What can Cambridge learn from the new tramway in Reims, northern France?

Anyone fancy a dash through the Channel Tunnel? (It might be too big a challenge for me but it may interest sustainable transport campaigners in & around Cambridge)

I stumbled across this thread by Municipal Dreams

Have a look at the public transport maps for Reims here

“Hang on a minute – where in France is Reims?”

It’s north east of Paris and you can get from Cambridge to Reims via Eurostar in under 6 hours – assuming Brexit borders haven’t screwed things up at passport control.

Above – from G-Maps – you can change the times and dates etc here

“Where would we even start to arrange such a trip like this?”

Either the French Embassy in London or alternatively start locally with official French organisations in Cambridge such as Alliance Française Cambridge.

Chances are I wouldn’t be able to participate in something like this because of my health. Once you’ve had a trauma like a heart attack or have chronic health conditions, travel insurance rates become prohibitively expensive. And that’s before considering my chronic fatigue syndrome issues.

“The symptom Post-Exertional Malaise is something that everyone with M.E. experiences. It is a worsening of symptoms after physical, mental, or emotional exertion that would not have caused a problem before the illness and is the hallmark symptom of M.E. For some patients, sensory overload (light and sound) can induce post-exertional malaise.

Post-Exertional Malaise intensifies the severity of symptoms and may last days, weeks, or permanently. The symptoms typically begin to worsen 12 to 48 hours after the activity or exposure.”

Action for M.E. Charity.

Can you imagine what 7 hours travelling by train would do to me and the time it would take for me to recover/recharge by the time I got to the other end? It’s heartbreaking because in the 2000s I went on a number of visits to continental Europe and in the grand scheme of things they were wonderful. So for something like this, this is an idea that would have to be carried out by other people without my input.

“What sort of questions would a delegation need to ask? What sort of background reading/briefing would be essential?”

The easiest mistake to make would be to rock up there, see something you like, come back here and say: “We want that!” The BBC made a similar mistake when they compared congestion charging plans for Cambridge with congestion charging in Gothenburg, Sweden. This was a piece produced in advance for the debate that BBC Look East held earlier this year that I went to in Cambridge – fortunately the venue was within walking distance of where I live.

On the subject of the transport network of any city, the first two things to figure out are governance structures, and funding systems. There’s no point in coming back to Cambridge having seen what Reims has and calling in Cambridge City Council to install a tram system because the City Council does not have the legal competency for transport, and it does not have the legal powers to raise revenue through taxation on the businesses that we are told are making their fortunes here. Hence before heading out there, the first thing I’d look for is someone who knows something about the internal governance of France to do a short talk on the essentials. Given Cambridge has more than a few people from France who live here – whether working, studying, retired, or otherwise, chances are there will be *someone* who will be able to undertake such a task before any visit.

“Who should go?”
  1. Anyone who wants to
  2. People interested in and/or supportive of
  3. Local councillors, political activists and potential election candidates
“What considerations / questions will need to be asked on return?”

These will vary depending on interests and themes. Some of them will involve whether what Reims has is suitable for the streets of Cambridge. Others might include what changes to city and county governance structures/powers/systems/functions are needed to enable such a radical change in our transport infrastructure succeed. There are also further questions on the future direction of growth and development – for example the plans for science and tech parks and ensuring that the developers and land owners contribute towards the costs of construction and running given that they will benefit directly.

Finally, we need to ask what the environmental and infrastructure limits there are that already exist. Note in the mid-1970s the building of new homes in Cambridge was banned for about four years while the old Anglian Water (then nationalised) upgraded the Milton Sewage Works.

I’ll repeat for those at the back:

In the mid-1970s, the building of new homes was banned for about four years while the old Anglian Water upgraded the Milton Sewage Works

You can read my overview here – noting that there is more research I need to do in order to get the details correct. But it’s not like we were not warned about it. Read the report from Cambridge City Council from March 1965.

What was really nice was that the Council’s Chief Surveyor and Engineer gave us a timeline to 1965.

Above – Mr Burrows warning councillors that the improvements they sanctioned in the early 1950s that were completed in 1958 could not keep up with the unexpected and sustained growth in demand for water due to not just housing growth but the removal of slum properties which were replaced by houses of a higher standard and inevitably a higher water consumption. By 1965 the Milton Sewage Works was at capacity. Why little was done between the tabling of this report and the ban on building that was brought in, in 1974 I am yet to find out. But history looks like repeating itself given Chatteris Reservoir won’t come on stream until 2037 at the earliest – mindful that the consultants to Cambridge City & South Cambridgeshire District Councils warned that existing supplies from the chalk aquifer could not sustain any further house building beyond 2030 – and may already be beyond capacity already.

“There is no environmental capacity for additional development in the new Local Plan [2030 ono] to be supplied by with water by increased abstraction from the Chalk Aquifer. Even the current level of abstraction is widely believed to be unsustainable”.

Stantec Report for Greater Cambridge Planning, p17.

Above – which I wrote about in 2022 here while the report itself from Stantec consultants is dated from 2020. Somehow Anglian Water and Cambridge Water have got to provide for additional supplies and sewage capacity – and do something about reducing leaks and demand for potable/drinkable water use. In reality this is a decision for ministers to impose requirements on large site owners to install things like rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, and small underground reservoir capacity for things like watering trees and plants during the now increasingly frequent dry spells. Whether it will be done remains to be seen.

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:

%d bloggers like this: