Route selected for Cambridge Metro link between new A1307 travel hub and biomedical campus
A new busway heading out towards Haverhill from the south east of Cambridge has moved one step closer as a route was chosen to progress to the next stage of development.
The scheme would connect the biomedical campus to a proposed “travel hub” off the A11 near Babraham, close to the A1307.
The Greater Cambridge Partnership’s (GCP) board voted at its latest meeting to select a route for the new transport corridor for off-road public transport, pedestrians and cyclists, as well as selecting a location for the proposed park and ride.
The project is estimated to cost £130million and, should it be granted final approval, will be financed by the City Deal struck with central government in 2015.
Although a “preferred” route and park and ride location have been selected to take onto the next stage of development, the plans could still be altered as they will now be subject to an environmental impact assessment and further public consultation.
But other routes which were suggested earlier in the process will not progress to the next and more detailed full business case stage, involving more detailed planning and assessment.
The final plans are expected to be required to go to a planning inspector and inquiry before determination by the government – anticipated to last from 2021 to 2022 – with construction due to be completed by late 2024, if all goes according to schedule.
The scheme is designed so it can be converted into the first phase of the proposed Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro.
Until then, the GCP says the route will use different technology to the existing guided busways in the area, and instead will look and function more like a normal road.
The route will connect Addenbrooke’s and the biomedical campus, the proposed Cambridge South Station, Great Shelford, Stapleford, Sawston, Babraham and Granta Park, while allowing greater connectivity for areas beyond the off-road section as the vehicles are anticipated to continue further out on the existing road network.
Moving to the next stage of the busway plan was supported by all members of the GCP’s board.
The leader of Cambridge City Council, Lewis Herbert, said it is “badly needed”.
Stapleford and Great Shelford parish councils have both voiced strong opposition to the chosen route.
The two parish councils said it goes through the greenbelt and said the GCP has “failed to go through proper public consultation by omitting to include the realistic alternative route of following the railway line in any of their public consultations”.
They said: “The two councils fundamentally oppose the GCP’s chosen route through the unique and valuable landscape around the Magog Hills and chalk downlands and instead favour the railway alignment through the two villages.”
Campaigners had asked the GCP if it could progress with more detailed assessment on the alternative railway route between Great and Little Shelford as well.
In a public question to the board Howard Kettel said: “The alternative Shelford railway alignment would avoid unnecessary damage to the unique, relatively unspoiled and historically important landscape adjacent to the Gog Magog Hills.
“It would avoid damage to green belt lands which are very important to the setting, and to nearby communities for recreation and amenity, and are of economic value for farming. The alternative would also bring considerable economic benefits to local communities by connecting them directly into the public transport network.”
He said there was evidence to show “the alternative railway route is technically feasible, and with realistic performance assumptions performs at least as well as the chosen route”.
The GCP’s transport director, Peter Blake, said Mr Kettel’s summary of the evidence on the alternative route’s feasibility is “simply incorrect”. He said the report referenced by Mr Kettel concluded that route would have “lower benefits and significantly increase costs by over £29million, that the journey time for the majority of users would increase, and as a result overall patronage would decrease. There would be significant local impacts in Great Shelford.”
He said the railway route has “a series of deliverability and compatibility problems” with the current railway line, and plans for East West Rail and the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro proposals.
He said for Great Shelford, Sawston and Stapleford “the stops there will increase the number of households within an accessible distance to a high quality public transport route by 20 per cent”.
He added that current estimates show that two thirds of all trips on the route will derive from the park and ride and 29 per cent of trips will derive from the Sawston, Stapleford and Great Shelford stops.
Mr Blake said progressing to the more detailed design phase on two routes is “possible but it would be a little out of order I think in terms of the process we are obliged to follow”.
He said the process has “been developed in accordance with Department for Transport guidance. The guidance does not require all potential routes are consulted upon, rather it requires that options should be sifted using their defined appraisal process.”
“The time, effort and resource needs to go into getting the minutiae of the preferred route, to consult on that with stakeholders, and then to come back to you and say this is it.
“This isn’t the last decision you’re going to make on this scheme,” he said, saying officers will need to bring back the more detailed proposals once that work had been done.
Cllr Herbert said “there has been extensive consultation on this”.
He said he “treasures” the green landscape in the area but said the route as proposed “will not detract in a significant fashion from the Gog Magogs”.
The Greater Cambridge Partnership said it will revisit plans on how to cross the A1307 Babraham Road between Wandlebury Country Park and the Magog Hills after the Local Liaison Forum and others challenged why a proposed underpass had been dropped from the plans.
Sam Davies, asking a public question, said there had been a “breach of trust,” adding the GCP had already submitted a planning application for a traffic island as an alternative “without adequate consultation”.
Councillor Tim Bick said “humble pie has been eaten on that” by the GCP. But he said “that sort of thing does tend to detract from all those occasions where we consult and actually do things right”. He said the GCP “loses a bit of credibility” through such actions.
The GCP papers show the preferred route will start near the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and run parallel with the railway, before diverting to the east of Great Shelford and Stapleford and then crossing the River Granta and running to the east of Sawston.
The proposed park and ride is located to the south west of the junction between the A1307 and A11, between the A11 and Babraham.
The “travel hub” near Babraham could hold up to 2,800 cars “with the current known constraints” as well as offering bike parking and other amenities. It will “compliment” the current Babraham Road park and ride.
Two further projects to connect Waterbeach and the east via Newmarket Road are in development and will be the subject of public engagement later this year, the GCP said.
Although the GCP has said it can fund the south east project, it has also said it will “seek future opportunities to recover an appropriate proportion of the scheme cost from local developer contributions, secured through the planning process”.
The report adds: “Although no immediate opportunities to secure developer contributions to the scheme have been identified, significant development in the area in the pipeline is expected to result in a level of developer contributions to this scheme over time.”