The Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Local Transport & Connectivity Plan’s soft launch – Nov 2021

Have your say on the vision, aims, and objectives before the transport planners come back with policies, maps, and proposals.

I think that’s the way they are doing this having filled in what I can of the options at

TL/DR: Do click on the above link and make use of the free text fields early on as the later screens are mainly drop-down menus only. Thus be up front about what it is you definitely want to see in the emerging transport & connectivity plan – eg policies on a light rail network for Cambridge / Peterborough / your town.

“Yeah – whatever. Where’s the proposal for a new light rail stop at the top of Castle Hill where we could have an expanded Museum of Cambridge and a sparkling new legal quarter for the city? And where are the new out-of-town coach parks with coach-driver-heaven for them to disembark all of their tourist passengers to use the new Cambridge Connect Metro?”

They are still at the principles stage.

“They’ve had over a decade to work out their principles!”

Yes – and no. The current mayor – Dr Nik Johnson only got elected six months ago. As any policy civil servant will tell you, it takes time to work up the manifesto commitments of any politician into a series of detailed policy documents. So not going ahead with CAM Metro involves going through the legal procedures to close down the limited company that the previous mayor Mr Palmer established – along with cancelling the work of the consultants that were commissioned.

The same goes for Dr Nik Johnson’s flagship policy of significantly improving bus services in the county – much of which involves close working and persistent lobbying of transport ministers. Not a fun job by any means. But we have our first results – we being the regular bus uses (I am one – the Citi 3 being my regular line) with the announcement in The Budget of 30 new zero emission buses.

Recall the original Local Transport Plan for Cambridgeshire was to have lasted from 2011-2031. For whatever reason, it was published in 2015. Austerity can’t have helped. You can read the plans as follows:

Then, for reasons I highlighted here, the new LCTP from Mayor Dr Nik Johnson had to be brought about because he won the Mayoral election in May 2021 with a very different set of priorities from his predecessor. Note this contrasts with the same election victories for Labour and the Liberal Democrats at Shire Hall which, with the latter party winning control of South Cambridgeshire District in 2018 has not led to major transport policy changes with the Greater Cambridge Partnership in the way that I believe they should have done – including the scrapping of the busway proposals brought in when the Conservatives had the voting majority.

“There remain serious flaws with the business case for the Greater Cambridge Partnership Cambourne–Cambridge busway, and significant uncertainties with other transport schemes that will affect the area to be served by the busway”

Edward Leigh, commissioned by Cambridge Past, Present & Future, published with permission by Smarter Cambridge Transport

The Local Transport and Connectivity Strategy is not being put together in isolation. As the website says, it has to take into account of the Independent Climate Report that Climate Commissioner Rhiannon Osborne so compellingly set out last month. You can see her interview with ITV Anglia reporting from The Fens here. I also wrote earlier that if developers want their proposals for new homes accepted, they need to get behind transport schemes such as Cambridge Connect if new residents are to choose either active travel (walking/cycling) or public transport as their first and easiest choice.

No sign of light rail in the soft launch options

I think the Combined Authority Transport Officers need to be explicit about what decisions have been taken by The Mayor here, and why. I think there is a strong public interest to explain to the general public that The Mayor won the mayoral election in a campaign that included a headline policy of scrapping the CAM Metro, and instead massively improving the bus network and bus services throughout the county. Therefore his proposals in this consultation will reflect that.

By explaining this decision – and then inviting the public to state whether they agree with him or not, it deals with one of the more contentious issues up front rather than leaving it as a loose end. It also deals with accusations of not having considered light rail as a policy option rather than having something that critics like me, and any party political opponents may otherwise respond with.

Furthermore, it puts the focus back onto those with alternative schemes such as Cambridge Connect Light Rail (I don’t consider CAM Metro to be light rail – it was based on the premise of ‘no rails’) to refine their proposals to meet the criteria and parameters of the emerging Local Transport & Connectivity Plan. Because if this plan is say only for the next five years, some may take the view that the time-frame is far too short, and instead would be better off making a longer term pitch both to ministers and whoever is the Mayor after the next mayoral election. Given how unstable transport policies have been over the past decade (not least because of rapidly evolving technologies) it’s reasonable to assume that politicians and candidates may have different views in 2025 compared to 2021 – or even those they had in 2016.

How ministers see broadly-rural combined authorities emerging and functioning

Although the Combined Authorities are a tier of administration with directly-elected mayors, they vary considerably in size and population. The Liverpool City Region has nearly three times the number of parliamentary constituencies (and thus MPs) compared with Cambridgeshire & Peterborough. Greater Manchester Combined Authority Area covers a population of nearly 3million – compared with the population of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough of under 700,000. At the same time, the Liverpool City Region only has one Conservative MP out of the 17 or so they have in their area. Cambridgeshire & Peterborough only have seven MPs, but six of those are Conservative, of which two ministers – one in The Treasury (Lucy Frazer QC) and one in Cabinet Office (Steve Barclay), and two are former ministers. How much impact this will have on Dr Nik Johnson’s ability to secure funding from Transport ministers remains to be seen.

The model of governance is still one that has Whitehall in control. This is not devolution in the Scottish or Welsh political sense. With the two nations, the Scottish Parliament has a number of legal and financial competencies that have been devolved from Westminster – ones that do not require any further referral to Westminster in order to exercise. It is similar with the Welsh Assembly Government but with far fewer powers and flexibilities. Part of this is due to a smaller population than Scotland.

In the case of English combined authorities, how much money they get to spend will depend on how much ministers are willing to hand over to them and for what purposes. Take the welcome announcement on Zero Emissions Buses. The process involved The Mayor applying to the Department for Transport for funding for the buses. It did not involve The Mayor tabling a proposal to a county legislature/assembly and asking for the authority to spend public funds on that specific policy. This is one of the reasons why so many countries separate the powers of an executive (eg a national government) from a legislature (eg a national parliament). It is an important constitutional principle that people in an executive should be separate from those responsible for scrutinising the executive. Otherwise there is an inherent conflict of interest – as with the UK Parliament because ministers always vote with the Government. Around 1/6 of MPs are ministers, and of those that are left on the Government back benches, those that want to become ministers know that loyally voting with the Government as the MP for South Cambridgeshire demonstrates, is one route to ministerial office. Such behaviour however may become an issue with some constituents in the run up to future elections – and something which political opponents also notice – see below.

“Should we fill in the soft launch questions?”

I recommend it, yes.

Most importantly, make use of the free text fields early on as the later screens don’t have them. (It’s mainly dropdown menus). So if like me you want to see light rail considered, include it in the vision free text box!

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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