Here at Smarter Cambridge Transport, we literally work 24/7 on ideas. I often wake up to find half a dozen new thoughts have been added to our online discussion system overnight, often the result of a lot of thinking by people who know their subject. It can be fascinating.
Members represent many different interests, so when we all agree on something, it’s usually common sense. One thing on which it was easy to concur, two years ago, was that the ‘City Deal’ funding should not be in the hands of a ‘team’ so small that it probably had less discussion of the issues than we had as a voluntary organisation.
We’re proud to have been prominent in pushing for a broader group of professionals to be assembled. Now that this has belatedly happened, we desperately want it to work.
The new Greater Cambridge Partnership’s ‘Big Conversation‘ is a welcome initiative, even if it must be their last chance to get things right. The new team say they are doing their best to ‘make sure everyone has the opportunity to influence how their future is shaped’.
Events, surveys and more have been arranged. More will be announced to take place between now and the end of November, and if you have ideas for how the GCP should engage with communities before then, they’d like to hear them. A Travel Survey runs until the 6 November, and I’d encourage everyone to complete that.
What we have to hope is that any interesting feedback will be used to inspire and shape policy, not selectively cited to back up pre-formed decisions. In existing projects such as Milton and Histon Roads, and connecting Cambourne, which didn’t have the benefit of this initial information-gathering, the public has devised detailed alternative schemes which seem acceptable, affordable and workable. Yet still the authorities keep their original, hugely unpopular plans under consideration, backed up by poor modelling and risible cost-benefit analysis techniques. An acid test of the new commitment to listen will be if some of the alternatives are genuinely taken on board and acted upon.
As has been written before in this column, too often ‘consultation’ occurs after the brief has been written and decisions made. Public money should be spent on designs only after the people who live and work here have been consulted – we should all be part of the planning team from day one. The new ‘Greenways’ project seems to be off to a good start in asking open questions. Make sure you are part of that conversation and make your views known.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 18 October 2017.