The theme for this year is our struggle to promote a strategy that has a hope of providing longer term solutions for our area.
Just after we compiled our report last year the Inspector's decision in favour of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway was announced. It was endorsed by the Minister, though with a rider that they were not committing themselves to providing all the finance the county council would be asking for. However, about 6 months later the Government announced its intention to do so.
Though we were among the objectors to the proposals, we have nothing against guided buses per se. For two of the major traffic flows which the proposed route would cater for -- Northstowe to Cambridge City Centre and Trumpington Park & Ride to Addenbrookes -- they are probably the best (though, given the cost of the scheme, not necessarily the most cost effective) solution.
Our primary objection to the scheme was that it would eat up both the rail approaches to Cambridge that could be used for an effective east-west rail link. So we have tried to develop and promote proposals that would maintain these advantages while offering an opportunity to restore the rail link, and in our last newsletter (which we distributed among more political contacts than usual) we outlined such a strategy, which involves the following:
1. Use the proposed North-West Cambridge development to provide an alternative route between Cambridge City Centre and Northstowe (and beyond).
2. Lobby for the guided busway to be built in such a way as to facilitate reconversion to a railway should this be seen as desirable in the future.
3. Promote the route option for Cambridge-Bedford outlined in the London to South Midlands Multi-Modal Study, i.e. roughly following the A428 and A421 corridors. This would also cater for movements between Cambridge and Huntingdon (and beyond at each end).
Following the adoption of our resolution in support of this project at the 2005 Transport 2000 national AGM, we arranged a meeting of interested parties (covering both bus and rail user groups) all along the corridor to discuss the way forward. It was decided not to set up a formal umbrella group, but we have set up an email group which goes by the name "Beaconlinks" after the initials of the main towns and cities along the corridor (BEdford, Aylesbury, Cambridge, Oxford and Northampton).
More recently we have mooted the idea of setting up a database of problems with the X5 bus service between Cambridge and Oxford, with the aim of showing politicians that there is a discrepancy between what Stagecoach claims they can provide and what is actually happening on the ground. Of course, this discrepancy is not entirely Stagecoach's fault -- they can't do anything about the traffic congestion that is endemic at several points along the route (at least until they provide a service which can attract a significant proportion of the motorists who currently cause these traffic jams).
Meanwhile at the Bedfordshire end of the ``missing link'' section between Cambridge and Bedford, the county council approved proposals for a rowing lake at Willington, even though (according to experts commissioned by the Bedfordshire Railway & Transport Association) this would add GBP 125m to the cost of reinstating the link on the corridor it used to use, and even though Bedfordshire County Council are members of the East-West Consortium which is trying to promote the reopening of the route. Our reaction to this is to abandon the former railway corridor west of the A421 and urge instead the use of the A421 road corridor between this point and the Black Cat roundabout.
This year has seen a number of developments that will entrench the car as the prime mover within the Cambridge area, regardless of the effects of this policy on the environment and on the fabric of society.
(a) The A421 Great Barford by-pass, to which we objected on the grounds that the proposed dual carriageway was unnecessary and would encourage traffic growth, has opened. (After the release of the London-South Midlands Multi-Modal Study report we added the objection that the proposed route needed to be rethought so as to minimise the cost of adding a rail link later as that report recommended. Unfortunately because of the timing we were unable to get this into the public inquiry.)
(b) Work is now well under way on the A428 dualling west of Cambridge, to which we objected on exactly the same grounds, and which we believe will severely exacerbate traffic problems west of Cambridge especially in conjunction with the next scheme.
(c) Work has started on the A1198 Papworth by-pass, which together with the A428 will provide a ``relief A14'' between Godmanchester and Cambridge, encouraging commuters on this corridor to use cars rather than public transport.
(d) The County Council has just approved its own proposals for the Addenbrookes Link Road scheme, which will cut across valuable green space on the railway corridor south of Cambridge; destroy one of the main rationales for the parallel section of the guided busway (see above); and encourage people working at the planned new biotechnology facilities in the area to drive to work rather than use public transport or leave their cars at the Trumpington Park & Ride site.
(e) Following a legal challenge, the Highways Agency has restarted consultation on the western end of the A14 scheme between Cambridge and Huntingdon. There is no sign that it is prepared to modify its proposals to fit in better with a sustainable transport strategy for the Cambridge area. (For more on this see our 2005 annual report.) Meanwhile the cost of the scheme, estimated at GBP 192m in the CHUMMS report, has gone up from GBP 490m to GBP 639m (under the route option which the Highways Agency formerly promoted as its sole option).
On the positive side, the former national road campaigning group Alarm UK has restarted under the name Road Block. It is now operating under Transport 2000 auspices. They launched a postcarding campaign to ask the Minister to scrap the roads programme because of its clash with the climate change issue, and we distributed these postcards with our most recent newsletter.
There are major developments at various stages of the planning process all around Cambridge. Work is now well under way on the Bradwells Court development (leading to the relocation of the bus travel office) as well as the Grand Arcade scheme nearby.
Development proposals for the station area were turned down by the City Council; we support this action because the proposals didn't provide all that was needed to enable the station to become a major transport interchange, but regret the further delay that will be required to develop proposals that will be more acceptable.
We were represented at a workshop on the future of eastern Cambridge, and have made representations in response to consultations on proposals for north-west Cambridge (see ``guided busway'' above).
