There is an urgent need for localism to include Highways England and the rail industry. The inability of local authorities to include strategic highways and railways in their short and medium term transport planning is severely hampering their efforts to exploit opportunities and meet challenges. In cities like Cambridge this is impacting businesses, which are struggling to recruit new talent, and is fuelling a socially divisive housing bubble.
We call on the Secretary of State for Transport to ask his department to scrutinise the most urgent needs of local authorities and, where necessary, adjust or re-prioritise schemes in Highways England’s and Network Rail’s works programmes. First on the list for scrutiny locally should be the A14 Girton Interchange, the planned redesign for which is simply not fit for purpose.
In the longer term, what is required is a formalised mechanism by which local authorities may commission and fund highway and railway infrastructure, assisted by, rather than dependent upon, Highways England and the rail industry.
Recent developments and projected growth in Cambridge and the surrounding regions are rapidly outpacing Highways England’s and Network Rail’s ability to plan and deliver new infrastructure:
- Cambridgeshire is expected to see growth to 2031 of 176,000 new residents, 93,000 new homes, and 81,000 new jobs, more than half of which will be in and around Cambridge.
- Central government agreed a City Deal with Greater Cambridge in2014, delivering up to £500m over 15 years to fund infrastructure to support economic growth.
- A large expansion of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus is underway, with AstraZeneca (2,000 employees) and six further employers arriving within two years.
- Central government has commissioned a study to create an Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.
- The London Stansted Cambridge Consortium has established a Growth Commission to “build the ambitions and actions needed to strengthen the London–Stansted–Cambridge Corridor as a world-leading area economy.”
- Stansted Airport signed an agreement with Ryanair which, it is estimated, will result in an additional 7 million passenger flights annually and an additional 7,000 jobs on site.
Implications for strategic highways schemes
The clearest and most urgent need locally is for improved interconnectivity at the Girton Interchange (M11-A14-A428), which the current plans for the A14 Improvement Scheme, drawn up in 2013, will not deliver.
The Department for Transport must examine Highways England’s plans for the Girton Interchange in the context of everything that is now happening in the region. The Secretary of State should, before signing the Development Consent Order, require Highways England to demonstrate that its planned design for the Girton Interchange is the most cost-effective route to improving safety, capacity and connectivity at this critical junction.
Other designs should be considered, and time should be made available for this without holding up other works planned as part of the A14 Improvement Scheme.
Other urgent enhancements to the region’s transport infrastructure include:
- Additional connectivity at M11-A11, A14-A11, A505-A11-Granta Park junctions.
- Widened and/or lengthened slip ramps exiting the M11 and A14 at all Cambridge junctions to improve resilience and safety at peak times.
Implications for strategic rail schemes
Many of the schemes with the highest potential for modal shift involve making more efficient use of the existing rail network:
- New eastern entrance to Cambridge central station.
- New train stations at Biomedical Campus, Fulbourn, Waterbeach and Soham.
- Increased rail capacity at Cambridge, Ely and Newmarket.
- New parkways at Foxton and Six Mile Bottom.
- Improved modal interchange and facilities at most stations.
There is also huge potential in extending the existing network:
- Reopen branch line to Wisbech (business case recently published).
- Reinstate the Shelford-Haverhill line.
- Reinstate a westbound rail link via Cambourne and St Neots (an option potentially being considered by East-West Rail).
To support local growth, most of these schemes need to be implemented well before 2031, which currently seems unachievable. Local authorities need more powers to evaluate, finance and commission new strategic road and rail infrastructure, with the full co-operation of Highways England and the rail industry.
In the short term, the Department for Transport must step in urgently to evaluate:
- the short to medium term strategic transport needs of local authorities;
- the funds available to local authorities to finance unscheduled schemes;
- the national strategy for growth and renewal of the transport networks;
- the current works programmes of Highways England and Network Rail.
DfT should amend and reprioritise Highways England’s and Network Rail’s works programmes as necessary and appropriate.
In the meantime, the Department must start work on developing a robust and responsive mechanism by which local authorities may either:
- bid for schemes to be included in Highways England’s and National Rail’s own programmes of work; or
- finance and commission new highway and railway infrastructure.
Where a local authority will be financing works, Highways England and Network Rail must be bound by a service level agreement that guarantees that they will provide:
- an adequate level and timeliness of technical assistance in conducting feasibility studies, building business cases, and costing works;
- a maximum lead time to schedule works;
- sufficient resources to project manage the delivery of scheduled works.
Appendix: Local schemes for consideration
These are some of the most pressing schemes identified by local authorities in Cambridgeshire and West Suffolk and local transport groups:
The lack of a high-capacity connection between these two roads will be a significant constraint on economic growth. The existing connecting routes, via the A1303 or Madingley or Barton, are already overwhelmed at peak times and wholly unfit for purpose.
In order to address this, the Greater Cambridge City Deal is looking at options that include a new buses-only bridge over the M11 (estimated cost of £45m – Atkins Draft Interim Report). However the business case for this compares poorly with adding an A428-M11 connection at the Girton Interchange.
In response to a request from Coton Parish Council, Highways England put forward a suggestion for additional links connecting the A428 and M11. However there is no budget allocated or time frame indicated; and it would not provide the other connections required (listed below).
More detail may be found in our paper A14 Girton Interchange remodelled.
Huntingdon Road to A428 link
The design does not provide a connection to the A428 from Huntingdon Road, where there is an urgent need for a new park-and-ride site (Mott MacDonald Cambridge Access Study, p121: “A P&R site on Huntingdon Road would serve [demand from traffic approaching eastbound on the A14] more directly.”) This site will require a connection west onto the A428 if it is to serve commuters and visitors arriving from the west.
Huntingdon Road to A14 eastbound link
The planned design does not provide a connection to the A14 eastbound from Huntingdon Road or the M11. Without this connection, a P&R site at this location will be less effective, and traffic from north-west Cambridge must either take a 5.5 mile detour via Junction 29 (Bar Hill) and back, or use congested city roads (either Histon Road to Junction 32, or Victoria Road and Milton Road to Junction 33).
M11 and A14 exit ramps
Congestion on Cambridge’s arterial roads often leads to tailbacks onto the A14 and M11, creating a serious hazard, and contributing to an intolerably high frequency of accidents. Lengthening and/or adding additional lanes to the exit ramps at all Cambridge junctions would provide additional queuing capacity, enhancing safety on the highways and enabling the local authority to employ Inbound Flow Control to reduce congestion within the city.
Adding west-south connections between the A11 and A14 would relieve congestion on the A1303, A1304 and Wilbraham Road.
Adding north-east connections between the A11 and M11 would relieve congestion on the A505 and A1301, and improve connectivity to the Wellcome Trust sites.
Adding west-south connections between the A11 and A505 and a northbound exit from the A11 to Granta Park would relieve congestion on the A505 and improve connectivity to Granta Park.
Rail schemes are covered in our paper on The untapped potential of rail.