We are now just over a week away from the start of the latest major infrastructure project to affect the streets of Queen Edith’s. The works associated with the redesign of Fendon Road roundabout start on 9th September and are set to last for eight months.
This has been a long time in gestation and the chosen design has generated considerable controversy, with competing claims about its safety, particularly for cyclists and pedestrians. I don’t intend to re-hash those arguments here, though I will be watching carefully and crossing my fingers and toes that the most alarming predictions are not proved correct when the roundabout re-opens, supposedly in April 2020.
But in the meantime, Queen Edith’s residents and visitors to the area, particularly those visiting the Addenbrooke’s site, will have to contend with the impact of the roadworks, specifically the closure of Queen Edith’s Way either side of the roundabout. Drivers are being advised to follow this set of diversions and as the signs state “Delays are expected”, likely to be a significant understatement.
The original plan was to start the project at the beginning of the school holidays, but this was ruled out because it would have clashed with this summer’s Mill Road bridge closure. Consequently, the Fendon Road roundabout project will have to take the hit of more winter working, with shorter days, less favourable weather and (presumably) the city-wide December halt to all planned roadworks during the Christmas shopping period.
The difficulty of scheduling the works highlights the sheer number of major road projects affecting our neighbourhood, starting with two years’ work to put in the Hills Road cycleways (and countless maintenance closures thereafter) and the Addenbrooke’s roundabout remodelling. Once Fendon Road roundabout is complete, there are plans to upgrade the Cherry Hinton Way cyclepath; the Queen Edith’s Way cyclepath; the Babraham Road/Hills Road/Addenbrooke’s cyclepath; and the Robinson Way/Long Road junction in the pipeline for the next couple of years. All of these projects are proposed as ways of managing the worst impacts of the rapid growth of the Biomedical Campus; but that doesn’t mean that those proposing them should be able to ignore the problems of inconvenience, noise and air pollution endured by local residents while they are being built.
With regard to Fendon Road roundabout, I have specific concerns regarding the management of, and distribution of information relating to, the construction phase, which cast doubt on whether the necessary attention to detail is being applied to the project. For example:
1. Preliminary works on Nightingale Avenue
All the signage on approaches to Fendon Road roundabout mentions a start date for the work of 9th September, but in fact ‘accommodation works’ to enable buses to make the left-hand turn into Nightingale Avenue from Hills Road started on 31st August and are lasting for five days, during which period it will not be possible to enter/exit the junction. When I checked on Friday there were a couple of signs in the immediate vicinity of the works, but nothing at the Queen Edith’s Way end of Nightingale Avenue to warn cars that there was no through route. If this is not swiftly rectified, I imagine Nightingale Avenue will see a lot of u-turns in the next few days. The signage also fails to clarify whether the through route is closed to cyclists and pedestrians as well as vehicles.
2. Interruptions to bus services
There has been coverage in recent days of the re-routing of the Citi1 and Citi2 buses necessitated by the road closures, and the significant difficulties this will cause for bus users trying to access Addenbrooke’s. Trying to maintain a bus service during the works is going to be tricky, especially since it seems that Stagecoach were presented with a fait accompli by County Council officers and told to make the best of it. And to add insult to injury – one week before the disruption starts – there is no information from Stagecoach at affected QE bus shelters. There are posters and stickers up, but these were designed and installed by Cambridge Area Bus Users, a voluntary group. Why has it been left to them to provide this vital information, rather than Stagecoach or the County Council?
3. Traffic and air quality monitoring
As part of the two-month Mill Road bridge closure, there has been a major attempt to learn about its effects on traffic flows, modal shift and air quality, as part of a joint project by the City Council, the County Council, the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the University. You might therefore think that similar provision would have been made for the eight-month closure of Fendon Road roundabout, in order to gather invaluable data to help manage current congestion and future growth in this part of town. To my absolute horror, I discovered last week that officers had requested no such provision and were willing to let this opportunity go to waste. I have now asked that monitoring equipment is provided, but with such short notice, even if equipment can be installed, the data will be incomplete, with no pre-construction term-time baseline.
But even more worrying than this apparent lack of attention to detail is the process by which these oversights have been allowed to occur. County Council officers responded to opposition to the scheme design from Queen Edith’s Way Residents Association and others by withdrawing into their bunker, where they continued to develop their thinking without the benefit of residents’ local knowledge and without reference to residents’ legitimate interests. I understand that they have – quite rightly – continued to work with Queen Edith’s councillors; but the lack of meaningful consultation over several years has been a consistent and (in my opinion) justified complaint, and communication in general has been poor to non-existent.
The majority of the detail around the implementation of the scheme was provided by officers presenting at South Area Committee on 22 July 2019. No papers were provided in advance of the meeting, so it was not possible to scrutinise and feed back in an orderly way; as there was not time to cover all the questions from the audience, speakers were selected at random by the Chair, Cllr McGerty; and at various points officers and councillors seemed to be making statements on the fly. And of course, at that point with only seven weeks left before contractors were due to start, it was never likely to prove possible to get changes made.
So I am left asking, yet again, how it is that schemes which have such huge bearing on our quality of life for such extended periods are formulated with so little reference to us. Do we put it down to arrogance or complacency? Is it a problem of inadequate scrutiny and oversight? Is it a problem with transport officers’ understanding of how and why people feel invested in their neighbourhood (and why it’s a good thing)? I would really like to help us to get to a point where officers recognise the benefits of working with residents and do that automatically and willingly. But in the meantime, whatever their reasons may be for adopting an isolationist approach, we are all about to feel the consequences.
In addition to the online resources linked to in this article, you can find out more about the project in person at the two information events which the County Council has organised:
- Monday, 2 September (5.30 – 7.30pm) – Netherhall School
- Wednesday, 4 September (3.30 – 6.30pm) – St James C of E Church, Wulfstan Way
I have also invited officers to come to the Queen Edith’s Community Forum Community Action Morning (aka ‘Skip Day’) at Wulfstan Way next Saturday morning, 7th September.