Cambridgeshire’s further education colleges spend £1.8m on providing transport & bus services that should be provided for by local government

“College Principals have escalated this serious concern to the County Council and to the Combined Authority, in its role as Transport Authority for the region.”

Paper 2.3 to the Combined Authority’s Skills & Employment Committee here.

Damning of how central government has utterly failed successive cohorts of young adults and students by failing to provide enough public transport to enable them to get to places of learning & learn the skills they need.

You can also read about Cllr Sam Davies’ experience catching the bus from Cambridge to Huntingdon. It’s a journey I did nearly a decade ago to deliver a social media workshop to councillors there. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

The options according to Combined Authority officers:
  • “A universal Travel Card for 16–18-year-olds in education, training, or employment. This could either be subsidised (like WMCA) or free (like GMCA)
  • A targeted Travel Card for 16–18-year-old for specific groups of young people such as low-income, looked-after, care leavers etc.
  • A voucher system administered by colleges, providing a central subsidy to colleges and training providers for running bus services and for public services”

The options Mayor Dr Nik Johnson has available ultimately depend on the amount of money The Treasury are willing to give him. Furthermore, bus policy is his flagship policy. Whether you agree with him or not, he said he would prioritise significantly improving bus services across the county over and above big infrastructure projects like light rail. Therefore the options here will need to be consistent with what he proposes for improving bus services.

“Do most adults (especially those of us in Cambridge & Peterborough) understand how important decent bus services are for young people in small towns and rural areas?”

I learnt the hard way at University down in Brighton – but the problem was having a campus-based university in the countryside that had poor transport access to-and-from the city. In hindsight this was one of many things that was to have a devastating effect on my mental health. It took up to 90 minutes on the bus each way in my second year. I never forgave the institution for the indifference it showed to so many generations of students.

Part of the problem is too many institutions are located too close to each other – in South Cambridge in particular.

In a previous blogpost I asked:

“Who made the decision to cram half the county’s 16-19 year olds into a single council ward in Cambridge?”

Cambridge Town Owl 03 Oct 2021

Turns out it was over the last 50 years that politicians decided to establish two specialist A-level colleges from the restructure of secondary education in Cambridgeshire in the 1970s. This meant converting the Cambridgeshire County High School for Girls into Long Road Sixth Form College, and the County High School for Boys (one previous headmaster, Olivia Newton John’s Dad) into Hills Road Sixth Form College. Only a few years before, The Perse Boys School had moved out from next to Parker’s Piece out to where it is now, almost halfway between the two state sixth form colleges.

The decision to increase the intakes of both colleges – and of others generally was the result of John Major’s continued austerity in the 1990s. The only way further education colleges could increase funding was increasing numbers of students. No consideration however was given to whether the transport and surrounding community infrastructure could cope with this increase.

Then The Perse went co-educational and significantly expanded its facilities and numbers, while the Abbey Private College relocated to round the back of Hills Road’s Sports & Tennis Centre. As a result, that part of town is a transport nightmare because of the unintended consequences of decisions taken by politicians at a national level.

The Mayor for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough should start planning now on where to locate new further education colleges

This deals with reducing the need to travel

…something covered on p73 of the First Conversations on the emerging local plan here.

If Mayor Dr Nik Johnson wanted to be really bold, he could explore the case for relocating at least one of the Cambridge-based institutions to one of the new towns currently proposed in the existing and emerging local plans for Greater Cambridge. As I mentioned in my earlier blogpost here, I think there is a strong case could be made to relocate the Perse on Hills Road out to Waterbeach as part of a big project to build the Cambridge Sport Lakes. Furthermore I think a similar case could be made to relocate Hills Road Sixth Form College out to Cambourne next to an East-West-Rail train station/transport interchange/light rail facility. Because that college long ago ceased to have playing fields in its grounds due to its continual expansion of numbers in the 1990s. Relocation would provide much-needed playing field space without students having to make their way over to Sedley Taylor Road’s playing fields.

That then leaves land available for some much-needed public parks, accommodation for healthcare staff and low-paid key workers at Addenbrooke’s, and turning the Hills Road SFC site into a new Adult Education College covering the yawning gap in provision for adults who have come to the end of a professional career in one field being able to retrain into a new field. Again this is a policy that has been ignored by successive governments.

“What will the Local Transport & Connectivity Plan say?”

We don’t know yet, but given that the Overview & Scrutiny Committee transport update paper for their meeting on 25th October tells us it will be published by the end of the month, I predict it could be out in the next couple of days when the Board meets a few days after – as papers have to be published in advance.

Will there be anything on light rail?

That depends on how far into the future the Combined Authority wants to look. Because in 2015 Cambridgeshire County Council published its local transport plan for 2011-31.

You can read it here at Local Transport Plan 3(1). Despite having over 200 pages, there is no mention of light rail, trams, or other forms of mass transit that don’t involve buses.

The problem for the County Council was that Ministers invented metro mayors the following year. Which meant the former Mayor Mr Palmer published his very different plans a few years later – you can read them here. It incorporates his plans for the now defunct CAM Metro. But then came the Pandemic and following that the Super-elections for Cambridgeshire where multiple local elections were held on the same day – resulting in a significantly higher turnout in Cambridge than in other parts of the county. Amongst other things, Mr Palmer lost the election to Dr Nik Johnson who announced he would be scrapping the CAM Metro. This along with significant changes to Government policies due to the Climate Emergency and the public mood in the face of very few cars on the road due to the first Lockdown (turns out we quite like noise-and-pollution-free roads) meant that the current transport plan became rapidly obsolete.

It is a question that the Greater Cambridge Partnership has dodged for over seven years, and one the Mayor will have to address: What happens to rural busway buses when they hit Cambridge?

I don’t think the responses from Peter Blake, the Transport Director for the Greater Cambridge Partnership have been good enough. Saying that the busway buses will rely on the existing bus network even though he has provided precious little evidence to demonstrate any substantial plans drawn up with existing bus companies to the Board and Assembly on how this will work, won’t do. This was also raised as an issue by the GCP’s own independent auditors.

Above – comments from the GCP’s Independent Audit of the Cambourne-Cambridge Busway.

“What would you like to see?”

A solid commitment to fund the next stage study of the Connect Cambridge proposal for a light rail link that includes a tunnel/pair of tunnels under Cambridge to service a line that runs from Cambourne, Cambridge, Addenbrooke’s, and out to Haverhill. Such a single line deals with the rush hour motor traffic alone, while at the same time covering the most difficult parts of infrastructure building making it much easier to add additional light rail lines serving other parts of the county in the future. After all, this isn’t the first time Cambridge has considered proposals for a light rail scheme. The most recent one I’ve found is from 1991. The County Council deposited the archives in the Cambridgeshire Collection in the Central Library. I found them – you can read about them here.

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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