Light rail freight for Wisbech, and a County bus strategy (in draft).

The Combined Authority publishes new papers on an eventful day that sees the Mayor Dr Nik Johnson taking an extended leave of absence on medical grounds.

I hope Dr Nik Johnson gets better soon – he’s in safe hands at Royal Papworth that operated on me less than a year ago. The message he gave to the media included encouraging people showing symptoms associated with heart problems to get it checked. See the NHS here, and also from the NHS in Scotland, the symptoms often experienced by women prior to heart attacks.

“Within the last few weeks, I have been given advice by the surgical team at Royal Papworth Hospital, that I need to take a period of extended leave for treatment of a medical condition. It goes without saying that I am incredibly grateful for all the care and compassion that the NHS has shown me over the last few weeks and months.”

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson in Cambridge Independent, 08 Nov 2022

The Deputy Mayor Councillor Anna Smith (Labour – Coleridge), Leader of Cambridge City Council (and also one of my local councillors) will be Acting Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough in addition to her existing duties. You can listen to Cllr Smith being interviewed by BBC Cambridgeshire’s Chris Mann earlier this afternoon. Have a listen here and scroll forward to 2h11m. (Available until 06 Dec 2022).

“This is still Nik’s Mayoralty

…Cllr Anna Smith to Chris Mann

“This is about keeping things going…this is about the same kind of policies. The work Nik has been doing on bus routes will be high on our priorities. This isn’t about new initiatives, this is about continuing the work.”

Cllr Anna Smith to Chris Mann, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire 08 Nov 2022

…and continuing on that theme…

The Draft Bus Strategy for Cambridgeshire.

You can read it at Item 2.4 Appendix 1 here.

Is there anything new or unexpected in the document? Not really. I expect a more detailed paper to be published closer to the Transport Committee’s meeting on 16 Nov 2022, with possible revisions before it goes to the Combined Authority Board on 30 Nov 2022. It will be interesting to see who becomes chair of that committee – it may well be that Cllr Anna Smith will take on that role as Dr Nik Johnson normally chairs that committee as Mayor.

With a trio of Labour councillors on the committee (Cllrs Katie Thornburrow for Cambridge City, Neil Shailer for Cambridgeshire County, and Sam Wakeford (Huntingdonshire District), this is the committee where Cambridgeshire Labour has its strongest representation, although for the latter two they are there representing their joint administrations, so would not be expected to vote for something that was strongly opposed by the majority of their allied councillors. The one area of contention politically is with the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Cambridge Access Consultation. That in my view will need to be amended to make extended links to St Neots in Huntingdonshire, and possibly the southern wards of East Cambridgeshire to ensure that county councillors vote for the necessary powers needed for road charging to be approved. Although not scheduled to come in for another four years – and *a lot can happen in that space of time* (Think where we were politically in November 2018 with Prime Minister Theresa May!), in their present form I cannot see the proposals getting political approval from councillors. All of that said, it’s worth having a look at this thread by Cycling Dad on the bigger picture of the consultation – ie not just focusing on a congestion charge.

There was one graph that stood out…

Above – the graph showing the percentage of people’s incomes spent on running a car vs income net of housing and motoring costs.

Policy-wise, options that politicians have is either to reduce the costs of motoring (mainly through reducing taxes on fuel and vehicle excise duty, or make cheaper alternatives to the motor car much more attractive to people so that their first choice is active travel or public transport, rather than a fossil-fuelled motor vehicle. Yet as I’ve mentioned before, the investment required to build the fossil fuel economy was substantial and took place over the course of a century or so. The challenge for the planet is to overhaul that and retrofit our transport infrastructure and built environment in a fraction of that time.

The first light rail proposals for Wisbech – an historic market town in the north of the county

Halfway through writing this blogpost, the disgraced former Defence Secretary sacked by Theresa May, and former Education Secretary under her successor, and then inexplicably appointed by the new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has resigned.

The reports on Wisbech Rail by Network Rail can be seen at item 2.2 here.

The first is the Review from May 2022.

…and the third is one from the end of 2021 scopes out the options for light rail and trams. The item in the third appendix to item 2.2 that I hadn’t seen before is the option of very light rail freight – something that was last made use of extensively during the First World War in supplying the soldiers in the trenches.

The options for the Transport Committee

  1. Continue to promote and lobby for heavy rail based on the information provided by the 2020 business case and GRIP 3b and recognise that potential delivery of Wisbech to Cambridge timeframe is linked to the delivery of Ely Area Capacity Enhancements (EACE) or,
  2. Undertake an Options Assessment Report to provide the economic analysis on mode options, including existing information on heavy rail, based on a service operating between Wisbech and March which removes the current dependency on EACE whilst still being mindful of the future strategy to link into Cambridge.

It will be interesting to see which option the Committee chooses – noting that Cambridgeshire County Council’s policy is to support the Combined Authority with the reconnection of Wisbech to the rail network. (See Wisbech Rail / Rail Future East here).

Once Wisbech has been reconnected to March, further phases could be added

I mentioned this in a recent blogpost following the appointment of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak here. A second phase could link March to Chatteris, and a third phase linking Chatteris to Ely.

Those two phases would link the two market towns to the heavy rail line that links March to both Peterborough, and Cambridge via Ely. Later phases could then link Ely to Wicken Fen via Soham, and onto Newmarket Racecourse via Burwell. The final phase would be from Newmarket to Cambridge – either along the existing railway line or via Swaffam Prior and Bottisham.

Food for thought?

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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