Waterbeach homes under threat to make way for bus route
Residents in a row of historic cottages have been horrified to discover their homes could be demolished to make way for a new automated bus route.
The Waterbeach villagers said they only found out by chance that their houses may be under threat after one neighbour trawled through a 400-page Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) report about suggested routes for the new busway. But none of the families, including a well-known novelist, has been approached by the authority to warn them about the possibility.
One of the homeowners, Liz Barton, a vet, said: “It all came as a shock. We were chatting to our neighbours and they asked if we’d heard about the proposed busway. We said ‘no’, we just thought there was a cycleway coming through Glebe Road, which we are pleased about. And then they forwarded us a 400-plus page document and buried in there was a map showing four possible segregated bus routes. We could see three of them went right over the top of our house. I thought that can’t be possible. I zoomed in and to my horror I realised, incredibly faintly, I could make out the footprint of our house under where three of the four proposed routes converge.”
The GCP has launched a consultation on four possible segregated public transport, cycling and walking routes from Waterbeach to Cambridge, which could form an integral part of the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM) in the future.
The GCP documents say the aim of the consultation is “to identify a variety of deliverable options which will improve the reliability, safety, capacity and speed of sustainable transport connections between the proposed New Town north of Waterbeach and North East Cambridge. Measures should have the aim of reducing the number of vehicles driving into Cambridge and could include: segregated rapid transit options, bus priority measures, improvements to Park and Ride provision, and interchange capacity – between car, bus, rail, CAM, walking and cycling.”
Only one of the segregated rapid transit options, or busways, avoids the row of cottages, according to the map.
Liz added: “Our home is a beautiful old miller’s cottage that we bought 20 years ago and we have extended it twice. It is the only link the village has to the old mill that used to be here. It has been here since the early 1800s. Both our children were born here, and we feel very privileged to live in this lovely place.
“We have put our hearts into this place because we thought we would spend our whole lives here. We have established ponds with fish that have been there 20 years. We bought some scrubland at the back which we have been working in all summer and planted trees and 1,000 native bulbs, and we have built a huge rockery with a water feature containing a 300-year-old sink. It’s a jewel! We just loved having people to stay here before lockdown so we could share it. I’m slightly incredulous they want to just bulldoze through it all.
“What really upsets me is the glossy brochure that was delivered to every house except the ones that are going to be affected. In the brochure the GCP states the routes would come very close to the boundary of the properties.
“But they haven’t put in the glossy brochure what it says on the meeting documents: that they may have to demolish homes or allotments. They want people to fill in a survey on their opinions but they have failed to say part of the impact will be the demolition of properties.”
While the GCP says initial work shows routes could be built without demolition, its documents for an executive board on October 1 state that at the intersection of Glebe Road and Cambridge Road in Waterbeach, which is the location of the cottages “space is constrained here so any transitway alignment may either require housing demolition or would encroach on allotments. Passes close to houses and may face opposition from residents.”
That is all the information available to the residents – the issue has not been highlighted in the brochure given to other villagers being asked their opinion on the routes.
Novelist Penny Hancock, bestselling author of psychological thriller I Thought I Knew You, is another of the residents affected. She lives in one of the former mill cottages on the edge of Waterbeach which has been her home for the past 27 years and is where her children grew up.
Penny said: “It’s so upsetting I had no idea how emotional it would feel, the idea of having your home destroyed. I
found out because a neighbour heard about it and put a note through our door, but we never received the brochure from the Greater Cambridge Partnership.
She added: “These are beautiful old clunch cottages – you can still see the straw in the bricks. It’s very characterful, it even has an old bread oven – they are not houses you could replace. As a writer, this is also the place I work and the room I write in has a lovely view and is really peaceful.
“The allotments could also be under threat and they are a really important place for the community.”
Penny said she was thinking of writing a history of her history and about the different people who have lived there throughout the years.
“We will fight this to the last,” she said.
Meanwhile, neighbour Gareth Wright, 51, an NHS radiographer added: “Most people only found out by chance that the Greater Cambridge Partnership are planning to build their autonomous bus route and three of the four routes come through the village and that involves demolition of houses here and straight through the middle of the allotments.
“Waterbesach has basically been under siege with proposed developments for the last few years.
“I have lived here over 25 years and have raised my family here. My son is at university. His best mate lives next door - they were born months apart and have known each other forever. It’s quite a community here and it would go, basically.
“It seems the village is having to give everything for the new development. People have been quite accepting of the development and that seems to have been taking advantage of it.
“The fourth route goes north of the village and round the back of Landbeach. It doesn't involve demolition of houses.
“We want to generate some publicity because it feels like they are trying to sneak this public consultation through the back door.”
A spokesperson for the Greater Cambridge Partnership said he could not rule out the houses being demolished and could not explain why the possibility of demolition had not been mentioned in the consultation brochure.
He added: “The A10 route to the north of Cambridge suffers from significant congestion, with thousands of new homes and jobs planned in the area – including Waterbeach New Town. It is vital we invest in significantly improved public transport and active travel routes now to help people get around quickly and easily, while cutting congestion and improving air quality.
“We have been talking to stakeholders since November 2019 about the Waterbeach to Cambridge scheme and recently held a public engagement campaign to discuss the emerging proposals. That feedback helped to shape the options put forward in the public consultation that launched last week.
“Information booklets have been delivered to every home in Waterbeach and the surrounding area, and the options are also available to view in full online. We encourage people to take a look at these options and share their views by December 14.
“We are not considering detailed route proposals at this early stage of the project but we are assessing the broad picture of where a route should begin and end, and what it should serve. The search area that passes through Waterbeach village is indicative and highlights an area to consider if it is determined that a segregated route should serve the village.
“Initial work demonstrates the proposals could be delivered without demolishing homes and the GCP’s starting point for all projects is that we do not carry out compulsory purchases of local residential homes and gardens.”
The consultation survey can be found here.