The new Cambridge South Station proposals approved

After decades of waiting, finally!

You can read the full text and conditions from the official correspondence here.

It was covered by New Civil Engineer just before Christmas Eve.

But they should have done it ***ages ago***

Above – from the late 1980s, the late Paddy Ashdown (then Leader of the Liberal Democrats) with local councillors and supporters campaigning for a new railway station to serve Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Via Aidan van de Weyer.

This has been a long time coming. Most people are at the “get on and build the damn thing!” stage.

Furthermore, the shortcomings of the design were exposed in the public inquiry by Smarter Cambridge Transport – see their detailed analysis here. In a nutshell they said:

  1. Station design is likely to be too small in the long term to accommodate likely usage.
  2. Integration between the railway station and bus services should be much tighter.

And I agree. Although there is scope to appeal against the decision, given how the various public organisations and their consultants have acted over the past decade, I can’t help but think: “What’s the point?”

Too many people who wanted to play a constructive part in ensuring Cambridge got new outstanding transport infrastructure that had the ‘Wow!’ factor *and* had a significant positive impact on reducing motor car usage, *and* was cost-effective and was convenient for affluent and low-paid alike were nudged out across a whole host of projects that we’ve ended up with whatever this broken system can get away with providing. In the case of South Cambridge Station as approved, for me it felt like minimalism all over again. And yet the passenger pressure on the station – especially with the Children’s Hospital now approved, will be significant.

“Nothing about Cambridge South station is “standard”. How many stations in the UK are located within walking distance of three, soon to be five, regional hospitals and a nationally important biomedical research campus?”

Smarter Cambridge Transport – 15 July 2021

Smarter Cambridge Transport’s alternative

Instead of your traditional “H-block” they could have built the station over the railway line.

Above – from Smarter Cambridge Transport on 05 March 2020

The above design takes advantage of the already-built busway bridge, segregates bus passengers from cyclists, provides additional cycle parking space, and everyone could have been happy. Except for those who wanted to take a simple ‘off the shelf’ solution and apply it as standard.

There are more than a few places where a standard design would be fine. Just not in a place where the demand and usage is projected to be huge – and with business interests demanding growth that will only make the demand even greater.

So all eyes on the construction and evaluation – because public policy officials and politicians are notoriously bad at ensuring that:

  1. sound evaluation is commissioned and completed
  2. said evaluation is both published *and* publicised
  3. said evaluation is properly fed back into the public policy-making process so that ‘lessons will be learned’ does not become a soundbite but can actually be demonstrated in future projects.

Greater Cambridge Partnership consultation closes

24,000 responses. The campaigners against the congestion charge got more of the headlines, but there were those in favour of the proposals – or who at least were prepared to give conditional support. I was commissioned to make a video for the latter. You can watch it here.

Above – the Walking Bus Event which took place on 10 December 2022 when it was zero degrees Celsius outside

You can read their write-up of their event here. Two weeks before, opponents to the proposed road user charge/congestion charge took to Parker’s Piece on a cold rainy November day, and this was covered by the BBC here.

“You haven’t said what you think yet!”

Well…I kind of have through this blogpost in 2021 calling for a unitary authority to replace Cambridge’s existing local governance structures, and having that oversee the construction of a light rail network linking to the surrounding market towns. In that regard, it doesn’t really matter what the Greater Cambridge Partnership – or the Combined Authority for that matter, come up with. I have issues with their very existence.

In terms of my own principles, I’ll restate the following:

