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Huge growth potential – but can Cambridge cope?

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The public is about to be asked for its views on developments that will radically alter the Greater Cambridge region over the next 20 years.

Cambridge, United Kingdom - November 22, 2016: Street scene view in the city centre market of Cambridge England with food stalls and traditional architecture. (52050929)
Cambridge, United Kingdom - November 22, 2016: Street scene view in the city centre market of Cambridge England with food stalls and traditional architecture. (52050929)

A potential city congestion charge and a major upgrade to public transport that will bring in 10-minute bus services, along with proposals for nearly 49,000 homes, will be subject to consultations this autumn.

But there are warnings the transport changes will not come soon enough to prevent gridlock – and fears that amid spiralling growth the city will become “super-sized”, expanding “beyond recognition” and placing further pressure on “schools, GP surgeries, hospitals, water and electricity supplies, sewage and waste disposal services”.

David Rogers, professor of ecology at the University of Oxford, discussed the impact of growth on resources, transport, the green belt and nature at an event in the city yesterday (Thursday, October 7) called Supersize Cambridge.

He told the Cambridge Independent: “Cambridge city will expand beyond recognisable limits; you’ll destroy the reason why people like to live in Cambridge. I’m a biologist by training and it is a terrible feature that all species ultimately make the habitat worse for themselves in time and in many cases they make it so bad they go extinct.

“There’s no question we are going to destroy Cambridge. My worry is that your children, your grandchildren, will at some stage look you in the eye and say: ‘Look, you knew it was happening in 2021, you could see it was going to happen. What did you do about it?’ Many people will say nothing. This is the tragedy.”

His comments came as a consultation on the first proposals for the Local Plan blueprint were confirmed.

The plan will guide development for the next two decades in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire and direct where nearly 49,000 homes will be built. Most of these are earmarked for sites previously identified, but 19 new locations are also suggested.

Council planners say this number of homes will meet the demand from major jobs growth in the region, reduce commuting distances and make housing more affordable.

But the expected growth underscores the need to make progress on the Cambridge region’s creaking transport system.

Greater Cambridge Partnership future bus network map with rural connections Picture: Greater Cambridge Partnership (52050687)
Greater Cambridge Partnership future bus network map with rural connections Picture: Greater Cambridge Partnership (52050687)

At a Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) executive board meeting last week, members reiterated the need for bold action on transport and agreed a consultation on changes to bus services and road charging.

But public transport improvements are not expected until 2023, with a date for a road space management scheme to fund them and reduce congestion not yet specified.

Busways for Cambourne to Cambridge and the Cambridge South East corridor are due to be completed in 2024, with active travel routes including the 12 Greater Cambridge Greenways from 2022 to 2025 and the full Chisholm Trail coming next year.

The GCP has acknowledged that “many more buses will be needed and cannot get stuck in congestion” and so “prioritising road space for sustainable transport is essential”.

Martin Lucas-Smith, speaking on behalf of cycling charity Camcycle, welcomed the move, saying: “Camcycle believes that action on safe streets cannot wait for a flexible charge to be in place.

“Measures that will help as many people as possible switch from driving to active travel must be prioritised now to support the overall goals of the City Access Scheme and the proposed bus improvements.”

Cllr Tim Bick, chair of the GCP joint assembly, told the executive board: “The bottom line as we slowly exit the Covid period and as our population continues to grow, there must be fewer car journeys, a big shift in travel towards a much-improved public transport system, of active transport, tightly linked to a sustainable way of paying for this.”

He said: “The call from the assembly is to take this forward as a matter of urgency.”

Austen Adams, business representative on the executive board, said: “I’m a great believer in not letting perfection get in the way of progress.”

He continued: “To really make progress we need speed and we need compromise. It’s clearly a complex problem that we’re trying to solve and there are many, many dimensions to it and at the end of the day, there’s no perfect solution.”

He urged: “Let’s not let the continuous debate and twists and turns and iterations of reviewing and arguing get in the way of making progress, we will not get everything perfectly right.”

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, the leader of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, said he is “wedded to the ideas in the City Access programme”.

“It’s very clear we have a growth challenge in the Greater Cambridge area, alongside the big challenge with the climate emergency – we need people to take public transport, and walk and cycle, to end the dependency on the private car,” he said.

The public will soon have its say on those plans.

Read more:

Plans for Cambridge congestion charge to fund public transport improvements move forward

Greater Cambridge Partnership board to decide on city transport plans and road charging

‘Greater Cambridge Partnership strategy is a staggering waste of money on half-baked ideas’

Would £1 bus fares or free travel for young people ease the Greater Cambridge transport challenge?

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