Transport 2000 Cambs and W Suffolk

Newsletter 61, January 1998

Disclaimer: the contents of articles do not necessarily reflect Transport 2000 policy at either national or branch level. If you know any reason why any opinion expressed on a matter within the branch's remit should not be branch policy, please contact the Secretary/Coordinator -- it is through the exchange of ideas that methods for solving our problems are developed.

Please note that although in this newsletter we concentrate on matters of strategic importance, we would like to hear from any member on any transport related topic, however small. If you have a complaint or suggestion of any kind we will endeavour to pursue it ourselves or to advise you on how to pursue it yourself.

Buses in Crisis

This newsletter is dominated by our campaign against the Cambridgeshire County Council 1998-9 budget proposals. Please take action as soon as possible. (Note: this does not affect services within Peterborough district, which from April 1998 will be a unitary authority independent of Cambs CC.)

With this newsletter we are sending out a petition form (to members in Cambs excluding Peterborough only; please return it to the Coordinator by 9 Feb at the latest, and feel free to make further copies if you so wish); a petition briefing which contains the basic facts about what is going on (again, feel free to make copies for the use of anyone else who wants to collect signatures); and our full response to the proposals (which will also be on our website). To avoid duplication this article confines itself to the highlights of our campaign.

We are concerned at the way the cuts were put through the Environment and Transport Committee without consultation. The Council decided to cut its support for buses by about 25% before any assessment of how this might actually affect services. The ``hit list'' was only released one day before the Committee meeting referred to above.

Perhaps surprisingly, most of the cuts affect daytime services in rural areas, rather than evening and Sunday services. (Though two main inter-urban routes are included, namely the X3 between Cambridge and Northampton and the 337 between Peterborough, Wisbech and March.) This means that the cuts may affect fewer people but more severely. This may make it more difficult for us to get support for our petition, but we suspect there may be a hidden agenda to widen the hit list after deciding that the cuts as now proposed would cause unacceptable hardship. The cuts will then impose a lesser degree of hardship on many more people. So people should not be complacent just because the services they now use are not on the hit list.

In addition, the cuts will make the Council less able to afford to replace any commercial service withdrawn -- perhaps as a result of the cuts themselves. (We are particularly concerned about the X51 evening journeys from Cambridge to St Ives and Huntingdon, whose withdrawal will almost inevitably result from the loss of the interworking X3 evening service.) So do not regard any service as totally safe.

Incidentally, three out of our four parish council members have services on the hit list (116, 120 and 146).

What to do?

  1. Circulate the petition. Likely targets include community and environmental groups and people waiting at bus stations. Feel free to make your own copies, but if this isn't possible contact the Coordinator.
  2. Write to your county councillor to arrive by 9 Feb opposing the cuts. If you don't know his/her home address write to the Shirehall, Castle Hill, Cambridge CB3 0AP. You may also wish to write to Cllr Keith Walters, council leader (1 The Gardens, Sawtry, Huntingdon PE17 5SU) and Cllr Alec Stenner, Chairman of the Environment & Transport Committee, at 77 High St, Buckden, Huntingdon PE18 9TA.
  3. Should the County Council be unmovable we are hoping that the five district councils can be persuaded to fill the shortfall. Note that the amount in question is just GBP 210,000 or less than 1p per person per week. So please write to your district councillor(s) asking the Council to set up a reserve fund to be used for this purpose if necessary. Emphasise that we want all five councils to act jointly, as district councils will, reasonably, be reluctant to step into the County Council's shoes if there is any risk that they might then divert their resources to other areas.
  4. Part of the root cause of the crisis is the underfunding of county council spending by the Government. This didn't force the Council to cut spending on bus services, but it gave them a jolly good excuse. So write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Pre-Budget 1998, HM Treasury, Parliament St, London SW1P 3AG, or email to ask the Government to provide a rescue package for rural public transport in its forthcoming budget. About GBP 20 million, distributed across the county, would suffice if Cambs is typical. This is necessary to redeem the Labour manifesto promise to rural people not to tolerate further service cuts.
  5. Please let us know what you are doing! In particular we would like to know if you, or anyone you meet, will suffer particular hardship if any of the services on the hit list are cut; and if you have any objection to any of the alternative proposals in our response paper.
  6. If you can, give us support by coming to the Shirehall for the full council meeting on 10 Feb. For the time to meet, see your local press to find out when other lobby groups are meeting -- or ring us nearer the time.

