Cambridgeshire Campaign for Better Transport

Newsletter 115, April 2013


As we write this, in Cambridgeshire -- and other areas of England with two tier local government -- elections are imminent that will be instrumental in determining local transport policy for the next four years. The fundamental question that needs to be asked is "are people living in communities not adequately served by commercial transport nevertheless entitled to facilities that are generally seen as essential for a civilised society, in particular public transport?". Before explaining in detail what we mean by this, making use of a timely historical analogy, we discuss how this issue impacts on the county council elections on Thur May 2.

The stance of the various political parties on the fundamental question differs, and there may also be differences in the attitudes of individual candidates. In most seats the front runner in the election will be the sitting councillor, or, if he/she is standing down, the candidate from the same party. If that person supports the concept of adequate public transport, then all that needs to be done is to do one's best to ensure that the candidate in question is re-elected or replaced by another candidate who also believes in good public services. This can include not only choosing one's vote accordingly but bringing the issue to the attention of other electors and ensuring that the candidate is aware of the importance of the issue.

However, the majority of the people of Cambridgeshire live in areas where the sitting councillor supports a policy of reducing the provision of supported bus services. Their policy seems to be to reduce costs by using community buses -- and hard lines if (as community bus providers themselves have pointed out) there is insufficient community bus capacity to provide sufficient services. People living in these areas have a harder task. They need to ask other candidates to make public transport an electoral issue, so that their sitting councillor (or replacement thereof) will lose votes. In the best case this will lead to the election of a councillor who will support a change of policy. However, even if this doesn't happen there is always the chance that the newly elected councillor will get cold feet about the issue, and, if enough councillors do so, the new leader of the council will be forced to change tack.

As we write, it is exactly 100 years since a man was born whose name continues to be excoriated by many people. Less than a month before his 50th birthday he published a report which had been commissioned by the government of the day. This means, of course, that we have recently been commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of this report, which is why his name is more in the public eye than usual.

Those of us who are fans of "Yes Minister" will know that governments can be expected to do all they can to ensure that even "independent" reports come up with the conclusions they want, and given that the report was about the future of the railways, and the minister (or his wife) owned a road construction company, it was not unexpected that the report should come to the conclusion that the railways should jettison a lot of their traffic. But the defence that the writer of the report was "only obeying orders" won't wash, because all the evidence is that his only signs of regret was that his recommendations were watered down.

The report wasn't all bad, but what was rightly seen (even if not intended) as its principal measure, mass closure of railway lines, was. To put it bluntly it inflicted a blow on many communities from which they have not recovered -- indeed for some of them it has been exacerbated by subsequent events.

Most people live in communities. They do so because of the advantages of providing services (of all sorts) communally. Transport is a service which is important not only in itself but as a means to facilitate access to other services. Communal transport means trains or buses. Need one say more?

The report called for trains to be replaced by buses. However absolutely nothing was done, or has been done in the 50 years since the report, to provide adequate underpinning for these buses, or any others for that matter. Many of them disappeared soon afterwards. Yet even when it had become apparent that the bus replacement programme wasn't working, nothing was done to use the experience to guide the response to future closure proposals, or to try to rescue the routes in question. In later decades some pundits called for further closures but with the rider that this time "assured" replacement buses would be provided. Fortunately this proposal was defeated, but it might have been better had its proponents been invited to test their "assured" proposals first on routes that had already been closed -- our guess is that this would have resulted in substantial improvements for people travelling on these corridors, but not enough to make further rail closures acceptable to the public.

The purpose of the report was to make the railways self supporting. If anything, the financial plight of the railways was worsened by the closure programme, as traffic was taken away from the trunk routes by a combination of the closure of the feeder routes and the road building programme (which, remember, was linked with the report).

The road building programme was also linked to a pattern of development that caused a great deal of harm. New housing was built in sprawling developments further and further from urban facilities, with the expectation that people would use cars for most of their transport needs. For shopping, for example, this meant either driving into towns not built for vast amounts of traffic or going to the out of town superstores which were being encouraged by some planners -- while others were commissioned at public expense to write reports on why traditional shopping areas were going out of business. And all this led to the eating up of formerly unspoilt countryside.

Perhaps worst of all, the railway infrastructure was left to disintegrate so that future generations were often unable to reinstate it if they wanted. In many cases, trackbeds were used for housing -- thus preventing reopening while increasing the need for it.

