Progressing Cambourne to Cambridge busway scheme does not make project ‘done deal’
Moving the £160m Cambourne to Cambridge busway scheme to the next stage does not make the project a “done deal” according to members of the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s joint assembly.
The plan for an off-road busway has been stuck on the verge of choosing a preferred route to progress to an environmental impact assessment for over a year.
Now the joint assembly has agreed to support an emerging recommendation that the GCP executive board should vote to choose a preferred route and subject it to a detailed environmental impact assessment.
However, one member warned of a “complete breakdown of trust between the GCP and the local community” over the project.
Professor Helen Valentine, joint assembly representative for Anglia Ruskin University, said: “I am convinced that we do need segregated routes into the city if we are really going to make the step-change required.
“It seems to me that the housing developments along this route are making this increasingly urgent and we do need now to proceed.
“Obviously in the end we may not get on with it because there are several other steps along the way but we need to get on to the next step.”
South Cambs Lib Dem councillor Eileen Wilson said the environmental impact assessment “should I hope allay some of the concerns of some of the objectors” adding: “I think we just need to get on with this now.”
The GCP commissioned an independent review in December following an extraordinary public row with former Conservative mayor James Palmer over which route the busway should take. The South Cambs Lib Dems also supported calls for an independent audit of the project.
The audit is the second independent review of the route appraisal process, following the 2018 report by Arup on behalf of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.
The findings of this latest audit, which was led by Phil Swann from Central Intelligence, were discussed by the joint assembly on Thursday (June 10).
The board will make the decision when it meets on July 1.
Leader of the Conservative group on South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cllr Heather Williams, said moving forward “does not mean that it is the final decision or that we are all 100 per cent happy with what it is because I do feel that some are concerned that it’s then a done deal”.
“Obviously this has got quite a fair way down the line, but we don’t want people to give up hope and stop contributing to the process because otherwise we will see this problem time and time again,” she added.
Cllr Williams continued: “I think Cambourne to Cambridge is something that nobody is winning on at the moment, residents are living with uncertainty along the route, the GCP obviously needs to crack on and get on with things, and then you have Cambourne residents’ ever-growing town that has nothing currently. So we need to find a way forward.
“However, the thing that I think will hold us up the most is the complete breakdown of trust between the GCP and the local community. I have witnessed frustrations boil over on both sides, and we have to draw that to some form of conclusion.”
Cllr Tim Bick, joint assembly chair and leader of the Lib Dem group on Cambridge City Council said: “In reality what I think the audit report has helped illuminate is this is still a process and there are some things that we can’t actually tackle until we have done the environmental impact assessment, and there are some things that can be clarified, added to and modified as we go through the subsequent stages.”
He added: “With varying degrees of reluctance and enthusiasm – I think they have to be recognised and reflected – but there is definitely a critical mass of support for this to go forward with the decisions as specified.”
Addressing the recommendation, the GCP's transport director Peter Blake, said: “This isn’t a done deal. This is the next step. The environmental work will show what it shows and then we will need to respond to that.”
The project cannot proceed to construction without formal planning approval, and Mr Blake has suggested a public planning inquiry is likely to take place during the process.
Following a number of delays, the GCP said last year that the expected 2024 completion date is now “unlikely to be achieved”.
The current proposed route would use existing roads through Cambourne before joining a dedicated section of new road running through the forthcoming Bourn Airfield development.
It would continue on a dedicated route south of the A428 and A1303 before rejoining existing roads in west Cambridge, via the Rifle Range track.
The plans include a new Park & Ride site at Scotland Farm and a dedicated segregated cycling and walking route along its length.