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.
Whilst your argument has merit, the public transport into Cambridge from surrounding villages/towns is extremely poor which leaves many to use cars (which is also poor)
Driving in Cambridge is horrendous and can take 30/40 mins to move just 1 mile through the centre on a regular basis.
More needs to be done to distribute business/services across the county and improving links between them all.
A direct train line through Huntingdon/Alconbury along the A14 to Peterborough would link the two cities within 25 minutes and make Alconbury accessible from both within 12 mins.
We need a stronger regional economy not solely Cambridge focused which can reduce commuting and transport into the cities.
The East Coast Main Line (ECML) already provides a direct service between Huntingdon and Peterborough (franchise currently operated by Great Northern).
The new station at Alconbury Weald (AW) is expected to be built as a new stop on the ECML and no doubt, the franchise will have been amended to include time tabled stops there.
That said, even with the Council moving a portion of its operations / staff to AW, this is unlikely to be sufficient to secure a ‘fast’ service to London (be that intercity or local operator) or any direct services to destination beyond Peterborough. After all, HST’s do not stop at St Neots despite it being the third largest ‘urban area/population’ in the county after Cambridge and Peterborough.
The point regarding a reduction in the number of local authorities may have merit but should take into account the following. When the East West Rail is re-instated (with an interchange to the ECML) even if it this is not routed via St Neots (as it should be) its proximity (combined with the dualling of the A428) can only act to boost St Neots in terns of economic prosperity and population growth. As of 2014, its population already outstripped Huntingdon (40,000 v 23,000). Accordingly, St Neots shouldtake precedent over Huntingdon (& HDC) as the home of any new local authority covering this part of the county.