Consultation on a Cambridge Congestion Charge, and a new walking & cycling plan

Slightly loaded question given the huge opposition to it – and that is in the face of the Stagecoach shambles. Also, the County Council publishes its cycling and walking infrastructure plan (See item 8 here – and compare it with Oslo here)

Above – the Cambridge Independent leading with the opposition to bus cuts – and also having covered the nearly 20,000 signatures against a proposed congestion charge – the public consultation of which was approved today. Also, have a listen to Mayor Dr Nik Johnson on all things buses below:

Above – From the GCP Board Meeting (timestamp t=5400s)

Councillors show the first signs of uncertainty – that this might not be able to overcome public hostility.

What was striking was the succession of Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors asking a series of questions on behalf of concerned constituents. It wasn’t the questions as much as the number of councillors who were there, in particular the newly elected younger councillors who are only four months into their first terms of office. Again, councillors asking difficult questions of organisations under the political control/oversight of their own party is routine. It is normal. Councillors have a constitutional duty to represent their constituents irrespective of who voted for them. So the fact that it was not just the odd one or two tabling questions shows that more people are aware they can contact their councillors. Which is actually a sign that this part of democracy might be working better than we thought.

The private sector view from the GCP Board

What I’ve never figured out despite asking at various points is why the GCP never approached ministers to ask councils for powers to levy a tax on the wealthy firms in Cambridge (or at least negotiate contributions from them with ministers) to pay for this much-needed public transport infrastructure. Andy Williams of Astra Zeneca mentioned by Cllr Sam Davies MBE (Ind – Queen Edith’s) again.

Cllr Dr Dave Baigent (Labour – Romsey) gave this final speech.

Above – from the GCP earlier

Cllr Baigent reminded us of ‘feudal times’ when people stayed in a single village for their whole lives. Only it wasn’t just feudal. In 1975 Mary Chamberlain published Fenwomen – a portrat of women in an English village. If you want to know why transport access to Cambridge is so important to villages outside of our city, you can find it here. And not just for shopping. But for employment, for leisure, for education.

Forgetting the history.

Andy Williams of Astra Zeneca was there in the early days on the City Deal Assembly. One of the few politicians to set out what ‘the vision’ was back in those early days was Conservative Councillor Francis Burkitt, who stood down at the 2018 South Cambridgeshire elections.

Yet at the same time, officers working on the City Deal back in 2016 were disparaging of the concept of doing any local historical research.

Above – at Shire Hall on 22 Sept 2016

In my opinion, the actions of officers *collectively* with the whole Greater Cambridge Partnership programme has been one of the things that has alienated large numbers of residents who might have been critical friends if not supporters. As a result, the Deputy Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council acknowledged the huge amount of distrust in what the GCP is now proposing.

“The fundamental group to get out to is the next generation” Andy Neely for the University of Cambridge

Have a listen here.

Now have a listen of me making the same point ***seven years before***.

…to the same audience that Cllr Francis Burkitt, then the Conservative representative for South Cambridgeshire District Council was at – some 200 people were in that audience at Cambridge Rugby Club. And I had fewer grey hairs and more hair on my head generally back then!

“Anything the Greater Cambridge Partnership can do differently?”

There are not that many people who are passionate about buses in Cambridge. One of the things they could do is invite Buses Magazine to have a stall at their consultation events. Given that the GCP has said repeatedly any congestion charge cannot come in until there have been significant improvements in the bus network and bus services, they need to do things to shift the conversation towards getting that first condition met. Otherwise the congestion charging bit does not even get off of the ground.

They also need to make a short view explaining the complicated picture of what is on offer with buses, who is going to own them, and who is going to run them. This may also include encouraging the public to get involved with the under-supported Cambridge Area Bus Users Group – which will serve an essential function of holding the GCP to account over its promises. But it needs more people involved to run it. Think what CamCycle does – it has a small number of people working on it supported by an active, interested membership of over 1,600 people who respond to the consultations. There’s also Living Streets Cambridge for pedestrians, which like with the Cambridge Area Bus Users Group is currently run by a small number of members but has the potential to grow if only people are made more aware of their existence and their aims of improving things in and around our city.

Consultation events at supermarkets – taking on the audiences who might be most hostile to their plans

Go big, go very big.

Bring along some electric buses and have them parked outside a sectioned off bit where people are likely to walk past and notice – and approach.

Have some very large display posters of boards, maps, and diagrams with icons that show you know where the major congestion pinch points are.

Have literature and displays covering other projects including ones completed or partially completed that people are now using – and feature a portable video display of people talking about things like the Chisholm Trail and the new Abbey-Chesterton Bridge.

Have something for the children – such as things to colour in and take away for free. We’re in a cost of living crisis.

Be prepared for hostility and have at least one person there who is trained in de-escalation techniques.

Be prepared to acknowledge your shortcoming and what you’ve gotten wrong in the past. Also acknowledge what you don’t know. And be clear about what are decisions that must be taken by politicians, and not officers. Democratic legitimacy matters. Especially in these uncertain times.

And finally…

Get some contingency plans in placeas I asked here. Be prepared to acknowledge that post-2030 there is nothing in place. At the same time be prepared to state that light rail becomes an option if the politicians choose to make the case for it and gain a democratic mandate for it. That puts the issue of ‘why haven’t we got light rail instead?” back into the court of the politicians and not the officers. For those of you who like me want a light rail scheme, feel free to join either the LRTA and/or Rail Future East Anglia.

The next meeting of Rail Future East is…

Saturday 3rd December 2022 – Cambridge at 14:00
The Signal Box Community Centre, Glenalmond Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8DB – it’s on the other side of Hills Road Bridge off Brooklands Avenue.

In the meantime…

Cambridgeshire County Council has published its local cycling and walking infrastructure plan

Item 8 – it’s being discussed on 04 October 2022 so read the papers carefully!

Because it also has pictures n things.

Any thoughts on the proposals? Let your county councillor know! <<– Drop them an email. You just need your postcode.


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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