Members may also wish to know that when we communicated our concern to Transport 2000 headquarters we were told that they were considering making rural transport a major campaign theme for 1998.

Branch news.

At our AGM in December it was agreed to accept Basil Bonner's resignation from the committee post of Minutes Secretary. However we had no nominations for a substitute and the place remains vacant. If you wish to help our campaign, please consider standing for this post, and inform the coordinator if you wish to do so. The Minutes Secretary is expected to attend our meetings on a regular basis, but don't be put off if you have other commitments as you will be consulted whenever meetings are arranged. Note that although in the past we have normally held our meetings in Cambridge, we would be willing to try a venue outside the city if this would be more convenient for you.

The AGM also discussed proposals, put forward by member John Chisholm, for low cost bus lanes on Shelford and Hauxton roads in the Trumpington area. We share his concern that the Council seems unwilling to progress bus priorities except in connection with park and ride (which takes the bulk of the capital costs). During our discussion the idea of moving the proposed Cambridge fringe shopping developments (Sainsbury's and Waitrose) to Addenbrookes was floated and it was agreed unanimously that this should be put forward as a possibility. Unfortunately, we're not sure how, if at all, we can introduce the idea into the planning procedure at this stage. What do you think of this idea?

The AGM also endorsed the response which we have now sent to Hunts District Council and the developers concerning the proposals for Alconbury Airfield. It was agreed that our support for the proposals should be contingent on stringent criteria: no overall increase in air or lorry traffic, no night flying or air noise greater than what was experienced under military auspices, and every effort to use the Quality Bus network to regenerate the area's public transport, including services over and above the developers' proposals covering Ely, Haverhill and the new development at Cambourne, plus a new rail/bus interchange for Ramsey at Abbots Ripton on the far side of the airfield.

We welcome the following new members: C. Macrae, and E. Cary, both of Cambridge. We have also entered into mutual affiliation (exchange of newsletters) with the Peterborough-Norwich Rail Users Group (J. Saunders, Sawyers Lane, Suton, Wymondham NR18 9JH) and intend to put the Travel for Work Adviser (Teresa Broadstock), employed by Cambridge and Huntingdon Health Authority, on our mailing list. (The Coordinator was present at TWF presentations to Cambs CC Local Agenda 21 and the Cambridge Cycling Campaign about the role of TWF in advising employers of the benefits to both them employees of a switch to more sustainable modes of transport to and within work.)

Because of the crisis we are giving those of our members who haven't renewed for 1997-8 one last chance. If you have a renewal form enclosed please return it as soon as possible.

Other county council news.

Because of its financial problems the Council is not fulfilling its pledge to increase spending on minor roads maintenance, but neither is it cutting this, even though a 2% cut would save as much money as its planned 25% cut of the bus budget. We support spending on road maintenance in principle -- but not when it preempts other more important categories of spending. The Council cannot plead its dedication to safety in support of its decision to keep up roads maintenance, as it is axing the programmes of pedestrian crossings and speed limit reduction. It is also cutting back on its countryside budget.

We are concerned at its plans for concessionary bus passes. Briefly, the Council plans to reduce to GBP 5.50 -- slightly less than the GBP 6 they paid before last summer -- the price payable by those it considers most in need (pensioners receiving income support, houding benefit or council tax benefit, disabled people under pensionable age, and all blind, deaf and dumb people), but at the expense of abolishing funding for other existing passholders. If District Councils maintain their existing levels of funding, it will be possible to maintain the eligibility for other passholders, but will this happen ? We are also concerned at the extent to which pass renewals have fallen off (23%) since the Council increased the price last summer. We believe that a prime objective of concessionary passes is to encourage people to use public transport rather than drive, and anything which reduces the number of people who buy passes may put this -- and bus services which carry a significant number of passholders -- in jeopardy.

