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Mayor’s u-turn on Coton busway route

James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Pic - Richard Marsham RMG Photography
James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Pic - Richard Marsham RMG Photography

Having been “dead against” an off-road busway near Coton, the mayor of the Combined Authority now says he was “wrong” and that the Coton route is the “most sensible” solution.

James Palmer, mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, now admits he was wrong to oppose an off-road option for a proposed mass transit route between Cambridge and Cambourne.

It is hoped the route, which will allow an electric, rubber-wheeled vehicle to ferry passengers, will help take cars off the road, cutting congestion and giving people a more reliable way of moving around.

Mr Palmer had previously stated his opposition to off-road routes that “damaged” the west fields or the Coton corridor.

In May, he called for a pause in plans by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) which was looking at potential routes for a new mass transit system (a busway or similar system) to link Cambridge with Cambourne. He worried the project could end up being in conflict with the proposed CAM metro which the combined authority is pushing ahead with.

Yesterday (Monday, November 26), the combined authority’s overview and scrutiny committee heard that Mr Palmer is now backing the scheme, saying the Coton route is the “most sensible” option, and that any route needs to be off-road.

Philip Allen, who represents Harston and Comberton at South Cambridgeshire District Council, asked Mr Palmer why, having told local councillors he was “dead against” the Coton route, he had changed his mind.

Mr Palmer said: “I have to admit, I was probably wrong. I think the Coton route is the most sensible route. CAM will be virtually silent and disruption will be minimal. We did consider a cut and cover option, but the costs of that would be extraordinary.

“I think we also have to be realistic. We have to be prepared that there will be substantial opposition from some quarters. It is a new route, it has to go off road and through villages and across country. I have got to be realistic, but the important thing is to make considerations for local people.

“I have had advice on the most sensible route. I don’t like saying things and then going back on what I have said. People who know me know I like to stay on track, no pun intended. But I have walked through Coton. This will not spoil Coton. It will change Coton.”

Mr Palmer said the main change would be the “extraordinary benefit” of a “world-class” public transport system which would take cars off the roads, and allow people to travel more quickly and cheaply. He said that having sought advice from experts, including engineering group Arup, it would be “remiss” not to take the findings on board.

Mr Palmer also said it is “tremendously important” routes already worked up by the GCP are “metro ready”.

He acknowledged a lot of work had already been put into potential busway routes between Cambridge and Cambourne, but said routes needed to work with the proposed CAM metro, aligning properly with any tunnels into Cambridge city centre, and allowing the rubber-wheeled electric vehicles which would run on the CAM to run on the tracks.

Cllr Allen asked Mr Palmer what had prompted his change of stance on the route.

Cllr Allen said: “I wonder what happened to prompt your Damascene conversion to telling Coton parish councillors in September that you were backing the off-road route through the Coton corridor just a month after telling them in August you were dead against this.”

Cllr Allen said a more northerly route linking in with an improved Girton interchange ought to be given far more consideration.

“The distinctly minimalist report by Arup published in last month’s board papers effectively dismissed this option without much evidence as to why,” said Cllr Allen. “In order to have a proper comparison, can this northern route now be properly worked up as a comparator?”

Markus Gehring, who sits on the committee, represents Newnham at Cambridge City Council. He said there are not yet any guarantees the proposed Cambridge metro, with its network of underground tunnels, is definitely going to happen.

Even if it does, Cllr Gehring said, it might not open for a very long time. He said there needed to be a quick interim solution which does not rely on the need for tunnels to access the city centre.

He said if the mass transit route was delivered, but there were no tunnels to access the city centre, buses would still get bogged down in city congestion, and relatively little time would be saved for many commuters.

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