The County Council has continued to develop its proposals for the next stage of the Cambridge Core Strategy. While we applaud the principle of giving priority to modes of transport other than the car, we have misgivings about some aspects of the proposals, notably the expulsion of long distance coaches to Parkside (though this site is better than the one at Victoria Avenue originally mooted). At the time of writing a decision on this scheme has been deferred.
Soon after last year's annual report both Cambridgeshire and Suffolk County Councils announced plans to cut support for local buses. We organised a petition to reverse Cambridgeshire's decision; we were however unable to trigger any effective action in Suffolk, a county in which we have only a minor interest.
However, in both counties the situation was not as bad as we feared, the cuts being on the margin rather than across the whole network. In Cambridgeshire, one major effect was the paradoxical one that schemes to enhance certain routes under the Kickstart initiative led to cuts to a number of peripheral communities on the relevant corridors (Citi 4 Cambridge-Cambourne, Citi 7 Cottenham-Granta Valley, and 10 Cambridge-Newmarket via Burwell), and to slower journeys for many points both on the main corridors and in the peripheral communities. In Suffolk, Sunday buses around Bury disappeared, as did two weekday routes into Cambridgeshire (282/292 between Lakenheath/Mildenhall and Cambridge/Ely).
There have also been major changes on the Cambridge-Haverhill via Fulbourn corridor, in particular the loss of the former through journeys at peak times.
There have also been quite a lot of changes in Peterborough. The most worrying were caused by cuts to services that used to run through to Rutland (R47 on weekdays to Uppingham and 9A/9B on Sundays to Oakham and Uppingham). We believe that through services to Leicester and Nottingham, such as used to run before deregulation, would be much more attractive to passengers.
First Anglia introduced a new service between Cambridge and Norwich in the spring -- and withdrew it again in the autumn, which didn't surprise us as the timetable made it practically useless for Cambridge people!
This year saw the launch of the Government scheme to finance free travel for pensioners within their own districts. Initially the districts in Cambridgeshire were unable to agree on a county-wide scheme (as has been provided by almost all neighbouring counties) but after 6 months they eventually found a way to do so. We are still not as well off as some neighbouring counties because of the persistence of the restriction to journeys starting after 09.30 except at weekends. However, no doubt partly as a result of problems such as have been experienced in Cambridgeshire, the Government has agreed to finance free travel throughout England (possibly excepting London) from 2008.
A piece of national legislation that has impacted on bus users, but on which as far as we know they weren't consulted, is the new Road Traffic Act which imposes a duty on passengers on certain buses and coaches to wear seat belts. We are concerned about the possible implications if this legislation is overzealously enforced, but so far there is no sign that this is happening.
The merry go round of refranchising continues, with the effect that rearranging the deckchairs takes priority over saving the ship. First Group took over the WAGN franchise from National Express Group -- and promptly announced a large fare increase for passengers to/from London wishing to return during the evening peak. In response "one" who run the service between Cambridge and Liverpool St announced a reduced fare for passengers using this route for day trips -- though they too have evening peak restrictions, albeit for a shorter period.
Plans to reorganise the services currently operated by Central Trains into new East Midlands and Cross Country franchises continue on their way. We are concerned about the prospect of having the Stansted-Birmingham and Norwich-Liverpool services run by different operators, especially as we are far from convinced that this is the best pattern of service. We are particularly concerned about the future of the late night train from Norwich to Cambridge which could well fall out of this network.
At the time of writing it was recently announced that GNER had had to abandon the East Coast Main Line franchise because of financial troubles with their parent company in the US. They will still run the trains till 2008 but after then the franchise will be relet.
Finally, some good news: the planning authorities have finally given the go ahead for the Thameslink 2000 scheme, which as its name suggests has already suffered a long delay. However, a decision still has to be made to provide finance before work can start, and the vital link between the main route from our area to London and the main line rail network south of London will not, under present proposals, open till the scheme is complete.
We should also mention that Transport 2000 have recently launched a ``Growing the Railways'' campaign. We sent out a copy of their leaflet with our most recent newsletter.
The Coordinator took part in a Transport 2000 study tour of certain cities and towns in Denmark and Sweden, and reported on this tour in the following newsletter. The tour included a chance to experience the totally different level of facilities provided for cyclists in the places visited, with tours in hired bikes in Copenhagen and Odense. We believe that these cities provide an example which this country will have to emulate if we really want people -- and not just cycling enthusiasts -- to use cycling rather than motoring as their core mode of transport.
This issue has moved sharply up the political agenda this year, with the publication of the Stern Report which argued that action to stave off or mitigate climate change was overwhelmingly justifiable even on narrow economic grounds. One probable fruit of this was the rejection by Uttlesford District Council of the current plans to expand Stansted Airport, which is very welcome. However we shall have to wait for the inevitable appeal before we can tell whether Government policy has absorbed the new reality.
Meanwhile there is no sign of any impact on surface transport policy. We regard the proliferation of single person vehicles as undesirable on social as well as environmental grounds, but so far the narrow benefits to those individuals with access to cars has continued to override the damage to the fabric of society (in both urban and rural areas).
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 continued to represent our group at meetings of the Bedfordshire Rural Transport Partnership, and the Coordinator also represents Cambridgeshire interests at the Bedford Area Bus Users Society (BABUS).
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-Colchester Railway Development Company (formerly 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 Group, and the Icknield Way Association.