This year has been a frustrating one in that there have been a number of crises where, for one reason or another, we do not feel that we have been able to make an appropriate response.
We start with the dualling of the A428 west of Cambridge. Our last annual report told how the failure of the Highways Agency to declare its position on induced traffic until the last moment prevented us from making an appropriate response at the inquiry. In due course we wrote to the Department for Transport saying that we believed that the inquiry should be reopened for this and other reasons. Well, eventually we received a decision letter, and this said that not only was our request refused, but the Inspector had taken it on himself to disregard some of our closing statement -- the only chance we had had to prepare a reply to the Highways Agency change of stance -- on the grounds that the Highways Agency had not had a chance to reply to it! Furthermore, this position was endorsed by the Secretary of State. Apparently it is OK for the Highways Agency to delay its evidence so we have no chance to reply, but when we do that (even though the Highways Agency delay was the specific cause of this) our evidence is disregarded.
To our mind this is contrary to the Human Rights Act which requires public inquiries to be conducted fairly. It is time that the environmental movement conducted a test case to establish this, and for reasons below we believe that the A428 would have been an excellent example of such a case.
The evidence that the Highways Agency concealed was not a minor issue but the very heart of the matter. Our principal objection to the road scheme was that it would lead to induced traffic in the Cambridge area which would overwhelm the city's local road network. The scheme satisfies two of the three conditions laid down in the SACTRA report for when induced traffic would be expected. But it was not until the inquiry itself was well under way that the Highways Agency made clear its position that the increases in traffic using the route shown in its traffic projections would be diverted from other routes. No explanation was given for ignoring SACTRA, and the only justification in the decision letter was that unlike us the Highways Agency was staffed by professionals. The fact that they had a vested interest in ignoring induced traffic wasn't considered. I may say that something said by a Highways Agency official on another occasion, after the decision, gave us the impression that the projections were little more than guesses.
A second major issue emerged as a result of that inquiry and our preparations for the guided busway inquiry (on which more below).
As stated above, we believe that one effect of the dualling of the A428 will be to exacerbate Cambridge's already intractable traffic problems. Nobody seems to have any strategy for dealing with them -- we regard both the guided busway and the alternative proposals to restore the railway on the relevant corridor as unlikely to be of much use on their own. The best hope, called for in both the Cambridge-Huntingdon and London-S Midland Multi-Modal Studies, would be a form of road user charging. Our preferred option would be a region-wide parking tax, but Cambridgeshire County Council has specifically rejected this or any other option for road user charging.
We believe that the development of one or more new towns in the Cambridge sub-region is likely to lead to pressure from service providers to move away from the centre of Cambridge to locations easier to get to by car (the problem of access by other modes of transport being ignored). South Cambridgeshire District Council has started the ball rolling by moving its HQ to the new village of Cambourne, and the University has talked about building new colleges outside the city and close to the main road network. The worldwide renown of Cambridge should make it possible to set up a high profile campaign to prevent the sub-region from degenerating into amorphous sprawl, but at the time of writing our only achievement in furthering this campaign has been an article in Transport Retort.
A third problem has been the issue of rail connections. Earlier this year the last eastbound train from Peterborough, which had earlier been retimed to just miss the last train from the north, was retimed again to just miss the one before. We have tried to argue for a replacement bus link from Huntingdon to Cambridge connecting with an existing train from Peterborough, but the Strategic Rail Authority failed to include this in its specifications, the train operators expressed no interest in this, and we have had no reply to our suggestion to Cambridgeshire County Council (in connection with the review of tendered services mentioned below) that they could recast some of their existing services to provide the required link.
Soon after our original representation to the Rail Passengers Committee about this, the Coordinator suffered a frustrating delay in Ely when the station staff refused to hold a Norwich-Cambridge train, which makes an advertised connection with an incoming train from Peterborough that was running late that evening and had got held up on the approach to Ely by the other one, by even the 1 minute that would have enabled the connection to be made. Furthermore the management not only refused to apologise or offer compensation but made it clear that they would do the same again. We have been trying to find out the proper quarter to direct a mass letter writing campaign -- which I'm sure an organisation like Railfuture could stimulate -- to change this, but with no success at the time of writing.
