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‘What’s the plan to tackle Cambridge’s congestion now?’ ask campaigners





Proposals for ‘quick wins’ to tackle Cambridge’s congestion problems have been described as like putting a “Band Aid on a bullet wound”.

There are concerns that any hopes of genuine public transport improvements will be dashed without taking more cars off the road – and that residents and businesses alike will suffer.

An update on the City Access programme, intended to cut congestion and improve people’s journeys in Cambridge, was given at the GCP joint assembly
An update on the City Access programme, intended to cut congestion and improve people’s journeys in Cambridge, was given at the GCP joint assembly

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) has been accused of scaling back its City Access programme, as any updated proposals for the road network hierarchy will be handed to the county council.

It comes after the GCP’s congestion charge proposals – which it said would go hand-in-hand with the road network review – were defeated by public and political opposition.

The network review could have led to pedestrians being given priority in further parts of the city centre, with motorised access limited to certain times of the day and “to essential need”.

After “setting aside” the review, the GCP has now been accused of moving away from the transformative changes to transport infrastructure that the City Deal “was established to bring about”.

An update on the City Access programme, intended to cut congestion and improve people’s journeys in Cambridge, was given at the GCP joint assembly last Thursday (15 February).

Josh Grantham, of Camcycle, told the assembly: “Political indecision continues to stifle Cambridge affecting business, residents, health and the environment.

“Eighteen months after the consultation on the road hierarchy, this paper does nothing but reflect the statistical facts of the consultation response; and passing off of responsibilities to the Greater Cambridge transport strategy at an unknown date in the future.”

He added: “While it’s important to have a quick wins package, it could be described as a Band Aid on a bullet wound. We’ve always needed a bigger scheme too.”

Camcycle’s Josh Grantham discusses a traffic scheme with Cllr Jean Glasberg Picture: Keith Heppell
Camcycle’s Josh Grantham discusses a traffic scheme with Cllr Jean Glasberg Picture: Keith Heppell

The criticism reflects questions raised during the congestion charge debate that there was no plan B put forward to solve the city’s traffic nightmare, despite detailed proposals for light rail being put forward by the voluntary group Cambridge Connect and others proposing a workplace parking levy.

Following the decision to not proceed with the charge, the GCP report acknowledged that questions remain over how to handle the transport demands as tens of thousands of new homes and jobs are created in a way that is sustainable and “does not negatively impact on quality of life”.

It references the government’s ‘Cambridge 2040’ plans to grow housing and research space in the region well beyond levels envisaged by councils’ Local Plans.

These plans, however, all cover a period beyond the life of the City Deal that the GCP was established to deliver.

“As that conversation about future growth continues, the City Access programme will focus on complementing the GCP transport investment programme, and on maximising the economic, environmental and social benefits of the City Deal, and supporting delivery of the current Local Plan,” the report states.

The quick wins include measures that encourage the use of Park & Ride sites, improving the reliability of existing buses and safety improvements.

The Cambridgeshire Sustainable Travel Alliance, a coalition of 31 transport, health and environmental organisations, was left dismayed by the lack of ambition, saying the “substantial downscaling” puts in jeopardy the GCP’s ability to tackle Cambridge’s widespread motor traffic congestion.

A spokesperson said: “Congestion across the city makes walking, wheeling and cycling more hazardous, renders bus services increasingly unreliable and pollutes the air we breathe. It also delays commuters, discourages shopping and leisure visitors, and disrupts business activity.

“If the GCP is unable to meet its objective of reducing motor traffic congestion in Cambridge by 15 per cent on 2011 levels, it will have let everyone down – people who drive cars or vans, take buses or taxis, and walk, wheel and cycle alike.”

There are concerns that any hopes of genuine public transport improvements will be dashed without taking more cars off the road Picture: Keith Heppell
There are concerns that any hopes of genuine public transport improvements will be dashed without taking more cars off the road Picture: Keith Heppell

Meanwhile Richard Wood, of Cambridge Area Bus Users, said the group was disappointed that the “most impactful” projects will likely not proceed.

