Post-election shake-up could transform transport in Cambridgeshire

Following a series of local elections on 6 May, the political landscape has changed and the resulting reshuffles of local boards and committees could have a profound impact on the county’s transport future. Camcycle has updated our election survey pages so you can easily see what the winning candidate in each area said about cycling and transport issues (successful candidates are highlighted in grey) and we encourage you to read up to find out more about their views.

At time of writing, we are still waiting to hear more about the local structure and leadership of key transport committees, but below we give an overview of the key roles and responsibilities of each layer of local governance and the main changes.

Camcycle is a non-partisan body, and our reporting of the new political makeup of the various local authorities should not be taken to constitute support or otherwise for any candidate or party.

Local transport leadership: what’s changed?

This excellent Smarter Cambridge Transport article from 2018 summarises the key players in local transport and the (updated) diagram below shows how complicated the interrelationships between them are. (The former Local Enterprise Partnership became a Business Board of the Combined Authority in 2018 and business representatives also make up part of the Greater Cambridge Partnership.)

A diagram of the local authorities in Cambridgeshire

 

Until last week, the Combined Authority and Cambridgeshire County Council were led by the Conservatives, along with Peterborough City Council and all the District Councils apart from South Cambridgeshire District Council, which was, and still is, led by the Liberal Democrats. Cambridge City Council is led by Labour and the party has strengthened its hold following the elections, gaining an extra seat to win 27 out of a total of 42. In a somewhat unexpected win, Labour candidate Dr Nik Johnson was elected Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, beating the Conservative incumbent James Palmer.

The Conservatives also suffered losses in the county council elections, leaving Cambridgeshire County Council in ‘no overall control’, although Conservatives still have the biggest share of councillors (28 out of 61). On 14 May, it was announced that the smaller parties had united to form a coalition. The new joint administration is formed of councillors from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, together with four Independents. It is set to be led by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Lucy Nethsingha, with the Labour leader, Elisa Meschini as deputy.

What does this mean for transport?

Focusing on the Greater Cambridge area and moving through the key areas of responsibility, here’s what to look out for. (Note that given the smaller changes at district council level, we have not included them in this overview.)

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority

Logo of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined AuthorityWhat does it do?
The Combined Authority is the Strategic Transport Authority for the region and controls almost all transport funding to the other local authorities (but not the GCP). Its remit is determined by central government, rather than local democracy. The Local Transport Plan sets out the authority’s vision and goals for the area. The Combined Authority’s website says ‘Our purpose is choice: to make it easy to rely less on the car; to make it easy to move around the region easily in a way that works for you’, but the plans themselves have so far been heavy on road building and expansion.

Who’s in charge?
The new Mayor is Dr Nik Johnson of the Labour and Co-operative Party, an NHS children’s doctor from Huntingdonshire. Find out more on Twitter, Facebook and his new blog.

What could change?
Mayor Johnson has already said that he expects to scrap plans for the CAM metro, a rapid transit system for Cambridgeshire which would have involved tunnels beneath Cambridge. At Camcycle’s hustings event, he told us his first focus would be ‘buses, buses, buses’, with plans to reregulate them and provide a new fleet of ‘Fen Tiger buses’ across the county. As a doctor, he wants to put public health at the heart of policy and in our election survey he said he would bring all members of the Combined Authority together to meet the government’s target of ensuring half of all journeys in towns and cities are walked or cycled by 2030. He also said he would like to see Sustrans’s ambitious manifesto for transport adopted locally.

Cambridgeshire County Council

Logo of Cambridgeshire County CouncilWhat does it do?
The county council delivers most of the region’s transport needs, from building and maintaining infrastructure to managing services including school transport, residents’ parking schemes, street lighting and electric vehicle charging points. They have a dedicated cycling project team which designs and delivers new cycling infrastructure across the county and works in collaboration with the Greater Cambridge Partnership on large schemes such as the Chisholm Trail. Individual county councillors can also work with residents and parish councils on low-cost ‘Local Highways Improvement’ initiatives to improve walking and cycling journeys for people in their area.

Who’s in charge?
At the time of writing, it has just been announced that a joint administration has been agreed between the Liberal Democrats, Labour and a group of four Independent councillors. The coalition is set to be led by Lib Dem leader Lucy Nethsingha (view her Twitter account and web page). Visit the county council website to find your local councillor and our election survey to see what they said about transport.

What could change?
Under Conservative leadership, the county council had made many sustainable travel improvements, most recently installing the Mill Road bus gate scheme and agreeing to a suite of experimental measures as part of the Covid emergency active travel scheme (although many of these have not yet been put in place). However, it has also imposed some unpopular decisions on Cambridge including scrapping the Cambridge Joint Area Committee (which gave city residents input on transport issues in their area), pausing the rollout of the Cambridge residents’ parking scheme (being consulted on in each neighbourhood), beginning a trial of allowing electric vehicles to share bus lanes (also used by cycles), ending the option to install parklets and similar schemes to reallocate roadspace, and blocking discussions of a congestion charge or other ways of raising money from drivers to fund better public transport.

