What can we learn from the Southern Fringe (1): Transport

I’ve spent some time looking through a report which was recently published about the Cambridge ‘Southern Fringe’ development, comprising Trumpington Meadows, Great Kneighton, Glebe Farm and Ninewells.

As I’ve commented in previous posts, I’m a great believer in evidence-based decision making and this report highlights some learning points about what’s worked (and what hasn’t) which should be incorporated in thinking about future ‘urban fringe’ developments, including GB1 and GB2 on Wort’s Causeway. There are two key areas which I’ll cover: transport (this post); and community (coming soon).

The Southern Fringe sites currently account for approximately 3000 new dwellings built over the last decade. Of the c.580 responses received to the survey, by far the majority (68%) of those responding are employed or study in Cambridge (including home workers); 11% work elsewhere in Cambridgeshire, predominantly in South Cambridgeshire; and 9% work in London. Given that concentration of employment in Cambridge, at most a few miles away from the Southern Fringe sites, you might expect that the modal split of trips to work/study would be dominated by sustainable means – cycling, walking or bus. This was certainly what the developers and promoters of the sites suggested in the transport statements they submitted in the planning process to explain how development on this scale could be achieved without putting the already-congested local road network under further strain. If you take a look at their marketing materials, it’s the same story – copious pictures of relaxed sunlit cyclists (above) and efficient-looking public transport.

Unfortunately, reality does not live up to the marketing. Yes, cycling is the most common main means of transport to place of work/study, comprising 35% of responses; but this is closely followed by car alone at 33%. And remarkably, given the split of employment sites, train accounts for more journeys (10%) from the Southern Fringe than bus (8%) and walking (6%)!

This disconnect between what was promised and reality is also evidenced in the car ownership data. Despite the ‘sustainable’ location of the Southern Fringe, only 12% of households responding don’t have a car, whereas 25% own two or more cars. This might go some way towards explaining why the studiously vehicle-free imagery employed in the marketing brochures bears no relation to the car-dominated streets which you can observe when you visit. These recently-taken pictures show illegally parked cars at Ninewells, including some blocking the main cycleway through the site.

So why does all this matter? Two reasons:

  1. This study shows the real value of post-occupancy monitoring. We should, as standard practice, be measuring all the transport statements made to support new development against the post-occupancy reality and seeking to understand why any significant gap exists between theme. We should be calling out (even financially penalising?) the developers and their expensively-remunerated consultants if their projections prove to be as wildly off-kilter as they are on the Southern Fringe.
  2. Once we understand why the gap between promise and reality has occurred, we can make damn sure we don’t replicate it in the next set of developments that gets approved. This will be critical for GB1 and GB2, being built less than a kilometre away from the biggest pinchpoint on the whole Cambridge road network at Addenbrooke’s.

It’s not good enough to have developers simply asserting that it will all be ok – we need to test every aspect of that assertion and make sure that the provision they are making for sustainable travel will actually deliver.

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