Note that not all the lines listed in the report were closed; and contrariwise, many lines were closed that were not listed. Among the latter is the Cambridge-Oxford route. The section between Bedford and Bletchley survived for passengers by a fluke, and this and the section towards Oxford continued to be used for freight; Bletchley to Claydon later closed but by then the case for reopening had gained sufficient momentum for the route to be kept intact, and reopening has now been approved. Not so for Cambridge to Bedford; even though almost everyone agrees that restoring this link would make sense, disposal of the route has increased the practical problems by so much that we still have a long way to go.

How has the situation changed since then? Well, there is now a cross party consensus that our railways fulfil an important economic (as well as environmental) function and nobody is now talking in terms of closures, and, indeed, all the talk is of reopenings. But, thanks to the loss of infrastructure in cases such as Cambridge-Bedford, it is a long way from there to actually reopening the lines we so badly need.

With the benefit of hindsight (though many people were saying this at the time), what lines should have been kept? We suggest, all lines linking the main regional centres with one another and with surrounding towns. In many cases, even the historic network did not meet these standards, in which case appropriate new construction would have been in order.

How would this apply to our area? Our regional centres are Cambridge and Peterborough. The route from Cambridge to Oxford should have been retained and diverted to serve Bedford's main station; the route from Cambridge to Kettering should have been diverted to link to the old route linking Rushden, Wellingborough and Northampton, from which one could get to Birmingham; and the route from Cambridge to Colchester via Haverhill and Sudbury should have been kept. This would cover all neighbouring regional centres except Chelmsford and Luton.

As for Peterborough, the line that used to link Stamford to Market Harborough and Rugby should have been retained but diverted via Corby, where it would also provide a link to Northampton via Wellingborough (see above); and in the other direction the link to Kings Lynn, the gateway to most of Norfolk, should have been retained. Oh yes, the line linking Spalding to Boston and East Lincolnshire should have been retained too.

What have politicians learnt or not learnt from all this? Here are some of the lessons, with the bus crisis in mind.

1. Most (though not all) of the rail closures happened far from London. As a result they were not prioritised by the national media. This lesson was not lost on the architects of bus deregulation in 1986 when they specifically exempted London from its provisions. And, today, many Londoners are not even aware that there is a crisis in bus provision -- for them (as long as they stay in London) there isn't.

2. The author of the report was compensated for his unpopularity by a high salary, thus making taxpayers pay for the drawing up of a policy that would do them the utmost harm. With the ongoing financial crisis in mind, what's changed since then?

3. This time the architects of the policy have managed to avoid setting up a hate figure by the simple device of delegating the actual implementation of the policy to local authorities whose financial base they have been eroding and who do not have the fiscal autonomy they need to raise the funds the need for themselves.

4. However, one lesson has not been learnt in that trackbeds are still being built on. A recent example is Bourne End to High Wycombe, where the local authority was afraid of being stung for the costs if it refused permission for development and lost after an appeal. The case for reopening this line was considerably strengthened recently when the Government approved the provision of a connecting route from Heathrow Airport to Maidenhead.

5. Nor has the fundamental lesson been learnt that depriving communities of vital public services causes considerable hardship and is very shortsighted. For buses, at least, the issue of infrastructure loss is less significant, but reinstatement will still made more difficult by the "social cleansing" whereby only people with car-dependent lifestyles will be able to live in rural areas.

6. Even in the 1960s some people were thinking ahead to the time when the world would run out of fossil fuels, making it more difficult to sustain a culture based on individual motor vehicles. But now the situation has become a lot more insidious. There are still lots of fossil fuels around, though not enough to prevent their price from rising, but the world has burnt enough of them to change the composition of our atmosphere with grave risks of destabilising our climate, and we now know that we'll have to leave most of these fossil fuels in the ground if the risk isn't to become a certainty. Will the world drift into disaster just because it has got out of the habit of using resources efficiently, in this case by travelling many people to a vehicle?

With regard to buses, our position is simple:

(a) People living in all communities should have the right to expect transport to a town with a wide range of jobs, shops and other facilities, at times relevant to these activities. (Note that they -- and even those living in isolated areas -- already have the right to expect transport to school.)

(b) People living in all but the smallest communities (and even these if they are on relevant lines of route) have the right to expect regular buses or trains throughout the day (say at least 2 hourly).

