The Greater Cambridge Partnership must change policies to reflect the recent local election results

For the first time in its history, there will be no Conservatives on the GCP Board. Yet for its first four years (2014-18) that party held the majority. In the course of three years, the electorate has voted to remove Conservative political control of both South Cambridgeshire District Council, and of Cambridgeshire County Council. Accordingly, the Greater Cambridge Partnership board and officers must reflect the decision of the electorate, and reflect that in changed policies and transport proposals.

The next Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership Assembly on 10 June 2021 is an acid test for this. There are over 600 pages of meeting paperswhich you can read here. (There’s an art to reading meeting papers – something I may come back to in a future blogpost).

If you would like to table a public question to the Assembly, you can email them via public.questions [@]

In fact, I strongly encourage you to do so – asking Officers to state what will change, and asking the Assembly members to make clear that some things, and some schemes will have to change, and even be dropped altogether, despite the huge sums already spent.

The membership of the Greater Cambridge Assembly has been updated since the elections.

It is now as follows:

Councillor Tim Bick (LibDems – Market) – Cambridge City Council
Councillor Rosy Moore (Labour – Coleridge) – Cambridge City Council
Councillor Simon Smith (Labour – Castle) – Cambridge City Council
Councillor Alex Beckett (LibDems – Queen Edith’s) Cambridgeshire County Council
Councillor Brian Milnes (LibDems – Sawston & Shelfords)- Cambridgeshire County Council
Councillor Neil Shailer (Labour – Romsey) – Cambridgeshire County Council
Councillor Ian Sollom (LibDems – Harston & Comberton) South Cambs District Council
Councillor Heather Williams (Cons – The Mordens) – South Cambridgeshire District Council
Councillor Eileen Wilson (LibDems – Cottenham) – South Cambridgeshire District Council

While you can contact any of the above directly, the constitutionally ‘correct’ method is either to get in touch with the GCP directly (see here),


to get in touch with *either* your local city/district councillor and/or your local county councillor to lobby the Assembly on your behalf if you’re not able to put your points directly at public Qs. Also that way, more councillors become aware of the issues and can potentially put more pressure on if a number of their constituents get in touch independently raising the same issues. So if you don’t know who your elected representatives are, see and drop them an introductory email!

Additionally, there are business & education reps (see the links here)
Heather Richards – Business Representative
Dr Andy Williams – Business Representative
Christopher Walkinshaw – Business Representative
Dr Karen Kennedy – University Representative (Cambridge University – Strategic P’ships)
Lucy Scott – Education/Schools Representative (Learning Alliance – Chesterton/Impington)
Helen Valentine – University Representative (Anglia Ruskin)

The Q I’ve repeatedly asked regarding the proposed Cambourne-Cambridge busway is:

“What happens to the buses when they hit Grange Road? (i.e. West Cambridge).

Above – from p461 of the meeting papers. Their response is simply that the buses will join the existing road network. Yet we know from the experience of the existing guided busway that their buses get stuck in the ever-increasing rush-hour traffic.

From G-Maps here.

Exploring the point at which the buses are supposed to arrive in Cambridge – from the top-left where it says “Rugby Field” (West Road Concert Hall being your reference point with the red balloon), the Grange road route options take you straight into one of three traffic jams. The first is Grange Road northwards towards Madingley Road. The second is down West Road, Queen’s Road, and Silver Street towards the Town Centre where you hit the Trumpington Street and Pembroke Street gridlock as everyone tries to get into Lion Yard Car Park, and the third one takes you towards the railway station that involves crossing the Junction of Doom that is Fen Causeway / Lensfield Road / Trumpington Road/Street. And the junction next along at Brooklands Avenue isn’t great either. So take your pick.

Dare the Greater Cambridge Partnership do something *really radical* and switch towards the Cambridge Connect Light Rail project?

Of course this would be my preference. It’s also the project I’ve said that developers need to get behind if they want any chance of their bids for development land to be considered in the 2030-41 Greater Cambridge Local Plan and the ones beyond.

Doing so would not mean all of the expensive consultancy work gets thrown away. The Issac Newton Line (the first of the proposed lines – which is also deals with the most difficult work, i.e. the pair of tunnels under the city centre) covers both the Cambourne-Cambridge GCP Project, ***and*** the Cambridge South East Transport Project, both of which have kicked up large volumes of opposition – and unnecessarily so.

The two problems facing the GCP that the Cambridge Connect project deal with are:

  1. The West Fields problem – local residents in West Cambridge and the villages don’t want a new busway going over the West Fields – the last direct link between Cambridge city centre and the countryside. This won’t be a problem for Cambridge Connect as the light rail route can go underground at any point from the Girton Interchange to Grange Road.
  2. Building on the Cambridge Green Belt in South East Cambridge & beyond. The villages are already unhappy about this, and voted out their Conservative County Councillors at the recent elections. Here’s Stapleford Parish Council announcing their protest for 03 June 2021.

