How the Darwin Line of Cambridge Connect Light Rail could help solve the Mill Road traffic problem

It would require the Greater Cambridge Partnership making a very big U-turn, but stranger things have happened.

Some of you will have seen the recently-broadcast vote on the Mill Road Bridge temporary closure, which led to protests at the weekend and some bitter divisions during and after the recent local elections. Last time I checked, people were still arguing on Twitter.

They are still arguing ***because this was a very difficult decision***, where hundreds, if not thousands of people signed petitions, lobbied their councillors, and engaged in public debate on and off line.

Avril Lavigne: “Why d’you have to go and make things so complicated?!?”

Because it’s local government transport. It’s complex by its very nature.

Have a listen to Cllr Dr Dave Baigent of Cambridge City Council making the case for maintaining the bridge closure. Cllr Baigent is now one of the most influential councillors inside Cambridge City, as he now holds the city council’s seat on the Board of the Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership, has a seat on the City Council’s Planning Committee that approves or rejects planning applications, and is also Chair of the Planning & Transport Scrutiny Committee.

Cllr Gerri Bird (Lab – Chesterton), the Vice-Chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways and Transport Committee stated the reason for voting to re-open the bridge to motor traffic was due to her concerns for the elderly, disabled people & those with mobility impairments, and taxi drivers (who have to take longer routes at the further expense of passengers, and greater air pollution).

Cllr Bird recently defeated former Cllr Ian Manning at the recent local elections in one of the few competitively-contested seats in Cambridge. (The last candidate to contest Coleridge ward in Cambridge outside of a general election year was Puffles the Dragon Fairy – there are some stupendously safe seats around here).

Expect the vote of Cllr Bird and the voting records of Labour county councillors on the Mill Road Bridge issue to come under scrutiny.

“So….what happens now?”

Mill Road Bridge re-opens to motor traffic, and we end up back where we were before the CV19 outbreak, with a commitment for a full review and further consultation on what to do with Mill Road to reduce traffic. Write to your councillors again everyone!

In terms of what could happen, I’ve suggested holding another citizens’ assembly to enable the many interested parties and individuals to sit down and discuss (with maps, post-it-notes, wearing masks in ventilated buildings and so on) what possible solutions there may be. They’ve tried a citizens’ assembly before with the Greater Cambridge Partnership. Now, if a citizens’ assembly isn’t the right solution, InvolveUK has huge database of alternative methods to look through that might be more suitable. Also, the results of citizens’ assemblies are not like a magic wand for solving difficult issues. For example:

Before: ***Close the roads to motor traffic!***

After: ***Not those roads!***

It could have been even worse if Holford and Wright got their way with their 1950s plan for Mill Road.

Above – left: Mill Road from Holford & Wright’s Cambridge Development Plan Vol 2 (See here)

Their plan was to have a main road linking the Newmarket Road – East Road roundabout with Cambridge Railway Station via Mill Road – hence the roundabout at the bottom of the bridge on the Petersfield side, which would have ploughed up half the back gardens of Gwydir Street and Kingston Street. Today both of these are major cycling routes. Different times, different visions.

Was the Emergency Traffic Regulation Order the wrong approach in the first place?”

This by Mike Scialom of the Cambridge Independent (speaking in a personal capacity)

Note the original order was brought in by the then Conservative-led County Council following the Conservative Transport Secretary’s announcement on 09 May 2020 on promoting active travel schemes in the face of both the initial and unprecedented lockdown phase earlier that year, and the collapse in road traffic.

“…we are today publishing fast-tracked statutory guidance, effective immediately, requiring councils in England to cater for significantly-increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians, and making it easier for them to create safer streets.”

Transport Secretary Shapps at the Downing Street Press Conference of 09 May 2020.

Note that guidance was withdrawn on 04 May 2021.

“What are the options in the longer term?”

That’s what the Cambridge Eastern Access Project by the Greater Cambridge Partnership is dealing with. I blogged about it here.

Basically the problem is what to do with the motor traffic that goes down Newmarket Road from the A14 at Bottisham, as well as the motor traffic down Coldham’s Lane and Mill Road.

The problem the Eastern Access Project has at the moment is that the CAM Metro was supposed to be a big part of the solution. But the election of Dr Nik Johnson as Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough on a manifesto that involves scrapping the CAM Metro has meant they’ve had to go back to the drawing board.

Cambridge Connect Light Rail – the Darwin Line as amended.

