Bus route protesters say they will dig in for a long battle
The City Deal board need to think again in the light of a demonstration of “massive opposition” to plans for a busway from Cambourne to Cambridge over the West Fields, say campaigners.
Hundreds marched to Guildhall from The Backs on Saturday in protest at the busway plans, which have recieved criticism on grounds of its £140million bill and 0.21 benefit-to-cost ratio. The project is one of the City Deal’s schemes to help manage congestion in the city up to 2031.
The route is proposed to be largely off-road, leading to outcry from residents who want to protect green belt land on the west of the city.
Stephen Coates, of campaign group Save the West Fields, one of the march organisers, said: “The fact that several hundred people were there proves the strength of feeling in the city. And there were a lot of teenagers there, and younger people. People from different walks of life. It took in many different parts of the community.
“I think the City Deal Board need to rethink their position. The level of opposition is massive and the message is local people will fight this one the whole way through.
“At the moment it’s marching in the street. If it takes further action in the courts I think we can do that. People are digging in for a long fight if necessary.
“I think the protest really reflected people’s anger and also their determination to push for a better outcome. The debate has come away from the City Deal Board and we’re asking what we want from our city, which is quite energising.
“The objection to the busway is two-fold. There’s the environmental argument, and the other part of the marching was suggesting that the on-road option was better for the city. If you look out 10 years from now will this off-road approach be shown to be redundant. With rail and tunnels and all these other potential options, for the time being they should come up with a reversible scheme, which is on-road.”
Cllr Lewis Herbert, chairman of the City Deal Board, said: “We respect the views of all communities on the projects that we are exploring as part of the City Deal.
“We know that many of the residents in areas surrounding the catchment area proposed as part of the Cambourne to Cambridge busway have very strong feelings on the scheme and it is right that we listen to their views and consider all information as we continue to investigate options.
“As we have said before, doing nothing about the congestion problems in and around Cambridge is no longer an option. Roads to the West of the city including Madingley already have some of the worst morning peak-time queues, with a mile of gridlocked vehicles on the A428 to the M11.
“The amount of traffic is set to increase with the planned housing developments underway, such as the affordable housing being built in new settlements along the A428. A busway or two-way bus route is needed specifically to support the development of these homes, which have been supported by the public through consultation.
“The agreed Local Plans oppose housing developments next to Newnham that have been proposed by developers, and instead support an improved transport route to new housing already approved. Progressing this through a busway would therefore help protect the Green Belt from housing development.
“The busway proposal is part of a much bigger plan to ensure people who live outside of the city can access all the same opportunities and benefits of those who live in it. Such a high quality route will benefit many people and businesses, and for generations to come, not least through the health and environmental benefits of reducing the number of cars on the roads and improving the cycling network.
“Evidence tells us that more people will use public transport if it’s quick, reliable and offers value for money. Our challenge is to put projects in place that enable these improvements. This ethos is underlined by the comments made in October by the Communities Secretary Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP that local councillors and MPs need to make some “difficult calls even if they are unpopular” to give more people the right to access and afford their own home.
“No decisions have yet been taken on the detailed route, and the on-road option west of the M11 is also still to be compared fully with the proposal for an off-road busway. The on-road option is not considered viable east of the M11 on this route.
“We will continue to meet with residents and their representatives, including the Local Liaison Forum to discuss the challenge of agreeing the best route. Several further decision and consultations stages are planned ahead of any decisions and we will continue to consider all options to ensure we strike the right balance between meeting our economic, environmental and social needs with the best outcomes for the region.”