The theme for this year is the lack of any initiative to tackle the real problems of our area.
We compiled our report for 2004 soon after the close of the public inquiry into the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway. After a computer problem the Inspector finally sent his report to the Government in July. However, we have been unable to find out his recommendations even though this might have been vital in informing our comments on a whole host of local issues that have arisen this year.
The first of these local issues is the A14 upgrade. Exhibitions of the proposals were advertised -- and were then withdrawn without notice because of the announcement of a general election. Given that an election was expected, and on its actual date, why didn't the Highways Agency warn us that it might be affected? (Incidentally, both the general election and the county council elections went through without any real debate about transport issues.)
Furthermore, while exhibitions were rearranged after the election, those who had missed the opportunity to see it in Cambridge weren't given a second chance. Furthermore the closing date for submission of comments wasn't extended.
The proposals themselves were appalling. What the Highways Agency did was effectively to take the proposals in the final report of the Cambridge-Huntingdon Multi-Modal Study (CHUMMS) and remove anything which might possibly benefit public transport users. The lack of an interchange where the new A14 would cross the A1198 means that traffic bound for the Huntingdon area would continue to use the existing A14, which had been recommended for conversion to a ``public transport corridor'' by CHUMMS. Nor did the proposed A14 layout make any provision for park & ride facilities, and the layout of the Girton interchange would actually make it harder to remove A428/M11 interchange traffic from the A1303, where we believe that massive traffic growth will follow from the dualling of the A428 currently under way.
For once, the Highways Agency did admit that the A14 proposals would cause traffic growth, and largely as a result the City Council didn't support a joint approach by local authorities to accelerate the project. Meanwhile, because the Highways Agency moved its preferred route closer to the Offords, groups from these villages have achieved a judicial review of the proposals. There's also good news on the M11 where the Government has concluded that widening north of junction 8 isn't needed at present.
Incidentally, the year saw confusion as to the status of the A428 project. We had been told in 2004 that a contract had been awarded, but towards the end of that year it was revealed that the project had been delegated to our regional office for prioritisation. Then in spring 2005 it suddenly emerged that money had been found from something called the Community Infrastructure Fund to pay for this road, which may help solve the transport problems of Cambourne but can only exacerbate those of the much larger community of Cambridge. As we write, after a period of preparatory work such as archaeological surveys, construction work has just started.
A second issue on which the fate of the guided busway is highly relevant is the Cambridge Local Plan. Unfortunately, because of procedural problems (we commented on changes in the Plan when we received them, in spring 2004, and were not told that we had to resubmit them that autumn -- at a time when we were heavily engaged in the guided busway public inquiry) we were prevented from making representations on some of the most important issues, such as the need for a railway station to serve the massive development proposed for the Addenbrookes and Trumpington areas. (Instead, the county council are proposing a new road to sever one of the city's ``green corridors'' -- a scheme endorsed in the Local Plan.)
A third issue is the proposed redevelopment of the railway station. Here we have cautiously endorsed the developer's proposals, but suggested some improvements that we believe are needed. The proposals still include wasteful duplication of car parking both sides of the railway rather than a crossing to link the two sides which could serve a multiplicity of purposes. Such a crossing may be provided later in conjunction with the resurfaced proposal for a new island platform at Cambridge, but by then the surplus car parking may have already attracted extra traffic to the area.
The new island platform is related to resurfaced proposals for a new settlement at Waterbeach. These proposals may be brought forward if the guided busway is turned down, to replace the new settlement site at Northstowe which in its present form is dependent on the busway. Alternatively they could be implemented later when the time comes for further increases in new housing in the area. We had a useful meeting with the developers, and, again, gave cautious backing to most of their proposals, and mentioned some of our own concerns about public transport and school provision.
However, there have also been other issues going on at the same time. We have responded to consultations about Phase 4 of the County Council's Core Strategy; our main concern has been the proposal to exile National Express coaches from Drummer St to Victoria Avenue. Following a meeting between us and National Express, and lobbying by the latter, a compromise proposal has been put forward to move them to Parkside. We still have some misgivings about this, and will be monitoring the situation.
We have also commented on several County Council bus strategy documents. These have an underlying contradiction in that while they seem to assume improvements to services, in practice services not provided on a commercial basis -- an increasing number thanks to Stagecoach's ``cherry picking'' -- are getting worse.
In West Suffolk we have commented on the Local Development Framework proposals of Forest Heath District Council. Here we have expressed our belief that a comprehensive bus network is both possible and necessary if we are to have an inclusive and environmentally sustainable transport system.
Meanwhile, what has been going on on the ground?
Still no progress on the east-west rail link. Following the successful submission of our resolution calling for immediate action to select and protect a suitable route to the Transport 2000 national AGM, we are working together with the newly launched Bedford Area Bus Users Society to plan a meeting of all relevant bus and rail user and campaign groups in the area covering Cambridge, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Northampton and Aylesbury, which we hope will result in the formation of an umbrella campaign, the equivalent of the local authorities' East-West Consortium.