Members may be interested to know that we sent out a press release in December which said that we would not object to the way the Council has acted against passholders since taking office last May, provided that it didn't also cut services and encouraged passholders to renew. Unfortunately this press release wasn't taken up by any of the media. And it is now apparent that the council leader, who failed to comment at the time, has no intention of considering the needs of bus users.

The agenda also included a motion by Conservative councillor John Reynolds asking for controls on lorry parking at night in rural areas. In the circumstances we feel it appropriate to emphasise that anything which removes lorries from rural roads will reduce the need for minor road maintenance -- and, as stated above, a mere 2% reduction would avoid the alleged need to reduce the bus budget.

Other non-bus news.

A recent report estimated that up to 24,000 people die every year from the effects of traffic fumes -- more than drugs (other than tobacco, whose effects are mostly concentrated on those who choose to use it), crime and even road ``accidents''. This means that the average motorist, even if a perfectly safe driver, has about a 1 in 20 chance of causing someone's death. Why do people prize the right to drive above the right to life?

We have objected to the proposal by the developers of Cambourne to widen a section of the A428 west of Cambridge. This was one of the conditions imposed by S Cambs District Council in approving the Cambourne development. It may mitigate transport problems in S Cambs, but it certainly won't in Cambridge itself -- that's why we are proposing a guided busway, also serving Bar Hill and thereby providing an alternative for A14 as well as A428 traffic. We believe that as the A428 is a trunk road consent for this development would preempt the Government's Trunk Roads Review.

In neighbouring Suffolk, local campaigners are trying to stop a private road being built to serve the Greene King Brewery in Bury St Edmunds. This is intended to remove traffic from the town centre, but it will also cut across the town's water meadows and sever a popular public footpath (in the sense that its users, including children, will face danger when they cross the new road). An action camp is being set up on the site, immediately south of the town centre, but if you don't want to take activism that far you may still wish to choose other brands of beer.

We also report the launch of a campaign group to restore the railway between Cambridge and Sudbury. While not according this the priority we give to the St Ives line (including the extension to Huntingdon) or the restoration of passenger trains to Wisbech, we still think it would be a useful asset to the area. Contact the Cambridge-Sudbury Rail Renewal Association secretary Rev. Malcolm Hill at 01787 375503 for more details, or send a subscription (GBP 10, GBP 5 unwaged) to Mr David Edwards, 13 Longleaf Drive, Braintree, Essex CM7 1XS (01376 323206).

You may also wish to write in support of the east-west rail link proposals, even though these use the circuitous route via Letchworth and Bedford. Write to your MP at the House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA.

Still on rail, GNER has revised its cheap fare deals, which now include a GBP 28 day return fare from Peterborough to Edinburgh or Glasgow. There are also cheap fares available to Leeds, York, Darlington, Durham, Newcastle and Berwick. Advance reservations are required. For further details and bookings ring 0345 225225 (local call charges apply).

We understand that the Inter-Rail ticket for people over 26 is being relaunched this year and will have greater availability than in recent years, but no details are yet available.

Finally, some ferry news. There is now a regular timetabled service between Shotley, Harwich and Felixstowe. This leaves Shotley at 08.15 (M-F), 09.15, 12.15, 14.15, 15.15 (SSu), 17.15, 19.15 and 22.15 (FSSu), Felixstowe 25 minutes later, and Harwich 10 minutes later (for Felixstowe) and 40 minutes later (for Shotley). This offers new day out opportunities in conjunction with the Sunday Rover, though connections at all three terminals leave something to be desired. There's a long walk between the Felixstowe terminal (near Landguard Fort) and the bus stop at Carr Road, and the ferry may not be able to serve this point in adverse weather.

Don't use this, or any other means, of getting to Harwich International Port (Parkeston Quay) for the Netherlands ferry without checking the running of the latter (0990 421122 or 755755) which was damaged in a recent storm, with no back-up available except by taking a ferry off another route. (Incidentally, if using the Dover-Calais route, note that there are no local buses between rail station and Eastern Docks in the evenings.)

