Anthony Browne MP to raise future of GCP with government after ‘baffling’ vote on Cambridge South East Transport busway
South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne is to raise questions over the future of the Greater Cambridge Partnership with the government after its board decided to push ahead with a controversial busway project.
The Conservative politician accused its executive board members of a “baffling display of doublethink” and ignoring views from local residents after they voted unanimously to proceed with plans for the £132m Cambridge South East Transport (CSET) scheme.
Mr Browne claimed there is a “democratic deficit” in the GCP and said he would discuss its role with the Treasury and Department of Transport.
“I am extremely disappointed the Greater Cambridge Partnership board has ignored the will of residents, their representatives, and expert groups to push ahead with this damaging project,” he said.
“They have picked the most environmentally damaging and most expensive proposal, which will be the hardest to deliver in time and on budget. In a baffling display of doublethink, the board touted their environmental ambitions before voting to concrete over one of South Cambridgeshire’s greatest natural assets. This busway is opposed by every single one of the communities it would serve, as well as by the main environment groups and campaigners for better public transport.”
A public inquiry is expected on the plans, but if it was to win planning approval, the CSET scheme will create an off-road busway through the green belt, designed to ease congestion by helping villagers reach major centres of employment.
It will run from a site near Granta Park, to the east of Sawston, crossing the River Granta and running east of Stapleford and Great Shelford, before heading parallel to the railway line, close to the Nine Wells Nature Reserve, into the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.
“Such a damaging scheme should be a last resort not a first resort, and the GCP should look at other less damaging transport improvements first,” said Mr Browne.
“Cambridge South station is already being built at the Biomedical Campus, meaning people will be able to come in from Whittlesford Parkway in two stops, and from Shelford in one stop.
“The Department of Transport is already considering new train stations at Sawston and Harston, and there is huge scope to improve bus services, in particular along the A1307.
“South Cambridgeshire needs and deserves a much more ambitious integrated transport network.
“There are alternatives, such as the light rail system proposed by RailFuture and Cambridge Connect, that should be fully explored. The reopening of the railway from Haverhill to Cambridge should be considered.
“They also need to acknowledge that transport is a problem for today and prioritise the 'quick wins' that have support outside of the GCP board, improvements that are deliverable in half the time, at a fraction of the cost.”
The GCP comprises four partners - Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambridgeshire County Council and the University of Cambridge.
Its board features a member from each, along with business representative, and their task is to act as the local delivery body for the City Deal from central government, which gives them the power to invest up to £500million over 15 years on infrastructure, helping to create jobs, homes and apprenticeships.
But the more recently created Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority is the official transport body for the county, while Cambridgeshire County Council acts as the highways authority.
Mr Browne suggested there was a lack of accountability, since no-one is directly elected to the GCP.
“Today’s vote also highlights the democratic deficit in the GCP,” he said. “The decision was passed only with the support of Cambridge City [Council] representatives, unaccountable to the residents of South Cambridge, while directly elected local representatives including every parish council on the route have had their objections ignored.
“Their only route was the district and county council administrations, who have been unwilling to pressure their colleagues now running the GCP board.
“Major infrastructure projects cannot be decided in a vacuum, and South Cambridgeshire deserves better.
“I will be advancing conversations with the Treasury and Department of Transport around the ongoing role of the Greater Cambridge Partnership in an area that already has two other transport authorities, both of whom are more directly accountable to voters.”
But business representative Claire Ruskin, executive director of Cambridge Network, said: “My feeling is very strong. We need a solution to enable the rapid growth that’s already happening at both ends of this route, growth that is essential to the area, and also to the UK. It is quite exceptional.
“We have very strong support from the hospitals, from the Biomedical Campus and the Babraham research centre on behalf of their workers and we shouldn’t forget that in the many many comments that we get against some of the details we are looking at.
“They are completely agnostic on the details of the route, to be fair. They will take any solution that we can come up with up.
“They need something because the A1307 is already congested. It is polluting. And they want people out of their cars.
“These are not the workers who can work from home conveniently as some of us can.”
And in thinly-veiled criticism of Mr Browne - who wrote to the GCP calling for a rethink after meeting with villagers along the route - she told the meeting: “I appreciate politicians want to be popular, but I am really unimpressed by politicians who get photographed with every placard. They write letters to us claiming that everyone is against this scheme, or other schemes. There’s little back-up to these stated facts. It just comes across as anti-business, which I obviously find quite offensive.
“Businesses are basically groups of people - normal people like you and I. I think we really need a solution. We need it sooner rather than later.”