These issues led us to compile a ``manifesto'' which we sent to National Express Group, who run all the trains concerned, calling for a minimum standard of connections to Cambridge city centre for passengers to/from destinations beyond Peterborough. We also sent a copy of the manifesto to the Competition Commission, arguing that NEG should be required to make improvements along these lines in return for being granted the monopoly of trains in East Anglia. However, the Competition Commission saw fit not to impose any conditions on National Express Group, suggesting that there was little scope for National Express Group to abuse its monopoly. This was despite not only the above, but also massive fare increases caused by the abolition of certain tickets formerly provided by NEG subsidiaries, such as longer distance day returns by Central Trains, 5 day returns by WAGN, and cheap Silverlink/Central tickets between Milton Keynes (which has a direct bus link from Cambridge) and Shropshire.
Finally, the issue that has dominated campaigning this year -- the proposed guided busway. Here, for once, a high profile campaign has emerged, namely CAST.IRON, the organisation aiming to reopen the former Cambridge to St Ives and Huntingdon route as a railway rather than a guided busway.
Our committee is divided on the viability of the CAST.IRON proposals, and, as stated above, we believe it's unlikely they could provide the whole solution. However, we are even more sceptical regarding the guided busway proposals, and sent objections which were mostly maintained at the public inquiry.
One of our prime concerns is the future of the proposed east-west rail link. As we said last year, one of the few bright spots in the report of the London-S Midlands MMS was the recommendation for a direct route for this link. Yet both the main options for getting trains across Cambridge from the station to the A428 corridor would be sabotaged by the proposed guided busway route. It may be physically possible to convert the guided busway back to a railway, but we do not believe that this would be seen as economic.
We are slightly concerned at sharing the platform of opposition to the busway in its currently proposed form with groups that don't seem to want public transport development at all, and that there is a danger that we may end up with an infrastructure programme consisting solely of road building.
However, we are glad to be able to say that our fears about the fairness of the guided busway public inquiry seem to have been unfounded. Unlike in the A428 inquiry (and other road inquiries in which we have been involved), every effort seems to have been made to ensure that objectors can put their concerns forward.
We now move to other issues. We are if anything moving backwards on the rail front -- even the first phase of the East-West Rail Link hasn't got going, nor has Thameslink 2000. We had understood that the rail connection between Thameslink and the East Coast Main Line would be provided during the major work at Kings Cross current at the time of writing, but apparently this isn't being done.
The Government's new Railways Bill doesn't start to tackle the root causes of the deficiencies in the existing network. As stated above, the most effective route for the east-west rail link is under threat from the proposed guided busway. Connections for cross-country journeys to/from Cambridge remain largely a matter of chance, as was mentioned above; and Cambridge City Council is refusing to include plans for a new station at Addenbrookes -- in our view just the first of a set of new stations that would be needed to tackle our road congestion problems. (Meanwhile, no such inhibitions are affecting a County Council plan for a damaging road link to Addenbrookes -- see below.)
The completion of the West Coast Main Line upgrade has led to major service cuts on the Northampton to Birmingham route that forms part of the most direct link from Cambridge to the Midlands. The frequency has been reduced to hourly, some trains make many more stops, through services to/from Milton Keynes (except for higher priced Virgin) have been withdrawn with poor substitute connections, and the vital 09.09 train from Northampton which connected with the 08.50 bus arrival at the town centre has been retimed to 08.58, making the connection highly dubious -- not to mention the fact that several fares are subject to an 09.00 curfew, on top of the abolition of many cheap Silverlink/Central fares referred to above.
The picture nationally is just as bleak: the Government has refused to back the Central Railway proposals for a route from the Channel Tunnel to northern England which could be of great value to passengers as well as freight, and the report on the Milton Keynes & South Midlands sub-regional study seems to have ruled out restoration of a rail link between Cambridge and Bedford before 2021. However, we are hoping that ``people power'' will be able to force a reconsideration of this, especially in the light of the decision of the Government Office for South-East England to reinstate a plan to reopen the rail route through the Sussex Weald which local campaigners have been seeking for many years.
