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First citizens assembly in Cambridge will help sort out tough issues facing city

Cambridge citizens are ready to help decide on greater Cambridge’s infrastructure plans.

Called by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) and billed as the first of its kind in the area, a group of residents has been asked to make recommendations that will inform the next big phase of infrastructure around the city.

The 60 members have been asked to address the following question: how do we improve congestion, air quality and public transport in Greater Cambridge?

Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer Picture: Keith Heppell

The citizens assembly is being facilitated by the charity Involve and the Sortition Foundation. The stated intention is for the experts, evidence and resulting recommendations to be independent of the GCP.

The membership is intended to provide a demographic representation of the area. The participants were selected from 211 who responded to a request for participants which was sent out to 10,000 randomly selected households in the area.

The GCP says the recommendations provided after the group meets again on October 5 and 6 will inform its next phase of infrastructure plans, ensuring residents have their say.

The main focus of the talks and expert evidence highlighted issues of congestion and the risk of losing out on economic growth, air quality, climate change and the need to move away from car-based transport.

Members heard from a range of academics, planning experts from the Greater Cambridge area, as well as representatives from other prominent groups including the business community and Camcycle, the Cambridge Cycling Campaign.

A number of ideas were floated by the invited speakers, including reducing the city’s parking and introducing a congestion charge to discourage car use and encourage alternatives.

James Littlewood, chief executive of Cambridge Past, Present and Future, said the main obstacle to reducing car use is political. He said there are difficult decisions to be taken and politicians are “hoping you will make it for them”.

Observers – including the press – are barred from reporting on the results of the assembly, or to give any indications of its intentions, until a public report is presented to the GCP later this year.

The press has also been asked, as a condition of attending, not to identify any members of the assembly unless they choose to waive their anonymity.

Chair of the GCP’s executive board, Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer, said: “What a citizens’ assembly does is bring in a representative range of people from across the Cambridge, South Cambridgeshire and the wider travel-to-work area so that we can get people who are not normally involved in the political decision-making really engaged in the issues, asking questions, challenging us, and then coming up with some recommendations that then we will need to respond to.

“We are not specifying exactly what they need to be recommending on.”

He added, in response to questions over the GCP’s input: “The experts are outside experts. They don’t have any stake in the GCP.

“They are experts in their particular fields – sustainability, transport, planning – all sorts of different things – and they have been invited along to bring their expertise independently.

“We are not controlling what they say or how they interact with people at all.”

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