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Cambourne to Cambridge busway would be ‘economic and environmental vandalism’, Tory Parliamentary candidate tells Coton debate

An off-road Cambourne to Cambridge busway would be economic and environmental “vandalism” according to the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire, Chris Carter-Chapman.

Meanwhile, his Liberal Democrat opponent, Pippa Heylings, wants to see the outcome of a full public inquiry on the £220million C2C busway, which has been devised by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) to create a reliable public transport link between Cambourne and the city, along with villages along the route.

The C2C busway debate in Coton. Picture: Hannah Brown, LDR
The C2C busway debate in Coton. Picture: Hannah Brown, LDR

They were speaking at a debate held in Coton this week, at which Green Party Parliamentary candidate Oliver Fisher declared his opposition to the off-road busway, while Luke Viner, chair of the South Cambridgeshire Labour Party group, said he would support it if it meant a light rail link could be put in place in the future.

Following the GCP’s work on the project, Cambridgeshire County Council - as the highways authority - agreed in March 2023 that a Transport and Works Act could be applied for to build the dedicated busway.

It would also feature an ‘active travel path’ alongside it for pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians. A new Park & Ride site is also proposed under the plans.

The busway project has faced enormous opposition, with particular concern raised over the plans to plough through Coton Orchard, which would mean felling about 500 veteran trees.

Coton Orchard
Coton Orchard

A petition signed by 2,400 people, presented to the county council, said it would “irreversibly damage landscape, views and habitats”.

Campaigners have called for politicians to back an on-road option, which they said would be cheaper and better for the environment. This alternative, put together by the charity Cambridge Past Present and Future, envisages a bus lane built alongside existing roads.

But when the county council discussed it, leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham said) the on-road option had “been thoroughly examined over many years and would itself have a significant impact on trees”.

At a Coton hustings event last Tuesday (April 16), sponsored by Coton Busway Action Group, candidates to be the next MP for the constituency were asked for their views.

The Greens’ Mr Fisher said: “I would vote against it. I am supportive of public transport, supportive of a route, but the route as it stands - cutting across green fields, cutting through the orchard - does not seem to make sense to me.

“It is an enormous investment. We need to put that money on the right route and I do not see cutting across green fields as the right thing.

“We have to have these types of projects and we need to deliver public transport for our communities, but at the same time we cannot cut across green fields like this and destroy nature.”

Mr Carter-Chapman is hoping to continue the Tories’ hold on South Cambridgeshire, when incumbent Conservative Anthony Browne switches to fight for the new St Neots and Mid Cambridgeshire constituency.

He told the audience he was “100 per cent against” the current busway plans and argued £220m of taxpayers’ money would be “horribly wasted” on the project when there was a “clear alternative”.

He said: “Trees will be ripped out of the ground. There are going to be multiple species of wildlife endangered and you are going to have disruption years to come.

“There is a clear alternative. It’s not only an act of economic vandalism, it’s an act of environmental vandalism as well.”

“If I’m elected as your next Member of Parliament I will absolutely ensure that this orchard is preserved for generations to come and is not lost so needlessly as it is going to be if the GCP get their way.”

Coton village. Picture: Hannah Brown, LDR
Coton village. Picture: Hannah Brown, LDR

Lib Dem Ms Heylings did not think there was “enough information on the table” to give a yes or no answer to the question of whether it should go ahead and was keen for a full public inquiry to “give transparency and greater public confidence” in the final decision.

She highlighted that people living in Cambourne did not currently have a “safe cycle” route into Cambridge and said the lack of transport links between the town and the city were impacting young people’s access to education.

She said: “I talked to Cambourne Village College. At the moment the lack of transport for those young people in Cambourne is affecting their future decisions - their access, if they don’t have access to lifts or the taxi fare, to post-16 future either colleges or their choice, or apprenticeships.

“In this day and age in the places we live, transport should not be a barrier to the future of those 16-year-olds.

“So it’s not here, I don’t think, a question of ‘whether’. I think the urgent need of that transport link means it should not be a political football.”

Campaigners pointed out there would have to be a public inquiry, held through the Transport and Works Act process.

Labour has yet to confirm its candidate.

But Mr Viner said he would support the dedicated busway if it could later become a light rail link. He said he had been advocating for trams or light rail in the Greater Cambridge area for a long time, but noted they are expensive and take a long time to build.

He told the meeting that he had been given “repeated assurance” there was the potential to turn the Cambourne to Cambridge busway into light rail in the future, and said he therefore would support it.

Mr Viner said having the dedicated infrastructure in place would be the “piece of the puzzle” needed to introduce light rail in the area.

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