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Decision on Cambridge to Cambourne busway route delayed

Greater Cambridge Partnership Cambourne to Cambridge busway - Route A visualisation
Greater Cambridge Partnership Cambourne to Cambridge busway - Route A visualisation

A major decision on a potential Cambridge to Cambourne busway has suffered a potentially “damaging” delay after an intervention from the mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

What's next?

The next few months will be crucial. The GCP and the combined authority will need to sit down and discuss how their plans can work together.

The discussion on the Cambridge to Cambourne route has been put back until October, giving both sides nearly five months extra to work out how they can proceed.

The GCP will want to hear more about how the mayor plans to deliver new “garden villages” in Cambridgeshire, and how a land value cap will help raise funds for new infrastructure like the proposed city metro. They will also want to hear more about plans to tunnel under the city centre for underground transport.

Later this year, we are due to hear more about how the CAM metro will work, with a more detailed report into its operation coming back before councillors. A more detailed look at this project will give better clarity on how the GCP and combined authority should be working together.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) had been due to discuss key routes for the scheme to link Cambridge with towns and villages, including Cambourne, at its assembly meeting on June 14 and at the executive board on July 4. A “high-quality off-road route” had been among those under consideration to offer reliable public transport to help get cars off the roads and ease congestion.

But the scheme has been hit with delays following a call from James Palmer, mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, to pause the scheme to make sure it did not clash with the combined authority’s aspirations for an underground city metro in Cambridge.

In a letter, Cllr Lewis Herbert, interim chairman of the GCP, tells Mr Palmer the GCP is “with reservations” withdrawing discussions of the route, as well as GCP plans for the A1307 corridor, until further discussions have been had with the mayor.

The letter says the GCP and the combined authority will work together, and that there is wide support across the two groups for the idea of a Cambridge metro, which they say is compatible with the routes under consideration previously as busways.

The letter reads: “We are committed to continuing the work already started between us to bring forward the evidence that shows how our work is compatible with the existing Local Transport Plan, which the CA also adopted in 2017, and also with your evolving new plan.

“We have been considering a CAM [Cambridge Autonomous Metro] type scheme for a long time, and can show how GCP’s current schemes transition to be part of the potential delivery plan for the CAM Metro.”

Aidan Van de Weyer, who is set to take up a position on the GCP’s executive board following massive Lib Dem victories in South Cambridgeshire in May, said the pause would give a chance to give better consideration to the plans, but warned the GCP risked ceding too much power to the combined authority.

Cllr Van de Weyer said: “In relation to the busway, this gives us the opportunity to look at it in more detail and discuss the design with the individuals and communities involved. But it is much much bigger than this.

“I think it is in relation to the transport statement from the mayor where he was asking the GCP to pause the work. There are some fundamental problems with this.”

Cllr Van de Weyer said the delay could be “damaging” for the GCP, and that they should not “give up” influence to the combined authority and the mayor, James Palmer.

“We’ve got to make sure decisions are made at the lowest level possible, rather than give up and give it all over to the mayor,” he said. “It is not clear what he is asking of us.

“Delays can be damaging and it undermines the arguments we have made on solving these problems. But the mayor does have an important role and we need to be working with him. We are not going to stop working with him.”

Cllr Van de Weyer said south Cambridgeshire still needed a high-quality public transport system, whether light rail, bus or something else.

Cllr Herbert said: “The GCP has deferred looking at both the A428 corridor and the A1307 proposals in light of the mayor’s request to have a pause on these.”

Cllr Herbert said he believed the routes the GCP had identified as potential busways aligned broadly with routes the mayor had in mind for metro extensions out from a city underground in Cambridge to outlying towns and villages.

He said the GCP scheme was not dependent on being a busway, and that, while they wanted to keep both options open, the GCP wanted to help the mayor with the metro project.

“We want to assist the mayor with the funding potential for a Cambridge Autonomous Metro,” said Cllr Herbert. “They continue to be potential corridors until we can prove which is workable. We want to keep both options available. We must reach a conclusion with the mayor over which scheme will improve public transport the most.”

James Palmer, mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, said it was important for the GCP and the combined authority to work together, but restated his opposition to busways.

Mr Palmer said: “The fact is, we need to work together, and the reality is the system I believe will work the best is not a busway. I am pleased they have paused the scheme.

“I have much hope we can do something better than the busway. I need to make sure schemes can deliver for the people in the area. My position has been clear for the last year and a half. I don’t think they are the right solution.

“I am not going to pre-empt the discussions we are having over the next few months. I will work with people on the schemes.”

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