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'Compelling case' for Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro system

Cambridge has a “compelling case” for pushing ahead with plans for a £4billion metro system to cut congestion in the city.

A detailed report published on Tuesday found the metro would unlock significant growth, offer high value for money, and would provide the transformational change required to the area’s under-pressure transport network.

Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro CAM Metro (8008599)
Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro CAM Metro (8008599)

The study by consultants Steer was commissioned by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

Mayor James Palmer said the project is “one of the most pioneering transport infrastructure projects seen in the UK”.

“What we have is a compelling case for moving forward with this scheme,” he said, welcoming the report. “It will offer world-class public transport that will reduce reliance on the private car. It will help to meet the ambitions we have to create jobs, deliver economic growth and unlock new housing.

“The Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM) will be the scheme around which we can tackle the transport infrastructure challenges which threaten our future economic prosperity.”

The system would run into Cambridge on a segregated route before moving underground to serve two city centre stops, with one at the station.

Outside of the city it would use transport corridors across the Greater Cambridge area, including those to Cambourne, Granta Park, Waterbeach, and Newmarket Road and Trumpington park and rides. It would also serve the wider area, with routes extending to St Neots, Alconbury, Mildenhall and Haverhill, extending in total to about 142km.

It is envisaged that the system would have 24 stops, including the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro CAM Metro (8008593)
Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro CAM Metro (8008593)

The vehicles would not have tracks or overhead lines but instead run on wheels. They would be powered by batteries that are charged at the end of the route.

Using the metro, the report says, it would be possible to cross the city from east to west in 12 minutes while other peak journey times could be halved.

The metro would also be able to meet changing growth and demand, and autonomous technology could ‘platoon’ the vehicles close together, with three 18m-long metros accommodated at the same time on 60m platforms. By platooning two or three metros, it would allow them to run a few feet behind each other using autonomous technology, with a driver at the front of the convoy.

The vehicles would operate at a maximum of 55mph and could accommodate up to 33 million passenger journeys a year by 2051, the document claims.

The strategic outline business case report adds that the project will generate up to £4 in economic benefits for every £1 invested.

The report also found up to 100,000 jobs and 60,000 new homes could be unlocked by the scheme.

Mr Palmer added: “In short, we have a scheme that will deliver on our priorities.

“What is also hugely important is that this study shows we have a scheme that is deliverable and which fundable and that every pound invested in the CAM will repay itself two to four times over.”

Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro CAM Metro (8008596)
Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro CAM Metro (8008596)

Funding for the £4bn scheme would be partially covered by central government and via a package of local measures. These could include land value capture, tax increment financing and the development of garden towns and villages. Measures such as a congestion charge could be implemented later to support the scheme in the longer term.

The Department for Transport recently indicated that proposals for new tram systems would be likely to win support from the government.

Mr Palmer added: “We have to look at all options. I’ve been very public on my views on land value cap and using the uplift in the value of land to help pay for the infrastructure and that’s a clear way that we could do so. It’s innovative and it’s new, but it can work. We know from community land trusts that the model works.

“Tax incremental funding was how the Northern Line extension was funded and this is something that we will negotiate with government to find the best possible way for funding through that route.

“We will also be working with local partners – there will be significant benefits to businesses that are already in Cambridgeshire by creating this world-class infrastructure.

“We’ve got significant plans to do something innovative and radical but also we’re prepared to look at all options to find the funding for this.”

The metro itself is estimated to make enough money to cover its operating costs based on predicted journey numbers for 2031.

The report also identified that partnership working between the Combined Authority and the GCP is key for the delivery of the metro, while also fulfilling the ambitions of both bodies.

Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro CAM Metro (8008590)
Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro CAM Metro (8008590)

Cllr Lewis Herbert, chair of the GCP and leader of Cambridge City Council, said: “We welcome the progress that has been made in the past year to develop plans for the CAM metro, which has been much assisted by effective joint working between the Combined Authority and the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP).

“Delivering the metro will be a massive boost for Greater Cambridge and will see a high quality future public transport network linking existing communities in all directions with new homes and new jobs – one that navigates through and under our much-treasured but medieval city centre.

“The GCP has made enormous strides over the past three years on public transport schemes that will make a real difference to people. We’ve also committed around £400 million on four new routes; south-east, west, north and east that, taken with the existing busway routes north and south of the city, could give a real head start on six main CAM routes out from Cambridge.

“But to get Government’s contribution and support, it is critical that the next stage identifies the funding methods needed to secure close to £4 billion in capital and show the metro will have zero overall operating costs. The metro is a vital project that will boost national economic growth – like major London transport projects we will need Whitehall’s help to give us the powers needed to generate funds ourselves or secure a significant grant for development.

“This Metro, combined with other transport schemes like better rail and the proposed Cambridge South station, will transform public transport, not just in Cambridge but right out across the whole of southern Cambridgeshire into our neighbouring counties.”

It is hoped that work on the metro will start in little over two years, with completion by 2029.

A report to the Combined Authority Board on Wednesday, March 27 will recommend approving £1million in funding to undertake the next step of an outline business case.

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