With just under a week to go before the GCP’s Making Connections consultation closes, it’s time to offer my perspective. From the off, some people adopted fixed positions either for or against the proposals, but I’ve deliberately not rushed to judgement, to allow clarification from officers on queries, and to make sure I have heard as many views as possible.
As a city councillor, and particularly as an independent one, I will have little to no formal say on this process or its outcome. However, I do hear from a lot more people than most, so I hope my conclusions are helpful.
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to assume readers already know what’s proposed and won’t recap here. Also, a declaration of interest: as a member of the (sadly now defunct) Smarter Cambridge Transport group, I still think the most thorough and workable summary of how to tackle Cambridge’s transport challenges is in their ‘Reducing Traffic Congestion and Pollution in Urban Areas’ paper.
Some preliminary comments
Firstly I want to thank the active and engaged people who have in good faith asked questions of those proposing the scheme and critiqued the efficacy of the consultation process itself. I must also thank those who have studied the supporting documentation, explored the possible implications, and compared them with evidence from elsewhere. Your efforts have added a huge amount of value to the public debate and greatly enriched understanding of these complex considerations. I’d also like to thank the many Queen Edith’s residents who took the time to contact me directly with their own responses.
Secondly, it was perhaps inevitable that over the last two months the debate has become heated, even focusing on high-profile personalities rather than on the issues themselves. I’m not interested in knockabout insults or flinging around labels that try to impose simplistic transport-based identities on people. I have tried throughout to look at the arguments fairly and see the scope for points of agreement, rather than dramatising the disagreements and increasing polarisation.
Finally I’m fortunate that, as an independent councillor, I am not subject to a party whip and can speak my mind on the issues as I see them. Many of you will be aware that I am in an administrative group on the city council with the three Green Party councillors, who are also not whipped and will be free to make their own minds up about the proposals.
More than ever, I have been grateful for the freedom to really examine what’s on the table and reach my own conclusions. There’s a huge amount I could have written about the details of the proposals, but I’ve tried to concentrate here on four really big themes.
1. These proposals are all about facilitating our area’s continued rapid growth
I have written previously about the multiple unaddressed negative externalities of our area’s extraordinarily aggressive rate of growth over the last two decades. The GCP’s Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ) proposals are yet another manifestation of those externalities.
At heart, they boil down to one simple question – should residents and businesses be charged to drive into/out of/within the city to facilitate another decade or more of rapid employment-led housing growth? Remember, the GCP’s sole reason for being is growth:
“The Greater Cambridge Partnership is the local delivery body for a city deal with central government, bringing powers and investment, worth up to £500 million over 15 years, to vital improvements in infrastructure, supporting and accelerating the creation of 44,000 new jobs, 33,500 new homes and 420 additional apprenticeships.” (From: What is the Greater Cambridge Partnership?)
But, as I have commented previously, residents have never been asked if they actually want – or consent to – this scale of growth. Moreover, the assumption that growth is a necessarily good thing in itself is simplistic:
“Always ask: growth of what, and why, and for whom, and who pays the cost, and how long can it last, and what’s the cost to the planet, and how much is enough?” – Donella Meadows
People are being asked to pay for an improved bus network, which will allegedly ‘unlock the next phase of growth’. But many of them simply don’t feel like they are benefitting from that growth.
They also don’t trust what’s being proposed.
They don’t trust the organisation proposing it.
And they don’t feel it’s being proposed with their interests at heart.
2. These proposals ignore the ‘Overton Window’
I have seen it suggested that those people expressing such feelings are simply either stupid, or selfish, or both.
Certainly there is a large section of the local population who don’t understand how our multi-tiered overlapping local government structures work, and who can blame them for that? Remember, the organisation promoting the STZ – the GCP – is not the organisation which would have responsibility for making the bus franchising arrangements work (which is the Combined Authority).
But I would argue that much of the negativity towards the proposals is also because they seem to have been drawn up without any reference to the concept of the ‘Overton Window’ of political possibilities: the range of ideas that the public is willing to consider and accept in a given place at a particular time.
In a nutshell, the GCP’s proposals are neither solving a problem that people recognise nor suggesting a solution that fits their understanding of an accepted problem. For example:
- People might recognise congestion as a problem; but the proposed STZ doesn’t look like it’s targeting congestion because the operating hours extend well beyond any period of congestion and its format includes trips away from, as well as into, the city;
- People might recognise pollution as a problem; but the proposed STZ doesn’t look like it’s targeting pollution because it includes low emissions vehicles such as motorbikes and electric vehicles.
