On Thursday, I was interviewed by BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s Jeremy Sallis about my thoughts on the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP)’s Integrated Parking Strategy for the city. This was up for discussion by the GCP Joint Assembly before presumably being endorsed by the Executive Board at its meeting in a couple of weeks.
The strategy, which covers the on- and off-street car parking controlled by the City and County Councils, has some laudable aims. But the point I wanted to emphasise in the interview is the gap between these aspirations and the means currently proposed for achieving them.
It doesn’t stack up
The GCP is at pains to point out that the ‘stick’ of a managed parking reduction process won’t be deployed until an adequate number of ‘carrots’ have been planted, but I just don’t believe that what’s suggested stacks up. To take just a few examples:
- The proposed CSET busway (running from a P&R site on the A11) will bypass the village centres at Sawston, Stapleford and Shelford. Residents will have to walk/cycle out of their village to catch the bus. How many will actually be willing or able to do that? According to a survey recently conducted by South Cambs MP Anthony Browne, almost 80% of the respondents who live closest to the route would definitely or probably not use it.
- The proposed Cambourne to Cambridge busway service will terminate on Grange Road. There is no clarity about how passengers are intended to make their onward journey into the city, as explained by local blogger Antony Carpen in this post on the subject:
- The GCP is reducing the parking capacity of its proposed necklace of outlying Park & Ride sites (which it misleadingly calls ‘travel hubs’). The A11 site for the CSET scheme has been reduced from an original 2000 car parking spaces to 1250, and the Foxton site from 700 spaces to “up to” 200.
- Oh, and there isn’t capacity for all the buses that visitors will supposedly be catching to access the city.
An additional really significant problem with the GCP strategy is revealed by the comment that “there may be as many as 17,000 private spaces in the city core and 40,000 spaces in the city as a whole – comprising a large majority of spaces where GCP, City and County Councils have limited influence and no control.”
To put that in context, the City and County Councils manage a combined total of 12,000 spaces in the city (city centre car parks, on-street pay and display, residents parking schemes, etc). So not only do we have the challenge of coordinating across our ludicrous multiple tiers of local government actors, we also have to achieve buy-in from all the managers of private sites too.
No credible answers
All this says to me that we still don’t have credible answers to some really difficult questions.
The busway approach still requires motorists to drive to the P&R sites in order to pick up services, and also runs the risk undermining demand for existing bus services still further. The ‘vox pop’ section with residents in Fulbourn which was broadcast on Jeremy’s show just before my interview summarised all the problems with existing bus services (high cost, lack of frequency and reliability). It also revealed some of the commonplace misapprehensions about electric vehicles. Yes, in some circumstances they could be considered less environmentally damaging, but they still shed damaging PM2.5 and PM10 particles from tyres and brakes …and they still cause congestion!
There’s also a load of problems with translating ‘active travel’ proposals into reality. 50% of car trips in Cambridge are within the city and that needs reducing. Walking and cycling should be obvious convenient and inexpensive substitutes. But while it’s all very well building new dedicated cycle infrastructure, there’s a shortfall in the maintenance budget for existing routes, and pavements too.
And it’s not just cycle routes that need maintenance, cycles themselves do. However, with the closure of The Kurser bike shop in Cherry Hinton, there’s now nowhere to get repairs done further south than the Giant store on the Hills Road bridge. Cycle theft is everywhere, cycle parking is at capacity – ironically I guess those two help balance each other out! Meanwhile, the new ‘micro mobility’ alternatives not only bring their own parking issues but also require a driving licence to use the e-scooters and e-bikes.
The issue of pavement parking
Finally, there are two dimensions which bring this discussion right back onto the streets of Queen Edith’s.
Firstly, the GCP strategy is all about finding the ‘least worst’ way of funnelling people into the city centre. In contrast, I continue to believe that this approach can only work if it sits alongside a programme of investment to create ‘liveable neighbourhoods‘ in the city’s suburbs, such that residents don’t have to travel in to the city centre unless they choose to. This would deliver not only direct benefits in terms of reduced congestion and pollution, but also would give us a fighting chance of building economic, social and environmental resilience into the heart of our local communities. This ‘place-based’ thinking is in theory embedded in both the City and County Councils but I have yet to see much evidence of it in policy.
Secondly, there is the perpetual vexed issue of pavement parking. The GCP report notes that this “tends to occur in areas of Cambridge with especially narrow residential streets”, but that understates the problem and significantly underplays the emphasis placed on it by respondents to the very consultation which underpins the report (see Appendix 2).
It doesn’t take long moving around the city to see that pavement parking has become completely normalised, and unfortunately enforcement simply isn’t well-enough resourced to deal with it.
There is however one aspect where the City Council surely ought to have the whip hand: namely where it has given planning permission for a construction project and agreed a Traffic Management Plan (TMP) with the developer as part of that approval.
It seems obvious to me that any developer consistently breaching its TMP ought to be sanctioned by the City Council’s Planning Enforcement function, as well as via tickets issued by Parking Enforcement officers. Yet I have spent my whole first year in office trying and failing to get a change of approach by Enterprise Property Group Ltd, the developer at 291 Hills Road, which has time and again allowed contractors and delivery vehicles to block the shared use footpath outside the site.
Neither remonstrating directly with site management nor reporting, with photos, to Planning Enforcement, has yet achieved a jot of difference. I’m left with the conclusion that TMPs are actually just elaborate fictions to disguise a consensus between planners and developers that the convenience and safety of pedestrians and cyclists is a whole lot less important than the cost-efficiency of the construction industry.
Given the apparent impotence of local government systems to deal with even the most obvious and egregious parking offences, you’ll have to forgive my cynicism about promises to deal fairly and effectively with the complexities of the bigger picture.
Reminder: the online quarterly South Area Committee meeting of the City Council, covering Queen Edith’s, Trumpington and Cherry Hinton wards, is tomorrow at 7pm. There will be a presentation by GCP officers on the proposed new Road Hierachy which, if adopted, will have implications for all us. I do encourage you to participate, again there are some big questions which need answers.