Developer creep

This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 114.

Over the past ten years in Cambridge or on its borders, various large developments have been begun and developers have applied for permission for more. Large developments are complex as they include wide access roads, schools and shops, have a big impact on traffic levels in Cambridge and they take a long time to turn around, leaving space for developer creep. For example, the Campaign has been dealing with different plans for the NIAB development, which now goes under the name of ‘Darwin Green’, since 2006.

The ‘Darwin Green’ developers have a target to limit car travel to less than 40% of journeys, which in view of the distances to sites of employment or travel (it is just under 2½ miles / 4km to the Science Park station, but over 3¼ miles / 5km to Cambridge station) will require a high modal share of travel by bus or bike. The site is between Huntingdon Road and Histon Road, which provide access for those travelling in cars, on bikes or foot. There will also be a cycling and walking access from Windsor Road and a route north over the A14 to Histon and into the countryside.

Seven years into the planning and development process, with the first units on the Huntingdon Road side already occupied, we have been informed that the developer is now asking for one of the cycle routes to be less wide than required, citing lack of space. This is just one of many examples of developer creep the Campaign is encountering.

Map showing access from the Darwin Green development onto and across Cambridge Road, Histon (= Histon Road on the Cambridge side of the A14).
Image as described adjacent

Access to and from Darwin Green

‘Darwin Green’ will have a cycling and walking path (A) connecting it to Histon Road, which will be south of the car route and more direct. Because of the complication of two large junctions on Histon Road (with the Darwin Green access and with Kings Hedges Road) cyclists and pedestrians heading towards the Science Park will use the shared-use crossing (B) over Histon Road to the footway on its eastern side, to connect to Kings Hedges Road and then the cyclebahn alongside The Busway at Orchard Park. The pavement the developers want to reduce from a five-metre width to just three is this section (C) of shared-use, two-way pavement cycleway on the eastern side of Histon Road, which according to plan should be build as a 2m-wide footway plus a 3m-wide two-way cycleway. Note that what was originally authorised here was already below the national guidance requiring two-way cycleways to be 4m wide, only to be watered down later to save the developer money.

Looking south on Cambridge Road, Histon (= Histon Road on the Cambridge side of the A14).
Image as described adjacent

The existing pavement is narrow, and as it is alongside a ditch, building over it would add to the cost. In the absence of estimates of the number of cycle trips for this junction (just like for all other junctions), developer creep sets in. The plans provide for four 3m-wide lanes on the main carriageway, plus lanes for turning traffic, which are untouchable owing to the required car throughput. If the ditch or the hedge behind it are just as untouchable as the space for cars, cyclists will be squeezed onto a heavily used shared-use pavement which will be no more than 3m wide. If that is the main cycle route to the CRC, the Science Park and the railway, keeping car trips below 40% will be difficult. At least the car lanes will be in place…

The cycle and pedestrian access from the Darwin Green site to Histon Road will only be a 13-minute bike ride from the new Science Park station. We expect that the opening of the Science Park station will mean even more people wanting to use the cycleway in question. But pedestrians and cyclists are being pushed to the margins of the scheme. It cannot genuinely claim to have put them at the heart of the design. Cycling and walking journeys cannot be assumed to happen regardless. Cycling rates vary even within Cambridge and between the surrounding villages. High quality infrastructure makes the difference between a cycle journey seeming quick and stress-free, and deciding to take the car instead, adding to city centre congestion.

Development challenges

This ditch may have to be built over to accommodate a shared-use cycleway.
Image as described adjacent

The process whereby developers cut costs and standards deteriorate over the many years from the initial application to realisation is not unique to this development and, in principle, audits should avoid the problems. But large developments always involve very large sums of money, making delays and litigation costly. Many developments involve the three local authorities, with South Cambs and Cambridge City authorising housing developments and the County Council as the highways authority. It is precisely where the internal road network of the developments authorised by the City Council or South Cambs joins up with the highway that we see the greatest problems, as can be seen at the Clay Farm / Long Road junction, the Orchard Park junctions with Kings Hedges Road or the West Cambridge development junction with Madingley Road.

Get involved

Cambridge Cycling Campaign needs more people to monitor developments continuously from the discussion or pre- application stage to the finishing touches. While this is the councils’ responsibility, the three councils seem to have neither sufficient staff nor the structure to ensure that the developments live up to their stated goals for sustainable transport. If you want those tens of thousands of additional future residents of Cambridge to have infrastructure which allows them to feel confident to ride a bike to school, office or shops, please get involved.

Klaas Brümann