(c) People living in towns and larger villages have the right to expect at least an hourly service, plus evening and Sunday buses which give them access to the rail network for long days out and weekends away, as well as places of evening entertainment (especially on Fridays and Saturdays). The "long days out" (which are likely to be in London for places within its commuter area, including most of Cambridgeshire) should allow for return after the evening peak.

Branch News

The time has come for people to renew their subscriptions. If you receive a renewal slip with this newsletter, it means that your subscription is due for 2013-4; conversely if you don't then either you are not expected to pay or you have already paid. If you renew you may opt to pay for 2014-5 at the same time. The rates are shown on page 1 of this newsletter, also on our website.

Roads News

The Government now seems to be seeking to reduce the cost to itself of the A14 upgrade by seeking contributions from local authorities. Cambridgeshire County Council is keen on this; even though it says it can't afford to support our buses, it is willing to pay a similar amount in interest on its contribution to the A14 (just as it is already paying such an amount in interest on its overspend on the Cambs Guided Busway). Cambridge City Council is less keen -- understandably, as making car commuting easier in the Cambridge area can only make Cambridge's traffic problems worse.

Meanwhile the Government has given the go ahead to the widening of the A14 between Girton and Histon. This will of course encourage motorists to leave the A14 at the latter, where the access road to the city centre is used by the Council's much vaunted guided bus service.

The County Council has also been pushing forward its plans to divert the A142 to the south side of Ely. Motorists will continue to have the choice of using the existing subway near Ely station, but buses and other larger vehicles will have to go the long way round (as the continued retention of the level crossing will become untenable in the light of increasing rail traffic). A step backwards for integrated transport, and the risk of bridge strikes will continue. Our alternative is to build a new tunnel available for all vehicles leading to the existing Tesco roundabout, and reserve the existing tunnel for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Government has been consulting on changes to regulations and guidelines to developments near motorways and major highways. This has led Ben Clark from the University of Western England in Bristol to put forward a response putting forward the case for "coachway" style developments. The response was contributed to by our former member Alan Storkey, whose advocacy of them was mentioned in Newsletter 96. The Coordinator endorsed the response in a personal capacity. Note that this does not mean that we agree with everything that it says, e.g. on the Cambs Guided Busway.

In addition, the Coordinator submitted an independent response, again in a personal capacity, in which the case studies cited included the A14 (see Newsletter 111), the A11 (see below in this newsletter), the A428 (ditto), the M25, and the A3 at Hindhead (see Newsletter 109).

Rail News

Railfuture East Anglia has launched a campaign to reopen the branch from March to Wisbech, which envisages through trains to/from Cambridge. See Wisbech Rail's website for more information about the campaign, including a petition form that can be downloaded.

During the summer school holiday period major engineering work is to take place at Nottingham. All trains in the area, including the service between Norwich and Liverpool via Ely and Peterborough, will be affected, with some bus replacements. Detailed timetables for East Midlands Trains, including the replacement buses they are procuring (which include services like Grantham and Newark nonstop to East Midlands Parkway), are already on their website. For journeys from East Anglia trains will be diverted via East Midlands Parkway, not stopping at Grantham, Nottingham or Alfreton. For Grantham use East Coast from Peterborough, while the recommended route to Nottingham is by special bus from East Midlands Parkway. It's not yet clear whether there will be any trains from East Midlands Parkway to Alfreton (or Langley Mill), but trains towards Norwich will be stopping at Alfreton.

Cambs Bus News

The County Council's schedule called for cuts to services west of Cambridge in the near future, but to date we have seen no details. Meanwhile, two updates to our "manifesto" in the last newsletter:

1. In our last newsletter we were rather vague about buses between Cambridge and Haslingfield. Well now our ideas have crystallized: our proposed 75 would run direct between Cambridge and Haslingfield, either via Barton or via a new road (possibly with a bus gate) between Cantilupe Farm and the new Trumpington Meadows development; and a separate service should run 2 hourly from Cambridge to Hardwick village, Highfields, Kingston, the Eversdens, Harlton, Haslingfield, Barrington, Shepreth (for rail connections) and Fowlmere, returning to Cambridge as route 31. This would neatly "mop up" all the villages in the area.