What makes it worse is that the proposals are couched in language designed to make people feel bad about their current transport decisions. To many people this instinctively feels like unfair criticism, because what the data tells us is that Cambridge’s residents already make responsible transport choices – the ONS’ recently-published 2021 census data shows that Cambridge continued to report a high level of walking and cycling commuters (49%) compared to the national average (14%). We’re doing what we can.
And in addition to comparison with national averages, it’s also worth comparing Cambridge’s transport patterns with London’s, especially given the GCP’s rhetoric around the merits of a ‘London style’ bus network. It’s interesting to see that bus already accounts for 7% of Cambridge commuting journeys, not much different to the 9% achieved in London. So I would argue that Cambridge’s residents are actually already making a pretty concerted attempt to travel sustainably, despite the lack of high-quality public transport modes (underground/light rail/tram); and that these best efforts have regrettably been underplayed in the GCP’s materials. See for example this statement on p.18 of the Making Connections brochure:
“The charge would apply to vehicles, unless they are exempt, that move into, out of or within the Zone, not just those crossing the boundary. This is because 53% of journeys in the morning peak start within the Zone; over a third of these journeys are wholly within the Zone which are shorter and so are easier to make by foot, bike and bus, than those coming from further away.”
This 53% statistic has been widely quoted by GCP speakers in public meetings, during radio interviews, etc, and is presumably intended to indicate that Cambridge residents are irresponsibly hopping in their cars for short journeys which could be made by other means.
However, when qualified by the ‘one third’ statement (which it certainly wasn’t when it came up at South Area Committee), the maths looks rather different – it seems that only 17% of journeys in the morning peak are by Cambridge residents staying within the Zone. I’m sure that figure could be reduced still further, but it’s very different to the impression given by “53%”. And I recognise that commuting patterns outside the city are different, which is precisely why I am not in favour of the current one-size-fits-all proposal across the whole Greater Cambridge area.
There’s an important related aspect here. Pretty much every planning application in Greater Cambridge for a housing or employment site in the last 20 years has claimed that the application will not have any negative impact on congestion, as there is sufficient capacity within the road network to absorb the additional journeys generated.
Of course, the evidence in front of everyone’s eyes is that this is not the case. But the planning system has signed off on all the development regardless, in what we might regard as ‘gaslighting’ the population.
But now – we are told abruptly – there isn’t the capacity, and there is a problem. And the only way it can be solved is by signing up to the GCP’s proposals because – we are told – “There is no Plan B”.
More than that, people have been told that if they don’t support the proposals they are “supporting the Tories” and they must also be hostile to any measures to address climate change, improve air quality, etc. This is of course nonsense.
So the Tories have been hands off on buses. They still are. So if you are against the @GreaterCambs proposal, you are supporting the Tories. Doesn’t that make most of you think?
— Dave Baigent (@dave4labour) November 11, 2022
Coming back to the importance of the Overton Window, this extreme position simply alienates people who might otherwise well be willing to co-operate with measures to address congestion or pollution, if they believed that was the purpose of the measures (rather than the GCP’s goal of generating the maximum revenue possible). Look at what the top choices were in previous rounds of GCP consultation (below): a ‘pollution charge’ and ‘a flexible charge to drive at the busiest times’. That’s not what we’re being offered now, which makes people question why on earth they would trust that this process is being conducted in good faith.
3. The proposals overstate their sustainability credentials
Moving on from the point about whether opposing these proposals is apparently indicative of an ‘anti-green’ mindset, I would argue that in fact these proposals significantly overstate their own sustainability credentials.
Sustainability has three components – economic, environmental and social – which I’ll look at in turn.
The revenue generated by the charge will be overwhelmingly directed at funding the extended bus service. When I asked about the funding split at South Area Committee, I was told that (say) £70M revenue generated annually would be split with £50M on buses, £10M on scheme administration costs and £10M on (unspecified) active travel and related improvements.
There has been significant debate about this which I won’t rehash here, but a few issues are particularly troubling:
Firstly, a bus-based system is not conducive to productivity. Economist Tom Forth has explored this at length, but here’s a summary:
I've been looking at low productivity in the UK. Trying to find examples with data of where it actually happens. Public transport is an ace example. Compared to our more productive neighbouring countries we use far more drivers to transport fewer people. That's low productivity.