As we write the timetable for the West Anglia line is about to be reorganised. Rail connections between Cambridge and Stansted Airport will improve, but not by as much as we would have liked. Nor will the full reopening of the Tottenham to Stratford line be of as much benefit as we would have liked, as trains will just miss connecting with those to/from Cambridge in both directions.
There is no progress on links between Cambridge and the East Coast Main Line -- in particular, the 20.40 from Leeds to Peterborough (Mondays to Fridays) still just misses an officially recognised connection with the last train from Peterborough to Cambridge.
The main events of the year are the increase of the Cambridge-Oxford service to half hourly, now 7 days a week, and the introduction of the revised pattern of service between Cambridge, Cambourne, Gamlingay and St Neots.
The former isn't as good news as it sounds because it is accompanied by further increases in timing allowances between Bedford and Milton Keynes. As an example, the last bus from Oxford and Milton Keynes now leaves half an hour later than it used to, but arrival time at Cambridge is little changed. Similarly, the 06.30 from Cambridge arrives Bedford 20 minutes later than before, even though there has been no change of route -- and this puts in jeopardy the connection with the 07.40 Bedford to Northampton.
Loadings on evening buses have been considerably reduced because separate services are provided for Hardwick and Cambourne, which have thereby lost many of their links to St Neots and beyond. (See also below.)
The latter significantly improves the level of service between Longstowe and Gamlingay, but there are several downsides:
(a) Early morning and late evening services terminate at Longstowe or Papworth, missing the opportunity to connect at Cambourne to/from Cambridge. In particular it is no longer possible for someone living in Cambridge without a car to work normal office hours at Papworth -- whereas surely such employees should be positively encouraged in view of the plan to move Papworth to the Addenbrookes site.
(b) Connections at Gamlingay with 188 to/from Biggleswade and 178 to/from Bedford are erratic.
(c) The Cambridge end of Cambourne route 14 has been moved to an unsatisfactory terminal site on Downing Street. In due course a stop will be provided outside the Grand Arcade (scheduled for completion 2008), and we believe that any move should have waited till then (and that if the purpose is to relieve congestion on existing terminal sites, the 14 is not the one to be diverted).
(d) Links between Cambourne and St Neots are considerably worse. This particularly affects those using St Neots as railhead -- a link which hitherto Cambs CC had seemed to be encouraging. The evening services formerly provided by the X5 have also gone (see above).
(e) There have been severe cuts to villages on the former 119 route, whose replacement now offers only one journey a day.
The other change worthy of note is the provision of county supported services to areas of Cambridge formerly served by Citi routes 4 (old route) and 5. These remain below the standards which one should expect of areas within a congested city such as Cambridge, and which are also lacking in certain parts of Coleridge (served by routes 16 and 17), Newnham (served by the 18), and the Trumpington estate (served by route 31).
There have also been changes in the Peterborough area. The demand responsive element of the ``New Eye Flyer'' has disappeared, and there have been a number of changes to rural routes.
This issue has moved up the agenda this year, which started with a public meeting hosted by Cambridge Friends of the Earth at which we had a stall, and finished with the Climate Change March in London on 3 Dec, a date which we deliberately avoided for our AGM. We believe that transport should play a particularly significant role in a climate stabilisation policy, because moving away from cars and planes will improve our quality of life independently of its role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately the Government seems to have abandoned all attempts to limit traffic levels, except perhaps in the long term when national road charging may, or may not, come into being.
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. As we said last year, the Transport Working Group of Peterborough Environment City Trust no longer meets, but we have continued to represent our group at meetings of the Bedfordshire Rural Transport Partnership, and the Coordinator also seeks to represent Cambridgeshire interests at the new Bedford Area Bus Users Society (BABUS), for example by planning a meeting on east-west rail and bus links as described above.
We have attended some meetings of Cambridge City Council's Sustainable City Group, and are continuing to send our newsletters to Transport 2000 local group coordinators and local representatives in the surrounding region, and other groups involved in transport campaigning.
We pay affiliation fees to the following organisations: STEER, the Cambridge-Sudbury Rail Renewal Association, and the Bus Users UK (formerly the National Federation of Bus Users). We exchange newsletters with the following organisations: Transport 2000 Notts, Norwich & Norfolk Transport Action Group, the Peterborough-Norwich Rail User Gtroup, and the Bedfordsgire Railway & Transport Association.
We submitted resolutions from our last AGM to Transport 2000's national AGM. One, on the need to select and protect a suitable route for the east-west rail link, was passed. The other, on the need for anti-discrimination legislation to protect non-motorists, wasn't put to the national AGM, but it was agreed as a subject for further discussions between us and the Transport 2000 national committee.