  1. I don’t have a problem with road user charging *in principle* – i.e. I would not rule it out unconditionally.
  2. I want to see a massive transformation and retrofitting of our city to create a new generation of walking and cycling routes segregated from traffic (and ideally each other) – and one that also includes extending that network to rural areas.
  3. I want to see a new light rail network for the Cambridge economic sub-region – i.e. the City of Cambridge and all of the towns within a 25 mile radius, and one that incorporates some short under-the-city sections and stations.
  4. I want to see all buses electric, and all tourist coaches banned from the city – being required to deposit their passengers onto a functioning integrated transport system at edge-of-town facilities that also provide free services for coach drivers (food, showers etc) who set down a minimum number of passengers and who register in advance.
  5. I want to see edge-of-town freight exchanges where letters, packets, and small parcels are deposited by lorries/HGVs to local cycle/e-cycle couriers for ‘last mile’ deliveries. Yes, this might make some mail order goods more expensive, but at the same time it might make local businesses more competitive, resulting in more local people choosing to support local firms.
  6. Only once the active travel, and light rail systems are in place, should road user charging be contemplated. Otherwise the risk is that those on low incomes get priced out, businesses pass on the charges to customers, and only the wealthier will be able to afford to pay. The policy objective is to reduce car usage so as to reduce congestion. Furthermore, it has to be done in a way that is socially just, and can differentiate between a local care worker or health visitor needing to go from patient to patient, vs the affluent parent driving into town daily from outside the county to pick up their child from one of the private schools, vs the super-wealthy business executive driving into the city for infrequent meetings.
    • Who are the people the city really needs to provide regular access for in order for it to function? (Given our housing crisis (which is outside the competency of local councils)
    • Who are the people who have a relationship with an institution that is a voluntary one, and one where the institution can be involved in coming up with alternative solutions to existing transport problems (eg parked cars on residential streets around private schools such as off Trumpington Road).
    • Who are the people who visit infrequently but who are affluent enough to take the road user charge as a business expense for their administrative staff to deal with?

There is more to it, but given the city and district has been discussing the GCP for over seven years and has so little to show for it, I can understand why senior officials in particular (especially those not in post in the early years) want to push on and get building – lest they lose the funding completely.

Note taking such a stance can cause problems for politicians. It’s easy for me to say “I reject the premise of your consultation because I don’t accept your legitimacy in existing as an organisation”, but politicians have to work with whatever central government puts in front of them. That’s the difference between me as a ‘blogging-head’ vs the elected councillors who actually have to make decisions. This is the situation Conservative councillors pre-2010 found themselves in when their parliamentary party and party leadership rejected the concept of regional government, saying they would abolish it on being elected into government. Which they did very swiftly – see here. (Don’t think it got rid of the problems they assumed would disappear!)

“So…what is wrong with the Greater Cambridge Partnership?”

Have a listen to former Cllr Rod Cantrill (Lib-Dems – Newnham, 2004-2020) from his speech on 14 June 2016 below.

Above – Cllr Rod Cantrill at Coton Village Hall, 14 June 2016,

Note former Cllr Cantrill’s criticism of the structures and processes of the Greater Cambridge Partnership at a time when the decision-making Board had 2 x Conservative representatives (For Cambridgeshire County Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council), and 1 x Labour representative for Cambridge City Council.

At the West Cambridgeshire Local Liaison Forum in early 2017, Mr Cantrill re-stated his criticisms of the structures and processes.

Above – Cllr Rod Cantrill at the old Shire Hall, Cambridge on 02 Feb 2017.

This then brings us back to the point Cllr Sam Davies MBE made in her recent blogpost about the GCP – stating that their proposals provide a flawed answer to the wrong question. You can read more in the year’s final issue of the Cambridge Independent.

In the meantime, RailPEN has returned with its proposals for the Beehive Centre Site.

“Oooh! Will this be a shining new example of how a large piece of land can be used for the benefit of the whole of the city, including people on low incomes, the working classes who work on the railways and who have paid into their pensions?”

If only.

You can see their website at and have a look at their FAQs and downloads here. You can also watch their webinar here – the first half hour is their presentation, the rest is discussion.

Environmental Impact Assessment for the Beehive Redevelopment

You can read the documents here. Cllr Dr Hannah Copley (Greens, Abbey) has posted a few thoughts in her Twitterfeed below

“Bidwells! My favourite people!”

You can understand why big wealthy financial firms go for them though – they know the property sector in and around Cambridge inside-out. Part 1 of their report has the following in it:

Table of Contents
1.0 Introduction 1
2.0 Site Context 3
3.0 Proposed Development 5
4.0 EIA Methodology and Scope 7
5.0 Air Quality 18
6.0 Flood Risk and Drainage 23
7.0 Heritage 26
8.0 Ground Conditions and Contamination 30
9.0 Townscape and Visual 35
10.0 Noise and Vibration 37
11.0 Socioeconomics 43
12.0 Transport 49
13.0 Cumulative Impacts 54
14.0 Proposed Structure of the ES 60

Without looking at the document, you can see the ones that jump out for me. Other people will have their own issues of interest – which is why the more people become interested, the more issues can be covered by people interested and knowledgable about them.

I’m going to save my assessment for a future blogpost.

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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