The National Rail Timetable to take effect in 12 Dec 2004 has been published. It shows the new hourly service between Cambridge and Ipswich -- though we understand that there have been changes to the timetable since publication. Generally we are appalled at the standard of information provision: for example, trains between Cambridge and Ely in each direction are now divided between two halves of the same timetable; the Northampton to Coventry service has been moved to a different timetable to the Northampton to Milton Keynes service, with no reflection of this in the timetable headings, and, worse, no indication is given of presumed replacement buses when the line is closed for engineering work.
This year has seen a continuation of the trend for bus operators to concentrate on ``core'' routes and place further burdens on local authorities to maintain a comprehensive network -- which, in general, many of them (including Cambridgeshire) have been unwilling to take up, though some new tendered routes have been introduced in Peterborough.
Following major service cuts to villages such as Barrington, Folksworth, Glatton, Haslingfield and Little Shelford last year, this year has seen the loss of services to several outlying areas of Cambridge; a reduction in the scope of the Peterborough city network; and decelerations on many routes including Cambridge-Oxford (which now goes through St Neots town centre), Cambridge-Ely (which now goes through villages such as Waterbeach), and Cambridge-Willingham (which now goes through both Swavesey/Over and Longstanton, though it does now omit the Bar Hill perimeter road). The route between Cottenham and Willingham has also disappeared.
Some notes we received on Cambridgeshire County Council's annual review of tendered services suggest that changes to be made in April 2005 may involve cuts. It is noteworthy how the willingness of the Government and Council to finance GBP 86m on a guided busway on just one corridor contrasts with the financial pressure under which the rest of the network has to operate.
There have, however, been some improvements. More stops on the Cambridge-Oxford route have led to easier local access (except from Cambourne), and a half hourly service has been promised for January. Such a frequency increase was introduced on route X1 (formerly X94) between Peterborough and Lowestoft in August. A new sponsored network has appeared west of Peterborough towards Rutland. Another new service links March and Downham Market, connecting to/from Wisbech.
We and other groups in our area were represented at a conference organised by Transport 2000 in Birmingham on rural buses. It is noteworthy that the above mentioned changes to Northampton line trains would considerably increase the expense of attending any future Birmingham conferences.
Post Office: This service is relevant to us not only as a transport and land use issue in its own right but also as something we use in our campaign work. Many aspects of this year's reorganisation have caused concern: replacement of mail trains by road haulage, closure of urban post offices, withdrawal of postbuses, reduction of information about collection times, a feeling that mail is getting lost, and later deliveries.
Planning: We have been involved in various consultations, such as the future of traffic management in Cambridge. We generally support the County Council's strategy but have some misgivings about the detail of their plans -- especially their wish to expel long distance coaches from the City Centre. We also doubt whether their plans to reduce ``dwell times'' for buses passing through the city centre are feasible. If not, this may undermine the viability of the guided busway, and signal that the deterioration of the city's traffic problems may have passed the point of no return.
Another issue is the redevelopment of the station area. We have pushed for any proposals to make maximum use of the potential of the area as a transport interchange, though this has been damaged by the apparent dropping of the originally mooted scheme for a bridge to the leisure centre behind the station and the car park serving it, which would have avoided the ``need'' for a separate car park, in a more congested area, in front of the station.
We have also expressed concern at the County Council proposals to remove access to/from the park & ride site late at night. These proposals have subsequently been modified in response to the volume of complaints, but it's not clear whether this will satisfy our concerns. We are very concerned at the apparent attitude that the only public transport facilities worth considering for the park & ride sites (apart from long distance coaches) are ``dedicated'' park & ride buses.
One success has been the opening of the cycle and pedestrian bridge over the A14 at Milton, though this is only one of the crossings needed to address severance issues caused by this and other trunk roads.
We have been involved in consultation on the future of the Southern Fringe, and will be opposing the proposal for an access road across open countryside linking new developments at Trumpington and Addenbrookes. We believe that the expected increase in demand on this corridor could be catered for by making best use of the proposed guided bus link, providing a new rail station, developing ``outer'' park & ride sites, and re-signing on the M11 and at Royston to encourage traffic bound for the eastern side of Cambridge to avoid Trumpington.
