The cogs of construction are turning again. Building sites from Waterbeach New Town to Mill Rd Depot are coming back to life; Histon Rd works have resumed; planning applications are in for more new developments around Cambridge – north of Cherry Hinton and east of Addenbrooke’s.
Now, with at least another £200 million to spend, the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) is gearing up to submit a planning application for a new Park & Ride north of Hauxton, and to push on with its CAM/busways from Cambourne and Granta Park. (The somewhat metaphysical dispute with Mayor Palmer about whether GCP’s busways are CAM-compatible remains unresolved.)
What do these developments have in common? They are all anachronisms.
They will support lifestyles hardly different to those of the past few decades. There is minimal innovation: slightly better insulated homes, a little faster bus journeys, a few more trips by cycle. This isn’t a recipe for de-carbonising lifestyles in thirty years, yet alone ten.
Unfortunately, in our highly centralised system of government, local authorities are mostly powerless to forge new paths until legislation and regulations compel them to. However, here are three ideas they could embrace now.
Set the bar for the North East Cambridge (waterworks) development at net-zero-carbon to 2050, not just “low-carbon” (as the recently unveiled Area Action Plan states), which will inevitably be compromised.
Put in place measures now to permanently reduce road capacity for motor vehicles to match the goal already agreed by GCP to reduce traffic in Cambridge by 10–15% relative to 2011 (around 25% lower than in 2019). Delaying until traffic is back to pre-lockdown levels will precipitate gridlock and a popular backlash. Acting now ensures the measures bite only slowly, which will, for instance, encourage employers to continue supporting remote-working and more flexible office hours, and to promote cycling and car-sharing.
Update the County Council’s transport models, replacing misleading extrapolations of historical traffic data with carbon-budget constraints compatible with the Climate Change Act. That would provide a much clearer steer for the design parameters of new developments and transport infrastructure, and how existing infrastructure should be repurposed.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 27 May 2020.