Cambourne to Cambridge busway: GCP hits back at mayor James Palmer over ‘misleading’ statements
The Greater Cambridge Partnership has hit back at mayor James Palmer in the escalating row over the Cambourne to Cambridge busway.
The GCP complained it had received “no reply” from the mayor for two months, had frequently shown flexibility to fit in with Mr Palmer’s plans for a metro and warned that further delay to its £160.5m busway scheme risked delaying the delivery of thousands of homes and jobs.
It came after Mr Palmer, the mayor of the Combined Authority of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, condemned the GCP for continuing with its Cambourne to Cambridge scheme “against his advice” - and claimed the latest plans showed it had listened to the concerns of Cambridge residents but “ignored” anyone outside the city.
He indicated that the GCP’s decision to move forward with the plans “risks significant delays and wasted public expenditure in contentious legal proceedings”.
The row follows the GCP’s publication of revised plans for the busway, which will now join the road network in Cambridge via Rifle Range land, rather than through the busy cycling route of Adams Road.
While that element of the scheme cheered cyclists, it has not quelled the controversy along its route - with villagers in Hardwick unhappy about overlooking multiple lanes of traffic, and Coton campaigners furious that the busway will travel through fields near to them.
Mr Palmer argues the scheme does “not fit with our evolving vision of the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM)”.
But the GCP - in an open letter reproduced in full below - said it was “disappointing” to see the mayor making what it called “misleading public statements” and stressed: “GCP has been committed to giving CAM the best chance of success and adapted our approach to work with the Combined Authority.”
It added: “We are trying to create flexible, high quality public transport corridors which include safe and segregated provision for cycling, walking and horse riding alongside.
“They should not be dismissed as ‘busways’. As the only funded part of the CAM network, the GCP schemes are the only phases able to meet the mayor’s published 2024 delivery timeline - but only by continuing with decision-making now.”
The GCP’s joint assembly is meeting today to discuss the plans ahead of the scheme going to its executive board on June 25.
It is concerned that developments along the growing A428 corridor - particularly plans for a new village at Bourn Airfield - cannot proceed without a viable public transport network to prevent further congestion west of Cambridge.
“We are delivering this infrastructure as part of existing statutory plans (the Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire Local Plans) as thousands of homes and jobs are either entirely or in part dependent on it being built,” the GCP said.
“Developers need to have certainty that this will happen by 2024 so they can plan accordingly and our residents want assurance that traffic congestion and air quality will not worsen.”
The GCP has also argued that the mayor has failed to explain why the busway would not fit in with the metro plans.
“Those routes will be ready to take modern, electric, autonomous tram-like vehicles as soon as the CPCA [Combined Authority] is ready to deliver them,” it said.
And it argued that the scheme will be capable of fitting in with emerging plans for East West Rail (EWR), which will bring a new station to an undecided location at Cambourne, but will not make stops en route to Cambridge.
“The in-built flexibility of our current plans means they can accommodate the CAM and also schemes such as East West Rail, with whom we are working closely,” said the GCP.
“EWR expect to make a decision on the Cambourne station location in 2022 and the delivery of critical infrastructure cannot be held up for this long.”
But the revised plans have been described as “truly shameful” by the Local Liaison Forum, made up of councillors along the route.
Chairman Helen Bradbury said the scheme would cause “irreversible damage to the landscape of west Cambridge, and to dozens of homes in Hardwick which will be faced with nine lanes of uninterrupted traffic – four of those raised with lorries on.”
She added: “Sensible and viable alternatives suggested by the Local Liaison Forum have been consistently whitewashed, and public consultations have been a box-ticking exercise.”
With the latest discussions taking place today, the debate shows no signs of going away.
The Greater Cambridge Partnership’s letter in full
It is disappointing to see that the mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has again made misleading public statements about the Greater Cambridge Partnership (‘GCP’) and our programme of schemes. We therefore feel we must make clear our position.
In February the mayor suddenly announced to the media that the GCP would play no part in the delivery of major infrastructure schemes and that the Combined Authority would now take on responsibility for delivery - suggesting that we were delivering projects outside of the Local Transport Plan (‘LTP’). The LTP had been fully agreed by the Combined Authority in January and included our schemes throughout.
