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Mayor James Palmer lambasts Greater Cambridge Partnership for proceeding with ‘outdated’ Cambourne to Cambridge busway

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The mayor of the Combined Authority has launched another scathing attack on the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) as he reiterated his opposition to its plans for a new busway.

James Palmer hit out at the GCP for deciding to proceed with its Cambourne to Cambridge scheme “against his advice” - and claimed its latest plans showed it had listened to the concerns of Cambridge residents but “ignored” anyone outside the city.

Mayor James Palmer at home in Soham. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mayor James Palmer at home in Soham. Picture: Keith Heppell

He indicated that the GCP’s decision to move forward with the plans “risks significant delays and wasted public expenditure in contentious legal proceedings”.

“The GCP would rather disregard my views, and risk the scheme coming to a halt during the planning proceedings. This is not good enough,” he said.

But the GCP countered by suggesting the mayor had failed to give evidence on “any issues” with the scheme.

The GCP has received the latest tranche of government ‘City Deal’ funding, worth £400million, to spend on infrastructure, housing and skills.

But the mayor says it is required to co-operate closely with the Combined Authority, which is the transport authority for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and sets the local transport policy for the area.

On Tuesday, the GCP unveiled updated plans for the electric vehicle busway, ditching a controversial route that would have brought it back on to the road network at Adams Road, a popular cycling route, in favour of switching to using land known as the Rifle Range.

Cyclists who campaigned against the busway using Adams Road welcomed that element of the scheme, but there remains opposition to the busway from villagers in Hardwick and Coton.

The proposed route for the Cambourne to Cambridge busway to join Grange Road. Image: GCP (35328026)
The proposed route for the Cambourne to Cambridge busway to join Grange Road. Image: GCP (35328026)

The £160.5million busway would run off-road through fields near Coton, which the GCP says will ensure swift, reliable public transport access for those travelling along the growing A428 corridor, including Cambourne and the new Bourn Airfield development.

But the mayor has said he is concerned the scheme will not fit in with his broader vision for a Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro - and was irritated that he was not consulted about the latest plans.

“In February I called for a rethink of the C2C scheme and based on the correspondence I received from residents all along the route I was right to do so,” he said.

“I was concerned about the impact of the project as a whole and especially on the villages of Hardwick and Coton, the location of the route through Cambourne and the levels of traffic on Adams Road, but more importantly I felt that this scheme did not fit with our evolving vision of the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro.

“It would not provide the rapid transport solution we need; it would not help congestion levels in and around Cambridge and it would not bring about any significant economic growth.

“In these amended plans, it would appear GCP have listened to the concerns of Cambridge residents, but anyone outside the city has been ignored, including me.

“I believe that, as the directly elected leader of the transport authority, I should have some input into schemes that are purportedly a part of our Local Transport Plan.”

There have been protests about the Cambridge to Cambourne busway plans from some residents.
There have been protests about the Cambridge to Cambourne busway plans from some residents.

The Conservative mayor added: “As we have developed our plans for the CAM, our vision of what is possible has grown immeasurably.

“We are currently drawing up a Local Transport Plan sub-strategy that will begin to set out the 21st century transport solution we aspire to, and I wanted to work with GCP to ensure the work they are doing between Cambridge and Cambourne fits in with it. But they have decided to plough ahead regardless with a busway plan that is 20 years out of date.

“My concerns have not been allayed and GCP have rejected my attempts at providing a solution. They claim to support the CAM project and the aim of spreading the prosperity of Cambridge across the county, but all I see in this C2C scheme is more of the same outdated, short-term thinking that has limited our expectations for years. Not a route between St Neots and Cambridge as a part of a wider CAM network, but a standalone busway that serves only their limited Local Plan, with no consideration of the needs the rest of the county, the impact of East West Rail or the additional future growth called for by government and set out in the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Independent Economic Review.

“Last February I said the Combined Authority would provide the necessary leadership and take responsibility for future transport projects in this area.

“We are bringing forward new bus routes between Cambourne and the major employment sites around Cambridge, and we are setting out our policy for a 21st century CAM that will bring clean, rapid transport and sustainable growth to the whole county. I hope the GCP will work with us and get on board with these plans, otherwise they might get left behind.”

A GCP spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent: “The GCP board has repeatedly asked the mayor since February to set out any issues he has with the scheme, which was agreed in the Combined Authority’s Local Transport Plan in January – but have not received any evidence.

“Our schemes clearly align with the Combined Authority’s proposals for the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro. We will continue our ongoing dialogue with the Combined Authority and with East West Rail to ensure our schemes align closely with proposals as they come forward.

“But we must now make progress to deliver on our agreed agenda with government and provide much-needed sustainable transport links for growing communities outside Cambridge with the city. It is now reasonable for the GCP to put forward final proposals so the executive board can take a decision on June 25. Not to do so would risk delivery timelines as well as undermine a shared determination to support the economy to get back on its feet following Covid-19.”

The GCP’s revised plans will go before the joint assembly on June 4 ahead of the executive board meeting on June 25.

What are the GCP’s plans?

The GCP says the Cambourne and Cambridge route will run between the town and the city, with a Park & Ride planned equidistant between the two.

The proposed off-road route starts in Bourn Airfield, runs roughly parallel to St Neots Road A428, and then at the Madingley Mulch roundabout runs parallel to the A1303, but further south, passing north of Coton, 40 to 50 metres from the closest houses in the village, before cutting through Coton Orchard and crossing the M11 on a new bridge passing into the west Cambridge campus.

The entrance to the road network in the city comes via a small access road immediately north of the Cambridge University Rugby Union Football Club pitches on Grange Road.

The proposed Scotland Farm Park & Ride will be just north of St Neots Road, north of Hardwick, and is estimated to hold 2,000 cars.

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