Backed by the Combined Authority, Anglia Ruskin University opens its new Peterborough Campus in September 2022 with courses aimed at skills shortages in the local economy. Given its proximity to the railway station, could ministers direct further investment in both accommodation and regional public transport to increase the numbers of students it trains up, and investment in the city generally?
There are three reasons why I’m covering this area:
- The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority is not all about Cambridge – despite the impression political and national media coverage might imply;
- I spent two years as a part-time student just under 20 years ago where I came away with a Post-Graduate Diploma in Historical Studies (Contemporary Europe) – i.e. the history of the EU;
- My local dentist has just informed me that he’s going private – and it’s the only one within close walking distance to me.
The other document worth looking at is the Combined Authority’s Skills Strategy – click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.
The easiest and most predictable call on the chronic skills and personnel shortage in dentistry is to get Cambridge University to open one given the money and wealth it has. (I sent a tweet accordingly). But the more interesting public policy option in my opinion would be to open a new dentistry school at the new ARU Peterborough Campus which is being built by the Embankment Athletics Track.
It’s also worth noting the future ambition for the city – as per the Combined Authority’s Skills Strategy of Feb 2021:
“By 2022 we intend that the new university on the banks of the Nene in Peterborough, will have 2,000 students rising to 12,500 by 2030, when the University of Peterborough will become fully independent”CPCA Skills Strategy Feb 2021, pp7-8.
Location, location, location.
The site’s proximity to one of the busiest railway junctions in the region means that if the Combined Authority were able to built segregated e-scooter and cycleways, and provide a decent electric bus service to/from the campus, courses and services would become accessible not just to the people of the city but also from those who live close to connecting stations.
When you look at a map of the new and old railway network (see here), a host of Cambridgeshire towns and villages become viable connections. This is important given the local historical context – something easily overlooked by policy-makers local and national.
Fenwomen – a herstory of lost opportunities and a bleak future spoken in their own words
Mary Chamberlain’s first book of 1975 titled Fenwomen is a compelling yet soul-destroying read of how women of the Fens described how they had little to look forward to when they left school – not least because of both institutionalised sexism and the lack of public transport services to take them to colleges that offered courses they might have been interested in. Driving was out of the question – it was beyond what they could afford. So when we hear about how unwilling people who live in rural areas are to give up their petrol/diesel motors – especially the women, it’s worth remembering that for the older generations they may have vivid memories how how their hopes and dreams were cut off in their prime.
“Interesting to hear the thoughts and experiences of these women living in a Fenland village, 40 years ago. How restrictive life was for many of them, compared to what I experience now”Review from 2017 on G-Books by ‘Leonie’
It also reminds me of one of the reasons why there is so much scepticism about buses and promises to improve services: People have heard it all before. Bus services are very easy for future governments and councils to abolish. People saw this with austerity imposed by Messrs Osborne, Pickles, and Hammond (Chancellor, Local Government Secretary, and Transport Secretary respectively at the start of the 2010 Coalition Government). But then the county elected MPs representing both Coalition parties so…was that democracy in action?
The other question for ARU Peterborough is on accessibility – not just on transport, but on finance too.
Furthermore, light rail could be essential.
In August 2021 I had a look at what a light rail centred around Peterborough with a southern loop might be like.
“One option The Mayor has is to explore a light rail line from Wisbech to Peterborough via Chatteris and Ramsay. They could even even double-up on the same pair of lines used by a proposed Cambridge – Ely – Chatteris – Ramsay – Alconbury line. This would mean firms could set up at either Ramsay or Chatteris and serve both the residents of Peterborough and Cambridge with a light rail link.”Cambridge Town Owl, 04 Aug 2021
Now a 60 mile round trip on a light railway or suburban crawler service is not something I’d wish on any student.
…but a 20 mile journey on a light rail going in an anti-clockwise direction feels more sustainable.
Remember the above is not looking at detail, just scoping rough distances and times. Building a light rail or new suburban rail with new lines and new carriages would indicate to the local population that ministers and councillors were serious about transport accessibility – demonstrating a permanence that cannot easily be undone by future governments.
Two loops sharing a corridor
We see examples of this on the London Underground in numerous places – for example where both the Piccadilly Line and the District Line run on separate rails but share the same corridor in West London as you head towards Heathrow Airport. The same principle could apply to a potential line between Ramsey and Chatteris that I mentioned in my August 2021 blogpost.
Above – a Cambridge-centred light rail line heading north towards Ely, then west towards Chatteris, Ramsey, & Alconbury, would give the additional benefit of the first two being interchanges between the Cambridge loop and the Peterborough loop. Thus two of your poorly-connected Fenland towns become much more attractive to firms looking to relocate, as well as providing clean, reliable public transport links to the two cities.
I don’t underestimate the complexity of delivering something like this – which with existing systems and processes would take a generation. Not least the land acquisition costs the closer to more built up areas you get, along with negotiating with ministers and Network Rail.
“On the dentistry point?”
There are surprisingly few dental schools in the UK – as the British Dental Association list reveals. Furthermore, we don’t have any university-based dental schools in East Anglia. Given the shortage of NHS dentists (I found out the hard way very recently) I think there is a very strong case that the Combined Authority could make to ministers to establish a new school of dentistry within ARU Peterborough.
Again, this is exploring principles, not details. I have no idea how much it would cost to establish and staff such a school. But given Peterborough is the largest city in the Combined Authority area (over 200,000 people), and given its different economic profile, I think there is a far better value-for-money case to be made for establishing such a school of dentistry there than in Cambridge. So much so that it might even be in the financial and civic interests of The University of Cambridge to put some of its considerable wealth as a grant towards establishing that school in Peterborough.
The general point here is that not everything needs to be in/around Cambridge. When you look eastwards of the ARU Peterborough Campus there is the Fengate Industrial Estate which has a host of industries based around fossil-fuelled motor vehicles. Ministers have already indicated the direction of travel regarding the entire industry, so now is the time to start planning for what will inevitably have to replace those firms and the industry – and how that transition will be managed to ensure there are jobs for people who already work on the site and live close by, to move into. For example the Cambridge-Peterborough railway line passes alongside the estate on the other side of the River Nene – would it be a suitable site for the maintenance of the light rail rolling stock and component-producing industries? Could part of the site become a local freight exchange making use of light rail, heavy rail, and local e-courier-based delivery functions?
Something for politicians to think about in the longer term.