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Call for ‘complete review’ of controversial CSET busway scheme

A campaign group is calling for the Greater Cambridge Partnership to review its controversial Cambridge South East Transport busway plan.

CSET transport route Picture: Greater Cambridge Partnership
CSET transport route Picture: Greater Cambridge Partnership

The Better Ways than Busways group says it is in favour of public transport and active travel but its members believe there is a better route for a busway, given a number of significant changes over the last four years.

Howard Kettel, chair of Stapleford Parish Council, told the Cambridge Independent: “We truly hope that local politicians and the GCP will take the sensible decision that, with so much having changed since the proposal was made, a complete review is required.”

The campaign group sets out five reasons for the review, which include the expansion of Cambridge Biomedical Campus as set out in the draft Local Plan and the fact that the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro proposals have been scrapped.

They also point to the negative impact of the busway following the Planning Inspectorate’s approval of a new retirement village in the green belt that will alter the preferred route. And they cite carbon emissions and possible delays due to Network Rail’s work on Cambridge South station.

The GCP’s executive board agreed to submit a Transport and Works Act order to seek planning permission to construct the scheme in July last year. This was met with anger from villagers in Great Shelford, Sawston and Babraham.

A motion to stop support for the current CSET proposals at South Cambridgeshire District Council on February 22 was rejected. An alternative suggestion to reconsider the route was not debated due to technical protocol.

Cllr Mark Howell (Con, Caxton and Papworth) asked the council to support his motion, which said: “This council does not support the current CSET proposals. The Greater Cambridge Partnership board member for South Cambridgeshire District Council will reflect the views of this council at future board meetings.”

During the meeting, Conservative councillors expressed the need for a rethink of the CSET plans and to look again at on-road alternatives along the A1037 and reopening the Haverhill to Cambridge railway.

The debate was prefaced by a public question by James Littlewood, CEO of Cambridge Past, Present and Future, on behalf of the Better Ways than Busways group.

South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne, second left, with Stapleford parish councillors opposing the busway
South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne, second left, with Stapleford parish councillors opposing the busway

He said: “Will the council use its position on the GCP to ask the GCP at its March meeting to formally revisit the decisions that it made in 2018 and 2021 and also ask for a full assessment of an optimal scheme in the A1307 corridor as a viable alternative?”

Deputy leader Cllr Neil Gough (Lib Dem, Cottenham) responded to the motion as the current district council representative on the GCP excutive board.

Cllr Gough, the lead cabinet member for strategic planning and transport and lead cabinet member for transformation and projects at the district council, said: “No transportation scheme is ever going to be universally welcomed.

“There is a balance that has to be struck between the benefits and scheme. The positive and negative impacts on the environment, cost, deliverability and so forth, and the GCP is charged with doing that. And the board has continually challenged the GCP organisation to ensure that any trade-offs are made in the best interests and mitigation measures are introduced wherever possible.

“That is an ongoing process. And the board has continued to push the GCP to deliver a scheme that delivers the strategic outcome required while minimising environmental impacts.

“The scheme ultimately will be tested thoroughly and independently during the planning inquiry.

“But at the current time, I see absolutely no evidence CSET scheme is anything other than essential to cope with the growth in this corridor and to simply oppose the scheme at this stage is inappropriate and wrong and therefore we should reject the motion.”

Anthony Browne, Tory MP for South Cambridgeshire, expressed deep disappointment at the vote. He recently sought opinions on the scheme, which will provide a new segregated route, along with a new travel hub near the A11, to give people to the south-east of Cambridge access to faster and more reliable public transport services.

A total of 1,958 submissions were made to the survey which found 72 per cent of respondents would “definitely not” support the GCP’s preferred route and a further nine per cent would “probably not” support it.

The survey also revealed 69 per cent supported the reopening of the Haverhill to Cambridge railway line as a longer-term alternative to the busway.

Mr Browne said: “My thanks go to Cllr Howell for bringing this debate forward and to all those councillors who supported his motion. It’s deeply disappointing that the Lib Dems voted it down, despite the very convincing case against CSET.

The chief executive of Cambridge Past, Present & Future, James Littlewood
The chief executive of Cambridge Past, Present & Future, James Littlewood

“Objections to this busway are not about nimbysim. There are genuinely better alternatives to CSET that are cheaper and far less environmentally damaging, that will deliver the same –or more – transport benefits. Local people simply will not understand why the council continues to waste time and money on this, when they could be directing their efforts at delivering these better alternatives.

“It is not good enough to fob the public off with a promise that they can object at a public inquiry, which will not take place for many months and will be a very expensive process.”

The GCP has previously consulted on its plans in 2015, 2016, 2018 and, most recently, in late 2019.

An environmental impact assessment was undertaken in 2020 with feedback from this consultation set out in 2021. The GCP will be looking at the impact of the planning inspectorate’s decision later in the spring.

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