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Elections 2022: Cambourne to Cambridge busway debate could be key factor





Opposition to busway plans are so strong in parts of South Cambridgeshire that the issue could become a deciding factor in the district council elections, campaigners claimed this week.

Campaigners have been monitoring traffic levels on Madingley Hill. Picture: Keith Heppell
Campaigners have been monitoring traffic levels on Madingley Hill. Picture: Keith Heppell

The intention to press ahead with the £160million Cambourne to Cambridge (C2C) busway have been declared a line in the sand for some voters, with a Coton Busway Action Group branding it a “reckless” waste of taxpayers’ money due to a fall in congestion amid the pandemic.

The Coton Busway Action Group (CBAG) says the case for the Greater Cambridge Partnership busway “is simply no longer there” and they warn that voters from villages along the route will look for candidates who are against the scheme.

They also argue that Liberal Democrats, who won control of South Cambridgeshire District Council at the last election from the Tories, have changed their tune, having previously opposed an off-road route.

But Liberal Democrat council leader Cllr Bridget Smith told the Cambridge Independent that it is clear that bold action must be taken to help the many people still getting trapped in congestion.

Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Liberal Democrat Bridget Smith. Picture: Keith Heppell
Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Liberal Democrat Bridget Smith. Picture: Keith Heppell

Ahead of the May 5 elections, Cllr Heather Williams, leader of the Conservative opposition on the district council, has stated she is against the C2C busway, saying the current route through the West Fields is far too close to Coton. She also does not support the current route for the Cambridge South East Transport (CSET) busway, which would provide a new public transport route from the A11 via Sawston, Stapleford and Shelford to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

The Green Party in South Cambridgeshire has said it is pro “good transport alternatives like busways – but only if they did not destroy important natural habitats, had affordable fares and actually allowed people to get where they wanted to go, when they wanted to go”.

And South Cambridgeshire’s Labour group has told the Cambridge Independent: “Busways are one transport option. There must be consultations and environmental assessments of any proposed scheme. Community voice is important.”

Alistair Burford, of CBAG, said: “Anyone who was against the busway would get my vote. But you have to bear in mind that Bridget Smith actually came on marches with us against this busway. Coton as a whole voted for her, as did 20-odd villages who will be affected by the busway, including Bourn, Hardwick, and Barton because Bridget Smith was so active in protesting against it.

“But now she has changed her mind. The majority of the village is against the busway. I think this will be a major issue for the election.”

South Cambridgeshire District Council opposition leader, Conservative Heather Williams. Picture: Keith Heppell
South Cambridgeshire District Council opposition leader, Conservative Heather Williams. Picture: Keith Heppell

The group has been monitoring traffic along the route during the morning rush-hour since Covid restrictions were dropped.

They have found no “notable congestion”, with traffic falling far short of the pre-pandemic level and now want councillors to acknowledge that traffic levels have changed.

However, Cllr Smith responded: “Huge amounts of money has been wasted by local Conservatives on projects that never stood any chance of being delivered from CAM (metro) to the M11 extension. Traffic is still expected to increase by 30 per cent in the next 10 years if we do not change the way we travel.

“For a very large proportion of the population, such as students and teachers, hospital workers, and indeed patients, carers, retail, service and manufacturing industry workers the option of working from home just does not exist. These people are already suffering from the consequences of increasing traffic congestion on their mental and physical wellbeing and on their cost of living burden.

“It has become increasingly obvious that the only solution to giving people attractive and affordable alternatives to their private cars is to provide a step change in the speed, reliability and quality of public transport. Marginal improvements will fail to deliver the scale of the shift required.

“Since taking over the administration of South Cambs in 2018, the Liberal Democrats have worked hard to make sure that investment in public transport is acceptable to all of our residents. The actions of the former Conservative mayor [of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough] James Palmer and the former Conservative administration at the county council meant that it was impossible to find solutions that all could agree on.

