Cambridgeshire has been much exercised about a proposal to cut down swathes of orchard to make a dedicated off-road track for buses. Last week, the county council rejected a motion that would have made a direct comparison of that scheme with an alternative put forward by campaigners, which would have routed the buses along existing roads and kept the orchard intact. The plan of making this comparison in detail was rejected by 33 votes to 21.
The motion was submitted by Cllr Steve Count, leader of the Conservative group on the county council. The whole thing was over 900 words long, but the core demand was
“to have an impartial report prepared to directly compare the on-road bus prioritisation scheme and separate cycle scheme proposals, put forward by CPPF, (including the ability to liaise with CPPF should any clarifications be required) against the largely segregated busway and maintenance track, the GCP proposal.”
Busway: the GCP proposal
The GCP is the Greater Cambridge Partnership, some of whose other plans have previously been reported on in East Anglia Bylines. A key component of their proposal in the present case is “A public transport route between Cambourne and Cambridge, providing reliable and sustainable services bypassing general traffic congestion.”
Cambourne is a new settlement nine miles west of Cambridge. GCP’S public transport route would use both on-road and dedicated busway sections for services between Cambourne, Cambridge city centre, and Cambridge Biomedical Campus, the complex that includes Addenbrooke’s Hospital and other medical and research units to the south of the city.
The CPPF proposal
CPPF is Cambridge Past Present and Future. Founded in 1928 as Cambridge Preservation Society, this body has the management of five historic sites in and around Cambridge.
One of these is Coton Countryside Reserve, Coton being a small village on the projected route between Cambridge and Cambourne. Besides the countryside reserve, Coton boasts a traditional orchard, recognised by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as a priority habitat for wildlife.
The proposed route for the GCP busway would cut right through this orchard.
CPPF is leading an alliance of local organisations opposed to this plan. Their alternative suggestion, of bus lanes on existing roads, has not sprung out of nowhere. Consultations about the GCP route between Cambridge and Cambourne go back as far as 2015.
CPPF leader James Littlewood told me council plans had since developed “under the radar”. He also complained of an emphasis on radial rather than orbital routes, and a readiness to reject bus lanes on existing roads in favour of expensive, high-maintenance concrete busways.
I spoke with Jean Glasberg, a newly-elected Green Party councillor in Cambridge.
“The organisation Smarter Cambridge Transport have been campaigning with a whole programme of other measures, which I think would address the traffic problems a lot better.”
Smarter Cambridge Transport’s website indeed shows a wide range of measures: proposals to tax workplace parking rather than congestion, integrated rail–bus tickets with free transfers, smart traffic management involving queue detectors buried in roads. But the organisation folded at the end of 2021. Organiser Edward Leigh wrote:
“We have succeeded, alongside Camcycle and other campaign groups, in getting cycle greenways added to the GCP programme … Our biggest regret is that we didn’t manage to prevent GCP from destroying public trust and goodwill by commissioning frustrating surveys and running tin-eared consultations, only to then progress the schemes they started out with.”
Still looking to the future is Colin Harris of Cambridge Connect:
“CPPF got a couple of experts to look at their proposal. And at least on the initial appraisal it appears to be feasible – protecting the environment, saving about 200 million pounds. It seems to make sense from many perspectives. But it’s only a short-term fix. It won’t really be adequate to meet the needs of Cambridge. We still think that the right approach, longer term, is light rail.”
Councillor Glasberg is multi-modal:
“I don’t think there is any one silver bullet that’s going to provide the answer. We need to look for a range of solutions. Busways spend a huge amount of money on something that is not very flexible. We need to make sure that they’re fair. And that we look at how people are going to be living and working in the future. And whatever solutions we look at shouldn’t harm the environment, and shouldn’t penalise the poorest people in our communities.”
If you agree with the aims of the campaign against the busway, you can make a donation at https://www.cambridgeppf.org/appeal/save-the-coton-green-corridor
Some wording in an earlier version of this article, which appeared to imply that the GCP proposal was entirely for a dedicated busway, has been amended.
More on Cambridge congestion problems from East Anglia Bylines
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