2. We have been floating the idea of giving local authorities the power to require operators on a given corridor to serve a specific stop. The rationale is that local authorities should be able to spend money on interchange facilities without running the risk of their being ignored by the operator(s). Operators would have the right to challenge any such proposals, which would be dealt with in a similar way to existing planning objections. They wouldn't necessarily be required to divert all their buses, just enough to ensure that the stop was served adequately. The example that prompted this was our belief that the best way to give Cambourne the westward link it needs is to give the X5 a stop in the Cambourne area, which could be on the A428 itself, on the slip road, or in the village. We would be satisfied with hourly service (evenings and Sundays included). In a sense we foresaw the situation when we opposed the axing of a bridge over the A428 that could have linked with such a stop (see Newsletter 72).

Magdalene Conspiracy: Another update -- the local paper reported on 16 Mar that there would be further works in the area, this time in Bridge St itself, this month. Buses in both directions (except guided buses) are continuing to be diverted even though southbound buses should be unaffected, and the diversions were maintained for the interregnum between the finish of the Jesus Lane works and the start of the Bridge St works. Local traders were complaining that footfall in that part of the city had plummeted; we hope that their voice will help to defeat the proposal to divert the Citi 1 and 2 permanently (on which consultation is now due this summer). Local politicians have still not helped to spread awareness of the issue -- why not?

Day out tickets: We add to what we said last time that Intalink Explorers are valid on Stagecoach 26 between Royston and Melbourn: that Centrebus Midlands day out tickets now seem to be valid on Kime's services (which they took over some time ago); and that Stephensons (who took over services formerly provided by Burtons) have their own day out ticket.

Herts CC cuts: On the negative side, there have been cuts to buses in the Ashwell area (which enter Cambs). The 290 has been withdrawn, and the 90/91 interworked with rail link 202. There are now many fewer journeys to/from Royston. In the same county, the provision of school buses has been delegated to an external organisation, and timetables are no longer shown in its publicity or on Traveline (though there's a list of services on its website). Our member Suzy Scott has pointed out that timetables are shown in the publications of her company "Here to There", but these do cost quite a lot.

National Express: There have been changes to a number of services, of which the most important is probably the amalgamation of routes 727 and 797. These now provide an airports service, numbered 727, from Norwich, Thetford, Mildenhall, Newmarket and Cambridge, including a restored coach link between Cambridge and Norwich (with one journey arriving at Norwich before the first off peak train) and the first regular through service between Cambridge and Mildenhall for some time. On the downside, Attleborough and Wymondham are no longer served, and we were contacted by someone from Attleborough who was upset about this. As the Coordinator was working at the time on a response to the Highways Agency consultation referred to above, the opportunity was taken to work out a set of stops for this service that would restore access to Attleborough and many more places. From east to west they are Thickthorn Park & Ride, Ketteringham Bridge (for Hethersett), Silfield Bridge (for Wymondham -- connection with local buses), High View Turkey Farm Bridge (for Wymondham College), A11/B1077 (for Attleborough -- connection with local buses), Snetterton junction, B1111 Bridge (for the development around Harling Road station), Elveden village (where the recently approved bypass should include a stopping facility for coaches, also serving the nearby Center Parcs site, for both employees and customers, and including a cycle hire facility for both Center Parcs customers and the general public), Red Lodge B1085 junction, and Bottisham and Quy on the A1303.

Whippet Coaches: Their programme of coastal services for 2013 has been announced. Services are similar to 2012, including the "off main route" sections via Prickwillow (now on Ely market days only), Framlingham, Bressingham and Felbrigg Hall. Some routes now make advertised stops at Quy Roundabout and Bottisham.

West Suffolk Link: We have been told of moves to set up an express coach link between Bury, Haverhill and Stansted Airport. The proposal calls for it to serve only these stops, which means that it would be expected to use the A1307 and A11 between Haverhill and Stansted. Given that existing buses around Haverhill leave a lot to be desired, should more stops be added? If our proposal for a "rest area" on the M11 near Audley End was implemented, which would be served both by coach services such as this one and by the planned link between Saffron Walden and Audley End station, it could revolutionise Saffron Walden's transport facilities.