An artists’ impression of the Cambourne to Cambridge busway Picture: Greater Cambridge Partnership
An artists’ impression of the Cambourne to Cambridge busway Picture: Greater Cambridge Partnership

“Palmer’s unrealistic idea for a metro with tunnels through Cambridge was a huge distraction. Unfortunately, we still do not have clarity about the alternatives that the new mayor [Labour’s Dr Nik Johnson] will support. Given the urgent need to bring forward public transport improvements that our residents need, we are forced to look at the options that are actually viable and deliverable, however imperfect they might be.

“In 2018, we committed to ensuring that all alternatives were fully examined. Despite the political game playing from Palmer and the Conservatives, that has now happened with the independent audit. As a result, on-road measures are being put in place. Also, more work is being done to study the environmental impact of the scheme, which has always been one of our major concerns. We will continue to ensure that residents from all communities are fully involved in the project and that significant environmental improvements are put in place alongside any schemes agreed.

“Public transport in the area is not fit for purpose and nobody willingly takes the bus unless they have to. We believe those who are unable to afford a car or are unable to drive shouldn’t be disadvantaged. We believe public transport should be so good it’s a first choice for people, not the last.”

Last year, the GCP agreed to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the Cambourne to Cambridge busway after the findings of an independent audit concluded the scheme could proceed.

The audit – commissioned by the board to test the robustness of the assumptions and constraints of the project – was the second independent review of the route appraisal process, following the 2018 report by Arup on behalf of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA).

South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne has previously called for the scheme to be paused. Picture: Keith Heppell
South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne has previously called for the scheme to be paused. Picture: Keith Heppell

South Cambridgeshire Tory MP Anthony Browne had called for a “pause” on the scheme to “reassess the suitability” of the busway as it had been due to form a part of the plans for the £2billion Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro, which the county’s new mayor Dr Nik Johnson has since scrapped.

The GCP – on which the ruling parties of the district and city council sit – has also faced multiple opponents to the project, with concern over the environmental impacts of the route and its impact on the American Military Cemetery in Madingley Road.

GCP transport director Peter Blake said they had looked at alternative routes and considered the impact on its surroundings before settling on their preferred route.

But CBAG said its survey found no tailbacks anywhere between Madingley Mulch and the M11 and all traffic, including buses, has been moving freely even during the peak morning rush hour.

Dr Marilyn Treacy, chair of CBAG, said: “These findings demonstrate that the GCP has not taken account of new post-Covid work patterns.

“Traffic on this road is much lighter than hitherto, the claimed congestion no longer exists and the case for an off-road busway is simply no longer there.

“The GCP has to realise that we have permanently changed work/travel patterns. Basing infrastructure projects on pre-Covid traffic flows is simply reckless.

“The GCP seems intent on spending north of £150million of taxpayers’ money on what will be a very large white elephant as well as an environmentally destructive scheme which will forever destroy the landscape on Madingley Hill adjacent to Coton and the American Cemetery.

“Although not currently required, the GCP should, in anticipation of further traffic growth from the developments at Cambourne and Bourn, revisit the inbound on-road bus lane, the cost of which would be low and which would minimise environmental damage.”

The busway was set be part of the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro, which was the brainchild of former Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor James Palmer
The busway was set be part of the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro, which was the brainchild of former Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor James Palmer

Last year, the charity Cambridge Past, Present & Future put forward an alternative on-road solution for transport route. It says its scheme could also be delivered more quickly with far less damage to the environment and local communities.

A statement from the GCP said: “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.”

Meanwhile Howard Kettel, of Stapleford Parish Council, speaking for the Better Ways Than Busway group, said: “There is one key issue in South Cambs which should differentiate the candidates in the forthcoming council elections and that is transport planning and the numerous disconnected proposals that are being imposed on local communities.

“CSET is such an issue and our campaign group, Better Ways Than Busway, has been trying to establish the views of local candidates on Greater Cambridge Partnership’s plan to build 14-metre wide tarmac roads – busways – through Green Belt and special countryside.

“The GCP flagship projects comprise four expensive, environmentally damaging busways. Do any of the candidates really believe these solve today’s transport and housing problems, when they are still years from completion?”



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