With political support and new funding, Cambridgeshire awaits action on new spaces for cycling and walking

Over a month after Brighton & Hove City Council announced the UK’s first road closure to aid social distancing, Cambridgeshire residents are still waiting to see action on the region’s streets. Speaking at the Full Council meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council on 19 May, the outgoing chairman of the county council’s Highways and Infrastructure committee, Councillor Mathew Shuter, acknowledged that progress had been slow, but said that he expected a dramatic increase in action following approval from fellow councillors at the meeting.

Pop-up cycle lane in Leicester
One of the temporary cycle lanes installed in Leicester last month. When will Cambridgeshire get something similar? (Leicester City Council)

A motion raised by Cllr Ian Manning to instruct officers to work with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority on experimental schemes to improve active modes of travel to and within economic centres was unanimously passed by the meeting, with councillors keen to preserve improvements in air quality, avoid congestion as the region emerges from lockdown and support Cambridgeshire’s economic recovery. In addition to temporary schemes, councillors called for an investment in regional broadband to enable reduced work journeys and an uptake in support for electrically-assisted pedal cycles (e-bikes).

Cllr Shuter said that funding e-bike schemes would “enable those people who come from much further out than the immediate Cambridge area to see the bike as a much more practical solution. In this beautiful weather we’re having at the moment I think a lot of people would give it a try.” He told the meeting that officers had been drawing up a comprehensive plan for improvements for walking and cycling for some weeks and that emergence from lockdown was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be radical in transport thinking and deliver practical solutions that would make a huge difference.

The plans include short-term measures that could be implemented quickly, as well as medium- and long-term measures that will help the county address goals included in its new Climate Change and Environment Strategy which was also approved at the meeting. Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, told the meeting that in a post-pandemic world, “we cannot go back to how we were. People and societies have looked at themselves and the seedlings of wanting something different have been planted. This environmental strategy is just one element of a wide suite of considerations that we must embrace. If we don’t change, if we don’t strive for a better world for our children and only seek to recover what we have lost while ignoring the cost of achieving it, then we will fail.”

The implementation of experimental measures relies on funding and regional mayor James Palmer is currently lobbying for the region’s share of a UK-wide investment in such schemes. On 19 May he said: “My absolute priority is to enable people across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to get back to work and their lives as quickly and safely as possible. One thing that is so important to get right is transport. I have been lobbying government for funding from a £250 million pot announced for upgrading cycling lanes and the provision of electric bikes and e-scooters and await further announcement on a release of funds that will allow us get on and deliver this for our region.”

On the same day, the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) shared the news that a second tranche of funding, worth up to £400m, had been gained from central government. This will allow the partnership to make further progress on several schemes for sustainable transport including the rural Greenways and Chisholm Trail walking and cycling route. The GCP Chair, Cllr Aidan van de Weyer, said: “The exciting news that the GCP has received its next round of funding from the government means that we can get on and pursue our vision for greener and better transport for our area.” He thanked partners, members and officers for their hard work over the past five years and announced: “With the government’s support and as we move through the Covid-19 pandemic, we must crack on and deliver transformative schemes that will unlock homes, jobs and secure long-term quality of life for people in Greater Cambridge.”

Camcycle and its regional partners continue to press local authorities for swift action on safe spaces for walking and cycling as part of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Spaces to Breathe campaign. Camcycle’s Executive Director, Roxanne De Beaux, said: “”The unanimous support for cycling at the full council meeting today was a moment of light in a dark time. Camcycle is very pleased that the County Council recognises the ‘need to ensure that the environmental gains of reduced vehicle traffic are not lost as the economy reopens’. We look forward to seeing plans from the council soon, as changes to our roads cannot come quickly enough to help keep people safe and healthy. These changes need to be strategically planned so that they connect to a wider network to ensure that people can complete their entire journeys safely and conveniently which is critical if we’re to encourage more people to walk and cycle. There is a lot that can be done quickly at low cost and we will continue to collect ideas from the community to share with the council so they can make an immediate difference.”

Residents, groups and organisations can find out more, add their ideas and sign the campaign’s open letter at camcycle.org.uk/spacestobreathe