Cambridge Ahead’s look ahead for 2021/22

TL/DR – Some of the research commissioned by the organisation representing a range of Business and Academic organisations provides further insight into Cambridge’s persistent problems. The absence of sectors that don’t have the financial clout mean that some of their conclusions risk over-looking the needs of communities that have as much a say on the future of our city as the wealthy institutions.

The Cambridge Ahead report for 2021 is well written and concise enough to engage the lighter reader who might otherwise be put off the more detailed in-depth reports I often refer to on these pages. I’ll leave it to Cambridge Ahead to explain who they are and what they do. An influential lobby group, as I’ve said before somewhere, if they did not exist, someone else would have invented them. And they have their critics – the more prominent of them being either having roots in the Environmental sector who question (with good reason given the climate crisis) their vision of continued economic growth, or from a democratic legitimacy perspective (who elects them, who are they accountable to, and by what means?)

The Growth proponents

Quoting Cllr Sam Davies MBE (again) from a recent blogpost – this one from 28 Sept 2021 raises significant concerns about the emerging local plan.

“As we know, there are influential bodies at all levels who are vocal in their support of stimulating further employment growth in Greater Cambridge:

So it’s no surprise that the ’employment led’ approach to defining housing need has prevailed.”

I’ve stated previously that the CPIER needs overhauling in the face of the Independent Climate Report for Cambs & Peterborough. Even more so following the Glasgow Climate Conference – widely regarded by climate activists to have failed, but one where the British Government has signed up to further commitments. We await Parliamentary scrutiny of what those commitments mean in real life.

“What did the Cambridge Ahead report say?”

Transport and housing came up as the big issues of interest to me and this blog.

“We are delighted to see the Greater Cambridge Partnership pushing forward with their four-corridor public transport strategy linking Cambridge City Centre to the North, South, West and East of the region. If Cambridge is to future proof its transport needs, greater investment in public transport systems is key if we are to reduce car traffic and give people greater choice to meet their travel needs.”

Jane Paterson-Todd – CEO of Cambridge Ahead

These are the four main busway corridors that the Greater Cambridge Partnership is going ahead with – the ones that I’ve asked aloud which local councillors will be championing these.

It should not be left to an influential lobby group to be the ones making the public case for the busways. It was the politicians that voted for it. The politicians should take ownership and sing the praises of this from the rooftop.

As I’ve mentioned on many occasions, my preference remains with the Cambridge Connect Light Rail – in which its first main route would cover the routes of Cambourne-Cambridge and the Cambridge South East Transport combined.

Above – as envisaged by Rail Future East Anglia, which is co-sponsoring the light rail proposals (you can join Rail Future here)

As I mentioned following the online meeting last week, officers have confirmed light rail is a non-started now with the GCP. Therefore the only route pro-light-rail campaigners have is through their MPs to ministers directly. They can do this via

Research commissioned by Cambridge Ahead – interesting reading

One of the things lobby groups do is commission research in areas their members or clients are interested in. We’ve seen this with the Greater Cambridge Local Plan where I picked out a number of offers from developers of land they want included in the new plan, and links to the expensively-produced independent studies (such as environmental studies) attached to their proposals. How the developers choose to present or ‘spin’ the reports is up to them. What is of interest to the rest of us is what the expert reports actually say.

For example in at least one of them, the ecologists said that development would inevitably harm the undeveloped site so therefore considerable investment was needed in a bio-diversity strategy. Hence the site concerned being promoted as a zero carbon nature-friendly site with a whole host of eco-features. It’s then up to local residents and campaign groups to help scrutinise the detail.

“We have a wealth of data, modelling, and insight that we want to ensure is foremost of planning considerations at all of these levels. Cambridge Ahead has developed a thorough understanding of how the Cambridge clusters have grown over time and has a tremendous amount of intelligence to contribute on how future growth can be harnessed sustainably and inclusively.”

Alex Plant, Anglian Water & Cambridge Ahead, p7.

They also state:

“Over the course of 2021/22 we will:
• Provide input to the development of the City Access package to reduce private car usage and invest in public transport systems in Cambridge
• Contribute to the refresh of the Local Transport Plan across the county, and
• Advocate – as Cambridge Ahead has always done – for further consideration of the Rapid Mass Transit system (and the funding sources for this) that the city region needs for long-term growth to be sustainable.”


