The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) is co-funded by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, the GCGP LEP and Cambridge Ahead. It aims to create “a single strategic position to help the greater Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area consider the case for greater fiscal devolution and powers to unlock the delivery of major infrastructure, including showing how the area delivers benefits to the rest of UK.”
This is the Smarter Cambridge Transport response to the review’s interim report.
In answer to selected questions posed in the CPIER interim report:
1. Does the three-area characterisation summarise the area well? Which links between the area have not been well captured? What are the most important links to outside the area?
The three-area characterisation proposed may be a good description of how things are in terms of economic activities, but it potentially crystallises a severe imbalance of wealth and residents’ prospects, with central and north-eastern Cambridgeshire very much the poorer relation to the other two areas.
Given that this characterisation could in future inform a new political arrangement (perhaps of unitary authorities), it is important to seek greater economic balance between the areas.
We would suggest three areas, roughly divided into north, central and south Cambridgeshire, each sustained by an urban area:
- North Cambridgeshire & Peterborough (including Wisbech and March)
- Central Cambridgeshire (including Huntingdon, St Neots, Chatteris and possibly Cambourne)
- South Cambridgeshire (including Cambridge and Ely)
Consideration needs to be given too to the historic anomaly of Exning and Newmarket being all but exclaves of Suffolk.
2. How can the area achieve its target of doubling GVA in 25 years?
It is unclear why this is taken as a starting point. It’s arbitrary, potentially unachievable (government has relatively little control over job creation), and is likely to lead to the relocation of jobs from other regions, rather than the creation of new jobs. The additional infrastructure required could cause irreparable damage to the environment, and to the natural and built heritage of the area. Where is the aspiration for improving welfare, social equality and quality of life? Where is the aspiration to reduce environmental impacts, including carbon footprint, of human activity?
10. What are the main infrastructure priorities and why? What needs to come first to maintain economic growth and unlock future growth, from an economic and practical perspective?
The most urgent needs are not around infrastructure, but around planning and organisation of public transport. Capacity constraints on the road network can most quickly and cost-effectively be relieved by providing affordable, reliable, well-integrated public transport. Buses are well able to do this (see Oxford, Reading, Brighton, Edinburgh, Schaffhausen in Switzerland, and countless other towns and cities), but it requires central planning that aligns with the regional spatial and economic strategies.
Franchising of bus services should be the goal, but it will take time to build up the expertise to get it right. In the meantime there is much that can be achieved with multi-operator ticketing and statutory partnerships (Advanced Quality and Enhanced).
Infrastructure that is needed includes:
- Girton Interchange: A428 ⇆ M11 and A428 ⇆ A1307 connections would relieve the A1303 and connect with a potential Park & Ride site serving longer-distance traffic arriving on the A14 and A428.
- A14 junction 36: A14 West ⇆ A11 connections would reduce through traffic on local roads, and open up access to a potential new parkway station at Six Mile Bottom.
- M11 junction 9: M11 North ⇆ A11 connections would reduce traffic on the A1301 and A505, benefitting villages and employment sites from Hinxton south to Saffron Walden, and users of the A505 and A1301.
- Safety improvements on all trunk roads: junction layouts, passing lanes, pedestrian/cycle crossings, protected right-turn filter lanes.
- New railway stations at Cambridge South, Soham, Fulbourn Old Drift, Six Mile Bottom, Sawston, Hinxton; and possibly also Little Thetford and Harston.
- Bridge or underpass for A10 at Foxton, plus a public foot/cycle bridge at the station, and a car park.
- Possibly a car park at Meldreth.
- Double-tracking Cambridge to Newmarket, and Soham to Ely.
- Quad-tracking Shelford Junction to Cambridge.
- New access road to Chesterton Fen via a bridge over the railway from Cowley Rd, so that the level crossing on Fen Rd may be closed (possibly replaced with a cycle underpass).
- Well-connected travel hubs throughout the county are critical to enabling metro-style express bus services to run frequently and quickly between villages, towns and cities in the region.
- Bus lanes at the city edges as part of Inbound Flow Control traffic regulation. This kind of priority is preferable to bus lanes in residential areas, where highway land is better use for protected cycle lanes and improved streetscape, promoting a healthier, more active lifestyle.
- Three new Park & Ride sites, designed and priced to serve visitors from beyond Greater Cambridge (i.e. not competing with local public transport services) are needed at:
- M11 junction 11 (Trumpington)
- Girton Interchange
- A14 junction 35 (Stow-cum-Quy).
These would replace the five existing P&R sites around Cambridge.
- A bus-only link from the A10 via Milton Park & Ride and the A14 underpass behind Cambridge Regional College to the Guided Busway and Kings Hedges Rd would allow buses to bypass the A14 Milton interchange and several sets of traffic lights.
- Automatic bus priority at all traffic lights through smart signalling technology (being investigated by Greater Cambridge Partnership).
- Bus routing patterns need to be reviewed and altered to meet a number of objectives:
- More metro-style express services
- Quick, convenient and intuitive interchanging at locations where routes overlap or cross: bus ⇆ bus, bus ⇆ train, bus ⇆ cycle, train ⇆ cycle
- Displacement of large buses from sensitive city-centre streets and where they present a significant hazard to people walking or cycling.
- A particular challenge exists in Cambridge city centre, where there is no suitable location for a single bus station, and insufficient road capacity to support a growth in bus services into the city centre.