— Tom Forth (@thomasforth) November 22, 2022
If you want to improve productivity via public transport investment, you adopt trams or light rail, not buses. Tram or light rail options, once built, are also less vulnerable than a bus network to interference and service reductions instigated by politicians’ or operators’ whims.
Secondly, I’m concerned that the financial interests of the city’s many small businesses and public sector/not-for-profit organisations (particularly those outside the historic city centre) are not being adequately captured by this consultation process, or indeed by the GCP’s activities more widely. I have received impassioned emails from local schools detailing the staff recruitment and retention difficulties they foresee if the proposals go ahead. And, as I have commented previously, it is much easier for ‘big business’ to get its views heard (both as individual organisations and through lobby groups such as Cambridge Ahead) than it is for our small independent traders.
Thirdly, the financial cost of the bureaucracy underpinning the scheme is probably understated – we are being primed to expect a patchwork of exemptions and reimbursements based on multiple factors including (but not limited to) income, health status, profession, vehicle type, and the reason for the trip. This will of course divert money raised away from running the buses which are the very point of the exercise!
The GCP originally had three stated transport goals:
- To reduce the number of miles travelled
- For those miles still travelled, to encourage more active travel and public transport use
- For those remaining trips made by private vehicles, to encourage less polluting forms (electric vehicles).
The STZ proposals contain nothing that will contribute towards achieving the first goal, and indeed, at a meeting earlier this year, a GCP officer confirmed that that goal has been quietly abandoned. I guess that’s because the separation of planning and transport powers across multiple local government organisations, and the extraordinarily high rate of population growth, mean that it would be too challenging to achieve. But I think it’s a great shame. We hear a lot of mention of low traffic neighbourhoods, but the gold standard for which we should be aiming is liveable (15/20 minute) neighbourhoods, as acknowledged by active travel advocacy group Sustrans:
People should be able to enjoy a good quality of life without needing a car. Investment in safe active travel routes, affordable public transport and 20-minute neighbourhoods must be a priority, so that people don’t have to depend on cars for their everyday trips. pic.twitter.com/VdKIbCLeRO
— Sustrans (@Sustrans) November 30, 2022
Although Cambridge is still a relatively compact city, amenities and different demographics are very unevenly distributed. At the moment, it is much easier to live sustainably in Petersfield (which has a younger population and many facilities in easy walking/cycling reach) than it is in, say, Queen Edith’s or Abbey. So any discussion about transport proposals should be accompanied by firm commitments about how they will be better integrated with decisions about land use, with the aim of enabling more of us to live more locally more of the time.
With regard to the second goal, encouraging more active travel and public transport use, we know the vast majority of the money raised by the STZ charge will be spent on buses. I am very concerned that any funding available for active travel and supporting measures will be too small and too restricted in what it can be spent on. If the GCP is serious about encouraging public transport and active travel, there are many factors underpinning the user experience which require investment – not just obvious infrastructure projects like cycle routes themselves, but also pothole and pavement repairs; bus shelters with seating and real-time information; secure cycle parking; better street lighting; and more police and parking enforcement officers. There’s nothing like enough money allocated from the STZ pot to achieve that right now.
The GCP’s third goal is simply not supported by the proposed inclusion in the charging regime of electric vehicles, motorbikes and mopeds.
And then there’s the issue of how people’s attitudes to making sustainable transport choices might be affected negatively by the introduction of a flat, per-day charge. At the moment, the data indicates that residents make choices which optimise cost/time/convenience, moving between modes depending on their priorities/constraints for each particular journey. I haven’t seen any consideration of the possibility that the STZ charge may actually encourage some drivers to make less thoughtful choices about which mode they choose for each journey, along the lines of: “Well, I’ve paid my £5 for today, so I may as well get value for money from it”.
The debate around social sustainability has seen two conflicting perspectives. The GCP argues that the STZ proposal will help the poorest households, which are least able to afford to run a car and which have most to gain from a better bus network. However, the GMB union has publicly spoken out against it, plus all three of the Labour councillors in Cherry Hinton and former Labour councillor Carina O’Reilly who came out with this particularly punchy framing:
“It is designed around a flat tax which dismisses these concerns in favour of middle-class preaching (‘it’s for your own good’) at the recalcitrant and ungrateful working classes.”
