Greater Cambridge Partnership promises independent review into £160m Cambourne to Cambridge busway
An “independent” review will be undertaken of the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s proposals for a £160 million busway connecting Cambourne and Cambridge as work starts again on the project following almost a year of delay.
The partnership’s executive board voted on Thursday (December 10) to bring in an independent party to commission and oversee an audit review of the GCP’s work on the scheme to date.
The board also voted to start work on a detailed environment impact assessment for the route which has been put forward as the “preferred” option, but which has not yet been formally approved as such. A decision on selecting a preferred route is now expected after the independent review is completed in the summer of 2021.
The decision to independently reassess the work undertaken to date follows a dispute between the GCP and the mayor and leader of the county’s transport authority, Conservative James Palmer, over which route the busway should take.
The Cambourne to Cambridge scheme, known as C2C, has been in development for around five years. According to a GCP report, the audit review is to be undertaken to “validate the key assumptions and constraints and to determine whether they remain appropriate”.
Cllr Tim Wothespoon, a former chair of the GCP’s joint assembly, was critical of the time taken over recent stages of the scheme’s development.
“City deal funding was devolved so that Greater Cambridge could address its infrastructure priorities at a local level, the fact that we have been seen to be incapable of doing so has to be acknowledged as a failure of governance,” he said.
Last week, the Local Liaison Forum, made up of representatives of the areas along the route, reiterated a resolution that the proposed scheme is “unfit for purpose, anachronistic and environmentally damaging”.
The LLF is calling for development of the scheme to pause until more is known about the its compatibility with plans for a Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro and East West Rail, while supporting the extra bus provision put in place by the Combined Authority in the meantime.
The chair of the LLF, Helen Bradbury, told the GCP board she welcomes the independent audit “with caution,” and warned “the long history of Cambourne to Cambridge tells us that previous independent reports have been anything but”.
Only the leaders of the councils that make up the GCP executive board – the city council, South Cambridgeshire District Council and the county council – can officially vote through proposals, but as a non-voting member the mayor indicated his opposition.
Mr Palmer said: “The reality is, however many boxes have been ticked, it cannot be argued that the public have been brought along on this.”
He added: “A lot of people are really, really angry about this route, and I think that’s because they don’t feel they have been consulted with appropriately or listened to.
“I would be very, very concerned if I was trying to push through a public transport solution that had left the public behind so wantonly and I think that’s something you should be very concerned about”.
The board heard that a high quality public transport route is necessary for the development of Bourn Airfield and West Cambridge.
“Just banging through a bit of public transport to support Bourn Airfield and West Cambridge isn’t looking at the long-term solution for the wealth and success of the Cambridge region,” the mayor said, adding: “I think that there is an unseemly haste here that is going to be damaging.”
Mr Palmer had proposed an indicative alternative northern route for the busway, avoiding the West Fields near Coton, but the scheme did not get the support of the Combined Authority’s own transport committee.
A Labour district councillor for Cambourne, Gavin Clayton, supported the GCP’s decision to continue progressing the scheme.
He argued that a lack of sufficient public transport in Cambourne will limit the area’s economy and reduce the life chances of its younger residents.
He read out a quote from the deputy principle of Cambourne Village College, which said: “Inadequate public transport presents a distinct barrier for school leavers making important decisions about where to go and what to do next.”
He also read out a statement on behalf of Cambourne Town Council, which said: “Cambourne residents urgently need a fast, reliable and affordable public transport service to Cambridge.”
The town council statement urged the GCP board to support the proposal to continue work on the scheme.
The city council’s representative on the board, Labour councillor Lewis Herbert, welcomed work restarting on developing the GCP’s scheme.
He said: “We do need to make progress ultimately, it has been several years, it isn’t just about Bourn. There is a need for public transport.”
The GCP’s transport director, Peter Blake, reiterated a point he has made many times throughout the development of the scheme, saying the GCP has followed the process set out by the Department for Transport.
He said there is a “compelling strategic case” for the project.
And he said a number of different options, including on-road options, have been considered, and that the GCP has listened to residents and adapted the proposals in response to their concerns.
The GCP’s chief executive, Rachel Stopard, made a commitment that the independent audit review would be “genuinely independent” and “transparent”.
She said to facilitate that ambition she envisages an independent party will develop agreed terms of reference for the review, defining its scope, and that the independent party would also commission and oversee an independent expert to undertake the work.
The representative for the University of Cambridge, Professor Phil Allmendinger, cautioned that no matter how transparent and independent the audit review is, doubts over the process may remain.
“I do have a slight fear that however open and transparent we make it, it is not going to satisfy some that we have been fully open with the process, and I think we just need to be aware that that might well be the case,” he said.
The GCP said the findings of the independent audit review will be put to the board in July 2021, with a public consultation on the detailed design and environmental mitigation for the scheme to be held in the second half of the year, subject to the findings of the review.
The chair of the board and county council representative, Conservative councillor Roger Hickford, said the environmental impact assessment is “is the chance that we all have to look at the concerns that keep getting talked about”.
He added: “Until we start looking at this and spending money and seeing what mitigation can look like, then we are going to be talking about this for a very long time.”
In a statement issued after the meeting, Cllr Hickford said: “Residents and businesses desperately need reliable and effective transport links between Cambourne and Cambridge, so it is vital that we agree the next steps for this key project.
“It has taken a considerable time to get to this point and so it is important we have a transparent, robust and independent review which scrutinises the project at this key point. More details about this process will be set out in due course but I am keen to see it get to work, and look forward to the report in the summer.”
The Cambourne to Cambridge route currently being considered would see a busway run from the east of Cambourne to the west of Cambridge, with a Park & Ride at Scotland Farm, just north of the A428. It forms part of the GCP’s wider plans on four key transport corridors around the city, one out to Waterbeach new town, another out to the south east from Cambridge Biomedical Campus, and another running out to the east of the city.