Cambridgeshire Mayor says region cannot fail on active travel as he pledges support for schemes in Cambridge and Peterborough


Mayor Dr Nik Johnson has made clear that he supports those who wish to see the Mill Road bus gate in Cambridge and Crescent Bridge cycle lane in Peterborough reinstalled following a meeting with Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris last week. Speaking to Dotty McLeod on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s breakfast programme, Dr Johnson said that the government had been disappointed with the way these schemes had been removed and needed to see a commitment to active travel from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to ensure future funding for cycling and walking in our region. The Department for Transport emphasised that active travel funding came with conditions; schemes must be implemented properly to ensure they were effective and delivered value for money for taxpayers.

Evidence showing support of traffic reduction from Gear Change: One Year OnCamcycle welcomes Dr Johnson’s statement: we believe that both these schemes, and active travel improvements in general, have strong support from the public as frequently shown in the results of local research, citizens’ assemblies and consultations. The Department for Transport has made clear that there is a significant potential for growth in cycling in our region and that gathering and publishing proper evidence about the effects of each scheme is essential. We look forward to an open and positive consultation on Mill Road and are meeting with traders to discuss options for the future.

Scheme removals showed a lack of commitment to cycling and walking

The Mill Road bus gate and temporary cycle lane on Crescent Bridge were both installed with money from the Department for Transport’s emergency active travel fund. The scheme was part of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and aimed to help local authorities enable more people to walk and cycle. In July 2021, Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council voted to remove the two schemes despite local support for the extension of the trials. For example, 55% of respondents to the county council’s consultation thought Mill Road was safer with the bus gate in place and 59% wanted the trial to be continued or made permanent.

In the same week that Camcycle wrote to Chris Heaton-Harris regarding our concerns that the Mill Road scheme was being removed prematurely, we found out that active travel money from the Department for Transport was already being withheld from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Our region was the only combined authority to have money from the Capability Fund paused owing to a lack of certainty over its commitment to active travel.

Dr Johnson said that he thought it was understandable that the government had been disappointed with the county’s management of active travel schemes so far, but that improvements to cycling and walking were “something that we just can’t fail on”. He said the Combined Authority and the government shared a determination to get more people embracing a healthy and active lifestyle and that he was “fundamentally wedded to the improvements” on Mill Road and in Peterborough, following further consultation. In a press release from the Combined Authority, he added:

As a children’s doctor I know the effects that air pollution has on young people’s general health. In the past couple of weeks, I was shocked to see Cambridge City having warnings regarding exercising outside due to the levels of air pollution. This cannot go on. I want not just for my three children, but for all children in Cambridgeshire to live in an area where they can breathe clean and healthy air.

High-quality active travel improvements are needed across the county

Speaking on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Camcycle’s Executive Director Roxanne De Beaux and Chris Cooper from Peterborough Cycle Forum welcomed Dr Johnson’s statement and made clear that it was no surprise. Roxanne said:

We’ve heard the strong emphasis from the government for quite some time about needing to see commitment from local authorities to implementing active travel schemes. Mill Road is dangerous in its current situation and that’s why Camcycle is so determined to see something done there to make it safe for cycling. But, even more so, we believe that it’s a road that has such potential to be a wonderful place to go and spend time and money. It should feel like a place for the community, not a high traffic environment.

Chris said:

There was an expectation [from government] that schemes would remain in place long enough to be given time to bed in, and that wasn’t the case with Crescent Bridge… Sustrans has produced a perfectly good [improvement] scheme that would extend the lane a couple of hundred metres westward across the end of Midland Road, with a safe signalised crossing to get back onto Thorpe Road. That scheme is there ready to go and could be easily implemented.

Leader of Cambridge City Council Lewis Herbert, who was also interviewed on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, expressed support for the Mayor’s statement and said:

I think it’s a good sign that the government is putting a high bar for achievement on improving cycling in Cambridge. Nearly half of the journeys this morning will be made by cyclists and I do think that, along with the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), everybody has to get moving because we do need to get better buses, we need to have cleaner air and we need to have less cars on our streets.

He made clear that the county council decision on Mill Road already included a commitment to a new consultation, and urged people to see the scheme as part of a broader picture of traffic reduction. Other measures delivered by the GCP as part of the active travel fund had been successful and despite initial controversy had worked well.

Later this week, the GCP Executive Board is expected to recommend that modal filters – on Luard Road, Carlyle Road, Silver Street, Nightingale Avenue, Storey’s Way and in the Newtown area – are made permanent and Camcycle strongly supports this proposal. Together with the changes to Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 we feel that the county council will have both the real-world evidence and the legal ability to deliver a high-quality network of active travel routes across our region with appropriate access exemptions for some motor vehicles where needed.

Find out more about Camcycle’s campaign for Spaces to Breathe for cycling and walking during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond at camcycle.org.uk/spacestobreathe