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Campaigners plead with councillors to reject Cambourne to Cambridge busway

Campaigners are making a last-ditch appeal to councillors to reject the £160million Cambourne to Cambridge busway plans in favour of an on-road solution.

Cambridgeshire County Council will decide next week whether to seek a Transport and Works Act Order from the Department for Transport for the construction of the busway.

If approved, the controversial busway devised by the Greater Cambridge Partnership could open in 2026.

Campaigners fight to 'Save Coton Green Corridor' (62978756)
Campaigners fight to 'Save Coton Green Corridor' (62978756)

But a group of organisations is appealing to the authority to avoid the “unnecessary destruction” of an important green corridor and instead build a traffic-free bus lane next to the A1303.

They will present a petition – signed by 2,300 people calling for the on-road solution – to the meeting on Tuesday (March 21).

James Littlewood, chief executive for Cambridge Past, Present and Future, appealed to councillors to act in the interests of nature.

“Everyone wants to see better public transport to the west of Cambridge but we shouldn’t have to destroy our environment and heritage for future generations in order to achieve that,” he told the Cambridge Independent.

“There is a viable alternative scheme for a bus lane on the existing road which could achieve similar journey times, is less damaging to the environment, is far less expensive and can be delivered more quickly. All we are asking is that the two schemes are properly compared before a decision is made.”

The C2C busway will link Cambourne and Cambridge via the new Bourn Airfield development, a new travel hub at Scotland Farm, Hardwick, and the University of Cambridge’s West Cambridge campus.

The Friends of the River Cam, a voluntary organisation, described it as a “Trojan horse”, designed to open up new areas of greenfield land for housing and industrial development.

“Building concrete runways through ancient orchards and other green spaces at vast expense is a method of increasing land values and making them easier to build on – not solving Cambridge’s dreadful traffic congestion as the GCP claims,” said Susan Buckingham, a spokesperson for the river group.

She added: “There are far better ways of extending existing roads for more bus use than busways dreamed up by an unrepresentative GCP whose advisory group is packed full of those with commercial interests.”

The council – run by a joint administration of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Independent councillors – has been recommended to make an application to the DfT “authorising the construction and operation of a guided transport system from Cambourne to Cambridge”.

The petition has been organised by charity Cambridge Past, Present and Future, Coton Parish Council, Coton Busway Action Group, Coton Orchard, Coton Loves Pollinators and Save the West Fields.

Hardwick Parish Council was not involved in the petition. It held public meetings with the GCP that led to a change of the route, so that it would run on the road through St Neots Road in the village, without a bus gate.

The GCP says the busway aims to significantly improve bus and active travel journeys between Cambridge and Cambourne via the new Bourn Airfield development, a new travel hub at Scotland Farm, Hardwick and West Cambridge campus.

James Littlewood - Chief Executive Cambridge Past, Present & Future. (62950542)
James Littlewood - Chief Executive Cambridge Past, Present & Future. (62950542)

The scheme has been subject to three public consultations and an independent audit of the proposed off-road public transport route. The GCP has made a commitment to deliver a minimum of 10 per cent biodiversity net gain for the scheme, with the objective of achieving 20 per cent gain.

Mark Abbot, the chair of Coton Parish Council, said: “Coton fully supports improving bus services from Cambourne to Cambridge, but the project as proposed will be a waste of £200m. It will not make journey times to Cambridge significantly faster – a difference of only 1.5 to 3.5 minutes between going across the countryside and using a bus lane next to the road.

“It will not provide easy journeys to actual destinations apart from the West Cambridge campus. The plans take no account of the change in road usage and working/commuting patterns post-Covid, which has reduced congestion. No wonder the business case is negative: only 43p of value for every £1 spent. No part of the government – central or local – should approve a project that is of such poor value.”

The GCP says parts of the current Cambourne to Cambridge road network, in particular the A1303/Madingley Road, suffer heavy traffic congestion at peak times.

It adds that without action, by 2031 car trips into the city are set to increase by up to 70 per cent, with already lengthy journey times expected to double.

The GCP has said that traffic monitoring shows that “while the Covid-19 pandemic has influenced travel patterns, traffic and congestion is returning to pre-pandemic levels” and “the planned development to the west of Cambridge will only exacerbate this in the coming years”.

The proposed busway will pass through current and planned urban development, first through Upper Cambourne and then into Bourn Airfield, over the first 2.3km. The next 1.6km runs alongside the A428 through grassland and woodland before reaching the proposed Scotland Farm travel hub.

The scheme continues eastwards along St Neots Road on the north edge of the village of Hardwick using the existing road alignment over 1.8km before crossing farmland through to the Coton green corridor, which is made up of woodland, meadows, an ancient orchard, hedges and fields. The route also includes a new bridge over the M11 before heading into Cambridge, passing along Charles Babbage Road, before joining the existing public highway on Grange Road.

