This is what they should have articulated back in 2014.
The new video from the Greater Cambridge Partnership/City Deal.
…even though some things can be easily lampooned by those of us who have followed the rollercoaster for the past four years.
Now, a lot of credit has to go to local campaigners and campaign groups who have spent a huge amount of time and effort on getting the partnership to this place. Although the map below is a later iteration, Dr Colin Harris of the Cambridge Connect Light Rail Project did a huge amount of research before presenting a map that included where stations could be, and examined comparative costs and methods of financing with other light rail schemes in Europe and beyond.
There was also the Smarter Cambridge Transport campaign, the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, Rail Haverhill, the Federation of Cambridge Residents Association, and an alliance of campaign groups in and beyond West Cambridge amongst others who kept on campaigning and persisting – demanding something far better than what was being presented to the city and county.
A very rocky first two years
To be honest, it was painful. I won’t go into details in this post, rather I’ll leave it to the Smarter Cambridge Transport campaign who articulated the issues back in summer 2016.
Part of the frustration I had with everything led me to launch something called “Be The Change Cambridge” in early 2015 to try and articulate some of the issues and get a critical mass of people together to start finding solutions to those problems. One of my biggest criticisms of the general approach to local government in the county was the very weak use of social and digital media in the face of the budgets that they had – and the access to some of the best practitioners of it that I tried repeatedly to introduce them to.
It’s a little painful to watch now, but one chap and a 2010-era mini-camcorder and some very very basic training later and I made the video below.
From February 2015 – Be the change Cambridge.
With a far bigger budget and professional specialist communications brought in, you can see the difference in impact the most recent Greater Cambridge video has, even if you may have issues with the content and schemes they are promoting.
One slick video and documents pack won’t solve the problems of content
Two years ago, campaigners in and beyond West Cambridge were protesting against one of the more controversial schemes, the Cambourne-Cambridge ‘expressway’ for want of another term.
All these people turned out on a cold December day to protest in 2016.
They had cross-party support as well.
Julius Carrington (Cambridge Conservatives), Cllr Bridget Smith (South Cambs Lib Dems), Stuart Tuckwood (Cambridge Green Party) in December 2016.
They were back again in the autumn of 2017
Another protest against the West Cambridge plans – a video medley..
The party political fallout was brutal – the following year in the 2018 local council elections for South Cambridgeshire, which happen once every four years, the incumbent Conservative Group was crushed by the Liberal Democrats, who took three quarters of all of the council seats on the back of disquiet with the Greater Cambridge Partnership of which at the time the Cambridgeshire Conservatives had the majority of voting seats on the GCP Board. And thus the blame that went with it. Today the seat for South Cambridgeshire now rests with the Liberal Democrats, & Cllr Aidan Van De Weyer.
Closer alignment between the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority
You can see that some incredibly difficult conversations have been had between politicians and officials over the past year – and the working relationships remain as tense as ever given finance and personnel issues with Mayor James Palmer that have been in the news recently. That was before budget issues with Cambridgeshire County Council exploded onto the front pages a couple of days ago.
Finally getting the Greater Cambridge Partnership to agree on the concept of tunnels under the city of Cambridge as part of solving the congestion problem
Originally the message from the early team of officers seemed to be ‘more buses’ was the solution. When the Conservative Government pre-EU-Ref came up with the concept of a county mayor first for East Anglia, and then for Cambridgeshire, there were more than a few concerns on how this would align with the GCP. There still are. But what is a relief from my perspective is that the GCP have come round to agreeing to the concept of tunnels under the city as proposed by Mayor James Palmer during his election campaign of 2016.
With the above, it was the Cambridge Connect Light Rail plans that finally caught the imagination of the people of Cambridge & District (I’m more comfortable with that term as I grew up with it) when it came to ideas for solving the congestion problem. For a lot of us, myself included, we were like: ***Yeah – we want *That* [pointing to map of proposed light rail network]***
I’m still behind Dr Colin Harris’s concept of a light rail underground for Cambridge – one that ultimately extends out to the market towns of Haverhill, St Neots, Newmarket, Ely, St Ives, Chatteris, Sawston, Comberton, and so on within the next 75 years or so – thinking along much longer timescales than many politicians and officials. That’s the historian in me. I’ve examined the history and have noted where decisions taken decades/centuries – even a millennia ago still affect us today.
The financial deadline from The Treasury approaches
Back in June 2018 at a time when political relations were still tense, the Communities Secretary James Brokenshire warned that the next and vital tranche of funding – £400million of it was “Not Guaranteed”, in the face of political disagreement at a local level. (See the report here). I’d like to think that this helped concentrate the minds of all involved. But my criticism remains that historically, Cambridge and actually the whole of England is long overdue a restructure of local government. They used to happen once every decade or two, but we’ve not had one for over 40 years, and many towns and cities have changed significantly since then. In the case of Cambridge, it continues to do so at a very fast pace to the extent that in my view, a unitary authority for Cambridge and District/Greater Cambridge is justified. The party political disagreement is where to draw the boundaries. Conservatives will want enough rural districts that traditionally vote Tory to be included so as to swamp the Labour/Liberal majority that dominates in and around Cambridge.
Too much of the marketing of both the ancient university cities of England pretends that you’ll have views of the Bridge of Sighs at St John’s College Cambridge or the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Private educational institutions in my experience tend to be the worst, pretending that Cambridge has this magic pixie dust that gets sprinkled on you if you just happen to do an expensive course within a given distance of Senate House and King’s College Chapel. But I have to say that this is probably the most laughable example of trying to jump onto ‘brand Cambridge’ – not even in the same county (Clue is in the IP – Ipswich postcode) and taking no account into the traffic jam that is the A14. So once the planned Oxford/Cambridge motorway is built and/or the much needed East West Rail (which I hope goes beyond Oxford westwards to South Wales, and onto Norwich and Great Yarmouth beyond Cambridge), expect to see things like “Oxbridge/Camford college is ideally placed between the two great university cities and benefit from both of them – we’re based in Bedford/Milton Keynes…”
“You’re a cynic you are”
I know. It comes with age. I’m 40 next year.
Note that in the next couple of years, a number of important schemes – in particular cycleways – will have been completed. The Chisholm Trail for me is the big game changer, which I think will not only take more cyclists off the main roads and onto a much safer segregated cycleway travelling north-south through Cambridge next to the railway line, but also generate a far greater number of cycle journeys currently not taken. So it is essential that as soon as the cycleway is opened that the evaluation process is begun very shortly afterwards.