The latest version of the proposals from Dr Colin Harris and colleagues was published earlier in 2021. The main core part of the proposal are the pair of tunnels that go under Cambridge’s city centre – which could be anywhere between Addenbrooke’s and Mill Road in the south, to Grange Road & the Girton Interchange in the north. Obviously the longer the tunnels, the greater the sunk costs at the start. The first – and most important part of the proposal is The Isaac Newton Line in purple which deals with the huge concerns residents have in South East Cambridge & nearby villages, as well as West Cambridge and western villages over the proposed busways.

I support the Cambridge Connect proposals – I run its Facebook page (and no I’m not paid. I just want a light rail underground for my home town. And a new large concert hall. And an expanded Museum of Cambridge on Castle Hill. And a revamped Guildhall in the style that John Belcher envisioned in 1898. Hey! I’m ambitious for my city! Mindful I’ll be plant food somewhere by the time any of these are completed).

You’ll notice the second line – the Darwin Line – is one that in the latest iteration is effectively a north-south link connecting Trumpington to Cambridge North via the Science Park, Cambridge Regional College, and the new Darwin Green development. One of the proposed future extensions out to Burwell and beyond is one that could be brought forward to help deal with the Cambridge Eastern access issues. See below.

Above: Instead of having the Darwin Line Phase II joining the tunnels between Eddington and the West Campus of Cambridge University, I propose having it going *underground* south of Darwin Green, creating two new stops between there and the city centre.

The first is at Arbury off Histon Road near where Aldi is, or further north at the Gilbert Road/Warwick Rd junction just east of the Mayfield Primary School. That opens up the western half of one of the more economically deprived wards to easy transport access to the Science Park, North East Cambridge, and Cambridge City Centre – enabling a switching of services to get to Addenbrooke’s.

The second stop would be at Castle Hill, behind the old county council offices now used as student accommodation. There were plans to turn this into a magnificent legal quarter but these were abandoned after Central Government pulled potential funding. Personally I think there’s still merit in that – getting rid of all of the architecturally uninteresting buildings currently there and moving the Crown, County, and Magistrates Courts up to that site along with the law departments of Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin. I hope the County Council still owns the freehold to the sites. The Institute of Criminology could also move there, along with a small police station/custody suite that could deal with summary offences that need to go to court the following morning. It won’t happen in the near future given the mess the Tories have made of the criminal justice system. Note that the MP for South-East Cambridgeshire, Lucy Frazer QC MP, has been a Government Minister at the Ministry of Justice or in one of the Government’s Legal Posts (currently covering as Solicitor General) since January 2018. Which amongst other things also means *she cannot vote against the Government* as she is bound by the convention of collective responsibility. (Even though it’s questionable as to how strongly that convention held under Theresa May’s second administration!)

The final part of my amendment to the Darwin Line is linking it to the proposed Phase 3 extension out to Burwell. The line emerges from underground anywhere between Coldham’s Lane and the Airport – though not on Coldham’s Common as that’s green open space. From the Airport – which will become a mix of a new large community and a new urban park, the line can link to the new developments at East Cambridge / Marleigh – including the Ice Rink (as it’s important to get leisure infrastructure connected too, before heading out to a proposed Parkway / Park ‘n’ Ride stop at the A14 Quy junction. From there, it’s open countryside with a potential route from Quy to Bottisham, Newmarket Racecourse, Soham, and terminating at Ely. Or if you were feeling *really* ambitious, extend the line around the northern side of Ely (connecting the football club), and moving onto Sutton, Chatteris, Ramsey, Alconbury where the County Council’s new HQ is, and terminating at Huntingdon.

“That’s a long way to get to Mill Road!”

And if you’re on. a light rail, you won’t even notice a thing! I commuted from Cambridge to Central London for a number of years. And it didn’t do my health any favours, but in the grand scheme of things it was point-to-point. As was the London tube network. Geographically it might seem you’re taking a *huge* detour, but if all you are doing is sitting in your seat staring at your phone, all that happens is you get onto the carriage at point A, and you get off at point B. What happens in the outside world is neither here nor there so long as your train arrives at the time you expect it to, without incident.

“That will take ***ages*** to build!*

Like I said, by the time such an extended Darwin Line is completed if at all, I will be plant food. But as with many things to do with infrastructure, the people that start things off are not necessarily the people that get to see them through to completion, let alone use them. Henry VI never got to see King’s College Chapel completed. I don’t know if Clara Rackham was ever able to swim in Parkside Pool despite over half a century of campaigning for a municipal indoor pool (She was in her 80s when that pool opened in 1963 – she died three years later). But then it’s as that giant haystack of a civic figure Kelsey Kerridge once said:

“All I want to do is to see the first brick built there. I shall know then that it’s going to be finished. Then I can have some peace and quiet.”

Ald C Kelsey Kerridge to Deryck Harvey – 03 July 1972. Cambridge Evening News in the Cambs Collection

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:

%d bloggers like this: