In advance of the final local consultation event, at Netherhall School, 4pm-8pm on Thursday 23 January, here’s what the current Cambridge South station proposals will mean for Queen Edith’s.
We’ve had many years of waiting for Cambridge South and being told that it is the solution to the congestion which is engulfing our corner of Cambridge. Finally this week the consultation has been launched by Network Rail to decide on its location. I’m sure almost everyone’s reaction to that is “Thank goodness, about time too”. But the proposals deserve much closer scrutiny than you might initially be led to believe by the information provided, hence the length of this post!
There is no mention in the consultation itself of the number of passenger trips Cambridge South is expected to see each year. However, Network Rail have told me that they are defining it as a C1/C2 station, so they are assuming between 0.5m and 2m trips pa. I am concerned that this is barely half the size of the baseline assumed by the Cambridge Biomedical Campus Transport Needs Review published in January 2019:
“The overall impact of Cambridge South Station will depend on the level of demand management in place at CBC and in the wider transport network. However, even in the Baseline Station demand scenario described above, an estimated 5,800 return trips could use Cambridge South Station daily (across all its roles). This is broadly equivalent to the total current demand at Ely and Royston Stations combined.”
For the record, Ely generates 2.3m passenger trips a year and Royston 1.5m.
So how will these passenger trips be generated? Again, the original brief for Cambridge South was that it was primarily a destination station serving staff, patients and visitors at the Biomedical Campus. However, it appears that (presumably for financial reasons) it has now been redefined as a significant outbound station too, with 1100 origin trips a day, pulling in passengers from as far afield as Six Mile Bottom.
Access to the station
The apparent lack of agreement over how many passengers this facility is supposed to serve then 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:
- Cycling and walking journeys: what safe and convenient routes to the station are going to be created within the Campus? At the moment, my most direct route on foot from Hills Road to Francis Crick Avenue is literally through the main Addenbrooke’s concourse. Whose responsibility is it to change this? Where is the funding coming from? Campus decision making structures are not transparent nor, one might argue, very efficient.
- Bus journeys: the Network Rail document makes virtually no reference to bus infrastructure, despite the obvious need for there to be a fully integrated bus hub at the station. Where is the room for this going to come from – remember that the Campus are shoehorning the station in behind the land already allocated to Astra Zeneca and Cambridge University buildings. Perhaps the assumption is that buses will be parked along Francis Crick Avenue – but space here is already earmarked as the route of the proposed Cambridge South East busway. Alternatively, it could be taken from Hobson’s Park, which was created as mitigation for the loss of Green Belt land for the Great Kneighton development.
From a QE perspective, there is also the likelihood that many more services will be routed round the Campus to connect with the station, adding on 10 minutes or more to journeys from QE into the city centre.
- Car: despite the best intentions to minimise vehicle traffic, it is inevitable that some people will want or need to access the station by car. We are told there will be no car parking, but ‘taxi and passenger drop-off facilities’ will be provided. Because of the restrictions on using the Campus as a through route (enforced by multiple Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras), all private cars accessing the station will need to approach it from the west, via Addenbrooke’s road. For anyone travelling from the east, this will require a detour to Trumpington via Long Road or Granhams Road, both of which are already at capacity. Alternatively, if drivers are just dropping off or picking up a passenger, they may well resort to driving into the Ninewells development and parking up on Vawser Way cul de sac, which is a direct 500m walk from the possible southern station location. This will create problems not only with Ninewells itself, which is supposed to be a cycle friendly access route to the Campus, but also with vehicles turning in and out of the junction on Babraham Road.
It’s already clear from the Network Rail diagrams that use of Hobson’s Park will be impeded for a period, as that will be the site of the construction compound. What is not mentioned is the possibility that both the Guided Busway bridge on the Campus and the Long Road rail bridge will have to be significantly re-engineered to accommodate the new infrastructure, with significant consequent disruption to movement around the local area.
Is Cambridge South the chicken or the egg?
By which I mean, is Cambridge South what we’ve been told it is – a long-overdue solution to the existing problems caused by the huge expansion of the Biomedical Campus and the recent Trumpington housing developments? Or is it in fact a vehicle to justify even more aggressive growth in the future? The consultation document states that the station is needed because it will “meet new and future demand from housing opportunities throughout the Cambridge Southern Fringe”. This is a very loaded statement. The ‘Southern Fringe’ as currently defined is Great Kneighton, Trumpington Meadows and Ninewells. All of these are sites are now built out and occupied, so what are these future “housing opportunities” referred to? The endless pressure on Cambridge to grow, not just to provide housing for people working in jobs here ,but also as an overflow location for London commuters means that Cambridge South station will give developers in Cambridge a green light to take advantage of the capital’s unmet housing need. And Queen Edith’s is in the front line of desirable locations for that development.
I’m genuinely sorry that I can’t take a more positive approach to this consultation. I do still hope that Cambridge South station can make a positive contribution to life in our neighbourhood, but on current evidence I am far from convinced that the necessary joined-up thinking is going on to make it likely.
As ever, it is really important that residents respond in numbers to this consultation – Network Rail are primed to listen to the institutions which pull the strings around here, we need to make our views heard too. The consultation closes on 2nd March. Please spread the word.
Update: I was interviewed on the subject on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. Here’s what I had to say…
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