Sam Davies

It’s becoming a blur

This is another one of those weeks where there is so much going on that I will simply offer you a couple of comments on each and then point you off in the direction of further reading, TV reports, podcasts etc if you want to find out more. Deep breath then, here goes…

Cambridge South station

Huw Merriman, the Rail Minister, came to the Biomedical Campus on Monday to announce that the project will be fully funded by government, with target opening date in 2025. There was the inevitable commentary about the station taking car traffic off local roads by functioning as an ‘inbound’ station but the supporting documents continue to emphasise its role in (a) ‘unlocking’ further growth, and (b) providing ‘outbound’ connections with London and onward Eurostar links, Stansted Airport, etc, both of which are extremely likely to increase traffic on local roads further. Once again, I’d point you to the map in the Campus’s own Travel Needs Review, published in 2019 which included this map, suggesting that the outbound catchment area for Cambridge South will extend well beyond the city into South and East Cambs.

It emphasises how critical the design of the pinchpoint by the entrance to Cambridge South on the QE side will be. It’s at the bottom of the guided busway bridge and where there should be bus stops for other services, including the proposed CSET busway, criss-crossed by cycle and pedestrian routes, and in 2025 receiving all the vehicle traffic heading to pick up or drop off at the new station.

We need to be sure it’s designed in a way which minimises conflict between users of different modes of transport in what is a very small space. However, no robust plans as to how this is going to be achieved have yet been released, though we are assured that the various project teams are talking to each other …

East West Rail

On Thursday there was a briefing for councillors about EWR, following the recent route announcement. Inevitably much of the discussion focussed on the implications of the chosen route for South Cambs villages, but I followed up on one element of the scheme which is right on our doorstep. This is the minor matter of the need to replace the bridge on Long Road over the railway to accommodate the extra tracks required.

Para 10.1.3 of the Feedback Report says blithely “While works are undertaken to the bridge, we’d need to put temporary traffic diversions in place”. I asked how they intended to do this, given the lack of viable diversions. The EWR staff on the call acknowledged that it was a problem which they don’t currently have an answer to, but it’s on the “top five” list of challenges for them! I hope you find that reassuring.

Despite this and the many other concerns and criticisms raised, the overall tone of the input from the EWR team was relentlessly positive. Don’t forget folks, EWR rail promises to “unlock’ £103bn of growth”.

So by this point in the proceedings, you might be thinking that we’re unlocking so much growth and promised so many benefits that we’ll be walking on gold pavements with a thick carpet of rose petals on top in the near future. But two further meetings pointed up just how hard it is to retain those alleged benefits to improve the quality of life of local residents.

Sustainable Travel Zone

The GCP Assembly met to discuss, among other things, the findings of the GCP’s Sustainable Travel Zone consultation (report starts p.80). The Assembly is the GCP scrutiny body rather than the decision-making body and its challenge on Thursday was defined like this:

In other words, not to come up with definitive proposals itself, but to prepare the ground for the Board meeting at the end of the month. For a neutral observer’s perspective on what happened you can read Local Democracy Reporter Hannah Brown’s commentary on the meeting here, and blogger Phil Rodger’s summing up after the event:

My own reading is that, as things stand, the balance is still tipped in favour of some kind of congestion charging mechanism – yes, probably ‘tweaked’ to appease public concerns, but still ensuring that the levy on residents driving into/out of/around the city covers the costs of the improvements in public transport necessary to support the growth which is supposed to be benefitting us all. (Are you still following this?)

The next milestones in trying to understand how on earth that might be achieved are the Assembly reconvening for an additional meeting on 26th June, followed by the Executive Board on 28th June.

Integrated Neighbourhood meeting

It often seems like debate around the future of the city is dominated by housing and transport to the exclusion of everything else, so I was pleased to participate in a discussion this week about the evolution of the NHS’s Integrated Neighbourhood initiative in our area. It was great to see that so many different organisations are committed to supporting this new way of working, intended to provide ‘proactive, preventative, personalised care’ as close to home as possible, but depressing to hear resource constraints being cited time and again as the number one barrier to achieving this.

What I did learn is that the Integrated Care System has recently devolved a significant amount of funding to the City Council to spend on tackling health inequalities on three priorities:

  • Children and young people’s mental health
  • Frailty
  • ‘High-intensity’ service users.

I will be very interested to see the evolution of this activity over the coming year as these are all issues which feature in the casework I pick up and I’m painfully aware that at the moment we simply don’t have enough resources dealing with them.

No affordable housing at Station Square

I was interviewed by the BBC’s Ben Schofield about the fact that two blocks of flats at Station Square had been built without any affordable housing. Remember, City Council policy is that 40% affordable is the default.

Cambridge Challenges – the role of the Local Plan

You can now hear the third episode in the Cambridge 105 series I’ve recorded with Lewis Herbert about various aspects of the planning system. This one focuses specifically on Local Plans, looking back at the successes and disappointments of previous plans and looking ahead to the content of the Plan currently under debate. I hope I succeeded in making the case for why the current rate of ‘sustainable’ growth is nothing of the sort, and why residents’ concerns must be respected. Do have a listen.

Sam Davies

4 comments

  • We’re beyond the stage where we need more local residents helping scrutinise what’s happening and sharing their observations in a way that’s easier for the community and wider city to pick up on. At the moment the fragmentation of public services means that meetings are coming in thick and fast – Monday 12 June being South Area Cttee. If anyone’s got any ideas on how we might co-ordinate this so that we don’t all feel overwhelmed by everything thrown at us, I’m all ears!

    Also, I was at both the Arbury Carnival and the Abbey People Big Lunch over the weekend (One on Saturday, one on Sunday). Both were buzzing (and even the politicians were being nice to each other too!) Lots of really interesting community engagement stalls happening that got people talking to each other (as well as a host of things to keep children occupied at the same time). The problem as you say Sam is so few council resources available despite the relative affluence of Southern Cambridge.

  • “The EWR staff on the call acknowledged that it was a problem which they don’t currently have an answer to, but it’s on the “top five” list of challenges for them! I hope you find that reassuring.” What are the other four challenges?!?!

  • Work, uni, volunteering on top of my own health needs and helping friends and neighbours means time to see the bigger picture is just hard to find let alone the motivation to engage with all this stuff!!!!!!
    So thanks for giving so much time to bring all this together for the use of all of us that live here in Cambridge.