On Thursday I participated in what I hope will be a very productive bit of ‘joined-up thinking’, organised by South Cambs MP Anthony Browne.
Given the concerns expressed in many of the South Cambs villages likely to be affected by the proposed East West Rail route, Anthony’s office arranged for senior management from the East-West Rail Company (EWR) and from the Department for Transport to visit nine of the key locations in a whistle-stop tour so they could see and discuss the issues in situ.
The visit came shortly after the closure of the most recent public East-West Rail consultation, completed by almost 10,000 respondents, which seems in itself to be a good indicator of the strength of feeling the project is generating. I met up with the group at their final stop of the day, the Biomedical Campus.
The first point I wanted to emphasise was that East-West Rail is only one element of a whole raft of major infrastructure projects affecting our area and that it’s imperative they are planned in a co-oordinated way to minimise disruption during the construction phase and when in operation. As I have previously noted, this requires effective governance and accountability, both on the Campus itself and across the wider area, otherwise we will be left with an undersized Cambridge South station, too few bus stops, no safe and direct walking and cycling routes from the east, a tidal wave of commuter cars and taxis looking to drop off or park, and the CSET busway ploughing through the busiest junction on the whole Campus.
Reading between the lines, EWR management are also mystified by just how chaotic responsibility for transport matters is in Cambridge, so at least I seemed to be preaching to the converted on that.
In a packed 15 minutes we also discussed the incursion of the ‘four tracking’ required for Cambridge South station and East-West Rail on Nine Wells nature reserve and Hobson’s Park. The latter was of course created as mitigation for the 3500 houses added to Trumpington over the last decade. EWR’s comment on this was that the extra tracks “wouldn’t require that much land”, but I emphasised the cumulative effect when set alongside the 17m wide CSET route.
The group had visited Shelford before coming to the Campus and had seen that end of the DNA cycle path, so nobody can claim ignorance of the spatial impact.
We also covered the urgent need for clarity about whether the route will be electrified and the volume of freight which will be carried, and were told this would be forthcoming.
In common with councillors from the parishes along the route, I was extremely grateful to have an opportunity to speak directly to Simon Blanchflower, CEO of EWR, and the other representatives on the tour. I don’t necessarily think I told them anything they didn’t already know, or that won’t come out in the public responses to the consultation, but I do think it’s powerful for them to see the affected sites in the company of people who are really familiar with the local setting and can explain the local impacts.
I’d like to thank Anthony Browne for taking the initiative on this, as he did recently with the CSET and Cambourne-Cambridge busways. As he well knows, there are plenty of points on which I disagree with him, but I do see the evidence that he and his team are committed to trying to get better, more joined-up, policy and process in place with regards to these big transport projects and I want to give him due credit for that.
You can read more about the individual segments of the trip on Anthony’s Facebook page.