This report covers the period from Transport 2000 Cambs & W Suffolk's AGM on 7 Dec 2002.
The issue that has dominated our campaigning this year is road building. We have two main complaints. One is against the Highways Agency, which appears to be repudiating the 1994 report of the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA), which said that road improvements led to increased (``induced'') traffic. Or rather, it is denying this with respect to each individual scheme, which seems to come to the same thing. The other is against the environmental movement, which has lost its ability to provide effective support to anti-road campaigners.
The year started with the public inquiry into the Great Barford By-pass (A421), where our main objection was that the need for a by-pass (which we accepted) was being used as an excuse to upgrade the route to dual carriageway, which, we believe, would lead to extra traffic which would spill over onto the Cambridgeshire road network (mainly the A428 and A1). However, this is only if one accepts the validity of the concept of induced traffic, which the Highways Agency didn't.
A new issue arose too late to be covered effectively in the Inquiry, though we did manage to submit a closing statement which referred to it. This was the recommendation of the London to South Midlands Multi-Modal Study, which reported just 2 days before the close of the Inquiry, for a rail link between Cambridge and Bedford following the same corridor as the road. We asked for the Inquiry to be reopened to discuss whether it would be worth redesigning the road to allow for a future railway, but the Government rejected our plea without even estimating the costs and potential savings involved.
However, we do have one thing to thank this Inquiry for: had our appearance not been postponed from the original schedule, we might have been stuck in the gridlock -- caused by the weather, but exacerbated by the sheer volume of traffic -- on the night following the originally scheduled date.
We didn't bother to appear at the Inquiry into the Thorney By-pass. This is another case of unnecessary dualling -- indeed the Peterborough-Norwich Multi-Modal Study specifically rejected dualling much of the A47 for some time to come. Would a dual carriageway on this section be a ``Trojan Horse'' which might lead to the dualling of the whole route? We fear so, but again our arguments were rejected. We didn't get a satisfactory answer to why dualling this stretch of road was worthwhile when the rest of the route could get along perfectly well as a single carriageway.
Potentially the most damaging scheme is the dualling of the A428 west of Cambridge, and as we write no decision has been made. As we prepared for the Inquiry we thought ``here's one scheme where even the Highways Agency won't deny that traffic will be induced'' -- after all it satisfies two of the criteria identified in the SACTRA report in that the existing road operates close to capacity (at peak times) and one may presume that the commuters who clog it have a relatively high elasticity of demand in that they would be significantly less likely to switch to public transport (or live closer to work) if the road were dualled. Indeed, the Highways Agency's statement of case showed an extra 9,000 or so movements on the stretch of road leading to/from Cambridge. But at the last moment, they declared that almost all this traffic would be diverted from other routes rather than induced. We didn't manage to get a clear and consistent explanation of where this traffic would be diverted from, and said so at the Inquiry.
This Inquiry was notable for its breakneck speed. The period between our original notification and the pre-inquiry meeting coincided with the traditional holiday month for campaigners and politicians, so we found it even harder to get effective help or advice. Less than a month followed before the start of the Inquiry. The Highways Agency rebuttal was sent to us less than 2 days before our appearance, and given that it substantially changed their case by suggesting that there wouldn't be any significant induced traffic, and that we couldn't make sense of it without consulting documents on deposit at the Inquiry (which was in a village with just 3 buses a day) we were unable to prepare an address to the Inquiry at all and were forced to rely on our closing statement. We hope that the new issues we have had to introduce there are accepted by the Inspector. Meanwhile, we are still awaiting guidance from an expert on what to say in our post-inquiry correspondence to the Minister, and whether it is worth trying to get the inquiry reopened on the grounds that the late notification of the Highways Agency's arguments contravene procedural rules.
There is one other Highways Agency scheme with which we have been involved this year. This is the proposal for grade separation on the A14 between Thrapston and Brampton. We were prepared to support this scheme, though we objected so as to call for it to be amended to make provision for our proposed ``A14 Express'' bus proposals. However, the Highways Agency decided it wasn't value for money and withdrew it. We hope that this is not so that they can use it as an excuse to widen the route.