Sunday bus news.

Essex County Council has started a Sunday Travel Club. Membership is free, and members will receive copies of the Essex CC Sunday bus book and regular newsletters giving details of changes to Essex bus services. For further details write to Mr Robbie Watson (Promotions Officer), Passenger Transport Coordination, Planning Dept, Essex CC, County Hall, Chelmsford CM1 1LF. Note that people from Cambridge can easily enjoy winter days out in Essex by catching the 08.00 (route 38) to Haverhill and changing there to the 601 for Colchester at 09.21; people from Ely (09.17) and Soham (09.32) can use the 156 to Lavenham where there is a direct connection for Colchester. Cambridge people can also join use the 200 (08.44) to Mildenhall and join the 156 there.

Amplifying an item in our last newsletter, we can now confirm that in Essex Sunday Rover tickets are now valid for half fare travel on trains between Colchester, Manningtree, Harwich, Clacton and Walton (except for Inter-City trains operated by Anglia). Those staying in the area may care to note Sunday Rover tickets can be bought at stations or on trains and are then valid for free travel on the relevant trains. They are also now valid on Thamesway 2/2A (which links Southend with Basildon, Lakeside, Romford and Walthamstow).

We have written to Suffolk CC suggesting route and timing changes to the 156 and 200 to provide connections from Ely and Soham to/from Yarmouth at Mildenhall, involving transfer of the Air Base diversion from the 200 to the 156. This would also give Soham and Ely people a connection off the National Express coach from London due Mildenhall at 20.05, enabling Soham people in particular to return home from a weekend away later than is now possible. (Note: this assumes that return tickets between Mildenhall and London are available for outward journey from Newmarket, to which passengers on a weekday can use service 116.)

Other bus news.

The following changes have taken place to Cambs buses:

Cambus 6: diverted to a new estate in Arbury, but no details are available.

Premier 71-76, 78 and St Neots town service A: minor changes, almost all of them cuts.

Cambus 113: retiming of evening journeys. The opportunity has not been taken to incorporate our proposal of a rail connection from London at Whittlesford.

Viscount 351: last round trip from Peterborough to Huntingdon curtailed at Sawtry. (We have suggested that the 151 be extended from Cambridge to fill the gap and connect with what's left -- see our response to the Council's plans.)

Peterborough-Stamford-Bourne: withdrawal of an evening service.

We had hoped to participate in a consultative meeting on West Hunts service 400. The Council's proposals (condemned by the operator, Keystone Coaches, as showing a lack of understanding of how the service works) involve a considerable cut in the facilities available, including the transfer of many school workings to non passenger status. We believe that our own alternative timetable could lead to considerable increases in patronage. However, the County Council officers told us they didn't have the authority to let us in. In the event the meeting was postponed pending clarification of the Council's budget cuts. The Council's own briefing expresses the intention to proceed with their cuts proposals, and outline details of the merits of our own alternative are contained in our response.

Elsewhere, there have been improvements to the service between Haverhill and Bury, not as great as the former 341 service, but at least now there's no lack of ticket interavailability. There have been minor changes to Superoute 88 between Bury and Ipswich which we hope will improve reliability. In Herts, we are still awaiting the launch of the new timetable system -- there's been nothing for N Herts since last May -- but recently The Shires changed their Luton to N Herts link so that all daytime buses run to Stevenage, thus losing the convenient interchange with WAGN trains at Hitchin station. It has been announced that Thurrock, which is to become a unitary authority in April, will secede from the Essex CC timetable network (but not their Busline at 0345 000333), thereby making life more difficult for people travelling between other parts of Essex and Kent who have to change within Thurrock. However, Southend, also to go unitary, are to remain in the timetable network. Finally, Oxford to Newbury service X34 has been cut back from 6 days a week to Saturdays only -- not very relevant to our area but of particular significance because this follows the A34 corridor where heavy traffic volumes were used as an excuse to allow the devastation of the countryside -- some of the prettiest in southern England -- by the Newbury by-pass.

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