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Cambridge's station square branded ‘disaster area' for cycling

Cambridge’s main railway station has been branded a “traffic-soaked sewer” and a cycling “disaster area” with a “mini-roundabout of death”.

Brookgate, the developer behind Cambridge’s new-look station square, is now bringing forward plans for the next phase of regeneration in the Cambridge station area, dubbed the “Devonshire Quarter”.

The plans, which include more flats, office space, and a multi-storey car park, would see buildings erected on land currently used as car parking next to the existing Cyclepoint.

Devonshire Quarter (6572104)
Devonshire Quarter (6572104)

The developers say the new plans will add to the “life and vibrancy” of the city centre, but critics are worried about cycle safety and access.

A petition brought before Cambridge City Council’s development control forum yesterday (Wednesday, January 16) said: “We believe that this application does not take sufficient steps to prioritise sustainable transport as required by Local Plan Policy 80, nor improve road safety issues, either during or after construction.

“Furthermore, the development of this site as a multi-storey car park would contradict prior commitments to provide additional cycle parking for the station and would not fix problems of congestion and pollution along Great Northern Road.

“We do not object to the principle of development on this site, instead we offer recommendations to resolve our objections.”

Matthew Danish of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign said: “Planning is supposed to be thinking about the future, looking five, ten, or even 50 years ahead. Do we want the station square to look like this?

“It is not enough to swap around the traffic. Growth will soon overwhelm this, and Station Road will be right back to the same miserable situation.”

Mr Danish said he did not know how to explain to people how they should cycle across the square. He read out responses from the public, some of whom had branded the square a “traffic soaked sewer”. Other respondents labelled parts of the square a “disaster zone”, with one branding a traffic feature a “mini roundabout of death”.

CamCycle’s Martin Lucas-Smith said the square is “not a public square” but, rather, a car park for taxis. He said he feared it was a dangerous environment for cyclists.

Mike Derbyshire, head of planning at Bidwells, said the demolition of Murdoch House opposite the railway station would allow the next step of the station square, which would see a much improved public realm.

Mr Derbyshire said: “The public realm in the station square will be bigger than what was originally in the masterplan. In the next two years, we will have delivered the next part of that.”

Mr Derbyshire said the proposed apart-hotel on the site would add to the “life and vibrancy of the city centre”. He also said more than £500,000 was being contributed from the existing CB1 development to improving cycle infrastructure in the area and helping deliver part of the “Chisholm Trail” cycle superhighway, which passes through.

Some councillors raised their concerns that there needs to be better provision for cyclists and pedestrians to avoid them coming into “conflict” with cars in the existing square.

“I use this public square quite a lot and it really is quite a dangerous area,” said Cllr Dave Baigent. “I’d like to know you’ve heard the concerns about conflict between cars, cyclists and pedestrians here.”

Mr Derbyshire said that, while the new development would not add new cars, the developers were unable to do more to reduce vehicle numbers because a car park is required by the railway operators.

He also noted that multi-storey car parking on the site could be repurposed to allow extra cycle parking, though this is not part of the existing plans.

“The fundamental issue is there are too many cars,” said Mr Danish. “This is not a backwater, this is central Cambridge. People from all over the area are watching to see what happens here. We have an opportunity to get this right. Let’s sort this out.”

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