Despite our urgent request for a meeting, we had no reply from the mayor for two months. We have now exchanged several letters and have met the mayor, the Combined Authority chief executive and the mayor’s political advisers twice. The mayor has acknowledged that he no longer has any ambition for the Combined Authority to become a delivery body - and agrees that he has no statutory levers to take over the GCP role in delivering schemes.
The Mayor has publicly complained that the GCP has ‘disregarded’ his views, but it is clear we have tried throughout to work in a constructive partnership with the CPCA as transport authority, including;
- May 2018 - we paused our schemes for six months for the mayor’s independent assessment of their compliance with the vision for CAM – which concluded the Cambourne to Cambridge (‘C2C’) route is the optimal solution for access from the West, that GCP’s approach had been robust and that C2C is classified as a CAM route.
- March 2019 – the Combined Authority Board agrees partnership working arrangements to progress the CAM. This joint working meant projects were closely aligned and CPCA officers supported the final GCP proposals for the C2C scheme in January 2020.
- January 2020 – The Local Transport Plan is agreed and explicitly references our schemes throughout as the first phase of CAM, being delivered by the Greater Cambridge Partnership.
“Work is already underway on the first phase of the CAM through the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s programme to provide high quality, segregated public transport routes along key corridors, including links to Cambourne, Granta Park, Cambridge East and Waterbeach” (para 3.60)
“Along the A428/A1303 corridor, the Cambourne to Cambridge scheme being led by the Greater Cambridge Partnership will deliver a segregated public transport corridor from Cambourne. This corridor will serve the future housing sites at Cambourne West and Bourn Airfield, to West Cambridge and other key employment sites and destinations. Similarly, to Waterbeach, this will form a first phase of the CAM network, operated by high-quality electric vehicles, and will include a new Park & Ride site at Scotland Farm or Madingley Mulch.” (para 3.75)
Given the weight of evidence, it is therefore disappointing to see that the Mayor has again claimed that GCP is not behaving reasonably and is putting public money and reputation at risk. On the contrary, GCP has been committed to giving CAM the best chance of success and adapted our approach to work with the Combined Authority.
We are trying to create flexible, high quality public transport corridors which include safe and segregated provision for cycling, walking and horse riding alongside. They should not be dismissed as ‘busways’. As the only funded part of the CAM network, the GCP schemes are the only phases able to meet the mayor’s published 2024 delivery timeline - but only by continuing with decision making now.
Those routes will be ready to take modern, electric, autonomous tram-like vehicles as soon as the CPCA is ready to deliver them. Until the Mayor can make the business case, and receive funding, for the tunnelled section, those vehicles will need to run on road with other traffic for non-segregated sections, but can still provide significant improvements to reliability and journey times as most of the route is segregated.
The in-built flexibility of our current plans means they can accommodate the CAM and also schemes such as East West Rail, with whom we are working closely. EWR expect to make a decision on the Cambourne station location in 2022 and the delivery of critical infrastructure cannot be held up for this long.
The impact of further delay is significant. Recovery following Covid-19 will make access to jobs across the whole country essential. We are delivering this infrastructure as part of existing statutory plans (the Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire Local Plans) as thousands of homes and jobs are either entirely or in part dependent on it being built. Developers need to have certainty that this will happen by 2024 so they can plan accordingly and our residents want assurance that traffic congestion and air quality will not worsen.
It is therefore reasonable to progress decision-making on these much-needed schemes, in accordance with the requirements of the Local Transport Plan, to deliver the growth as agreed with government and endorsed by Ministers when the programme was recently reviewed, which unlocked substantial future funding for the area.
We have always tried to work with the Mayor, and listen to his views – but we must now avoid further delay to delivery without good reason.
- Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer, chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership, deputy leader South Cambridgeshire District Council
- Cllr Roger Hickford, deputy leader, Cambridgeshire County Council
- Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader, Cambridge City Council
- Prof Phil Allmendinger, University of Cambridge
- Claire Ruskin, Executive Director Cambridge Network