County Council plans to deprive Cambridge a say on transport matters

Camcycle is strongly of the view that decisions about transport and development in Cambridge should be a democratic process including city residents and councillors. It is for this reason that we object wholeheartedly to the County Council’s proposed scrapping of Cambridge’s Transport Committee and the transfer of powers to a county body – it will silence the voices of those whose views are most needed, the residents and workers of Cambridge.

We further believe that the timing of this proposed change is in very poor judgement. Now more than ever we need responsive local transport policies that will facilitate the safe movement of key workers and allow socially distanced essential journeys. Scrapping a key transport committee is an irresponsible diversion at a time when we simply cannot afford it.

Our position on this matter remains the same as in 2012, when a similar situation arose. The Cambridge News has some coverage on the proposed change. The proposals have been made to the Cambridgeshire County Council’s Constitution and Ethics committee which will meet online on April 22 before a final decision will be made at a full council meeting. Our submission will be read out at the meeting which can be watched online via the County Council’s YouTube channel.

The Cambridge Joint Area Committee (JAC) consists of councillors from both the County Council and the City Council. Issues such as residents’ parking schemes, traffic calming, new crossings, and footway and cycleway schemes all fall under the remit of this committee. It ensures that transport matters affecting Cambridge are decided by Cambridge and for Cambridge.

Whilst it is entirely appropriate that the rural councillors who run the County Council have oversight of budget and some say in transport matters in Cambridge – they may well travel here – that is very different to withdrawal of any guarantee that there will be a majority of people from Cambridge deciding these questions.

One of our members said:

“These proposals would mean that no councillor, or indeed, resident, as far as I can tell, would have any meaningful say in any transport plan or project suggested or mooted for the city. This is as unacceptable as any rural district in Cambridgeshire being denied a voice were the situation reversed. I’m quite sure the residents of Huntingdon, Manea, Mepal etc. have a far better idea what sort of changes they need than I, as a Cambridge city resident, would. I would be delighted if they had their own committees for example.

Responding to the climate emergency will look different in the city as it will in those rural areas and to me, it seems fair that the districts get the opportunity to frame their response themselves. That’s what I’m asking for as a city resident too. That we are able to tailor our response to the situation we find ourselves in.”

Until 2012, the County Council had an Area Joint Committee, which was extremely active in debating and determining transport changes that affect our area. It was scrapped in 2013, but returned later in the form of the current JAC when the County Council went to No Overall Control.

As part of what seems to be an ongoing disagreement between the councils, the committee is being caught in the crossfire, and is being threatened with being scrapped again.

The termination of the committee is being justified by officers on the grounds that:

“[it] is not considered reasonable or appropriate that one area in the county should receive a different service than others and withdrawing from the Committee will provide equity of service across Cambridgeshire”

However, a few sentences earlier, the report itself exposes this as complete nonsense, because it says quite openly that the other areas have the option of similar committees but chose not to take up the opportunity:

“All the Councils with the exception of Cambridge City declined the invitation to re-establish Area Joint Committees.”

Cambridge is a different place to rural towns and villages. It is a dense city, with high levels of employment and housing, and is struggling with the effects of the councils’ growth agenda. It also has by far the highest levels of cycling. As a result, allocation of road space is very highly contested, unlike other areas.

The area committee over the past 20 years has regularly seen strong debates about balancing the needs of residents, commuters, those driving, those cycling, and so on. It is right that those debates should continue. Proper consideration of difficult issues like this will not be properly resolved by relegating them to an official deciding in private or by having them decided in Alconbury by councillors who have far less experience of Cambridge’s cycling culture or who rarely travel here.

We urge our members to contact their county councillors to raise their concerns and to request a delay on this decision until proper scrutiny can be applied. You can find your councillors’ contact details using Write to Them.

Smarter Cambridge Transport has created a petition against the abolition of the CJAC which we would also encourage you to sign.

Camcycle is a non-partisan organisation, with no relation to any political party. We work for more, better, and safer cycling in and around Cambridge.