In 2016 there were a number of protests organised against the proposed West Cambridge busway route.

Note the interviews in 2016 that I filmed:

  1. Stuart Tuckwood (Cambridge Greens), Julius Carrington (Cambridge Conservatives), and Cllr Bridget Smith (South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats)
  2. Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Leader of Liberal Democrats on Cambridgeshire County Council)
  3. Public speeches from 2016 – mainly Liberal Democrats

And another medley/time lapse from 2017 below:

“The Officers will complain that it is outside of their scope!”

Which is their job. They are not empowered to ‘think outside of the box’. Which is why when it was originally appraised, it only covered the direct rail/light rail link between Cambridge & Haverhill, and as Smarter Cambridge Transport stated, was both only an approximation, and also an under-estimate of the benefits vs costs. Furthermore, there is already a strong campaign in Haverhill to re-open that link, one that finally in 2017 gained the support of their local MP, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Given that the future is ‘partnerships and co-operation’ – the strong steer from the new Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, the onus is now on the politicians to link up with other organisations to make the better ideas come to fruition.

Something Cambridge City Council leader Cllr Lewis Herbert has already hinted at with the former Conservative leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, Cllr Nick Clarke (Cons – Clare, Hundon and Kedington) now out in West Suffolk having joined and then left UKIP in the middle of the last decade.

Note in terms of their political views/dispositions, Cllrs Clarke and Herbert are as far apart as it is possible to be for senior councillors – but have known each other for years.

“So, who needs to do what?”

The Assembly needs to give a very strong steer to the Board *and* to officers that the previous ‘business as usual’ is now at an end. This is because of three existential shocks:

  1. The Corona Virus and the impact of Lockdown on the public’s greater appreciation for cycling and walking – and less for motoring, plus the development of new philosophies and ideas to cope with the climate emergency such as the 15 minute city
  2. The election of Mayor Dr Nik Johnson who has his own priorities not just on buses (And electric buses at that), but also in terms of ways of working
  3. The loss of political control by the Conservatives of the County Council – now under the control of the Joint Administration (Lib Dems, Labour, Ind).
A summer pause to reflect on the political and policy consequences of the election results

That might actually require a pause over the summer to figure out how those changes are reflected in terms of which schemes to change, which to drop, and which to bring in. Despite being a long term advocate for Cambridge Connect Light Rail, I think the Greater Cambridge Partnership should take advantage of the political cover that the election results represent. This is a big chance for them to cut their losses on old projects, and bring in some newer ones that have far fewer political and delivery risks – but that also capture the mood and the direction of travel. For me that is new walking and cycling routes, ones not based on commuting alone, but that can increase the economic sustainability of leisure facilities, cultural hubs, and tourist attractions – as well as increasing the accessibility of pedestrians to open green spaces.

I’d like to think that the public and the talking heads (myself included) would give the politicians credit for acknowledging the huge political change following the unprecedented number of elections we held in this part of the county – especially if it was clearly explained to the public why this was happening.

“When the Greater Cambridge Partnership was signed off in 2014, the City Council had just elected Labour into control, while South Cambridgeshire District & Cambridgeshire County Councils were Conservative-controlled.

You the electorate have since removed the Conservatives from political control in South Cambridgeshire and in Cambridgeshire County. You have also removed the Conservative Mayor of the county, that mayoralty established by a Conservative Central Government in 2016. We as a partnership need to re-assess what these changes that you voted for now mean policy-wise. It cannot mean carrying on as if nothing has happened.”

Some very tough decisions await the Greater Cambridge Partnership Board

From July 2021 the Board will have as voting members:

  • Cllr Dr Dave Baigent (Labour – Romsey) Cambridge City Council
  • Cllr Elisa Meschini (Labour – King’s Hedges) Cambridgeshire County Council
  • Cllr Neil Gough (Liberal Democrats – Cottenham)

Cllr Dr Baigent is the new Chair of Cambridge City Council’s Planning & Transport Scrutiny Committee, and also a member of the Planning Committee that approves/declines planning applications.

Cllr Meschini is the deputy leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, & Cllr Gough the deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council.

From those perspectives, the local print press may wish to do some extended councillor features so readers and residents can familiarise themselves with those who are going to take some very significant decisions in the next few years.

Ultimately, the councillors and GCP do not need to take major decisions before the summer. Best to pause, reflect on the election results, and come back with a refreshed approach and policies.

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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