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Springwatch presenter Iolo Williams slams plans for Cambourne to Cambridge busway through Coton Orchard

TV presenter and naturalist Iolo Williams has recorded a message demanding that Coton Orchard is saved from the axe when a new busway is built.

The proposed off-road section of the Cambourne to Cambridge (C2C) Busway would cut through the orchard, causing about 500 veteran fruit trees to be felled.

Iolo Williams backs the "Save Coton Orchard" campaign. Picture: Anna Gazeley
Iolo Williams backs the "Save Coton Orchard" campaign. Picture: Anna Gazeley

Despite an outcry over the plans, an application for a Transport and Works Act Order for the scheme is due to be submitted soon.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership plans for a dedicated busway would link Cambourne and the proposed Bourn Airfield development, as well as Hardwick, Coton and the West Cambridge campus.

Iolo, known to fans of BBC’s Springwatch programmes, said: “The message is clear: leave Coton Orchard alone. It’s a fantastic site. These ancient orchards are packed with all kinds of wildlife. And this one is really special spring, summer, autumn, winter. It’s packed full of wildlife, and we do not need these important areas destroyed like this.”

Anna Gazeley, whose family owns the century-old orchard in Coton, said: “We are immensely grateful for Iolo’s support, and that of everyone that has taken the time to reach out in person and on social media. It’s been an exhausting and demoralising year, I’m not sure we would still be standing without their encouragement.”

Iolo’s fellow BBC Springwatch presenter, Chris Packham, also spoke out.

He said: “We all want better public transport but you can put a bus route anywhere you like, within reason, but you can’t mitigate for cutting down hundreds of trees like this.”

Despite advocacy from experts at People’s Trust for Endangered Species, The Wildlife Trust, Woodland Trust, RSPB, Bat Conservation Trust and a petition of more than 20,000 signatures against the plans, the proposed C2C busway route was formally approved by Cambridgeshire county councillors – the highways authority – by 33 votes to 26 on March 21.

Conservation charity Cambridge Past, Present and Future (CPPF) commissioned a report which argued that there are other on-road solutions that would deliver similar transport and economic benefits. The report said this could be achieved quickly, at significantly less cost, with less impact on the environment, green belt and local communities. But councillors voted down the motion to consider CPPF’s alternative after hearing on-road options had been examined by the GCP.

Trenches were dug in Coton Orchard as part of preparatory work
Trenches were dug in Coton Orchard as part of preparatory work

Anna goes on to say that the campaign group “thought that we’d got a reprieve, and could rest, recover and enjoy the festive period, when we read our local councillor Michael Atkins’ November Newsletter” in which he wrote that “delivery of the C2C busway is currently on hold”. He noted: “C2C is bound-up with delivery of the Bourne Airfield housing development, and the Environment Agency has objected to further major housing development until water availability in the region can be improved, thus temporarily pausing both schemes.”

However, an email was sent to the orchard’s owners from the GCP informing stakeholders that they had until January 12, 2024 to comment on the Transport and Works Act Order before the county council, as the scheme’s promoter, makes the application to the Secretary of State for Transport.

Anna said: “If the county council submit the application, CPPF and others will object, and have launched a fighting fund for legal representation at a likely public inquiry. However, is this how you think our elected councillors should be spending public funds? Especially as they propose to once again levy a maximum (without a referendum) of 4.99 percent increase on council tax?

Coton Orchard
Coton Orchard

“I know that I can think of much better uses of our time and scant resources, like planting trees and hedgerows to join the orchard with the CPPF Coton Country Reserve and help create a Wilder Coton, instead of destroying the fragments we have left where nature still clings on.”

Jo Baker, project manager for the GCP, said: “The Cambourne to Cambridge project would provide better public transport services and walking and cycling journeys for thousands of people in growing communities to the west of the city so people can get to work, education, and to see their friends quickly, reliably and more sustainably.

“The scheme has been developed over many years following the Department for Transport’s process and has been subject to detailed public consultations, with rigorous assessment of off-road, on-road and hybrid route options. The route has also been subject to independent audits with both audits ruling the GCP’s process has been robust.

“We are developing mitigation proposals to preserve views, screen infrastructure and limit the impact on the landscape. We are committed to planting 1,500 new trees along the route – significantly more than we will remove. Hedgerows will also largely be maintained as part of our commitment to deliver a minimum 10 per cent biodiversity net gain for the scheme overall, with the ambition of achieving 20 per cent.”

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