Campaigners unconvinced by Cambourne to Cambridge busway findings
An independent report into the £160m Cambourne to Cambridge (C2C) busway proposal has found there is “no reason” for the project not to proceed.
It says the case for delay is “not strong and has been significantly weakened as a result of the increasing uncertainty” over the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM).
The news marks a step forward for the controversial off-road busway scheme by the Greater Cambridge Partnership, which has been in the pipeline for around five years.
But campaigners against the plans say the business case is “flimsy” and until the GCP listen they can “look forward to multiple long and bitter disputes with communities”.
The current proposed route would use existing roads through Cambourne before joining a dedicated section of new road running through the forthcoming Bourn Airfield development.
It would continue on a dedicated route south of the A428 and A1303 before rejoining existing roads in west Cambridge, via the Rifle Range track.
The plans include a new Park & Ride site at Scotland Farm and a dedicated segregated cycling and walking route along its length.
But the Cambourne to Cambridge Local Liaison Forum, which is made up of county, city, district and parish councillors in the areas affected by the scheme, has accused the GCP of “trying to stymie debate and shut down opposition”.
A statement released by the forum said: “The report itself is hardly a ringing endorsement of the scheme. It highlights that the biggest problems are yet to be resolved.
“East West Rail: the new Cambourne to Cambridge train will take the same passengers to the same places – only much quicker. The impact of this on the business case for the bus scheme ‘should be subjected to further analysis’ according to the report.
“Congestion and connectivity: with the new mayor planning to scrap the CAM scheme, what happens when all these buses now reach the city centre, and how do they reach their end destinations? ‘Only weak remedies are proffered’ according to the report.
“Environmental impact: the proposed bus road passes through some of the most sensitive landscape in the region – so special that the American government chose it for their military cemetery after the war, and there are National Trust covenants and a High Court judgment on other parts of it. Yet the report notes that no environmental impact assessment has yet been done. And with a whole road of houses in Hardwick faced with eight lanes of uninterrupted traffic, these proposals are a shameful blight on Cambridgeshire transport policy.
“Alternative schemes: the report recognises that there are potentially valid alternative schemes that place the busway on, or alongside, existing roads, thus avoiding the worst environmental impacts. The Local Liaison Forum has been asking GCP to investigate such options for the past five years. If GCP fail to look at these now, a public inquiry certainly will.
“GCP have a long history of not listening. Unless or until they do so, they can look forward to multiple long and bitter disputes with communities affected by these off-road busways.”
Dr Marilyn Treacy, on behalf of the Coton Busway Action Group, added: “The local community had grave doubts about the independence of the C2C audit from the very outset, given that Mr Swann was chosen, appointed and paid for by the GCP to do the work. It looks like just another example of the GCP marking their own homework.
“The essential fact is that the C2C proposal is fundamentally flawed in that it takes people only to Grange Road, not where they want and need to go, does not meaningfully improve journey times or reliability, and is environmentally destructive. The East West Rail line from Bedford will make this proposed C2C busway even more uneconomic and post pandemic changes in travel patterns will most likely further weaken its flimsy business case. There are far better ways to spend the expected £200m cost.
“Given that compliance with CAM was repeatedly cited by GCP as a key reason for needing an off-road busway, it is unbelievable that the auditor now regards the cancellation of the CAM as a positive reason to support the scheme. Heads we win, tails you lose! With CAM now binned, it is time to look again at a route via Girton or a well-designed alternative on road scheme that would provide everything that a destructive off-road solution could, at a fraction of the cost.
“Although most of these points are touched upon in the audit, we are very surprised thet the auditor is showing the GCP a green light to continue to the next stage. We are confident the flawed GCP processes will be exposed at public inquiry.”
The report, which will be discussed by the GCP’s joint assembly tomorrow (Thursday, June 10), states: “Overall, the audit has confirmed that the key constraints and assumptions on which the C2C business case is based remains valid. There have, however, been some significant changes in the wider context, including the impact of Covid-19, the increasing importance of climate change, the government’s new bus policy, East West Rail and the CAM scheme. These factors will have to be taken into account in the next stages of developing the C2C scheme.”
It adds: “It has been argued that progress with the C2C scheme should be delayed, to consider the CAM and East West Rail projects. This audit has concluded that the case for delay is not strong and has been significantly weakened as a result of the increasing uncertainty about CAM in the light of statements by the incoming mayor.”
The report also found the environmental impact of the scheme is mixed and says the business case assumes benefits to air quality, biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions will outweigh the negatives of building on the green belt and altering the character of the area.
“The validity of these assumptions will need further investigation as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment that has yet to be conducted for the scheme,” it said.
The GCP commissioned the review in December following an extraordinary public row between the GCP and former mayor James Palmer over which route the busway should take. The South Cambs Lib Dems also supported calls for an independent audit of the project.
The audit is the second independent review of the route appraisal process, following the 2018 report by Arup on behalf of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.
The findings of this latest audit, which was led by Phil Swann from Central Intelligence, will be discussed at the GCP’s joint assembly on June 10.
A GCP spokesperson said: “Cambourne to Cambridge (C2C) has been developed over five years and has included three public consultations and extensive scrutiny from the Local Liaison Forum, which was set up by the GCP to give residents an opportunity to help shape the ongoing development of the project.
“The independent audit acknowledges a robust appraisal process and that ‘has included extensive consultations with stakeholders and affected parties. The preferred option has taken these views into account and proposed mitigation measures where negative impacts are identified.’ A planned briefing will be given to the LLF chair and vice chair by Phil Swann, who led the audit.
“Integration has been a key feature of the GCP’s major transport scheme from the outset. The audit notes C2C complements East-West Rail and flags the new opportunities to reflect the Mayor’s priorities and the Government’s Bus Back Better strategy.
“The project has been subject to significant delay and the latest independent review recognises that housing developments in Cambourne West and Bourn Airfield require the C2C project to provide reliable public transport services, otherwise that planned growth will be put at risk.
“The conclusion of the audit is that the GCP’s Executive Board can now decide to proceed to the next stage in the development of the C2C scheme.”