Why the future of Cambridge’s transport needs to incorporate all things leisure, art and heritage

Summary

On why so many people miss out on three of our historic gems – and how accessibility matters to make sport for all

It was Faye Holland who raised the issue of Cambridge needing a second city/civic centre most recently at Grant Thornton’s Vibrant Cambridge event.

At some stage, Cambridge is going to need it. The incremental growth at the moment risks the slow, growing swamp of suburbia that inevitably stem from developments that never build the much-needed community and civic infrastructure. Not that the larger developments are coming up with the ground breaking, awe-inspiring buildings that have the *Wow!* factor inside and out. All too often even when there is the chance for something great and wonderful, the developers tell the architects to get out their Etch-a-sketches ***because profit margins***.  But it wasn’t always like this in Cambridge, as our local Royal Institute for British Architecture told Puffles.

I was in one of the Victorian buildings earlier today – All Saints Church.

Cambridge historian, Dr Sean Lang of Anglia Ruskin University presents this documentary on the building.

As Dr Lang explains 13 mins in, the church was earmarked for closure. The people who would otherwise have made up the congregations had moved out to the growing suburbs of post-war Cambridge – places like Arbury. The old inner city slums and working class areas were replaced either by lower density housing, student accommodation or expanded colleges. That combined with the fall in church attendances, along with rising costs of maintaining increasingly aged buildings meant somethings were going to have to give.

Buses and cars breaking up the natural flow of pedestrians

My simple take is that bus routes, lorry deliveries and cars have disrupted one of the natural flows of pedestrians.

AllSaintsChurchGoogleMapSnapshot

Screenshot from Googlemaps.

You can see All Saints in the centre-right of the map. Buses go down Jesus Lane, Manor Street, Park Street and Round Church Street. Much of the accommodation that Dr Lang says was once occupied by locals east of Manor Street is now either lower density housing association accommodation or student accommodation for Cambridge University Colleges. Wonderful as the inside of Sidney Sussex College is (and it really is), the narrow pavements and high walls don’t invite anyone to walk down the streets – especially with buses, lorries, and in more recent times, recklessly driven cars with illegally loud engines going past.

Museum of Technology – off the beaten track too

If you follow the road down Jesus Lane eastwards, you get to Maids’ Causeway and then onto Newmarket Road.

MuseumOfTechGoogleMapSnapshot

Newmarket Road – and the bottom left of the snapshot above. The Museum of Technology is in the top right. Where Tesco is was once the Cambridge Gas Works. The Museum is going through a transformation thanks to a big lottery grant. It’s a site that has so much potential that I really hope the grant helps it reach it. Personally I think the city should have kept one of the old gasometers – the big one in this photo being the last to go. A shame they couldn’t do something like London did here.

The problem with the site – or rather the road infrastructure, is that it’s too far away from the museum. The part of the museum that borders the riverside doesn’t make it nearly as clear as it could do where the main entrance is.

Cambridge United Football Club

Further east along Newmarket Road is the Abbey Stadium. (It’ll always be called that for me irrespective of who sponsors it).

CUFCGoogleMapSnapshot

Bottom left is the Museum of Technology, and bottom-right is Cambridge United FC.

You can see two bus stops either side of Newmarket Road, but on match day the road gets blocked completely by thousands of football fans. For decades, fans have been frustrated by the incredibly poor infrastructure to get people to and from the stadium. One of the hopes with the new north-south Cambridge cycle path – the Chisholm Trail – will take away some of the road traffic as a direct, high quality cycle path makes cycling much easier from more parts of the city.

There are no road routes out north or south. North you have Stourbridge Common and Ditton Meadows. The attempt to complete the planned eastern ring road were thwarted when residents understandably rebelled against the Holford Wright plans to build a dual carriage way over the aforementioned meadows. South of the stadium you have Coldhams Common – again, not something that Cambridge wants to build anything on. These are our green lungs doing what they can to help improve our shockingly poor air quality.

This is why, short of a stadium move – repeatedly blocked by successive local councils, the Cambridge Connect Light Rail project – and Extension A, are ever so important.

cambridgeconnect_newtonline_extensiona_v5-0If Cambridge gets this network – a very very big ‘if’, then well-designed footpaths and cycle paths could open up what is a part of town that’s not pleasant for pedestrians. Car parks take up a lot of space and are not pleasant to walk across. You feel like you are in the way of the cars.

An alternative city centre?

I’ve suggested before that Cambridge could move Marshall’s Airport out to Mildenhall and build a railway line to it, through to and circling Norwich to connect the University of East Anglia and Norwich Airport by rail, before going onto Great Yarmouth.

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The moving of the airport was also something that was suggested in the old Cambridge Futures Project. See Option 4 here. (The other options are here). This is where I agree with Faye Holland in that Cambridge needs an alternative city/civic centre, and needs something other than retail to build it around. The question is where you put it. In one sense, the Northwest Cambridge site is on its way to becoming an engineering centre, Addenbrooke’s a biotech centre, and the existing centre an historical centre/tourist day trip hell hole [delete as appropriate].

The problem I always come back to is that the city authorities do not have the legal powers, financial powers or the tax raising powers to manage our city. The lines of accountability don’t head towards a single unit/institution in the town centre, but away – whether to a Police & Crime Commissioner based in Huntingdon, this new executive mayor who will be county-based & cover Peterborough, a city bigger than Cambridge with its own cathedral, (Cambridge falls under the bishopric of Ely with its magnificent cathedral in the fens. It’s not King’s College Chapel – King’s doesn’t have a bishops throne).

The Leisure case by Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council

They published this document in 2013.  Do a ‘word search’ on ‘Olympic’ and you will find an ice rink and a swimming pool mentioned. Given the projected growth not just of Cambridge but the surrounding areas – Cambridge alone is due to be at 151,000 in 2030, a civic sports, arts and leisure complex that is very well connected by public, walking and cycle transport sounds compelling.

You’ll always get those who will say “Who pays?” By which they mean:

“The public sector won’t pay for it and no, you are not allowed to raise taxes on businesses or people/organisations based abroad/in tax havens who buy up stuff in Cambridge either and no you can’t subsidise nice things like we subsidise other business activities with grants and tax breaks so stop dreaming and shut up” 

Which is why Cambridge can’t have nice things anymore. For decades we’ve had a political class imprisoned by their own ideologies. As I’ve repeatedly written, so long as ministers – mainly in the Treasury, and their senior officials, continue to sit on their hands while much needed new homes are sold off abroad (up to 30% at one local estate agent) and stop local councils from imposing the punitive measures to that will restrict such anti-social purchases – especially ‘buy to leave’, we’ll get nowhere. Instead we’ll see more speculative developments that are popular with faceless investment institutions who clean up financially while the local communities have to bear the costs. As fellow community reporter Richard Taylor writes, the development at the railway station unwittingly designed in anti-social behaviour and is now desperately trying to correct this.

But when local council planning teams are faced with the best planning professionals money can buy, what hope do they and local communities have in the face of international finance that stands to make a financial killing from a place like Cambridge?

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One thought on “Why the future of Cambridge’s transport needs to incorporate all things leisure, art and heritage

  1. There are buses that go along Newmarket Rd, stopping where it is only a short walk across Tesco car park to CambMusTech. But signage is needed to point to the museum, and something more enlightening than “near River Lane” on bus route description. But basically more to do with communication than a major planning exercise. At least in the short term this *could* happen – irrespective of where any new civic quarter might materialise.

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