The new mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Dr Nik Johnson, brings a very different set of priorities to the job.
His predecessor James Palmer’s starting point was the devolution agreement’s commitment to ‘doubling’ GVA (economic activity) in the region, from £22 billion to £40 billion a year. He took as read that employment growth would be mostly in and around Cambridge, and therefore believed it warranted a ‘metro’ system, funded by the development of ‘garden’ villages in South and East Cambridgeshire.
By contrast, Dr Johnson’s starting point is promoting public health. That puts walking and cycling, safe streets, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (properly consulted on), and Zero Emissions Zones at the forefront. He has also indicated that future growth must be sustainable and equitable, and not all focused on Cambridge.
Dr Johnson has already undertaken to cancel the CAM ‘metro’, which was becoming a gravy train for consultancies and showed little indication of even being viable, yet alone deliverable before 2030. Instead, he promises “more immediate positive transport changes for the betterment of residents across Cambridgeshire.”
Dr Johnson has also promised to re-regulate bus services to create an integrated network and consistent experience, as in London. As Mr Palmer had also promised franchising of bus services, subject to statutory consultation, much of the preparatory work has already been done. Delay now is down to the government, which has still not published detailed guidance on the National Bus Strategy or precise terms of future public funding. The latter will be essential if Dr Johnson is to deliver on his promise of free bus travel for 16–18-year-olds and subsidised travel for under-25s.
Although the turf war between the mayor and the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) is over, GCP should pay heed to Dr Johnson’s assessment that COVID-19 has radically changed the context of future transport needs – as indeed has our evolving understanding of the climate emergency. All GCP’s busway and P&R schemes should be independently reviewed, just as the Cambourne one is now.
A change of mayor and significant changes at the County Council make now the right time for a big reset of priorities and plans.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 12 May 2021.