Opposition builds to Greater Cambridge Partnership plan for a £132m busway in green belt
Plans for a £132million Cambridge South East busway are poor value for money and fail to meet the transport needs of local people, a cross-party group of elected representatives and campaigners have said.
The group, which includes city, district and parish councillors, campaigners and an MP, are calling for the Greater Cambridge Partnership to pause the scheme when its executive board meets on Thursday (July 1) to decide on whether or not to seek planning permission.
In a letter to the GCP, they wrote: “We are all agreed that the current proposal should not proceed.”
They say “public trust and confidence in the GCP are seriously low” and urged the board to defer a decision on the scheme until a number of steps are taken.
“The South East Cambridge corridor needs fast and reliable public transport links, but the CSET busway proposal is not the solution.
“We have various objections to the scheme including its unacceptable impact on the Gog Magog Hills and Granta Valley, its poor value for taxpayers’ money and its failure to meet the transport needs of local people,” they wrote.
South Cambridgeshire Conservative MP Anthony Browne, who last month called for the scheme to be paused, said now is the “last major chance” to convince the GCP to change course.
The Cambridge South East Transport (CSET) scheme is a proposed off-road busway devised by the GCP, which has £500m of government funding to invest in vital infrastructure projects.
It is one of four transport corridor schemes the GCP is proposing as part of its strategy to support growth and reduce congestion, improve air quality and encourage active transport.
Subject to approval, the busway is planned to open in 2025.
The letter asks for more information from assessments of the preferred routes and the alternatives that have been ruled out. It calls on the GCP to update and publish the business case to take into account post-Covid changes in commuting and the GCP’s proposed reduction in capacity at the car park from 2,000 to 1,250 spaces.
It also calls on the GCP to provide a full and detailed response to an independent report commissioned by Stapleford and Great Shelford parish councils that explored an alternative route along the former railway line.
The GCP has repeatedly said the alternative route would be more expensive and have fewer benefits. It has since been estimated that this route would cost an estimated £29m more than the preferred route.
The ‘railway route’ would also be in close proximity to a significant numbers of homes due to restricted limited space beside the railway, says the GCP, resulting in the loss of up to four homes and private gardens.
Campaigners and representatives of Babraham Parish Council met with Mr Browne on Thursday, who then visited Sawston and Great Shelford.
Glyn Huskisson, who is leading the village’s campaign against the proposal, said: “It was a perfect day, blue sky, skylarks, golden waving corn and we described to Mr Browne about how the new Park & Ride would be sited just behind the two-acre wood ahead of us, come across the water meadows, which have been known to flood badly, cut across the middle of the field we were stood in and then cross Babraham High Street, probably causing a large amount of congestion, to head across another beautiful field to the outskirts of Sawston.
“Like us he felt the busway was not needed and ill-thought out. Why do the GCP not consider the beauty of our environment? As Oscar Wilde said it appears we have become a society ‘that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing’.”
In the meantime, the letter calls on the GCP to work with others to implement on-road bus priority measures on the A1307 “where these could be less environmentally damaging and a cheaper and more deliverable solution in the short-term”.
Work to improve active travel along the A1307 will start next month.
Mr Browne said: “Clearly there are many many steps in a project like this, and this is one of the most significant steps, and the last major chance for the public to object.
“There will then almost certainly be an inquiry and they can make more detailed objections then but, in terms of the whole project, saying look we need to take a fundamental review of this and go back to the drawing board, this is just about the last chance the public has to ask for that. And what has really struck me is the strong opposition to this among all elected representatives pretty much down the entire route. And it’s quite unusual to see that uniformity of opposition”.
Mr Browne said the environmental impact of the scheme is a “major concern” for him.
He said he is not opposed to busways in principle, but said the route and transport strategy are key factors, and he does not support “the current proposal”.
He said a busway through the green belt area “must be an absolute last resort”.
Mr Browne said the pandemic, the change in leadership at the Combined Authority – which is the county’s transport authority – and the lack of a “proper integrated transport plan” for the area, are all reasons to “press the pause button”.
He described the overlapping governance arrangements for transport strategy in the area as “dysfunctional”.
Residents who oppose the busway have claimed it will “desecrate” the green belt and open up more land for development.
A GCP spokesperson said: “We have received a letter from Anthony Browne MP about the Cambridge South East Transport scheme. Members of the executive board will consider the next steps for the project at their meeting tomorrow.”
The Transport and Works Order will be determined by the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, and the process will likely include a public inquiry directed by an independent inspector.
Residents and campaigners would have the chance to present their objections in detail at the public inquiry.
Should the board agree, the GCP is expected to submit the application later this year, with an estimated 18-month determination period. Were it to be granted approval, the plans would then return to the board again for a final decision.
If the plans progress, the GCP says the busway would be due to open in 2025.
One signatory to the opposition letter, chair of the Smarter Cambridge Transport campaign group, Edward Leigh, currently has a petition going calling for GCP’s strategy of new busways and park and rides to be scrapped, which has received more than 1,840 signatures.
Signatories include independent city councillor Sam Davies; Liberal Democrat South Cambs district councillor for Shelford, Peter Fane; the chairs of Sawston, Stapleford, Babraham, and Greater Shelford parish councils; the chair of Cambridge Connect, Colin Harris; the chair of the Campaign to Protect Rural England Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Alan James; chair of the Smarter Cambridge Transport campaign group, Edward Leigh; the CEO of Cambridge Past Present and Future; and Peter Wakefield, vice-chair of Railfuture East Anglia.