He said after the meeting: “Cambridge Area Bus Users has received multiple complaints about unreliable bus services; one member reported walking from the city centre to the Catholic church faster than five buses crawling along in road congestion.

“The group cannot envisage significant improvements in bus reliability until congestion is tackled by reallocating road space away from private cars to buses and active travel.”

The findings from a public consultation held on potential changes to the road network hierarchy and the way roads are classified were also set out in the report.

The majority of respondents were in favour of requiring drivers of motor vehicles to use main roads as much as possible to help reduce traffic levels, but the report recommends further consideration of the proposals to ensure that bus journey times and reliability are sufficiently considered and that the consultation responses can be taken into account.

Any updated proposals for the road network hierarchy will be fed into the Greater Cambridge Transport Strategy, which is being developed by Cambridgeshire County Council in partnership with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, the GCP, South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council.

Business representative Claire Ruskin gave a damning review of the report: “From a business point of view, this section of the paper demonstrates the complications of overlapping governance that we’ve got.

“It feels as though some rather hazy feedback from the public has been shared between lots of different parties to consultants to get some more hazy feedback from the public.”

Sarah Hughes, of Cambridgeshire Sustainable Travel Alliance, said the group was “deeply disappointed” that the GCP is setting aside the road reclassification project.

“Changing the way Cambridge’s roads are classified could have transformed the city for the better,” she said. “If the road reclassification project is cancelled as well as the Sustainable Travel Zone road charge, and there are no plans by the GCP or others to pursue a workplace parking levy or other transformative options, in 2030 – the year in which Cambridge city aims to reach net zero – Cambridge will still largely have its 1980s road system that on the whole prioritises motorised transport over sustainable travel.”

Peter Blake, transport director at the GCP
Peter Blake, transport director at the GCP

Transport director Peter Blake said: “The paper doesn’t propose pausing the road hierarchy review. What it says is we’ve had a consultation that needs to rightly be a reflection of what it says, but we also need to be cognisant of other developments that have occurred since that time.

“One clearly being the Making Connections decision but, in particular, the county council’s decision that it will update the transport strategy for Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire. Because much like the Local Plan that we rely on, we rely on that transport strategy. So in terms of the 15 per cent target reduction, we’re not proposing to get rid of that – indeed the Combined Authority has a general one across that area.

“So, the issue around road network hierarchy and managing the congested environment in Cambridge will clearly need to be considered as part of that transport strategy and development that will take place. The question about what happens with 2030 will need to be considered in that context. We were always going to pass the road network hierarchy on to the county council.”

Councillors have also expressed their concern.

Cllr Neil Shailer (Lab, Romsey), who represents the county council on the joint assembly, noted: “We didn’t get to do road user charging that would have reduced the number of congestion.

“We have a more efficient network in Peterborough for buses, for instance, than in Cambridge, where the need is arguably greater. So how are we going to make space for buses in Cambridge – either create new pavement or push cars out of existing pavement?”

Mr Blake pointed to the Histon Road and Milton Road schemes that have created space for buses, adding: “We talked about signals earlier on but there is no magic wand that will deal with the problems of buses within the Cambridge environment because it’s incredibly challenging to run bus services.”

He said there was “no point in ploughing ahead” with the network hierarchy if the strategy on which it was based changes.

Assembly chair Cllr Tim Bick (Lib Dem, Market), who represents Cambridge City Council, said the county’s current transport strategy formed the basis of the City Deal, which came with the funds to deliver.

“So what do we expect when the county council undertakes this all over again? An enabling strategy and if it is, who’s going to deliver it? And with what?” he said.

In a letter published by the Cambridge Independent this week, the CP Bus Alliance of operators also called for a renewed focus on tackling congestion to aid the punctuality of services. “Our very real challenge here is congestion on our roads, as increased delays mean a need for more buses on the road which, in turn, increases the costs that must be passed on to our customers,” writes alliance chairman David Boden, of Stagecoach East.



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