Smarter Cambridge Transport

‘Through the Looking Glass’ economics used to justify a new P&R at Hauxton

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) has published the (722 page) Outline Business Case for a new 2,260-space Park & Ride on the Hauxton side of the M11–A10 interchange. The ‘preferred’ option includes two new junctions on the A10, a new road over the existing farm bridge into Trumpington P&R, a new cycle/footbridge over the motorway, and more bus lanes along Trumpington Rd.

The monetised benefits are minus £23 million. That’s right, the benefits (before subtracting costs) are negative. That makes for a benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) below zero, i.e. we’d be spending money to lose more! In HM Treasury’s understated terminology, this counts as “very poor value for money.”

No matter, the report asserts, “when the benefits are less than the costs the actual BCR becomes irrelevant…” This is ‘Through the Looking Glass’ economics. Cost-benefit analysis is certainly flawed, but it’s the best tool we have for comparing projects to help decide which to prioritise. In this case it provides a very strong signal that the £55 million or £24,500 per parking space (in 2019 prices) would be better spent in other ways.

Still, let’s indulge GCP: perhaps a new P&R at Hauxton really is the only game in town, and significant benefits are missed by standard cost-benefit analysis. What will it do for traffic in the area? Well, on every single metric, the ‘preferred’ option scores worse than all scenarios considered, including not building the P&R. Drivers will experience an average delay of nine minutes, compared with two now; average speeds will fall from 30mph to 13mph, and below 7mph between 5pm and 6pm. Queues on the M11 could extend for two miles.

To pursue a scheme that will waste so much taxpayers’ money and make life in villages along the A10 intolerable can only be explained by institutional inertia and a desperate lack of imagination.

Park & Ride was the right solution in the 90s. Now we need comprehensive, integrated public transport. That means building travel hubs and cycleways throughout the county; redesigning bus networks; and funding more frequent, cheaper bus services from 6am to 11pm.

We would urge all readers to give the GCP and councillors their opinion on this scheme. We have created a reply form to make it easy here. You can use it to just send our provided reply, or write your own.

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 19 June 2019. A correction was made on 23 June: the proposed number of parking spaces at Hauxton is 2,260, not 946. This reduces the cost per space from £58,000 to £24,500.

Edward Leigh

Edward Leigh is the leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, chair and independent co-opted member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, chair of the South Petersfield Residents Association, business owner, consultant, and occasional blogger about making the world and Cambridge a better place to live.


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  • The following response was received on 21 June 2019 by Chris Rand, Secretary of Smarter Cambridge Transport, from Councillor Lewis Herbert, Chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership:

    Dear Chris and members of Smarter Cambridge Transport

    Thank you for your recent email about the proposed new travel hub for SW Cambridge, supporting the Smarter Cambridge Transport campaign on this issue. A decision will be made on this travel hub at the next Greater Cambridge Partnership Executive Board meeting on 27 June, and I will consider your points in reviewing the proposals.

    As you are probably aware, usage levels at Trumpington Park and Ride have been growing very rapidly and it is already full by early morning on most days of the week. While we are considering plans that would potentially fund and improve bus services further outwards, extra travel hub capacity near Junction 11 is essential for people to travel into central Cambridge, and to Addenbrookes and the Biomedical Campus, reliably and more sustainably – including last mile journeys by bus.

    This scheme will cut congestion and aims to intercept at least 2,000 vehicles a day that would otherwise head on through often congested traffic into Cambridge or Addenbrookes. In the recent consultation, 71% of respondents supported the option of a new site west of the M11. The proposal is being recommended as an essential part of expanding public transport and reducing the 34,000 vehicles a day using junction 11 from the A10 and the M11, and avoiding a future of daily gridlock there. The GCP have also published a final technical assessment that shows in detail how this scheme helps deliver public transport and reduce delays at this key junction.

    Travel hubs are an important part of the overall strategy and are essential to support delivery of public transport improvements both now and for the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro in the future. So it is one of a significant range of elements that will in combination both reduce the numbers of future journeys by car, and the length of the journeys made by car.

    Yours sincerely
    Councillor Lewis Herbert
    Chair, Greater Cambridge Partnership