So the County Council has voted to move its base from Castle Hill in Cambridge to Alconbury Weald. Officers have been given the go-ahead to buy the land, so this is a done deal.
The site has been described as ‘more central’ within the county. That’s true as the crow flies, but not by travel time, and especially not by public transport. Journeys to Alconbury Weald from most parts of the county require multiple changes of bus and/or train via Cambridge or Peterborough, taking two or three hours plus waiting time. Travel times will reduce a little if a more frequent express bus service is run from the busway at St Ives via Huntingdon, and if a mooted railway station is built at Alconbury Weald.
Perhaps most extraordinary about this decision is that huge amounts of money are being poured into improving transport connections to Cambridge: major upgrades to the A14 and A428; additional rail capacity for north and east of Cambridge; new railway lines to Bedford and Wisbech; and an extensive new ‘metro’ focused on Cambridge.
If a new building is needed, what about using land next to Cambridge North station, on the Guided Busway and adjacent to the A14? That would have better connectivity by all modes of transport than either Shire Hall or Alconbury.
The main motivation for the move is to save about £57m. But if councillors are really concerned about saving public money, they’d be working out a plan to radically simplify local government and reduce the number of authorities. Local political reporter Antony Carpen has suggested creating three unitary authorities: perhaps Peterborough plus a large chunk of Fenland; Cambridge plus most of South and East Cambridgeshire; and Huntingdonshire plus parts of Fenland, East and South Cambridgeshire.
The reorganisation would reduce the number of local authorities from seven to three, and obviate the need to build new headquarters – saving far more than £57m. It would also bring decision making and delivery of what are currently county services (transport, social care, education, etc) closer to many more people than relocating council offices to Alconbury.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 23 May 2018.