who is also Deputy Chair of the City Deal Joint Assembly) is less forthright but is pleased the City Deal has reset the process and is re-visiting the evaluation of the routes and the Park+Ride sites. All other candidates have also pledged to improve public transport in the region.

Whichever way you decide to vote, please do vote!

Next Local Liaison Forum Meeting

In the lead up to the Local Liaison Forum’s meeting on Thursday 2nd Feb (7pm in the Council Chambers at Shire Hall) in which they will present an alternative to the City Deal’s preferred Option 3/3A, we thought we should re-share the epic poem of Dr Gabriel Fox, “To Ada Lovelace“! Drawing on the works of Byron and Brookes, Dr Fox eloquently rubbishes the City Deal’s busway plans and calls for an on-road solution.

The LLF meeting is open to members of the public so do go along and hear about a better plan than the City Deal’s preferred option.

City Deal are refusing to allow public scrutiny

Reasonable and pertinent questions from members of the public are being refused for submission at the City Deal Executive Board meeting. The following three questions regarding the West Cambridge busway were submitted to the Executive Board to be asked at the meeting tomorrow (Weds 25th Jan). They have been refused on the grounds that the West Cambridge busway is not specifically an agenda item. However, there are few opportunities in which the busway is an agenda item and therefore few opportunities for the public to (re-)state that they do not agree with the Executive Board’s preferred solution. Additionally you might notice that the second and third questioners actually deal (ironically) with the very subject of public scrutiny as well as the West Cambridge busway!

Allan Treacy: On what grounds could the City Deal executive contemplate backing a £207m off road solution if there is a circa £40m on-road alternative? Should not the City Deal be prioritising the saving of £160m of public money to be put towards more progressive solutions for the area’s transport challenges?

Alistair Burford: The protocol for public questions dated 10 November 2016 states that public questions are a fundamental part of an open and transparent democratic process.
I raised a question at the Joint Assembly on 18 January about an Atkins Report on Park and Ride locations dated September 2015.  This report has not been made available to the public and quite clearly identifies Crome Lea farm as one of three sites around Madingley Mulch.  Yet, the officers saw fit not to include this information in the public consultation and Crome Lea was only identified in public documents over a year later in September 2016 when it emerged as their preferred location.
My questions are:
1. Residents have raised serious concerns about a flawed consultation only to be told that it is not an agenda item. When members of the public raise concerns of this nature does the Board not think that they should be listened to regardless of whether it’s an agenda item or not?
2. Will the Board (not officers) undertake to investigate my concerns and provide a full written response?
3. Mr Menzies stated at the Joint Assembly that all Atkins reports are available to the public, would he mind providing the link to the 2 Atkins reports on the Park and Ride Locations?

Marilyn Treacy: Many Coton residents are dismayed by the stance that the City Deal executive has taken in avoiding answering their questions submitted by email or in a public forum.
If the residents of Coton do not receive adequate answers to their questions regarding the lack of transparency in factors leading to option 3/3a being chosen as the preferred option they may have no alternative but to take legal action. What action will the City Deal take to avoid this scenario?

This most recent example of the suppression of public scrutiny, followed the farce of last week’s Joint Assembly meeting in which public questions were grouped together, cut short and then not answered. You can watch it here.