Sam Davies
Cambridge South station

Horse. Stable door. Bolted.

There are some weeks when the evidence of the poor decision-making which besets our city is so clear that it’s impossible to ignore.

This is one of those weeks.

Long-time readers may remember previous posts and videos, going back to 2020, where I discussed my concerns that the access arrangements for the proposed Cambridge South station on the Biomedical Campus were not well thought out.

I went into detail about the improvements which would need to be put in place for pedestrians and cyclists, and my assessment of the likely impact of increased vehicle movements, which would be detrimental to the safety and convenience of other modes of transport and to the quality of life of residents in the vicinity.

I wrote:

  • The apparent lack of agreement over how many passengers this facility is supposed to serve …has huge knock-on implications for assumptions around how people will get there and what infrastructure will be required to support them. This station has been presented to us as a way of taking traffic off our roads. How would that be achieved for this volume of passengers? There are serious questions to be asked, especially since Network Rail’s position is that their brief only relates to the station itself and not to ensuring adequate connectivity.

Did they listen?

This was all recorded during the consultation phase, when there was time to change the proposals. But no changes were made and Network Rail proceeded to submit the Transport Works Act Order, the equivalent of a planning application.

At the Transport Works Act Order’s hearing in 2021, Smarter Cambridge Transport then made similar detailed representations. They wrote:

  • TA §10.2.2 states: “three taxi bays are anticipated to provide sufficient capacity to meet average demand.” If the number of people using the station is underestimated then demand for taxis will also be underestimated.
    The pattern of taxi movements at Cambridge station is uneven, with a queue of taxis building up before the arrival of each train at peak times.
    The number of private pick-up/drop-offs (which have use of another three bays) will also depend on the accuracy of forecasts for station usage and mode shares. The pattern of movements is also uneven.
    Any underestimation in demand or significant deviations in demand from the average will lead to congestion on the access road, potentially causing blocking back onto Francis Crick Avenue. It is unclear whether this has been modelled.

Again these points were ignored. Permission to proceed was granted.

Clang! The penny drops

Now in 2023, with the diggers on the ground, and far too late to do anything about the problems, it appears that the penny has finally dropped. Councillors at the City Council/South Cambs Joint Development Control Committee this week expressed concerns about the taxi ranking arrangements and the shortage of pick-up/drop-off spaces relative to likely demand.

Here’s part of a report in the Cambridge News:

  • Councillor Katie Porrer raised concerns there could be problems of taxis queuing when busy trains arrived, with only three taxi pick up and drop off spaces proposed. She highlighted that the main station in the city has a backup taxi rank for drivers.
    Councillor Dr Tumi Hawkins asked how Network Rail came to the number of pick-up and drop-off spaces proposed. She said her daughter uses Cambridge North Station and said there were times “too many” people were waiting to pick up and drop off and asked whether they had looked at Cambridge North when making the assessments.
    She suggested Network Rail should look at it again adding that the number of spaces proposed “might not be sufficient”.

In return, the spokesman for Network Rail noted that “the site itself was very tight”.

Yes! Which is precisely why Smarter Cambridge Transport and I were arguing for more intelligent arrangements of that tight space three years ago, while there was still an opportunity to do something about it!

Short sighted as usual

I’d like to be able to say it beggars belief that the situation has evolved in this way. But actually it’s completely consistent with the pattern of short-sighted decisions based on wishful thinking and a hope and a prayer, the consequences of which are now evidenced all over the city. It’s a crying shame.


Sam Davies

8 comments

  • People can email their local MP (https://www.writetothem.com/) and ask them to write to the Secretary of State for Transport to state the reasons why Network Rail chose to ignore the concerns raised by Smarter Cambridge Transport on taxi spaces, reasons which the local councils are now raising as issues. Who made what errors of judgement, or is there a fault in the system/process of considering Orders under the Transport & Works Act?

  • Your regular updates are so spot-on that I might just have to stop reading them, Sam. Too damn depressing for us common or garden Cambridge residents!

  • Is it any wonder that the public consultation process is held in such low regard when councils ignore the carefully considered responses they spend time and money soliciting?
    The recent AntiSocial programme on Radio 4 about low traffic restrictions (citing both Oxford and Cambridge) had a lot to say on this topic.

  • Re broken consultation processes, I agree. The way public organisations do consultations – especially where the outcomes last a lifetime or more (eg built environment) needs overhauling. The bare minimum that public consultations should cover was published by Cabinet Office was set out in 2008 at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/100807/file47158.pdf – may be of interest to several of you.

  • In part, the problem arises from the decision makers having less knowledge and understanding of the issues they are being asked to arbitrate over than many of the ‘lay people’ who contribute to consultations and planning applications. ‘Non-expert locals’ are considered to lack the technical expertise to provide any useful input, when they have actually devoted weeks and months of their time researching and proposing credible alternatives and justifying their objections, drawing upon a genuinely impressive depth of knowledge. Smarter Cambridge and Cambridge Connect are two such impressive organisations which spring to mind, but you can say the same about many, many of the people and Parish Councils in the region who are concerned about the ‘growth at any cost’ mentality of our local government.

  • “Network Rail’s position is that their brief only relates to the station itself and not to ensuring adequate connectivity.” You are spot on with this comment. Network Rail take a blinkered approach to most projects across the UK. Unfortunately the issues that will arise regarding the Cambridge South Station will become ever more apparent as Network Rail start to deliver.
    I asked Network Rail at their briefing sessions why they needed such a large area for storing materials. Why could they not bring materials to site on a just in time basis by rail rather than transporting everything by lorry? I asked many other questions regarding for example how poorly patients would get from the station to the hospital. The response was either not their area of responsibility or not how Network Rail does it – environmental issues are low down on Network Rail’s priorities.
    Looking forward to the East/West Rail project.