A congestion charge for Cambridge?


Leader of the Lib Dems group on Cambridge City Council, Cllr Tim Bick makes the headlines

which created some debate in the Cambridge News today, though Cllr Bick clarified on Twitter below:

It also came up in the Cambridge Independent too.

At the same time, South Cambridgeshire MP and candidate for the Conservative ticket for county mayor, Heidi Allen, has also called on the public to help her build a picture of the state of public transport in the area.

In the meantime, independent county mayor candidate Peter Dawe (now at http://www.peterdawe4mayor.co.uk/ ) came along to a gathering of Smarter Cambridge Transport activists to discuss all things devolution, city deal and more. Reaction was mixed – some strongly supporting Dawe as both a long time campaigner and independent non-party candidate, while others taking issue with some of the things he said or had campaigned on. Which goes to show that as with other community and campaign groups, no one candidate or party can automatically assume support from groups even where their interests superficially appear to match up.

“Yeah – what’s your take Puffles? Would you ban cars?”

With things like this my first port of call is Puffles’ manifesto from our 2014 Cambridge City Council election campaign. Note what I wrote in:

Theme 6 – supporting surrounding towns and villages

Theme 8 – a greener city

With those in mind, I also look at what has changed since May 2014. Big picture-wise are the 2015 general election and Brexit. Locally we’ve had the city deal taking shape and the announcement of devolution policy. Since then we have also had the formation of the Smarter Cambridge Transport Campaign and the Cambridge Connect Light Rail Project. Furthermore, the Cambridge Cycling Campaign now has Roxanne de Beaux as a full-time officer (in which she’s made a huge difference in that she’s able to turn up to meetings and face down some of the worst aspects of developer plans. Finally there’s the growth of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations and associated groups, along with me turning up to many meetings and filming them rather than just live-tweeting, now sponsored by FeCRA for the filming of meetings.

“But would you ban cars?”

I’d ban some of them.

“Freedom-hating tree-hugger”

Not all of them.

“Democracy-hating Communist”

I would ban the ones that pollute the most and that have the loudest engines because they screw up my breathing and sleeping patterns. I’m not having my physical and mental health being screwed up by people who gratuitously mess things up for the rest of us because of their poor car purchasing and maintenance choices and anti-social driving habits. Also, driving in such a manner is an offence.

“Says who?”

The police – British Transport Police in Cambridge. They told Puffles


Section 59 of the PRA 2002 – Full text here, applies. So cease with your crime-supporting line of argument or be condemned as being soft on crime.

The importance of sequencing policies

This is where round these parts we get things wrong – continuously. The manifestation of the failure of central and local government in designing and building a high quality sustainable town is the town of Cambourne, west of Cambridge. (See their parish council’s website at http://www.cambourneparishcouncil.gov.uk/ ).

My take? The politicians and planners responsible for not building the infrastructure first for Cambourne should be metaphorically shot. (Not literally – that would be murder). Basically the people of Cambourne deserve so much better than a town that has a rubbish bus service (to the extent I won’t go to South Cambridgeshire Hall for meetings unless someone drives me there because I lose too many mental health spoons changing buses to make the 2 hour round trip). Also it’s become all too much of a dumping ground for social housing overspill because the property speculators in Cambridge refuse to build enough social housing in the city. That plus ministers rewrote the rules to allow developers to get away with repeatedly weasling out of commitments. The result? People end up boomeranging back to their parents (as I did after a decade with my own place) or having to travel longer and longer distances, making the roads even more clogged up.

“So, what should Cambourne have done?”

Built the rail link first, but at the time Cambourne was being planned, Labour were all over the place with transport and rail policy and did not invest in things like East West Rail when they should have done. When Andrew Lansley was my MP in the mid part of the last decade, I wrote to him about reopening the Oxford-Cambridge rail link having read about it on the internet. He wrote back saying ministers were not interested. So that transport policy failure rests squarely at Labour’s doorstep.

My other big criticism of the urban planners (sometime soon I’m gonna start naming and shaming some of them because their names will be stamped all over the plans and the documents will be buried away in a place I know where to find them) is that there is no real civic centre for Cambourne. Have a look at the map here. Why isn’t there a big town square with a big town hall, council chamber and arts centre/community hall as the beating heart of the place? Why are the local council offices stuck at the end of a business park in the middle of nowhere, as far away as possible from the people that actually live there? The people of Cambourne deserve so much better than this shambles.

“What’s the above got to do with a congestion charge and sequencing?”