We also participated in a meeting to discuss a Route Management Strategy for the A11. Unfortunately, the precedent from other RMS's suggests that by the time they reach the implementation stage, only the proposals oriented towards cars and lorries using the road (as opposed to public transport users and non-motorised users for whom the road is an obstruction) survive. Next year we can expect the publication of proposals for the Elveden by-pass: we plan to object on the grounds that this will miss an opportunity to provide a multi-modal transport interchange for Center Parcs, and we may also incorporate more general objections raised by Transport 2000 nationally.
Meanwhile the Government announced its reactions to the remaining Multi-Modal Studies, which seems to be to build all the road schemes (except for some of the most damaging, none of them in our region) and putting everything else on hold. The latter includes the proposal for a new rail link between Cambridge, Bedford and Northampton which came out of the London to South Midlands MMS. Government support for the road schemes is unaffected by the cost escalation that has led it to clamp down on rail investment -- such as the increase in the cost of the Cambridge-Huntingdon road proposals from GBP 192m to GBP 490m.
The Lib Dems in Cambridge put out a newsletter condemning the Government's return to the policy of trying to ``build our way out of congestion''. However, despite our pleas, the Lib Dem-controlled City Council did not oppose the A428 widening proposals. Do they want traffic in Cambridge to get worse so as to strengthen the case for schemes like road user charging? While we certainly support road user charging, we don't think things work quite as simply as that.
The new A428 through Cambourne is now open, and has replaced the old road. We are not aware of any benefits from this that are worth the sacrifice of the two former rights of way which crossed the new road. However, we welcome the provision of a bridge over the A14 which will soon provide a safe and pleasant crossing for cyclists and pedestrians to/from Milton.
Very little good news apart from the success of the Cambridge-Norwich service and the opening of Phase I of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
The Strategic Rail Authority issued its report into fares, which not only failed to condemn the imposition of a minimum fare on Monday to Friday users of Network Railcards but seemed to suggest that there was no need to require operators to provide Saver tickets. The report nowhere mentioned the role of the railways in helping to combat road congestion, which would be immeasurably strengthened if fares were more competitive. However, it did open the way for the introduction of a National Railcard. We hope that this will come to fruition as soon as possible, and that it won't be hedged around with too many restrictions.
The Government has, quite reasonably, expressed concern at the increasing cost of rail projects. However, instead of trying to diagnose and remedy the situation (e.g. by reversing privatisation or relaxing regulations motivated by safety concerns but with no evidence of efficacy in this respect) it has reacted by reducing its support for the rail industry. So, while the road programme forges ahead, even small rail improvements (such as those financed by the Rail Passenger Partnership scheme) have been suspended indefinitely, let alone schemes such as the East-West Rail Link where, as we said above, the Highways Agency is being allowed to push ahead with road schemes which are likely to increase its ultimate cost.
Unlike the Highways Agency, the Strategic Rail Authority doesn't know how to take its schemes successfully through the Public Inquiry -- so we'll have an even longer wait before Thameslink 2000 connects our trains with the network south of London. And the SRA have also suspended proposals to upgrade the East Coast Main Line, without which the proposed distribution centre at Alconbury is unlikely to fulfil its stated function of allowing goods movements to be transferred from road to rail. (We and other inquiry participants have recently been invited to update our arguments prior to a final decision, which will presumably be taken in conjunction with the Government's aviation proposals -- see below.)
There may, however, be opportunities for upgrading the rail network without recourse to the SRA. This, at least, is the premise on which is based the new Cambridge-St Ives Railway Organisation (CAST.IRON) which we have supported. We have been convinced by their arguments that it is possible to reopen the railway for local use (between Swavesey and the Science Park) within the timescale imposed by the development proposals at Longstanton, which motivated us to call for a temporary busway at last year's AGM.
We have also supported the protest against the proposed abandonment of mail trains by inviting our members to write to their MPs to ask them to support the Early Day Motion that condemns the decision by Government-owned Royal Mail.
For legal reasons the Government extended the consultation on its aviation policy by 6 months, and we made minor revisions to our submission. Campaigners have had little success so far in pushing the message that we should be trying to limit demand, and possibly encourage people to use rail where this is an alternative. It is almost certainly the inclusion of Alconbury in the list of ``possibles'' that has held up a decision on the use of the airfield as a multi-modal distribution centre (see above). Otherwise, our chief concern is that the Government will go for the ``easy option'' of expanding Stansted -- which is set within a countryside dotted with ``heritage'' buildings -- to become the world's largest airport.
