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Griff Rhys Jones calls for rethink over Cambridge South East Transport busway



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Griff Rhys Jones, the comedian, actor and campaigner, has urged planners to reconsider the need for a Cambridge South East Transport (CSET) busway route running through the South Cambridgeshire landscape.

James Littlewood, of Cambridge PPF, with Griff Rhys Jones at the site of the CSET busway proposals. Picture: Fen Tiger Productions
James Littlewood, of Cambridge PPF, with Griff Rhys Jones at the site of the CSET busway proposals. Picture: Fen Tiger Productions

A Suffolk resident, Griff was in the city to star in a run of An Hour and a Half Late at Cambridge Arts Theatre. He is also an honorary fellow of Emmanuel College, and has been the president of Civic Voice, an organisation promoting civic pride, since 2009.

He took time out to visit the site of the proposed £132million CSET busway, accompanied by James Littlewood, chief executive of Cambridge Past, Present & Future (PPF). It was an opportunity to hear about – and comment on – some of the threats to the green spaces and heritage of the Cambridge area.

The plan was to assess the impact that building a new road would have on the green belt countryside in and around Stapleford.

“I am simply using my waning celebrity to say ‘Pay attention to this’,” he said with a twinkle in his eye during a break in filming for a future broadcast out in the fields where the busway route is planned to run near Stapleford Granary.

Griff Rhys Jones talking to Cambridge Past Present and Future about the CSET busway in field near Stapleford Granary. Picture: Fen Tiger Productions
Griff Rhys Jones talking to Cambridge Past Present and Future about the CSET busway in field near Stapleford Granary. Picture: Fen Tiger Productions

“Nobody is saying we want nothing. We just want to see it done well so in future people can say ‘look, hasn’t it worked out well?’.”

Insisting that he is “not being prescriptive”, Griff continued: “The problem with the current plan is that it was going to be for autonomous vehicles but now it’s basically a road, it’s just a bus lane, and they can put the bus lane next to an existing road with no problems.

“The plan is just an excuse to build an unnecessary new road and there’s already a road which would enable the plan to be developed much faster.

“I’m just saying can we pause and check if this is the right solution given the situation? We don’t have to do this if it’s bound for failure. If people feel it’s going to be a complete failure why go ahead with it?”

CSET is intended to provide a new public transport route from the A11 via Sawston, Stapleford and Shelford to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, with a new path alongside it for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, similar to the one along existing guided busways. A new travel hub would be created near the A11/A1307 junction in addition to the existing Babraham Road Park & Ride.

But it has prompted anger from parish councils in the area. In a recent letter to the GCP, Great Shelford parish councillors called on it to reconsider an alignment along or beside the A1307, arguing it would offer a “simpler, cheaper, lower impact option than the current proposals”.

Griff Rhys-Jones, the president of the national charity Civic Voice, with James Littlewood, chief executive of Cambridge Past, Present & Future, in Coton. Picture: Keith Heppell
Griff Rhys-Jones, the president of the national charity Civic Voice, with James Littlewood, chief executive of Cambridge Past, Present & Future, in Coton. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cambridge PPF is similarly calling for this alternative, pointing out that the currently proposed bus road would run through the Green Belt, which it argues would be “very damaging to the landscape and views” – something that concerns Griff, who has previously expressed similar reservations about the plans for the Cambourne to Cambridge busway slated to head through the West Fields near Coton.

Civic Voice gives Griff an opportunity to discuss planning issues such as the CSET busway in a more holistic fashion.

“Across the UK there is justified pressure for change in our countryside and urban areas,” he said. “We need new houses, employment and infrastructure badly, but it is so important that this is done well. We have to manage this change and make things better.

“Local civic groups, like Cambridge Past, Present & Future, are working hard to monitor and advise as that happens, on behalf of the people who live here –to temper greed and opportunism with sensible planning. They are your voice. I urge you to support them in any way you can.”

He added: “Cambridge, I think, is a city of the future. It has not been dragged into the 20th century with such a rigorous bashing-down with shopping centres which have now become redundant.

“Cambridge can survive and look to a good future in the same way as Bury St Edmunds and others, and towns need that – what these towns need is consistent planning policy.”

CSET transport route video grab
CSET transport route video grab

The Greater Cambridge Partnership, which is responsible for the busway, will put forward its latest plans when it meets in June. A coalition of organisations is pressing them to create a new busway adjacent to the existing A1307 because it would deliver similar transport benefits but at much lower financial and environmental cost than building through open countryside.

James Littlewood, chief executive of Cambridge Past, Present & Future, said: “We are really grateful to Griff for highlighting the work that civic groups do to make their cities as good as they can be.

“We wanted to show Griff the proposed route of the Cambridge South East Busway because we feel it’s an example of a project that will cause more harm than good.

“We have put forward an alternative route, alongside the existing A1307 rather than through the middle of unspoilt countryside. We believe it would deliver similar transport and economic benefits, at much lower cost to the taxpayer and with much less damage to the countryside.

“Having seen for himself, Griff is asking people to make their voice heard and to support our campaign to raise funds, so that we can be heard at a public inquiry.

“People can find out more and support the campaign at cambridgeppf.org/south-east-cambridge-busway.”

Stapleford Parish Council protest against CSET (56100860)
Stapleford Parish Council protest against CSET (56100860)

A GCP spokesperson, speaking recently about the Great Shelford Parish Council letter, said: “Greater Cambridge faces a significant challenge – we need to keep people moving while cutting congestion and air pollution to help support efforts to tackle climate change.

“Thousands of people travel through the A1307 and A10 every day to visit Addenbrooke’s Hospital or to work at expanding employment sites in the south of the city. Without taking action now, congestion and air quality will only get worse with thousands of new jobs and homes due to be created over the next decade.

“The dedicated busway and active travel route created as part of the Cambridge South East Transport scheme – which has been subject to four extensive public consultations – would take hundreds of cars off the road every day by providing better journeys to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, and on to the city centre, from growing communities in the south-east.”

Read more:

‘So much has changed – but CSET busway plans haven’t’



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