Response to GCP Making Connections Survey

  • Posted on: 21 December 2022
  • By: Susan

Friends of the Cam made the following response to the GCP Making Connecrtions Survey. While we want to see car use drastically reduced in Cambridge, with a concommitant improvement to the bus survey, we consider that the proposals are unfair, unsustainable and ill thought through.


"Friends of the Cam wish to respond to the GCP Making Connections Survey. We choose to email our concerns and observations as we do not feel the on-line survey allows us to make the points below. This is also a comment on the restrictiveness of this online consultation.


Friends of the Cam (FotC) was set up to campaign for the rights of the river system to flow freely and clear of pollution. This involves concern about the current amount of water abstraction, and the additional amount of water supply, waste treatment infrastructure and consequent pollution of the river, needed to support the growth agreed in the City Deal and assumed in these transport proposals. We are fundamentally committed to reducing car use, and to urban areas which prioritise safe walking and cycling. We do not believe that the proposals can achieve all these objectives, for the reasons we set out below.


The growth to which the transport plan is responding is largely speculator/developer driven. It does not cater for people on average and lower-than-average incomes, as average house prices in the region are approximately £500,000 (which makes an 'affordable' home £400,000). And at the same time that the region is planning for upwards of 40,000 new homes (in Cambridge itself and immediate surroundings), the proportion of long-term empty homes has risen 55% in the last year.


FotC argues for a car free city centre and the discouraging of all but essential car use in the city (see for example the popular car-restriction scheme in central Ghent). We do not believe that introducing a congestion charge will do this. Those who can afford the charge will continue to drive in and around the city (and these are likely to be in larger cars, including SUV-types). The congestion charge is a regressive tax. Also, retrospective claiming against the charge will be costly in time for already overworked social carers, amongst others. Meanwhile, it is interesting that there is no reference to a workplace parking levy: currently free car parking places are an untaxed 'perk' for those who commute to work by car.


If this was truly a plan to restrict car travel there would be a corresponding planned reduction in car parking spaces (such as in Oslo, and which Birmingham is planning) whereas what is proposed is an: 'integrated parking strategy to meet future demand' (p25). In this context it is revealing that the City Council took the decision to replace the Park Street multi-story car park with an underground car park (albeit with somewhat reduced car spaces) underneath an aparthotel. A ban on (most) car users would be preferable and more environmentally sustainable. 


FotC supports an improved bus system and welcomes proposals for more frequent, cheaper, more extensive, flexible and later running services. This could include community bus services, although these are not mentioned. It is not made clear in the proposals that the bus services are to be financed out of the City Deal money and therefore are tied to high levels of growth in the City and its surroundings. Associated housing targets and new infrastructure are part of the deal. 


FotC are resolutely opposed to the construction of busways which are an integral part of this travel plan as made clear elsewhere on the GCP website. In an article headed: “Ambitious proposals to deliver world-class transport network for Greater Cambridge unveiled”, it is stated: “The City Access package is central to the GCP’s busway and active travel schemes.” We argue that a real reduction in traffic should obviate pressure to build busways since existing roads would be freed up for public transport and more dedicated bus lanes. We are mindful of past documents issued by the GCP claiming that busways had to go ahead because they had already been promised to “developers” and are being used as a justification to extend house building on the green belt which will reduce biodiversity. Proposed busways will rip through green belt land which, in the case of Cambridge, also includes agricultural land. This is land which has a high probability of more frequent flooding, and eventual inundation if carbon emissions are not drastically reduced. 


The extensive use of concrete to build these routes will produce significant amounts of carbon, while the destruction of trees and vegetation in the path of the proposed busways will release further carbon. While on p24 of the document there is a stated commitment to 'support decarbonisation', the construction of busways does precisely the opposite. It will not help the area meet its legally binding carbon reduction targets. It is revealing that there is no calculation of the amount of reduction in carbon emissions the plans are intended to achieve. It looks instead as if Cambridge citizens are being asked to accept unsustainable levels of growth and high embodied emissions in building and infrastructure in order to finance improvements in public transport and facilities for active travel. This is not sustainable planning. 


Fixed busways, in addition to their unsustainability, support a radial commuting transport planning model, which is outmoded for a future society with increasing home working and shared caring. Undertaking multiple journeys, combining different functions, in a day requires more flexible and frequent public transport options, as well as safe pedestrian and cycling routes. The proposals do not seem to be part of a wider transport plan (including, for example, the maximisation of existing rail).  Sustainable transport planning also needs to be articulated with land use planning where there is more devolution of services to smaller towns and villages rather than the kind of centralisation Cambridge is encouraging. This would involve reducing the need for motorised travel. 'Soft' transport measures - such as school buses, community transport schemes, and decentralised services - can do a lot to reduce car use, none of which is mentioned in the plan. Rather than emulating practices that appear to be successful in London - a city of c9 million people - there are plenty of examples across Europe from which Cambridge can learn (Ghent would be a useful first stop - its motorised vehicle restrictions and changes to bike facilities and public transport cost a fraction of what the Cambridge scheme proposes (£419m for the busways and parking provisions; Ghent's cost in the region of £4m). 


We challenge the lack of transparency regarding the busways, which appear not to be open to consultation, even though they will have a significant impact on many communities in and around Cambridge. Overall, this scheme appears to be either only partially thought through or a deliberate attempt to distract public opinion from the City Deal and the shift of control of what should be publicly accountable transport planning to the unelected GCP. "