Better news here in that London introduced its congestion charge this year and this has been overwhelmingly successful in reducing traffic levels. Now we would like to see its area extended and some of the exemptions reduced.
And the Government does seem to be moving towards the concept of road user charges on the trunk road network, though as yet there is not the firm political commitment that we believe is needed -- especially if we want to reduce the need for costly and environmentally harmful road widening schemes.
However, Cambridgeshire County Council seems definitely to have rejected the concept of road user charging in the Cambridge area, which in the Cambridge-Huntingdon MMS is stated to be the only option for avoiding a 30% increase in traffic in the city -- and would also help to finance improvements like the proposals of CAST.IRON (see above). Meanwhile the Highways Agency seems to be relying on Cambridge congestion charging to avert the traffic increases in Cambridge that form our main objection to the A428 dualling (see above).
This year there has been a movement in many parts of the country for commercial operators to abandon certain routes and force local authorities to provide support. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have been no exception. Unfortunately, some services have disappeared in the wash. There are no longer any local buses running direct on the A14 between Huntingdon and Cambridge, or on the A10 between Cambridge and Ely, or on the A1 between Peterborough and St Neots. Villages such as Folksworth and Glatton in the north, and Haslingfield and Barrington in the south, have suffered major cuts. Our fears for the 35 route serving Little Shelford finally came to fruition. The new C7 route between Cottenham and Duxford tries to be all things to all passengers and as a result the network in this area slower journeys and less coverage of roads such as Brooklands Avenue and Hinton Way. The latter is now served only by supported route 32, and the routeing of the new C8 to serve Brooklands Avenue has meant that it ignores one of the most important destinations in the City -- the railway station.
There have been some improvements. The 32 reinstates a much demanded facility between Saffron Walden and Addenbrookes, and connections with the C7 enable people from Whittlesford and Duxford to get to Saffron Walden. The C8 provides a new link along the western side of Cambridge. The 196 now offers a reasonable off-peak service through Horningsea -- though the opportunity for bus/rail connections at Waterbeach remains unexploited. There are both improvements and deteriorations on the A428/A421 corridor between Cambridge and Bedford.
The County Council is pushing ahead with its plans for a Cambridge-Huntingdon Guided Busway. We will be opposing the scheme as long as it preempts the use of the St Ives line, either as such (as per the CAST.IRON proposals) or, in the case of the section east of Histon, as part of the Cambridge-Bedford rail route recommended by the London to South Midlands MMS. However, we believe that there may be a reasonable case for a busway -- guided or otherwise -- elsewhere, such as following the (existing) A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon with branches to Cambourne, Longstanton, St Ives, and the proposed station at Chesterton Parkway.
We have replied to the consultation on the Cambridgeshire Local Transport Plan and the Cambridge and Huntingdonshire Local Plans, and submitted a ``wish list'' to Peterborough City Council about their Local Transport Plan. We have also been involved in a number of other consultations, including transport strategies for Wisbech and Huntingdon, North and West Cambridge, and also, in the City, Bradwells Court, Station Road and Silver St. For the last of these we generally support the closure scheme introduced by the County Council, though we had some misgivings on points of detail. However our alternative would have been incompatible with the new C8 bus route (while there had been rumours of such a route we had no idea that it would use Silver St).
We have continued to participate in email groups such as the Cambridgeshire Sustainable Transport Forum, the regional group STEER, the Transport Working Group of Peterborough Environment City Trust and the Bedfordshire Rural Transport Partnership. We have also continued to send our newsletters to local group coordinators and local representatives in the surrounding region.
We have also spread our message through websites such as Indymedia and the BBC's ICAN.
We pay affiliation fees to the following organisations: STEER, the Cambridge-Sudbury Rail Renewal Association, and the National Federation of Bus Users. At the forthcoming AGM we will be voting on whether to add CAST.IRON to this list. The following organisations pay affiliation fees to us: Cambridgshire ACRE and Kentford Parish Council. We exchange newsletters with the following organisations: Transport 2000 Notts, Transport 2000 Suffolk, Norwich & Norfolk Transport Action Group, the Icknield Way Association, the Peterborough-Norwich Rail User Group, and the Bedfordshire Railway & Transport Association.
However, we are becoming concerned that some of these organisations are no longer meeting on a regular basis -- such as STEER and the Peterborough Environment City Trust. Email groups are reasonably effective at spreading ideas but they don't seem to work as a way of marshalling people to do things.