- With better organisation, coverage and integration, buses can pick up much more of the demand for public transport than the mayor is inclined to believe. Nevertheless light rail has advantages which should be exploited where there is high and sustained passenger demand. The key route in Cambridge is: city centre – inner ring road (to connect with buses) – Cambridge station – Biomedical Campus – Trumpington P&R (relocated next to the M11 junction). Future extensions of this, perhaps along the lines proposed by Cambridge Connect, should be planned and land reserved for surface lines, stations and tunnel portals. Development restrictions should be placed on land above planned tunnels.
- All travel hubs, schools, community centres, shops, and other destinations must have safe, all-weather, convenient connections for people walking and cycling. This applies in villages as much as cities. This would reduce traffic generated by the 37% of trips (statistic from the National Travel Survey 2016) under 5 miles currently made by car.
- Within cities and at railway stations, there needs to be large-scale provision for cycle parking and cycle hire stations. Some of this can be provided by converting car parking to cycle parking. Sites need to be close to bus routes to enable easy interchanging between bus and cycle.
11. What are the funding streams that can allow for ambitious development?
Every good public transport system requires subsidy, far more than the £1.5m or so currently available for bus subsidies in Cambridgeshire. Public transport infrastructure and services should be paid for by users and also those who benefit indirectly (these categories overlap):
- Land owners (through land value uplift)
- Businesses (through access to a wider pool of potential employees and clients)
- Residents (through enhanced job opportunities and quality of life)
Business Rates are automatically adjusted upwards as transport improves, as this leads to an increase in rateable value. However, for residences, Council Tax bands are largely static and have widely-stepped bands. All avenues should be explored for fairly taxing land ownership and land value uplift. Reform of stamp duty and capital gains tax on land sales would be an obvious place to start. With or without reforms, HM Treasury needs to share more of the tax revenue it receives from land and property transactions with local authorities.
Other potential sources of revenue funding include:
- Parking charges in public car parks and pay-and-display bays
- Parking permits in residents’ parking zones
- Workplace Parking Levy (WPL)
- Council Tax levy (perhaps as a mayoral precept)
- Permitted access charges (for vehicles, such as taxis and delivery vehicles, authorised to access restricted areas of a city or town)
- Access/congestion charges (all vehicles entering a city or town)
- Pollution charges (for vehicles exceeding minimum emissions standards and entering a city or town
(1), (2) and (4) are easy to vary; public support will be dependent on transparent hypothecation for local public transport improvements, at least some of which must be almost immediate.
(3) is relatively easy to introduce gradually, with exemptions and rebates as necessary. It would be reasonable to define a threshold assessment of whether public transport is a viable option for a majority of employees before WPL is payable.
(5) would be relatively easy to introduce, and could even be charged on a toll basis. For taxis, the charge could be added to the fare for rides through the city/town centre.
(6) and (7) require huge investment in systems and administration. As central government will have to introduce some form of road pricing within the next 5–10 years to replace fuel duty (as vehicles switch from petrol/diesel to electricity), it may be prudent to follow and shape national policy and infrastructure to allow for local authorities to charge and collect a local premium on the road access charges collected by central government.
Section 106 obligations
Section 106 (S106) obligations, including for affordable housing, must be met in full for every development. The quality of the transport infrastructure and amenities must also meet the highest standards. Currently the local authority bears an unacceptable risk in order for the developer to preserve a reasonable profit margin. There is no counterbalancing reward for that risk: if the developer makes a higher than expected profit, this is not shared with the local authority.
Two possible remedies to consider are:
- Make S106 obligations non-transferable. Typically outline planning consent is sought before the land is sold. Consent would, as now, be granted to the landowner and transferable with the sale of the land. However the S106 obligations would remain with the land owner. The land owner may contract either the developer that purchases the land or a third party to fulfil the S106 obligations. There would be no dependence on how the developer fairs, as the land owner, not the developer, would pay for delivery out of proceeds from the land sale. This change would require legislation.
- Reframe S106 agreements to explicitly cover the consequences of cost over/under-runs. This would obviate the need for further negotiation as the true costs emerge (one of the principle objectives of a good contract). If the developer encounters genuine difficulties, the planning authority would, as now, have to concede on, say, affordable housing; but if the developer overestimates their costs, then pre-agreed contingencies would be activated: perhaps to provide more affordable homes, or an additional amenity, or a cash bonus. In this way, the unavoidable risks and rewards of development are shared more equally between the developer and the community.
13. How can the south of the area ensure its success doesn’t come at a cost to local people in the form of unaffordable housing? What practical steps can central and local government take to improve housing supply across the area?
Improving public transport is the most critical component of an affordable housing strategy.
We note with some concern that the interim report makes not a single mention of climate change and the risks it poses for the region.
In the section on Utilities and Flood Risk, there is no mention of the increased frequency of surface and river flooding owing to more erratic weather patterns. That there exist “£1.2 billion worth of flood risk assets in the Great Ouse tidal river area” is only part of the picture. What matters is how frequently these are subject to flood-related damage. The risk will at some point become uninsurable without adequate flood defences. There are also secondary costs to consider, for instance lost productivity and inability to transport goods during a flood.
The interim report makes no mention of de-carbonising the economy. Cambridgeshire has a moral obligation to use its exceptional intellectual and financial resources to lead the way in eliminating dependence on fossil fuels in business, transport and homes.
Also notable is the lack of mention of sustainability, recycling, pollution and air quality.