My own concern is that the STZ proposals will reinforce and accelerate the development of a two-speed Cambridge. For a start, companies in Cambridge’s tech sector already offer their staff a wide range of very generous perks, and undoubtedly many will simply add STZ charges incurred by staff into that package in a way that other smaller businesses, public sector organisations and voluntary groups will simply not be able to replicate.
I also struggle to understand how the STZ proposals take proper account of the wider opportunity cost and value of time for people on low incomes.
For example, let’s assume a journey which currently takes 30 minutes by car might take 60 minutes by bus (including travelling to the stop and waiting for a service). That adds an hour (at least) to a working day. That hour has a value: it might make the difference between being able to take the children to an after-school activity, volunteer at a local community group, or just rest after a hard day’s work.
Moreover, under the proposals, continuing to use the car would cost £5 (plus running expenses), perhaps equivalent to 40 minutes work on a minimum wage. Swapping to bus would cost £4 return (25 mins on a minimum wage) plus a degree of inconvenience plus the risk of a service running late or not showing up. For someone in secure employment at a professional salary, the risks and inconvenience may not be that material – they are likely to have flexible working hours, the ability to switch to working from home, and a generally high degree of autonomy about how/where/when they get the job done. None of these will apply to someone in insecure employment or whose physical presence is required at a set location between set hours.
Finally, there is a specifically gendered dimension to transport debates. Again, for the sake of brevity I won’t go into it here, but I do recommend you read a paper called Mind The Gender Gap and consider the impact of the STZ proposals against its findings.
4. How we might think about Plan B
The STZ consultation would have been more informative and more constructive if it hadn’t been based on the premise that “There is no Plan B”. That is an awful way to engage with an understandably concerned population. It would have been much more helpful to have put forward a range of scenarios, with a sliding scale of interventions, so people could have assessed the costs and benefits of each.
As a result, I’m unsurprised that these proposals have been met with such a hostile response in many quarters, and I believe they will be politically undeliverable. But more importantly, I fear they have also created a huge obstacle for future proposals to overcome. This is a real concern, because we do urgently need to devise deliverable ways of addressing the climate emergency.
I don’t pretend to have a complete answer to this, but I do think it’s possible to identify key principles on which Plan B should be based.
Firstly, it should prioritise individual and community wellbeing and resilience – not growth.
Secondly, it should be holistic. The chart below from an excellent recent paper on transport demand and elasticities lays out the many variables which can be part of the solution – this is a very different approach to just attempting to sell buses as ‘the car alternative’, with aggressive population and employment growth as givens.
Thirdly, it should be based on a ‘polluter pays’ principle. For me, this means introducing a workplace parking levy. Not only would this be a much better fit with the source of the problem the STZ is trying to fix; but it would also reduce the administrative costs of running the scheme because parking spaces are known and predictable, in a way that individual daily journeys are not. Annual exemptions could then be given to spaces (at schools, hospitals, etc), not individuals. There is plenty of encouraging research on impact of the Nottingham WPL which is now 10 years old.
Finally, it should be future proofed. One of the problems with the STZ proposals is that there are no guarantees about how the charge, the bus fares or the bus network might change in future. There are several reasons for this – one is that it’s not possible for the GCP to make such guarantees, as it won’t be the body which has to negotiate with the bus companies, or deal with the fall-out from changes in party political attitudes to a bus-based approach. There’s also nothing about how an STZ charge might fit with any possible council tax precept to support bus services levied by the mayor of the Combined Authority, or how it might evolve in the event of a national road pricing scheme, both of which are already under discussion.
In conclusion: a flawed answer to the wrong question
This has been a very long post! I hope it has managed to shed a little bit of light on why I cannot support the STZ proposals. They represent a flawed answer to the wrong question. They are all about how to maximise revenue capture to fund a bus service to demonstrate to the government that the GCP is ‘unlocking’ growth. They are not aimed at giving people happier, healthier, better lives.
You can have your say by completing the Making Connections Consultation survey online until midday on Friday 23 December 2022.
I add to this blog weekly if there’s something important to report. Get these posts by email by adding your name to the list, using the form on this page.