A heavy or light rail link from Cambourne to Cambridge – in particular to the major employment sites such as the science parks and Addenbrooke’s, would mean that people would have an alternative to using cars. Furthermore, building facilities for small light industry alone would mean a host of firms may have chosen to relocate to Cambourne taking advantage of good transport links to market along with much cheaper rents and housing costs.

The other thing easily missed out is decent cycling infrastructure.

“Lycra-clad cycling commissars? Booo!!!”

Quite the opposite. One of the lessons from the wide cycleway next to the Cambridge guided busway is that people are prepared to cycle much further distances to work/college if there are hardly any interruptions (eg road crossings) and if the routes are separate to motor vehicle traffic.

This is where Dr Rachel Aldred’s presentation last year at a Cambridge transport event at Wolfson College apply. Dr Aldred is a researcher on all things cycling policy at the University of Westminster. Have a listen to what she said.

In a nutshell, start off with the quicker wins of making cycling the preferable choice – where people choose to walk or cycle first before getting into the realms of congestion charging and the like.

Furthermore, in terms of longer term transport policies and projects, this is why I strongly favour the principles of Dr Colin Harris’s Cambridge Connect Light Rail. Note I state ‘principles’ because at the time of writing it still remains a concept. The initial financial and technical feasibility studies have not been done. We don’t know if either will come up with something that means the scheme is dead in the water. That said, my take again is that for a light rail network to function in the way that Dr Harris explained in his talk below, congestion charging and banning day tripper tourist coaches from the city will need to form part of a transport policy to reduce road vehicle congestion and to move tourists in particular (4m people annually visit our small city of just over 100,000 residents) onto the light rail enabling the latter almost to become self-funding. Have a listen to Dr Harris’s talk below.


Bigger and wider infrastructure – train links to the seaside?

Given the timescales of decades rather than years, I’d also be looking at much more extended rail links to spread the wealth & investment Cambridge is getting.


This by rail future, I’d be looking to incorporate large parts of this diagram in as possible – in particular the Wisbech-Cambridge-Haverhill link, having it extending to Sudbury and thus linking up Anglia Ruskin University’s campuses in Cambridge & Chelmsford.

Furthermore, as a means for improving infrastructure and connectivity to Norfolk, I’d consider re-opening the old Cambridge-Mildenhall rail line as below.


The old line is from Cambridge on the left to Mildenhall where the balloon icon is. (Give or take where that line has been built on). From there you build a new line north towards Swaffham then east towards the University of East Anglia in west Norwich. The line could then go underground at UEA, underground in a northern loop connecting to Norwich Airport that has no rail link, then around on the existing Norwich to Great Yarmouth rail line, thus opening up one of the most economically deprived seaside towns in the country to rail traffic coming up from London and/or the midlands. Great Yarmouth might also make an ideal terminus for trains and rail staff too – you’ve already got your short-term accommodation already there.

So…yeah, lots of ideas, but I can’t see any of mine coming to fruition. But hey, at least this way I can turn up to council and political meetings and force someone to say “No!” to the camera and have it as an historical record so that in 100 years time people can ask the question: “Yeah – why didn’t they listen to crazy dragon dude?”


One thought on “A congestion charge for Cambridge?

  1. Great post! It gets to the hub of the failure of public (and efficient) transport planning.

    I thought I’d add something about Cambourne as you don’t directly refer to it. I’ve got the fortune of working there next week (with kids outdoors) for the fourth time in a year.

    As far as I’m aware it was planned to be a much more self-containined town, where people live and work. Where the planners failed was to not incentivize businesses properly, and it ended up being a satellite town for Cambridge.

    This is graphically born out when you go down the “High Street”, the supposed centre of town, and it’s surrounded by fields. Shops were meant to be there but they just never came.

    In some senses, not having a centre is a benefit to the place. It’s not a massive place, and there is reasonable cycle infrastructure built into the plan from the offset. It’s easy to get everywhere on it. Having a centre, a single focus point, encourages the jams in rush hour as people all cram in one direction.

    The cycle infrastructure is not ideal, there are a number of issues (raised in the blog below). You should see the place at 8:30am or 3pm, filled with kids on bikes! And there seems to be a number of adults who also use it.

    Obviously, the current satellite nature badly effects transport within South Cambridgeshire. I share your frustration with getting to the place from Cambridge without a car. I’ve attempted to look at ways off the main road, but it’s not commutable (blog below). I’m hoping that the new greenway plans might upgrade the surfacing on this route, but it’s a while off, and still needs public transport.

    Cambridge to Cambourne: http://radwagon.blogspot.com/2016/09/cambridge-to-cambourne-cycle-route.html

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