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Cambourne to Cambridge off-road busway plans progress as call for delay to examine alternative is rejected

Controversial plans for the Cambourne to Cambridge busway have taken a major step forward after councillors agreed to apply for permission to begin work.

Cambridgeshire County Council has given approval for an application to be made under the Transport and Works Act for permission to build the new dedicated off-road busway.

Coton Orchard
Coton Orchard

The proposals have been met with opposition, including from over 2,400 people who signed a petition which argued the busway would “irreversibly damage landscape, views and habitats”.

The Cambourne to Cambridge scheme has been put together by the Greater Cambridge Partnership, aiming to create a new public transport link between the town and the city.

The plans include a dedicated busway serving Cambourne and the proposed Bourn Airfield development, as well as Hardwick, Coton, and the West Cambridge campus.

Running alongside the busway is proposed to be an ‘active travel path’ to be used by pedestrians, cyclists, and equestrians. A new Park & Ride site is also proposed under the plans.

The scheme has been developed over eight years, but has been met with backlash from some who oppose the environmental impact building the new busway would have.

A mock-up showing how it could look
A mock-up showing how it could look

The charity Cambridge Past, Present and Future presented a petition signed by 2,407 people opposing the busway to councillors at a county council full council meeting (Tuesday, March 21).

The petition said: “The proposed route will cut through fields, woodland and an ancient orchard. It will irreversibly damage landscape, views and habitats. It will bring unjustified urbanisation to the village of Coton.”

James Littlewood, the chief executive of the charity, told councillors the group had put together another option of creating a bus lane along existing roads, which he said would be cheaper and less environmentally damaging than the existing plans.

A proposal was put forward by the Conservative group at the county council to delay making a decision on whether to submit the plans, so that the alternative option suggested could be looked at.

Cllr Mark Goldsack (Con, Soham North and Isleham) said the proposed delay was “not to say no”, but to help the authority “make the right decision”.

Cllr Steve Count. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Steve Count. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr Steve Count (Con,March North and Waldersey ) said the county council needed to consider and compare the schemes side by side.

He added that he also believed the authority should wait to find out what the proposed East West Rail route between Bedford and Cambridge would be, in order to see how it could impact the busway proposals.

Cllr Alan Sharp (Con,Woodditton ) argued that ‘ignoring’ the “viable alternative scheme” would be “kicking the village of Coton in the teeth”.

However, other councillors said the alternative ‘on road’ scheme had already been looked at, and that the Conservative proposals were “largely duplicating” work that had already been done.

When the amendment was put to a vote it failed to receive enough support to be accepted by the county council.

Cllr Elisa Meschini (Lab, King’s Hedges), deputy leader of the county council, said there was “no easy solution” to meet the need for sustainable public transport infrastructure, without impacting on the landscape.

Cllr Elisa Meschini. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Elisa Meschini. Picture: Keith Heppell

She stressed there was a need for a Cambourne to Cambridge link, saying there were students in Cambourne who were “barred” from educational opportunities in Cambridge if they did not have a car.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham), leader of the county council, said: “Of course I wish it were possible to build high quality public transport routes without chopping down a single tree, but it is not possible.

“The on-road route has been thoroughly examined over many years and would itself have a significant impact on trees.

“Residents of Cambourne have waited many years for the long promised public transport option for travel into Cambridge.

“The UN report yesterday emphasised yet again just how urgent it is that we take steps to decarbonise our economy and high quality public transport is a critical part of decarbonising in our area.

A potential busway stop
A potential busway stop

“If this proposal is passed today, I give my personal commitment to do everything in my power to ensure firstly that the minimum damage is done to the Coton Orchard, but also and equally importantly that the promises made as part of this proposal to ensure biodiversity net gain as a result of this route is honoured.”

When the decision was put to a vote 33 councillors voted in favour of submitting an application to build the new busway, with 26 councillors voting against.

Look out for more analysis and reaction in this week’s Cambridge Independent - out from Wednesday, March 22.

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