Major effort to cut car use in Cambridge expected by GCP after mayor casts doubt on building tunnels
Stronger proposals to reduce car use in Cambridge are expected after serious doubt was cast on £2bn Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro scheme.
Members of the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s (GCP) joint assembly called last Thursday (June 10) for more progress to be made on the city access strategy, which seeks to cut car use and encourage people to travel on foot, public transport or by bike.
The exact policies could vary widely, with more details on options now expected in September, but manifestos from Labour and the Liberal Democrats in May outlined support for a clean air zone.
Motorists of polluting vehicles could be charged to enter it, while road space could be reallocated and on and off-street parking reduced under ideas being considered by the GCP.
Councillors and business and academic representatives on the joint assembly discussed the “monumental challenge” of cutting car use in the wake of Dr Nik Johnson’s appointment as mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.
He has indicated that he intends to scrap the £2bn Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro scheme, which would have linked GCP busways to a wider network and put tunnels under Cambridge.
“I think if we assume there weren’t going to be tunnels under Cambridge then I think our interventions are again wholly underwhelming”, said Andy Williams, vice president for Cambridge strategy and operations at AstraZeneca, referring to the current city access measures.
He called for proposals that are a “little more meaty” than what has been seen in the past.
“If city access does not come up as a major agenda item I can’t see where we are going with any of our other projects. I don’t think the interventions we have work without the tunneling, and so I would like to see something really quite substantial to come back to at least discuss in September,” he said.
Heather Richards, a business representative for Verint, said: “I do think that we are getting to the point where it is almost becoming impossible to offer substantial contribution to the other schemes, actually, until we know how it is going to pan out in terms of the connection to city access.
“They are so intrinsically tied that it almost makes one hesitant to put their support forward until they know how it is going to be connected to the bigger picture.”
Labour county councillor Neil Shailer said: “Obviously with the demise, or likely demise of the metro, we have this big black whole in the middle. And so it’s about moving people across Cambridge. You get to Cambridge and obviously you can’t just dump them there.”
Labour city councillor Simon Smith said: “I think the message is we need an overwhelming city access proposition.
“We want it as soon as possible. It’s got complex physics, and it’s got complex psychology.
“On the psychology, we really do have to take a lead in adaptive leadership, which is taking the public with us at such a rate that they don’t resist the change but actually embrace it.
“And that is going to be a monumental challenge to get right, because where people sit at the moment is they believe they have the divine right to drive their cars as and when and where they like, and that’s going to have to change because of the rapid growth in the sub-region just means that the highway capacity is not going to be able to enable people to do that. We have to have attractive, sustainable transport alternatives for them, but the change has to be done carefully.”
The chair, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the city council Tim Bick, said the joint assembly was calling for proposals to be brought forward “as a priority”.
Referencing the GCP’s wider plans, which include proposals for up to four new busways, he told the joint assembly: “We are not going to get the full value for people from most of these projects if we don’t get a convincing city access strategy in place soon. It has been a repeated absence in our overall strategy that that has remained really a vacant empty space on the big issues.”
The GCP’s transport director, Peter Blake, said: “It’s a fluid situation following the tunnels and the mayor, but we are working on the basis it will be a substantive paper that comes in September that considers city access and what realistic proposals we have got going forward.
“If tunnels are no longer going to happen in the foreseeable future, and that appears to be the position from the Combined Authority, ultimately there are some big policy levers that decision-makers need to pull to have an impact in terms of mode shift [and] traffic reductions.”
Addressing concerns raised when discussing the eastern transport corridor that without those plans the GCP will be be “pushing the traffic around” and not reducing it, he said: “That is the challenge, and that’s why a single infrastructure scheme is not going to be the answer across the eastern part or indeed the whole part of the city, because we need to consider the city access proposals. Because if we are not careful we are just going to move it around”.
He said the board will decide on the forward agenda when it meets on July 1.