Very thorough and informative piece has given me and my neighbourhood an insight into the bigger picture and long term impacts of growth on those that live in Cambridge, thanks for all the time, energy and research that went into this, Immy
Thank you so much, Sam, for sharing your thoughts. It’s extremely helpful.
Thanks for another great post Sam.
You are very clearly listening to the concerns of your constituents as it echoes many of the conversations I have had with a variety of people and groups concerned by the GCP plan.
Thank you for producing this excellent and well researched document on the STP. And for taking the time to sort through the whole proposal.
Thanks for a well written and researched article. I draw your attention to one point which is I admit not part of the discussion to date. How can we help our young people buy a property in their own town. The STZ makes no mention of this which must form part of the overall plan
Thank you for the time and effort you put into researching and disseminating info on a level basis. It is great to read the disproportionate impact such a “congestion charge” would inevitably have on the worse off, as this isn’t often acknowledged. I think we need to be honest to ourselves about our flaws in such matters, as we’re all predisposed to selfishness and given the lessons learned from the duplitous marketing of the residents parking schemes it is certainly a consideration! There will certainly be frequent drivers affluent enough to view £1000 per year as a self-serving bargain to drive on quieter roads, and being able to convince themselves this is an altruistic, environmental decision will further sweeten the deal for the monies class.
In any case, thank you for the work that makes it seem the inevitable will at least meet some resistance.
Yes, thanks, Sam – an excellent article.
I too have long shared your concerns in section one: many of the CGP’s proposals are predicated on the assumption that making it ever-easier for more and more people to get into an already-crowded city centre is inherently a good thing. I don’t see why that should be the case.
A far better use of resources, I think, would be to encourage businesses to move out to the periphery, out to the villages, out to the science parks, perhaps out to new shopping centres. To reduce the concentration on the city centre and distribute things more over the existing ‘Greater Cambridge’ area.
The best article I’ve read about this scheme. Well done. Thank you for putting the information in a readable & understandable way.
I feel the phase “Individual & community wellbeing & resiliance”
Sums up what Cambridgeshire should be aiming for.
Growth at any cost is no good.
Well written and many great points brought up. We didn’t ask for this growth, we didn’t vote for it. The green belt is built on and then they claim to be “pro green”.
I know that I’m going to sound like an extremist but I can only call it like I see it and I know I am not alone in thinking this. It’s a form of social cleansing.
The Cambridge bubble has always had a certain distaste for the working class in our city. We know that the poorest have been priced out of the city into the fens, mostly due to sky rocketing house prices, which are in turn caused by not building enough homes. The university and government have all the say in this area yet they haven’t built enough homes and they are fully aware of the consiquences.
None of this would matter however, if we had railway lines, guided buses, metro, or tram lines put in up to Chatteris and Sutton but nope. The people who grew up in Cambridge and helped make this city what it is aren’t worth it. The only people that matter are the students and tourists which fit in to their liberal utopia. They just see as a thicko, knuckle dragging, racists. I’ve heard it a thousand times. I know I’ll be met with a lot of dismissal but come round this way and you’ll hear this plenty. This is going to create a huge social divide.
Excellent review – one just hopes that GCP read and act on it -some hope!
I wish there was some way to get this to the widest audience possible!
Please consider doing a follow up, outlining the disproportionate impact on women (to which you alluded) who carry the main burden of school runs, shopping, transporting young children.
Also the impacts on the elderly & those who are less able to cycle or hop on a bus. (I’m just about to travel across town to Romsey to take a 95 year old to a chiropody appointment in Chesterton)
Thanks for this post, it captures almost all the issues raised by the residents.
Couple of points though,
1. This proposal is basically from a car hating group of snobs who probably live and spend their entire life in a 2 sq mile radius. For 99% of other humans, it is not the case (not since we left walking and started using horses for travel)
2. If health was that big of an issue, why target cars? is driving a car unhealthier than smoking or alcohol? if not, then get this 70Million from taxing those first!
Thank you, I did like you highlighting of future bus fares. It has always sat wrong, that if the GCP were successful in getting majority of travel on bus or alternative transport, who is then subsiding the cheap fares (£1/£2) being touted and flaunted by GCP.
I commute from outside Cambridge (St Neots), for work and my daughters education. If I am honest, I do not feel that any amount of change that the GCP promise to deliver in the bus services, from my home can move me away from using the car. The service would be too infrequent and more than likely be scaled back, when which ever operator runs it is nit making enough money from it.
