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Cambridgehire Autonomous Metro could be delayed by years, warns Cambridge City Council leader



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Completion of the Cambridgeshire metro could be delayed by years and a clarification on the time scales is now required, according to the leader of Cambridge City Council.

Labour councillor Lewis Herbert believes a recent proposed shift in focus for the kind of service and technology envisioned could change the timeline, saying: “I expect it would add a couple of years to the previous 2029 deadline”.

What a metro entrance tunnel might look like. Picture: Natalie Harmer
What a metro entrance tunnel might look like. Picture: Natalie Harmer

He pointed out that 2029 is also later than originally envisioned completion dates from around three years ago and warned: “Cambridge badly needs a major uplift in public transport in the 2020s not just in the 2030s”.

He wants to see “an accurate timescale both for the business planning under way now and a clear future target date for the opening of metro, particularly the central tunnelled section”.

But Cllr Herbert did also emphasise he supports the project, along with other leaders in the county, and spoke positively about the approach in terms of the service and technology the authority appears to now be focused on.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority ’s stated delivery timeline for the project is 2023 to 2029.

Combined Authority mayor James Palmer, left, and Cambridge City Council leader Cllr Lewis Herbert
Combined Authority mayor James Palmer, left, and Cambridge City Council leader Cllr Lewis Herbert

A special purpose vehicle - a separate company - has been appointed to oversee its development.

A report from the Combined Authority’s technical advisory committee in May said the cost of the project could be more than halved, from over £4billion to less than £2billion , by using smaller vehicles, meaning smaller tunnels and smaller stations.

The mayor and head of the Combined Authority, Conservative James Palmer, heralded the work as a “game-changer,” although other councillors have noted it is similar to a concept that was being looked at with the Greater Cambridge Partnership a few years ago.

At the end of July, Mr Palmer said: “The delivery of the metro is 2023 to 2029. I think the most important thing is the 2029 and that we don’t go beyond that.”

An artist’s impression of a potential metro vehicle
An artist’s impression of a potential metro vehicle

But Cllr Herbert points to previous statements made by the Combined Authority which suggests the timeframe had already “slipped”.

In 2018, the mayor said he wanted the delivery of the first phases of the metro by 2023, with full completion by 2028.

A report commissioned for the Greater Cambridge Partnership and Combined Authority from January 2018 suggested the tunnelled section could be completed by 2027.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership – which is planning routes that would be convertible into the metro system – said earlier this year that a Cambourne to Cambridge busway and active travel route is now “unlikely to be achieved” by 2024, following the Combined Authority ’s suggestion of using an alternative route.

An outline business case for the metro was expected this summer, but that was delayed to take into account the new work from the technical advisory committee.

Cllr Herbert said: “It is increasingly clear that the recent switch by the Combined Authority (CA) back to small vehicle technology and small tunnels for the CAM metro, close to Affordable Very Rapid Transit (AVRT) first proposed by the Greater Cambridge Partnership in 2017 and 2018, will add extra years to the previous CA target date for completing the metro that all Cambridgeshire local authority leaders want to see succeed.

“On the plus side, this lower cost solution - particularly for the tunnelled section under Cambridge - makes the essential need for an early and sound funding strategy potentially much more affordable and deliverable, at fares that will be fair.

How the underground metro could change the look of the city
How the underground metro could change the look of the city

“Obtaining funding and producing an outline business case as soon as practical for the revised AVRT-type system is now the next step, so that it is best in class for smaller UK city public transport proposals, and ticks all the boxes that government and funders rightly require so they will be persuaded to fund this ambitious and pioneering transport project.

“Along with other council leaders, I want to see an accurate timescale both for the business planning under way now and a clear future target date for the opening of CAM Metro, particularly the central tunnelled section.

“All leaders recognise the need for early progress on crucial elements, and it is good to see a developing consensus of leaders that the routes under way by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) should proceed to completion well ahead of the tunnelling, with a default of delivery not delay, and priority given to resolving the detailed routing of the Cambridge Cambourne section between the GCP and CA too.”

Metro route map (40404647)
Metro route map (40404647)

The Combined Authority said it was committed to the existing 2023-29 timetable.

A spokesperson said: “The direction coming out of the work of the technology advisory committee is a new, bold and innovative approach; it is by taking a similar stance that the Combined Authority has earned a record of delivery that busts pre-existing timetables, challenges comfortable consensuses and disrupts antiquated processes, making project delivery faster and better.

“As the impact of this exciting new work is rolled out across the project, we will take the same disruptive approach to ensure full delivery as quickly as possible.”

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