Other bus news

We start with Wiltshire. If you're visiting Stonehenge, then there's a Sightseeing bus from Salisbury. However, this rather expensive service isn't the only way to get there -- Connect 2 Wiltshire runs a demand responsive service from Amesbury to Berwick St James 4-5 times a day Mondays to Saturdays. To book ring 0845 6525255 and select Option 1. In the same county, a Routemaster bus service has been running to the remote village of Imber, which was taken from the villagers for World War II and never returned to them, on one day a year, when the local heritage society staffs the church. This year the day is Sat 3 Aug. Timetables will be on the website in due course. Note that Wiltshire Dayrover tickets can be bought and used on the service, so one can enjoy other bus rides in the county (and beyond) at little extra cost. Concessionary passes are valid on the Connect 2 Wiltshire service, but not on the Imberbus.

Exmoor: We've featured many summer seasonal services in this newsletter, here's a winter one. For some years the narrow roads in the vicinity of the so called Snowdrop Valley in Exmoor have been closed when the flowers are in bloom, and visitors required to walk or use a bus. The bus runs from Wheddon Cross, served by route 398 which links it with Minehead, Dunster, Dulverton, Bampton and Tiverton, all of which are connected by First Bus services to Taunton (and the last by Stagecoach to Exeter and Barnstaple). The roads are so narrow that even with other traffic prohibited the buses are still required to use a one way system, so if you use the bus you'll find yourself coming back a different way, see details of what was provided this year. Note that both First Day and Stagecoach Explorer tickets are valid on the 398 (though not on the shuttle bus).

Hylands Bus: Closer to home, this free service to Hylands House in Essex will be running again this year, leaving Chelmsford Market Road (behind the County Hall and near the rail and bus stations) at 11.00 and 12.00 on certain Mondays (13-20 May, all dates in June and July, and 2-9 Sept) returning at 14.30 and 15.30. This avoids having to negotiate the A414 dual carriageway.

Shropshire Hills: Last year we reported that the Wenlock Wanderer service between Church Stretton and Much Wenlock had been reinstated to commemorate the latter town's association with the Olympic movement. It's running again this year and joined by a new service from Ludlow to Leintwardine, Knighton, Clun and Bishops Castle. Both these, and the spectacular route from Church Stretton to Minsterley and Pontesbury (which this year uses a new route via Gatten Lodge), run every Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday Monday from 4 May till the end of September. Bear in mind, though, that except on Saturdays there are now no connecting buses except the route between Ludlow and Hereford, though there are trains serving Church Stretton, Ludlow and Knighton, and the Church Stretton routes start from Shrewsbury in the morning and return there in the evening. (See full details.)

Berkshire: In Newsletter 97 we reported the introduction of a bus service for visitors, operated by First, through Windsor Great Park (in addition to the long standing White Bus which takes a different route and caters for local people). We commented that it started too late to cater for the flowering season for rhododendrons at Valley Gardens, which had hit the press the previous year, and expressed the hope that it would start earlier in 2008. Well in Newsletter 99 we reported that it had been terminated after three months owing to a minor foot & mouth outbreak (not to be confused with 2001's epidemic) and would not resume. In 2012 First introduced a service which they called "Windsor 100" which circumnavigated the Park but on main roads, and would have eased access to Valley Gardens -- but yet again it started too late. There is no indication that it will resume in 2013 -- and unless it does so quickly it will be too late again. Virginia Water, the best place to start a walk (and a long way from the station of that name), is however accessible all year by route 500 from Staines and Egham, though on Mondays to Fridays the usual problems of peak rail fares make it difficult to plan a visit and the Saturday service is very meagre.

Surrey: Further to our comments about Hindhead in Newsletter 109, subsequently to losing most of its express coaches as a result of the building of a bypass, Hindhead subsequently also lost its local Sunday services. We have been told that funding has been obtained to restore some services, but no details are available yet.

Worcestershire: The Sunday service from Pershore and Worcester to the National Trust's Croome Park will run again this year from 19 May, though yet again it's just out of reach for passengers arriving at Oxford on the first X5 from Cambridge, which gets into the bus station 6 minutes before the relevant train leaves the rail station. Incidentally, a different route is used this year between Croome and Worcester.

Hampshire: In the New Forest, a third tour bus will be running this year (daily 29 June to 15 Sept) covering the coast between Barton on Sea and Keyhaven and linking with the other routes at Brockenhurst, Lymington and Burley. Keyhaven has ferries to Hurst Castle (and, occasionally, to the Isle of Wight), and is not served by other buses except a school bus and a Brockenhurst College bus (see Newsletter 114).