The new joint administration has pledged to ‘focus on modal shift to encourage more residents out of their cars, along with infrastructure development, the encouragement of sustainable travel, and securing safe routes for pedestrians and cyclists’. They promise to improve consultation and transparency with local communities, invest more in the maintenance of roads, paths and cycleways and ‘end the freeze on residents’ parking schemes’. A more collaborative approach on transport is likely between authorities too – this could mean improvements can be made more rapidly.

Greater Cambridge Partnership

Logo of the Greater Cambridge PartnershipWhat does it do?
The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) was formed to deliver a ‘City Deal’ programme of investment from national government and is a partnership of councils with representatives from business and academia. It sees transport as vital to the area’s economic growth and success – improved travel connections open up residents’ opportunities for jobs and education, while local businesses suffer as a result of increased congestion.

Many of the GCP’s projects are large-scale schemes to improve the sustainable transport network including four ‘corridor’ projects which include new busways, twelve new Greenways for walking, cycling and horseriding and the Chisholm Trail route across Cambridge. The ‘Greater Cambridge Sustainable Travel Programme’ (previously called ‘City Access’) also looks at ideas such as congestion or pollution charging and a review of bus services, plus trials of electric buses, cycle hire and low-traffic neighbourhood schemes.

Who’s in charge?
The GCP Executive Board makes decisions with advice from a Joint Assembly. Only representatives from the three local authorities (Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council) have voting rights on the Executive Board. Recently, these have been drawn from the leaders of those councils – one each of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat. With the county council led by a new ‘rainbow’ coalition, this balance is likely to change. Keep an eye on the links from the Governance page of the GCP website to find out more.

What could change?
In the past few years, there have been disagreements between the GCP and Combined Authority on the future of public transport – particularly around the Cambourne to Cambridge route and on the alignment between the Combined Authority’s CAM metro and the GCP’s busway corridor schemes. There have also been differences of opinion between the GCP and county council on concepts such as congestion charging. The new coalition has pledged to form a strong and positive partnership with the GCP and work with them to ‘achieve a sustainable bus network for Greater Cambridge’. Increased collaboration may also lead to some of the ideas consulted on in the Choices for Better Journeys project being progressed.

Cambridge City Council

Logo of Cambridge City CouncilWhat does it do?
The city council has limited control over roads and cycleways, but as a planning authority it influences the future shape of the city’s streets, buildings and public spaces. Making Space for People is a project to improve the character of the city and its sustainable transport, and the King’s Parade barrier is a city council scheme. The council controls Cambridge’s car parks and works with partners on services such as Shopmobility, Dial-a-Ride and the current e-scooter trial (which is funded by the Combined Authority). It also has responsibility for cycle parking and community safety, working closely with the police and organisations such as Camcycle on issues like cycle theft.

Who’s in charge?
The Labour group is in charge of the City Council under leader Lewis Herbert (view his Twitter account and web page). Every city council seat was up for reelection in 2021 and there have been some changes – Labour lost seats to the Greens and Lib Dems but gained one additional seat overall, increasing their majority. Visit the city council website to find your local councillor and the Camcycle election survey to see what they said about transport.

What could change?
City councillors can support residents concerned about issues such as cycle theft, traffic enforcement, lack of secure cycle parking and planning applications which may have an impact on local sustainable transport. They can also influence county council policy on local transport decisions. For example, several walking and cycling schemes for Cambridge were planned as part of the government’s emergency active travel fund announced last year – some have been delivered, such as the Mill Road bus gate, and some have not, such as a filter on Arbury Road. With the changed structure of the county council, city councillors might have increased influence as to whether more trials go ahead and current ones are made permanent. New councillors are also likely to be keen to set out their case for any other transport improvements they would like to see in their area so it is always worth speaking to them to raise the issues you think are important.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Police and Crime Commissioner

Logo of the Cambridge & Peterborough Police and Crime CommissionerWhat do they do?
The primary role of the elected Commissioner is to support and challenge the Chief Constable to provide effective and efficient policing services for the area. They set local police and crime objectives, set the policing part of council tax and ensure the police are accountable to the public by engaging with local communities.

Who’s in charge?
The new Police and Crime Commissioner for our region is Darryl Preston (view his Twitter account and webpage). He is the fourth member of the Conservative party to fulfil this role and a former police officer.

What could change?
PCC Preston has stressed the importance of partnership and collaboration. He has links with PCCs in other regions and supports local task forces such as the Vision Zero Partnership and the cycle theft taskforce coordinated by the city council of which Camcycle is a member. In our election survey, he said that residents should expect positive action on dangerous parking and be able to upload digital evidence on traffic crime. He said he was ‘determined to make sure we achieve zero deaths and serious injuries by 2040’ and told the Cambridge Independent that he would work to ‘cut bike crime once and for all’.

What’s next?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll find out the structure of local transport committees. Camcycle will reach out to decision-makers and present our vision at local meetings, based on briefing papers we are currently preparing with our members. We would like to see the role of cycling championed at every level of governance across the region and we expect high levels of collaboration between authorities to ensure rapid improvements for active travel are delivered in both urban and rural areas.

If you’re not already a Camcycle member, this is a great time to join us! If you are a member, please get involved with our work via our member forum Cyclescape and help us prepare our next steps.