The East Cambridge Tech firms & landowners should pay for a new Fulbourn Railway/Light Rail Station

…and if they do not volunteer to fund it, the next government should pass the necessary legislation to make them.

All of this stems from yet another overturned decision by a Central Government-Appointed Planning Inspector following a decision by the Joint Develop Control Committee of Cambridge City Council, and South Cambridgeshire District Council on 27 Oct 2021 on an application for a new tech park (See the GCPS Portal here and type in 21/00772/OUT into the simple search box). For those of you not familiar with the geography, see the screengrab below.

Above – the red balloon icon is where a new Fulbourn station could be opened – one that Cambridge Connect proposes opening. (The old village station is north-east of Fulbourn village – see disused stations here)

The plot of land at the foot of the image to the right of the ARM grey balloon and just below the Fulbourn Road/Cambridge Road mini-roundabout is the site of the proposal concerned.

Above – See the GCPS Portal here 21/00772/OUT – and click on the ‘land use’ drawings

What makes things worse is local government subsidises big developers. Here’s Daisy Cooper MP (LibDems, St Albans) putting this point to the re-appointed Local Government Secretary Michael Gove in the Commons recently.

…Will the Chancellor scrap those fees in the next Budget (Finance Bill), or whether ministers will accept an amendment to the Levelling Up Bill in Parliament at Report Stage – something that Ms Cooper MP has herself tabled a backbench bill to make the point. Basically this requires a change in the law.

Unsustainable local government finances.

Parliament has already said that local council finances are unsustainable. Furthermore, Cambridgeshire County Council is facing 30% cuts over a £28m shortfall. What’s the point on having all of this growth if it cannot be taxed to pay for essential services that our villages, towns, and cities need to function as liveable places? It’s not much better for the city council which has a much smaller budget.

“The City Council needs to reduce its net spending by around £3.8 million in the next financial year (2023/24) – the proposals in the draft budget seek to contribute to that.”

Appendix B of item 5 – Cambridge City Council Executive meeting papers 08 Dec 2022

Again we know the governance of England as a whole is a mess. Parliament said so a few weeks ago in this select committee report. Again, it requires a change in the law to have any chance of sorting things out. For something on that scale, the select committee recommends a Royal Commission similar to the one from the late 1960s which I wrote about here.

Concern from Cambridge Greens in next-door Abbey Ward:

From Cllr Dr Hannah Copley (Greens – Abbey)

It’s more a despairing sigh of resignation from Cllr Sam Davies MBE (Ind – Queen Edith’s) on the other side of Cherry Hinton.

I regularly moan about the spreadsheet architecture of such developments.

***Come and see our giant spreadsheets-turned-buildings!***

Some of you will also recall I wrote about the speculative bubble of science and tech parks happening in and around Cambridge at the moment. In the grand scheme of things, local councils are little more than an inconvenience, greater restrictions on which can be placed up on by clueless ministers who get turned over even more frequently than prime ministers to such an extent that none of them can get any understanding of, let alone expertise in their policy portfolios. No amount of talent can deal with the present frequent turnover. Also, it’s not just ministers – it’s the civil service too – and with it their own expertise and corporate memory.

Above – from the Institute for Government. Who would join the civil service in the present circumstances?

Transport matters – and the lack of transport links in particular

It’ll be interesting to see what the residents of Fulbourn make of this – especially now that their local MP, Lucy Frazer QC, is now the minister for Housing and Planning. (She cannot take any decisions on this case because she’s the local MP – any decisions would be transferred to another minister because conflicts of interest).

It’s a reasonable question for residents to ask her what steps she’ll take to ensure that significant improvements in cycleways and rail/light rail will be funded by these tech firms in her constituency on the edge of Cambridge. (Fulbourn residents, start writing now! –> If anything, they could ask her to convene a local meeting with Daniel Zeichner MP (Cambridge) to thrash out the issues which will affect both constituencies.

“How much would it cost to re-open the Fulbourn station?”

If we compare it to the cost of Soham, up to £20million, which is a stupendously expensive price. Yet at the same time as with Soham, such a re-opening would need to future-proof the site for things like dualling the line, electrifying the line, new and upgraded cycleways, and more.

The much-maligned Greater Cambridge Partnership does not include East Cambridgeshire District Council area within its geographical remit

Why this is you’ll have to ask The Former Chancellor George Osborne who signed off the City Deal Agreement, and the former MP for South East Cambridgeshire Sir James Paice for failing to make the case for both its inclusion, and radically-improved public transport while MP for the constituency between 1987-2015. Because the opportunities were- and are still there.

The regular delays from Cambridge to Ely could easily be eased (in principle!) as Rail Future explained in their diagram below:

Above – from Rail Future’s Newmarket Vision 2019. Newmarket’s MP is…Matt Hancock. (!!!)

From above, it looks like this.

Above (L-R) the chord, the Newmarket-Soham-Ely link, and finally the Cambridge to Newmarket via Fulbourn link.

Suburban or lightrail trains serving Fulbourn do not have to terminate at Cambridge or Ely.

The regional map (v 10.2 by Cambridge Connect) shows the new additional stops – possibly as East West Rail stops.

Above – from Cambridge Connect’s regional connections map here

There is nothing in principle to stop a suburban service from being formed on the old Cambridge-Haverhill line that extends to Fulbourn, Newmarket, and Ely. Furthermore, if ministers are serious about ‘levelling up’, the conversations for Wisbech and Chatteris could easily form an extension to, and provide suburban services from Wisbech and March through to Ely and the East Cambridge science parks, through to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, and onto Haverhill.

Above – An earlier iteration exploring how to use light rail on the old Cambridge-Mildenhall line to link up more of the East Cambridgeshire villages, including the new housing estates at Marleigh and the proposed one at the Cambridge Airport site, the Newmarket Racecourse, Wicken Fen nature reserve and onto Soham & Ely using a light rail.

Overhauled governance is the key. Until then, all politicians can do is to ask those behind the developments to contribute towards the existing projects such as Cambridge Connect

And that means having a governance system that connects up Cambridge with its surrounding market towns both by public transport that is harder for central government to cut, and administratively so that Cambridge as the main urban centre has to consider the impacts of its decisions beyond its city limits, but not to the extent to where its functions are dictated to by councillors representing areas with other cities in much closer proximity – eg Peterborough.

The case for Cambridge (of varying boundaries) has been made in the past.

Above – from Redcliffe-Maude’s Royal Commission proposals 1969, and Lichfield on Cambridge’s economic & community sphere of influence – along with the smaller ones of corresponding market towns. (And the city of Ely)

In 1995, Cambridge’s Labour MP Anne Campbell – our first and only woman MP to date, made a similar call around the time Peterborough was being converted into a unitary council.

“Cambridge MP, Anne Campbell, said that in many ways it was “a shame to have to go through the consultation process again” – and the Labour Party would prefer regional assemblies under which Cambridge could become a unitary authority”

Above – from the British Newspaper Archive – Cambridge Evening News 03 March 1995

The previous Labour governments had 13 years in which to make that change, and they did not. Will a future Labour government make the much-needed governance changes? Or will they make the same mistakes again and leave the structures, systems, and processes as they are?

If so all that will happen is we’ll see a continuation of the last half-century where fortunes are spent on studies that seldom come to fruition, don’t seem to solve the root causes of problems, and result in continued chronic housing and transport problems. For how much longer do senior politicians wish to continue with failed structures, systems, and processes?

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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