Re long term growth – one that involves further reducing car journeys, I had a look at where light rail lines could be extended to, covering the towns and large villages. One example was exploring a light rail or suburban rail ‘loop’ linking up Chatteris, Ramsay, and Alconbury to a rail-based mass transit that also builds resilience into the system. Could Cambridge Ahead be looking towards these towns rather than those areas within the Cambridge/South Cambridge boundaries?

With the Guided busway going from Cambridge to Huntingdon, this route creates an additional (albeit longer) route to Huntingdon that both serves the towns wanting a link to the Cambridge economy and also means that as and when there is a disruption on one, there is an alternative on the other. It also provides an incentive for authorities in Peterborough to build a suburban/light rail to the south east of the city serving Ramsay, which then becomes a useful interchange for rural passengers wanting the choice to go to either city. I explored these and the governance issues in more detail in this blogpost.

Cambridge Ahead and housing data

The data is ONS Private Market Housing Data, but again it requires someone to know that such data exists, knows where to find it, knows how to analyse and process it, and knows how to present it – and to which audiences. That’s generally the difference between a professional lobby group and a community group of volunteers. Some of the more affluent ones however have started raising funds to commission their own experts so as to help rebalance that field.

Above – note the difference between the average rents in England vs those in Cambridge City. (Cambridge Ahead 2021 – p12)

The report states that Cambridge Ahead will be commissioning further research into the rental market in Cambridge. This should make for interesting reading for policy advisers – not just in Cambridge but in Whitehall. I used to work in housing policy in my civil service days and looking back, rental policy was one area that was under-resourced. Yet given the social problems linked to poor housing conditions in the private rented sector, this is something that really should be given far greater public policy resources. Furthermore when we look at how higher education is financed, a sizeable portion of that private rented is financed by ever-increasing student debt.

Research gaps

One headline in the 2014 Road Traffic Elasticities Report for the DfT caught my attention.

“Much of the evidence for the UK on car traffic is rather old. This has implications for the use of elasticities in forecasting and strategic planning because of the mixed evidence on changes in elasticities over time. It therefore seems important that a study is undertaken using more recent data. In addition to fuel price and income, this should cover the impact of location (urban/rural) and demographic effects, for which few studies are available.”

Road traffic demand elasticities 2014 – RAND for Department for Transport, p8.

The bit of research I’d like to see commissioned is something on the elasticities of various modes of transport – similar to this by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in Australia. What this will do is put some numbers on what people might intuitively feel will have positive effects on reducing car use.

The 2020 Analytical Review from the Department for Transport covers things that are worth modelling for at a local level.

What do the

Does the report have a heart? Should it have a heart or should it read as a corporate report?

Over a year ago I asked:

“Can the promoters of economic growth in the Greater Cambridge area also make the case for providing social and cultural infrastructure – and greening our city too?”

Cambridge Town Owl 20 Sept 2020

In it I highlighted the work of Cambridge’s school children and of past generations of philanthropists such as Charles Kelsey Kerridge who represented Cambridgeshire in many different sports at county level in his youth, and in his retirement fundraised for and got essential sporting facilities built for our city. That’s why we still recognise his name – we named the sports centre after him. Sir David Robinson was another. Like Kerridge, he was a Conservative, yet he had an awareness of the needs of the city which reflected his philanthropic donations. That’s why the Rosie Maternity Hospital was built – he became aware of the likelihood of further delays to a much needed replacement for the one on Mill Road. Are those who are profiting the most re-investing those profits back into the city so as to improve it, or are they simply creamed off and sent elsewhere?

I sometimes compare the work of Kerridge & Robinson to the philanthropic donations universities get, because not many philanthropists maintain a high profile in the cities that their universities are in. Hence the risk of ‘reputation washing’ (the LSE got stung in 2011) where money from ill-gotten gains or from regimes with human rights issues is spent on things in western countries that lead to positive headlines, such as donations to charities, educational institutions, and more recently, top tier football clubs.

This is also why I recommend that Cambridge Ahead and its members engage with Cambridge’s Arts sector and the CVS to work up proposals on what social and civic infrastructure different parts of the city need as it expands. Because when I walked around town in August 2020, I couldn’t help but feel that our city had lost its soul with all the arts and music venues shut down due to the pandemic response. We cannot assume that the existing provision will adequately serve an expanding city, only seeing ‘success’ in the worlds of business and academia. I hope the message to decision-makers in the current consultations has the declaration of: We are Cambridge. We demand better.

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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