Do we have assurances that the Park and Ride sites continue to deliver free parking? They will be used for parking for those who choose to then cycle the last mile into the STZ.
I felt my usual sense of mild despair when I re-read the extremely well thought through, mostly uncontroversial proposals from Smarter Cambridge Transport a full 8 years ago, basically none of which have been implemented or even seriously discussed in most cases.
Thanks for taking the time to carefully consider and write such well thought out balanced arterial. Many may are against the proposals because they see very little benefit to them self’s or their relatives and friends and felt guilty for being against this proposal for their own “self centered reasons. The above demonstrates what feels wrong for you and the people you know in the wider community is probable wrong for the wider community.
Thanks for writing on this.
I don’t really agree on the point on the Overton Window.The proposals clearly have shifted it – witness even the South Cambs conservative MP supporting a Workplace Parking Levy (which to me is a no-brainer that I’ve been pushing for for years – no actual downsides whatsoever). And there clearly are clearly a significant number of people who are in favour, i.e. within the window.
On ‘We’re doing what we can.’ – again I’m not convinced, except for those who have been forced out to the villages. If this were the case we would not see the amount of congestion and domination of roadspace that we do, and obvious schemes like Mill Road would have been progressed long ago and not subject to endless delay. I see large numbers of short journeys by town-dwellers that could already be taken in other ways. Of course, the local authority has to facilitate that for more people by e.g. making cycling safer and public transport quicker – but even now there is plenty of behaviour change possible. I would however agree with the point in the case of the very many people who don’t have transport choice, due to being forced out to villages because of housing costs. Few could possibly blame them for driving into Cambridge.
On the point of ‘value of time’, an entirely valid question, I don’t see how this matches with a push for light rail. In an ideal world of infinite government investment, I’d love to see a light rail system. But it is surely far more inflexible than buses, in that it almost guarantees a change of transport mode will be required or significantly more walking from the end stop. Light rail remains pie-in-the-sky, given that no sensible government would give the £2-4bn to a small city like Cambridge while much of the area outside London/SE doesn’t even have the basics of an electrified and modernised railway system.
On a WPL, I would be extremely wary of introducing any exemptions whatsoever to businesses, other than the standard approach that should be present of omitting smaller businesses. It’s the large businesses, as you say, who ultimately cause the problems. Schools and hospitals are exactly the bodies which should be reducing car parking and encouraging other forms of transport. I forsee things like proper school/works buses starting to appear as parking is subject to proper taxation at last. The continued presence of business parks with huge amounts of car parking is a significant barrier to sustainable transport, and a WPL would not cause them to move away, because they come here for people. Any rational businesses owner would see this as a mis-use of land and would probably be quite pleased to see a proper stick at last to reallocate it.
Really well constructed article, nice work Sam
I realise I have come to rely on your clear, thorough, detailed and evidence based reviews, when it comes to understanding local governance issues. Nobody else explains as thoughtfully and widely as you do and I am grateful for the huge amount of time and commitment that you bring to your role as an Independent councillor.
Centralisation of amenities coupled with huge housing developments expanding the city boundaries is a real driver of the congestion. Yet the council have consistently failed to leverage section 106 obligations to improve transport infrastructure…or to provide retail/entertainment zones which can alleviate demand in the centre.
Thank you for this. I agree that this ill-thought-out scheme will alienate many people who would otherwise support better developed public transport options now and in future. The growth argument smacks of ‘trickle down’ economics, now correctly and widely discredited.
Fascinating — I wish there were more independents on all the councils.
And I wish there wasn’t a political party system, with whipping.
Please add my name to your mailing list.
Scheme insufficiently thought out and not suitable for Cambridge City/residents. Well done Sam for your detailed analysis of the proposed scheme and why it doesn’t fit.
Thank you Sam for this clear and well thought out post.
This is a really valuable contribution to the debate, using empirical evidence to drive your opinion, rather than a knee-jerk left v right v Green battle line. You raise many important points that I haven’t heard before.
Much is made of the environmental impact of travel unless a scheme is introduced, but what of the environmental impact of the scheme itself? Roads everywhere will need digging up to cable and fit camera systems and signage. If London is our model… Have you driven there recently? Forests of signs and camera masts have emphasised the visual carnage that the worst of town planning can impose. Driving is like walking an Orwellian tight rope of snipers, constantly aiming at you to profit from a mistake.