Campaigners say the route will irreversibly damage the landscape, views and habitats on one of Cambridge’s few hills.

Anna Gazeley, of Coton Orchard, explained: “The fruit trees at Coton Orchard were first planted in 1922 for the production of apples for the wholesale trade in Covent Garden and latterly for the production of apple juice and cider. One hundred years on and it is one of the last few traditional orchards left in the UK and the largest in the county. No longer economically viable as a fruit farm, development of a garden centre on the fringe has afforded the present owners the ability to preserve the original orchard, leaving it relatively untouched and a haven for wildlife.

“The option in front of the council would bisect the orchard with a new road, destroying at least a third of the trees and replacing it with tarmac, leaving it unmanageable as an orchard. The disruption and noise from construction and any buses that would run along it in the future will drive out the remaining wildlife presently calling Coton Orchard home. In the midst of a biodiversity emergency, it is clear that we need to protect our habitats now more than ever. An off-road routing through the orchard, especially when a less costly (both environmentally and economically) option exists, is beyond foolhardy.”

Coton Orchard (62978754)
Coton Orchard (62978754)

The Friends of the River Cam, a voluntary organisation set up to restore the health of the river, believe the busways are an unnecessary and intrusive device that will largely benefit landowners and developers – not bus users or existing local residents.

A statement from the group said: “The proposed C2C busway will carve through an ancient orchard and destroy its biodiversity. This is despite the UK government having signed an international biodiversity treaty which is committed to addressing biodiversity loss and restore ecosystems, and Cambridge City Council’s pledge ‘to provide leadership and to ensure that we work with partners and our communities to reverse the decline in biodiversity and deliver measurable biodiversity net gain within Cambridge and the wider region’.

“Current imported food shortages, exacerbated by global heating, demonstrate that we can ill afford to lose agricultural land.”

The group argues the busway – which is one of four proposed by the GCP – goes against the government’s levelling up agenda.

“Industry and business are being encouraged to move from poorer areas into the overheated Cambridge region – within the hottest and most drought-prone region in the country,” they said, adding: “Friends of the Cam is particularly concerned that the development of these fixed busways will further erode the quality and quantity of the Rivers Cam, Ouse and tributaries.

“We urge the county council not to support the fixed busways, but to use its experience to insist on the implementation of less environmentally damaging and more passenger-friendly alternatives.”

At its most recent consultation, the GCP revealed it had amended its plans to route buses on an existing section of St Neots Road in Hardwick between Cambridge Road and Long Road.

The previously approved route would have led to eight lanes of uninterrupted traffic outside homes on St Neots Road where the busway would run alongside the A428.

However, the GCP will need to install a bus gate on this stretch of road that would only allow public transport and local traffic and those visiting businesses to pass through.

Alan Everitt, who has served on Hardwick Parish Council, added: “Hardwick campaigned successfully for the GCP to abandon plans to build an off-road busway through the village and to install a bus gate on St Neots Road. Instead, the GCP has agreed that buses can run on the road through the village.

“This has avoided considerable environmental destruction and disruption to Hardwick village and I cannot see why the same approach can’t be taken for the section from Hardwick to Coton. This would also avoid the desecration of the fields east of Hardwick.”

The C2C scheme is a priority project for the GCP and is one of four travel corridors being developed as part of the delivery of the City Deal, which was signed in 2014 with the intention to “see a step change in transport infrastructure, create jobs and boost the local economy”.

Sharon Cairns, of Coton Loves Pollinators, said: “We are horrified by the proposal to run a 20-metre width of tarmac across the historic Coton Orchard. This traditional orchard is a designated Priority Habitat, the largest of its kind in Cambridgeshire and of recognised national significance. It is a simple fact that no mitigation scheme can compensate for the loss of this habitat, which includes an ancient hedgerow foraged by protected rare bat species.

“Moreover, it makes no sense for our local politicians to back wildlife recovery projects on one hand, whilst at the same time also backing projects which destroy irreplaceable habitat, especially when there is a viable alternative.”

Chris Pratten, of Save the West Fields, added: “We are horrified that the GCP is continuing with plans to build an unnecessary road across the West Fields. The proposed route requires a significant ‘flyover’ to be built over the Bin Brook at the eastern edge of the West Fields, despite the High Court having previously agreed that this area of Green Belt is important to the historic setting of Cambridge. There are other less damaging options.”

A GCP spokesperson said: “The Cambourne to Cambridge (C2C) project forms part of an integrated sustainable transport network being developed by the GCP. The project will provide better public transport services and active travel opportunities for thousands of people in growing communities to the west of the city, helping to cut congestion on the roads, reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality for everyone.

“To build infrastructure of this scale, we need to submit an application to Government via the Highways Authority. If it agrees with the proposals, Cambridgeshire County Council will submit a Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) to the Government on the GCP’s behalf in the summer for approval.”

A decision will be made at the authority’s full council meeting on Tuesday, March 21.

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