Planning permission to be sought for new busway and park and ride that would take pressure off the A1307 near Haverhill
Planning permission will be sought for a new busway and active travel route connecting the Cambridge Biomedical Campus with the A11, and a new park and ride between Babraham and the Abingtons and next to the A1307.
The controversial decision to seek planning permission was taken by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) board yesterday following opposition to the route from the South Cambs MP, Anthony Browne, as well as some residents, parish councils and councillors, and a number of transport and environmental campaign groups.
The GCP had also earlier this week discounted reinstating a railway route to Haverhill, saying that extensive work showed "it would cost significantly more and provide fewer benefits – including the need to demolish homes and commercial properties.”
The GCP will now make an application for a Transport and Works Order, which will be determined by the Secretary of State for Transport, likely following an independent public inquiry.
The process is expected to take around 18 months. If the Secretary of State grants the necessary permission, the GCP board would then be presented with a final business case for approval, which would be followed by construction if approved.
If the application is approved, the scheme is expected to be operational by 2025.
The GCP’s transport director, Peter Blake, said the intention is for the busway to be “optically guided” rather than the infrastructure used for the existing busway network.
The Cambridge South East Transport project, or CSET, has a budget of £132 million, and would see a new segregated busway and active travel route built to connect the Biomedical Campus with a new park and ride next to the A11 near Babraham. It would include stops near Sawston, Stapleford and Great Shelford, with provision for cycling, walking and horse riding.
The park and ride would have space for 1,250 cars.
Concerns have been raised that the project will have an “unacceptable” impact on the Gog Magog Hills and Granta Valley.
Mr Browne, said in response to the decision: “I am extremely disappointed the Greater Cambridge Partnership board has ignored the will of residents, their representatives, and expert groups to push ahead with this damaging project.
“They have picked the most environmentally damaging and most expensive proposal, which will be the hardest to deliver in time and on budget.”
He said there is a “democratic deficit” in the GCP.
Resident Carol Barnes told the meeting via a written public question that the busway would “slice through” the Green Belt and that better routes are available.
“It would certainly have a disastrous effect on the environment when there are much greener and cheaper alternatives” she said.
Parish councils had argued that the GCP should use the old Haverhill railway line for part of the route.
Mr Blake said an appraisal found that would be “considerably more expensive, requires the demolition of local properties and creates impacts with the local railway line particularly at the level crossing that are already a particular pinch point”.
He said other routes put forward as alternatives also go through the Green Belt.
Addressing a call from the joint assembly for the project to deliver at least a 20 per cent biodiversity net gain, he said he believes it will need to be 20 per cent to meet aspirations for the wider GCP programme.
The business representative on the board, Claire Ruskin, said: “We have very strong support from the hospitals, from the Biomedical Campus and the Babraham Research Centre on behalf of their workers and we shouldn’t forget that in the many many comments that we obviously get against some of the details”.
She added “they are completely agnostic on the details of the route to be fair, so they will take any solution that we can come up with. They need something because the A1307 is already congested, it’s polluting and they want people out of their cars”.
She also took aim at some of the political opposition to the scheme. She said: “I am really unimpressed by politicians who get photographed with every placard, they write letters to us claiming that everyone is against this scheme or other schemes. There is little backup to these stated facts. And it just comes across as anti-business, which I obviously find quite offensive. Businesses are basically groups of people”.
She said “we can’t rely on the A1307”, adding she recognised criticisms are valid, but said “we need to look for the greater good”.
Representative of the University of Cambridge, Phil Allmendinger, said the scheme is “strategically necessary”.
Leader of Cambridge City Council, Labour’s Lewis Herbert, said “it’s unavoidable” to put transport routes through the Green Belt.
“We have gone through a sequence and I appreciate the comments and the issues that have been raised”, he said, adding the affected areas are “valuable countryside and a wonderful recreational area”.
He said “the route on-road has been assessed and is not deliverable, nor is in practical terms the route through Shelford simply because there isn’t enough space”.
“This is the best route,” he said, adding “I do think this scheme is necessary and if I came back 10 years after it’s built, assuming it does get planning permission, I do think it will be universally welcome and valued and heavily used.”
He said “Addenbrooke’s is just a disaster zone in terms of transport because people don’t have an option at the moment on how to get in and out easily”.
Chair of the GCP board, deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Lib Dem Neil Gough, said: “Our role is to deliver the local transport plan that underpins the local plans”.
He said he had heard from the board consensus that “this scheme does that”, adding “it delivers on strategic goals of underpinning economic growth and opportunity and I think the additional element of this scheme, contained in all our schemes but particularly pertinent, is given the importance of the employment centre, it is expanding transportation opportunities which increases the ability of workers to access high quality jobs and expands the scope of participation for people in the economic success of Cambridge”.
He added: “No scheme is perfect and this scheme does involve the development of the Green Belt. I think that it is well recognised that it would be ideal if we could avoid it. It also involves stops for buses which are on the edges of the villages, which also has certain issues associated with it”.
He said the GCP has given a reassurance that work will be done to “try and ameliorate that disadvantage” of stops being on the edge of villages rather than being more central.
He said the decision on building in the Green Belt “turns on the issues of alternatives”.
He said the alternatives had been “put forward very well” by the parishes. But said he is “confident” in the assessment that found the railway route is “really flawed in a number of significant areas”.
CSET is part of a wider GCP strategy that could see four new busways in total, alongside other efforts to reduce congestion, improve air quality, and encourage active travel and use of public transport.
Concerns have been raised over what happens when the buses reach central Cambridge. One opponent told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire: “Can you imagine the London Underground without a Zone One? That is exactly what the GCP are planning.
"They are planning to dump passengers right on the edge of Cambridge and then everybody has got to fight their way in on the existing infrastructure”.
The GCP has said detailed proposals on reducing congestion and facilitating public transport journeys in the city centre are due to be put forward in September.
An environmental impact assessment has been completed for the route.
The GCP said earlier this week: “The GCP is creating a fully integrated transport network to provide faster, greener journeys to help people get to work, education and other opportunities.
“Thousands of people travel through the A1307 and A10 every day to work at or visit the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and other key employment sites in the south.
"The Cambridge South East Transport project would help take hundreds of cars off the road every day by providing frequent and reliable journeys from growing communities to the south-east – alongside a dedicated active travel route for walking and cycling.
“The scheme has been developed in accordance with Department for Transport guidelines over five years and been through four public consultations.
"The off-road route emerged as the preferred option in the 2018 consultation and has been designed to ensure stops are as close to villages as possible, while offering far more journey reliability than on-road bus lanes along the A1307."