Keeping Cambridge special – for whom?


Debating the future of Cambridge in the face of growing pressure and the persistent problems of traffic and housing.

The programme was as below


I was commissioned to film the event by Cambridge Past, Present and Future. The videos will be up soon – we’re just awaiting clearance.

What follows are my observations on the event. For those wondering what my ‘politics’ is all about, note I stood in 2014 for election through Puffles. Much of our manifesto still stands the test of time.

What’s the vision?

This was a comment that repeatedly came up all morning. We don’t have an agreed vision for the future of the city. Note the video below of Cllr Francis Burkitt recorded before he became the voting representative of South Cambridgeshire District Council on the City Deal Board. (It should start from 1m28s).

The video below is me discussing the future vision of Cambridge

Make what you will of both of those videos.

The point being though that the public authorities either have not formulated a vision that people can comment on, or that the vision they *have* formulated is one that lots of people disagree with – or feel that they did not give their consent to.

‘The view of business’ vs ‘the view of residents’ are at odds

This was acknowledged by both the Wendy Blythe speaking on behalf of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations, and Dr David Cleevely on behalf of Cambridge Ahead. (Transparency note – both organisations have supported me financially on projects over the past couple of years).

From an historical perspective, both presentations described what I call a new front in the history of our city: Village vs Gown – or rather village parishes vs the corporate interests of Cambridge University and its member colleges. Note the subtle difference between the historical ‘town vs gown’ that has been written about over the years. Going through the newspaper archives the impression I get from the contemporary reports is that the conflicts – and the acts of violence – were very much groups of individuals who ascribed to one ‘tribe’ or another. It’s easy to forget that some of the public servants of our city were injured for life in the violence.


Courtesy the British Newspaper Archives

What we are seeing with the expansion of Cambridge beyond its city boundaries are the encroachment of Cambridge University developments – especially in the western edges – into rural parishes. Now, this is not new.

Chesterton, Cherry Hinton and Trumpington are all examples of villages that were swallowed up by previous expansions of Cambridge. All three are now council wards in Cambridge. A number of current villages now look over – and for some, campaign against further expansion of Cambridge. Milton and Fulbourn are but two examples.

‘We don’t like more buses, we do like the Cambridge underground light rail’

The Smarter Cambridge Transport campaign has done an in-depth article on buses – see In a nutshell the city centre is now too crowded – especially at peak times – to cope with more buses. Or rather that was the feeling coming from the room. There was however strong support for the principles of Dr Colin Harris’ idea of a light rail for Cambridge that has a main line that goes underground.


Cambridge Connect – the ‘Isaac Newton Line’ 

Note the above map is the ‘headline’ line – the full network could be greater over a longer period of time. See

We missed a ‘call to action’ at the end

I tried to tip off Cllr Lewis Herbert at the end with a note inviting him to challenge the audience to commit to one small one off action and/or one small behaviour change as a result of taking part in the event, but in the rush of the end he didn’t announce it.

We’re still missing large sections of our community in the debate about Cambridge’s future

Cambridge architect Tom Foggin of the Cambridge Association of Architects  challenged the panel on this – noting that he was the only person in the room under the age of 30. There were only a handful of us under the age of 40 – most of the people in the room were older than us. And this issue is not new for the city authorities or civic organisations.

If it wasn’t clear before, it’s crystal clear now that Cambridge has a collective structural problem when it comes to involving young people, and ensuring proper representation of all of the communities that make up our city.

And this brings us back to the title of this blogpost: Who are we keeping Cambridge special for? Well…in the grand scheme of things it’s for future generations. It’s one of the mindsets I adopted for myself after I left the civil service – and even more so after my mental health crisis of 2012. In a nutshell, the career, life path and lifestyle I thought I would be living and going down evaporated with that health crisis – and forced me to re-assess absolutely everything. When your new starting point is ‘You may never be healthy enough to work full time again for the rest of your life’ then everything that you previously did and took for granted suddenly looks very different. Hence doing something more socially productive with my time while I still have it.

The missing historical context

The one thing that has been missing in the city deal programme is any historical context. This is why I set up the blog Lost Cambridge – also on Facebook at The purpose of this is not to rewrite history, but rather to bring to the front the various bits of history of the borough/city of Cambridge that have been archived and forgotten, or published and forgotten by all but a handful of people such as the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History. My point is that our civic history is not visibly influencing current policy discussions. If there is any bit of local history that really should be influencing our current policy discussions on the future of our city, it is the history of urban planning in Cambridge. Hence these books. I even made this point regarding the history of Cambridge buses at a meeting with county council officers who were presenting their plans for a new busway west of Cambridge .

Make what you will of the officers’ responses.

“Is the future all doom and gloom?”

It might feel like it looking at the national politics of today. Yet the presence of the Cambridge Connect light rail plans seem to have focussed the attention of residents at least onto something positive, rather than on opposing the current series of road management-based schemes that are currently out for consultation – such as the peaktime congestion.

At the same time, it’s easy to forget in the sea of negative headlines that there are schemes that are imaginative and that have broad support – such as the north-south cycleway known as the Chisholm Trail. That alone will take hundreds of cyclists away from motor traffic while at the same time speeding up cycle journeys across the city. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the potential health benefits.

“So…what is the next step?”

At the moment all eyes are on the proposed second busway with an important decision due on 13 October 2016. Note too that the board will be approving construction work on the Chisholm Trail.




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