Solutions? If we have to accept huge housing projects on the outskirts of our City, shouldn’t these areas be provided with amenities and infrastructure that prevent the necessity of travelling into the City centre? A City which is already bursting at the seams? I absolutely resent the idea that I should subsidise busses for a population explosion on our doorstep that I’ve had no say in.
Well done, Sam, A great analysis of the issues. In the present proposals, charging zero-carbon vehicles, and having weekends free for massive pollution by everyone in the city seem incompatible with environmental concerns.
thank you for all the work you have put into this article with such clear information. How often ‘growth’ in fact covers up greed. I want sustainability and respect for the environment not plunder.
Thanks for your perspective on the STZ issue. It might be time for the GC area to have a period of reflection particularly when the Housing Secretary Michael Gove has now offered councils more flexibility over meeting the government-set housing targets. Perhaps SCDC and the City, in their deliberations over the emerging Local Plan, could have more flexibility to pause and reassess the the whole approach to growth for the area.
Thanks Sam for a good post. We are absolutely listening. There is no easy answer because the questions, as you say, are many and varied. The options that may help people and businesses in the region are still being looked at, each one has challenges. Aiming to stop further growth (there has been massive growth in my lifetime here) could lead to unhealthy, unsustainable and unpopular growth which is what we are all trying to think through and help resolve. We have some options and the consultation has provoked awareness and good discussion, thank you for your continuing part in that.
Power to your elbow!
The quality of a democracy is not measured by how it pleases the majority, but how it protects the minority. However many journeys “could have been made” by bike, foot, or whatever, for about a third of the population (over 60, disabled, pregnant, accompanied by children, carrying heavy shopping…) the answer is “none”.
Introducing any charge will not alter the volume of essential traffic. I regularly drive into central London on business. The daily London road tax is deductible from profits and charged to the customer – it’s the cost of doing business. What it will do in Cambridge is reduce the amount of elective traffic, and thus the business of the market, shops, restaurants….
Congestion is self-limiting. It only affects drivers and is not a problem for third parties. If I think a city or a motorway is too congested for my convenience I take a bus or find another route. I don’t need an unelected committee to make that decision for me.
And for what it’s worth (not that anyone cares about the obvious truth) the effect of road “improvements” that have progressively narrowed the main carriageway on the A1307 – Hills Road in favor of empty bicycle lanes, has been to increase journey times for cars and buses alike as it is now impossible to pass a stationary delivery van.
I have seen no evidence of honesty or competence in anything the GCP has done or proposed in the last 10 years.
I write to thank you for the thoughtful post. It demonstrates the need to have a plan B.
What I would point out is the impact that these proposals will have on the sustainability of Cambridge retail, not just smaller businesses, but some of the larger box stores as well. Those outside Cambridge will see significant pull factors to shopping opportunities outside Cambridge itself, with to the west Huntingdon, St Neots and places like Biggleswade and to the east places like Newmarket and Ely massively benefitting from the lower parking charges, and lack of STZ. What isn’t in the plan it seems is a demand study that looks at how much displaced traffic will simply avoid Cambridge altogether thus cutting congestion but without sustaining the bus services with their £4 worth of ticket money.
Overall this effect could easily make the £5 charge insufficient to provide for the planned services resulting in a loss of services, and increase in the charge above inflation, or a combination of the two.
The consultation seems predetermined with members of the GCP commenting in recent meetings that it was “a package” and thus rejecting the charge within the proposals but accepting bus services are inadequate will still result in the imposition of a charge. This is fundamentally because there is no plan B.
It seems that the charge is designed to gentrify Cambridge at the expense of those who will still need to maintain a car, because they have journeys they need to make that fit no bus service, but they will be penalised for it even if they currently make as many sustainable journeys as they can.
I hope I have made myself clear in my comments and I hope you have further opportunities to highlight and redirect the attention of members of the GCP and the various tiers of government.
Thanks, very good post! But what can we do then to have the right answer to the right question?
I believe objections to Growth (which I have questioned and opposed for much of my political life) can no longer be sustained. The growth dynamics in the city are irreversible. Yes, they will damage Cambridge but the impetus behind growth is formidable. The best we can hope for is that as the city grows measures will be introduced to reduce the impacts of growth. That is why I support the transport plan for Greater Cambridge.
