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Is this the end of the line for GCP’s off-road Cambourne to Cambridge busway route?




The proposed off-road Cambourne to Cambridge busway route was dealt a further blow after the South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats signalled their opposition and called for new options.

Hostility against the most recent proposal for the £160million off-road transport scheme – which would connect Cambourne and Cambridge via off-road public transport, as well as provide a route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders – has ramped up in recent months.

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

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) put forward a proposal for a “preferred route” in May, and the GCP was due to ask its executive board to decide on the proposed route on June 25.

But the councillors who make up the GCP’s board – one representative each for the Labour-controlled city council, the Liberal Democrat-controlled South Cambridgeshire District Council, and the Conservative-controlled county council – were not given the chance to make that decision because the report was pulled ahead of the meeting.

The GCP took the item off the agenda after repeated calls from the mayor James Palmer, the head of the county’s strategic transport authority, the Combined Authority.

Aside from changing where it entered the road network in Cambridge, the route was similar to an earlier proposal put forward in January and pulled in February,also in response to the mayor’s opposition.

The GCP said in a statement on June 15: “The board now understands that the strategic transport authority has indicated it has an alternative route alignment, and the board feels it must allow a short amount of time for that to be assessed before considering its current plans.”

The South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats have now restated their opposition to one particular part of the plan – a segment of busway proposed to run just north of Coton.

The group’s representative, Aidan Van de Weyer, told the GCP board on June 25 that the Coton off-road route should be “off the table”. He also called for “independent oversight” on the plans going forward.

Cambourne to Cambridge (37477151)
Cambourne to Cambridge (37477151)

At that meeting, Tory county councillor Roger Hickford was appointed as the new chairman of the GCP board, while Cllr Van de Weyer, who had held the role, became vice-chairman.

But Mr Palmer, a Conservative, has questioned the Liberal Democrats’ consistency on the issue.

He responded on Twitter by saying: “The real reason Aidan changed his entrenched position is the Conservatives at the GCP withdrew their support for [Cambourne to Cambridge] and Aidan was left with nowhere to go.

“Make no mistake, Aidan and his Lib Dem chums would have pushed this through.”

One residents’ group accused the Liberal Democrats of a U-turn in the run-up to the expected decision on June 25, citing a lack of opposition since their 2018 campaign.

South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Ian Sollom, responded to the mayor on Twitter by noting his group had opposed the Coton route in 2018 and oppose it now, and told the mayor “you’ve flip-flopped,” pointing to Mr Palmer’s changes between support and opposition over the past few years.

Cllr Van de Weyer - who will take on Mr Palmer at the next mayor election - told the GCP board: “Getting better public transport for the Cambourne to Cambridge route is vital for our area. The growing town of Cambourne is very poorly served. Too many people are forced to fight through congested traffic to get into Cambridge, especially on Madingley Hill.

An illustration of the potential road layout with the busway, in front of residents' homes in Hardwick
An illustration of the potential road layout with the busway, in front of residents' homes in Hardwick

“The GCP has agreed to work with mayor James Palmer to reassess the route options. We must make sure that we get this done right.

“I am proposing a new approach for this assessment. We need broad engagement in the process from the outset, so that we can all have confidence in it. We must come to this openly and honestly, with a fresh look and without a ‘default’ option, so taking the Coton off-road route off the table.

“And we need some independent oversight to make sure that analysis is robust and complete.

“With these things in place, I believe that we will soon be in a position to move forward positively.”

Speaking for the South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats, Cllr Sollom said: “South Cambs Lib Dems have long opposed the off-road route through Coton for the Cambourne to Cambridge project and have been joined this year by mayor James Palmer and Anthony Browne MP.

“Aidan’s statement to the GCP executive board reaffirms our position and offers a way forward through a fresh look at alternatives.

Residents protest over planned Cambridge to Cambourne busway (31556674)
Residents protest over planned Cambridge to Cambourne busway (31556674)

“There has rightly been consternation that a northern route using the existing alignments along the A428 and straddling the gap between the A428 and the M11 where it is shorter has never been properly explored.

“Now is the time to rebuild the trust and broader consensus necessary to deliver a scheme like this.”

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