We are also planning to make representations on the Regional Spatial and Transport Strategies, our most important aim being to secure a higher priority for the East-West Rail Link.
Networking: We have continued to participate in email groups such as the Cambridgeshire Sustainable Transport Forum and the Cambridge public transport group, also the regional group STEER. We have also maintained links with the Transport Working Group of Peterborough Environment City Trust and with the Bedfordshire Rural Transport Partnership. Unfortunately, as we said in last year's report, some of these groups are no longer meeting on a regular basis. We have also continued to send our newsletters to local group coordinators and local representatives in the surrounding region.
The Coordinator is hoping to set up an East-West Bus Users Forum through the medium of the Bedford Area Bus Users Society which is being set up at the time of writing.
One initiative suggested at our last AGM to improve networking has not borne fruit: this was to organise regular meetings modelled on those of the Cambridge Forum, which had had regular informal meetings at the CB1 Cafe on international environmental and development issues. Unfortunately, the latter series of meetings seem to have collapsed, which makes it harder for us to use them as a model. However we have been able to arrange meetings to discuss specific issues, notably the guided busway proposals.
We were invited to join Cambridge City Council's Sustainable City Reference Group. We have not yet attended any meetings, so we don't yet know what this involves or whether it will be worthwhile.
We pay affiliation fees to the following organisations: STEER, the Cambridge-Sudbury Rail Renewal Association, and the National Federation of Bus Users. We exchange newsletters with the following organisations: Transport 2000 Notts, Norwich & Norfolk Transport Action Group, the Icknield Way Association, the Peterborough-Norwich Rail User Group, and the Bedfordshire Railway & Transport Association.
The Girobank account of the Cambridge Area Bus Users Campaign (CAMBUC) was finally wound up and the balance transferred to our own account. It was agreed that it should be dedicated to bus related campaign expenses, including our travel expenses to the Birmingham conference referred to above. Could it be used for the East-West Bus Users Forum referred to above?
We supported the ``Way to Go'' campaign launched at national level by Transport 2000 and other groups, and are gratified that two of our local MPs -- Anne Campbell and Helen Clark, both Labour -- signed the associated Early Day Motion.
These cover the periods 6/12/2003-3/12/2004 and 6/12/2002-5/12/2003 respectively. During 2004 the CHUMMS account (reserved for A14 corridor related campaigning) and the CAMBUC account were amalgamated with the T2000 C&WS account. Spending from these accounts is not shown, but the former is now closed, and the latter is now reserved for our branch's bus related campaigning. For simplicity and consistency with the last financial statement, the payment for A428 advice, which was allowed for in 2003, is shown as having been made then even though it was in fact made in 2004 (and covered by one of the donations made in 2004).
In 2003 our account would have been almost exactly in balance were it not for the cost of advice relating to the A428 public inquiry. This cost was, however, covered by a generous donation from one of our supporters; we have also gained from absorbing the CAMBUC account, from the fact that our NFBU affiliation was paid for in advance in 2003, from the increase in advance subscriptions as a result of revising our renewal slips, and from the reduction in cost as a result of only distributing 3 newsletters.
(The online edition does not include the detailed statement which is in the paper version, a copy of which can be sent on request.)
We conclude with the text of the two resolutions agreed at the AGM. We also agreed conditional support for any resolution arising from a topic for discussion put forward by Transport 2000 Leics (the need to integrate transport regulation).
1. Transport 2000 calls on the Government to set out legislation protecting non-motorists against discrimination, so that employers, service providers, and governmental bodies have a duty to facilitate access by and to avoid disadvantaging people using rail, bus or non-motorised transport.
There is a rider that Transport 2000 should discuss and set out internally what it wants to achieve by this before ``going public'' on it, so as to avoid a backlash from those who are worried about ``levelling down'', as when services close down because their providers have no means to finance the cost of compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act.
2. Transport 2000 calls on national government to select and protect a suitable route for an east-west rail link between Cambridge and Bedford. [We think that this scheme is of national importance and that is therefore appropriate to support it at a national level.]