Well said Sam – a very useful and thoughtful response to a complex problem. I completely agree with you
I had the idea a long time ago for something like a moving escalator covering all roads in the city and suburbs. I suppose that would be interpreted as “light rail”. How to get on and off it could be worked out and perhaps it wouldn’t even need a driver. Some contributions to this technological concept would be good.
Thank you for all your hard work on this issue. The key objection it seems to me is that solutions should not be to encouraging more growth but reducing it and looking at the problems we have from that perspective.
As a parent of two school age children living in Queens Ediths I would love to cycle to school and cut out the school run in the car. The fact is that the cycle route down Hills Road ends outside the Sixth Form College and involves nerve wracking “dodge a bus” exercise at the stop outside the college before having to avoid being cut up by vehciles on the bridge and then dodging pots holes and squeezing past cars along the city end of Hills Road. If the authorites can’t even sort out something as basic as a safe cycle route on one of the major routes into the city then I hae zero conifdence that their STZ will be implemented or operated competently.
Thanks Sam for this really clear and well researched post on the proposals.
One thing that’s been bothering me is, if the proposed STZ with its charges etc should go through, how much is it going to cost to put all of the technical infrastructure in place – Number plate recognition cameras on every route into and out of the zone along with the communication infrastructure from cameras back to an IT network that will got up the charges and issue bills. How long will it take from the scheme commencing to actually paying off the overhead of all of that work? And in the meantime, where will that money come from?
In addition, such works will inevitably cause additional traffic chaos which will last how long?
Thanks again Sam for the article. Keep up the good work.
Some very good points raised in your article that question a number of at present, somewhat flawed, solutions proposed by the GCP in their consultation document. However, your premise that “the wrong question” has been asked & that the community should have been asked instead if they want the aggressive growth we are seeing in Cambridge is like chasing after the horse after the stable door has been left open!! Cambridge is booming & we are far down the road of development & growth already. This is not going to slow & the traffic issues are only going to increase with the inevitable growth of business, industry & therefore population in & around the city. We have to face these facts & front up. The historical development of Cambridge further complicates solutions, with narrow streets & poor general access. Inevitable growth eg Addenbrookes site, Science & Business a Parks has happened already & will not slow. The principle of the GCP is the way forward but clearly needs to be tweaked significantly. The slogan “If not now then when? must ring loudly in people’s heads & focus minds on addressing the problems that are here now & will only worsen if deliberations only result in a further & general malaise. With an efficient bus system, quieter roads around the city & more safe spaces as a result, the GCP is VERY MUCH about “giving people happy, healthier & better lives!
This is a very well argued analysis and raises a lot of extremely important issues. Thank you, Sam, for undertaking such a task. Considerably outshines most of our other councillors, and the political parties they represent. I want to make a few further points here.
1. The GCP proposal is divisive and has has polarised public opinion, largely because of the STZ charging structure. Those FOR the proposal seem to argue only on the merits of the proposed bus (and other cycle/pedestrian) improvements and almost totally ignore the STZ charges. This is evident on the websites of the various residents’ groups that are in favour. Those AGAINST (including me) are opposed to STZ charges – but are surely not opposed to improved buses etc. So, this is a very odd sort of polarisation.
2. Some prominent commentators have suggested a referendum on the proposal. This would be most unwise, dividing the community even more. Imagine a 51% – 49% split as a result! (remind you of anything?). Whichever side loses, a substantial minority would feel bitter about the result. A referendum would also be very costly, and what population do you include, everyone in the GCP area? No, what is needed is negotiation and further consultation – the notion that “there is no plan B” is absurd. If there is to be road charging, there are surely a wide range of possible options. The main criterion should be a FAIR charging structure, properly negotiated; the current proposals are not seen as fair at all.
3. What density of population is required for the level of bus provision outlined in the GCP proposal? This factor is scarcely mentioned by the proposal’s supporters. The GCP area doesn’t have a population density anywhere near that of London at present – we will have a progressively higher population density if the various developments all come to fruition, but how long will that take, and how much of it will actually happen? I am very unconvinced!
4. Local democracy is a certainly an organisational mess. We have about five bodies, all with overlapping remits and responsibilities. Within this, the GCP has more power than I ever expected it to have, and they have a duty to exercise this power responsibly, especially as they are not an elected body. The current proposal is a real test of democratic accountability.