Consultation 101: or should that be 106?

This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 115.

When the Cambridge Cycling Campaign started it was often difficult to know what the authorities were planning to do. Detrimental things would often just happen. But for the last fifteen years or so, both county and city councils have improved enormously in the way they involve people and now, I think, are really quite good at consulting interest groups like ourselves as well as local residents likely to be affected by changes.

That’s not to say there aren’t still problems though. The big problem area continues to be so-called Section 106 agreements. These are arrangements by which developers agree to pay some money towards changes which reduce the impact of their developments. So, for example, a large housing development would usually need some community facilities, something a developer would be unlikely to provide unless required to.

But the area which concerns us is where something is agreed to mitigate the traffic impact of a new development. Very often this relates to junctions connecting a new development to the road network or an existing junction nearby. Though these are still designed and approved by county council engineers, for some reason they tend not to be put out for consultation. Sometimes the first we know is when they are implemented on the ground.

A Marque of bad practice

A good example is the new arrangement at The Marque, the skyscraper built on the corner of Cherry Hinton Road and Hills Road. Here, on the Cherry Hinton Road approach to the junction, the cycle lane was removed last autumn. It was replaced with a narrow pavement cycleway. This dumps you on the far left of the road at the traffic lights (where most cyclists are turning right to go across Hills Road bridge), a ridiculously hazardous place to end up.

To make matters worse, a bizarre marking was added straddling the left traffic lane. Presumably the intention was that right-turning cyclists should move into the right lane to turn right. This is an impossibility, as the right lane is constantly blocked with traffic so this marking always directs you into the side of a queueing car. Even if it were possible why would any cyclist join a queue of cars rather than using the other lane to access the advance stop box?

The whole arrangement is quite simply rubbish. There was no consultation whatsoever: it was just built. Lump it!

This contrasts dramatically with the incredible amount of consultation there has been over putting in a handful of bike racks in Thoday Street. The process of changing just two car parking spaces has taken over a year, had two separate rounds of consultation, and then an opportunity to formally object to the traffic orders (and there have, apparently, been objections, so it’s not done yet).

It also contrasts with the way in which residents and stakeholders have worked with the council to produce plans for Tenison Road which are now going forward for more general consultation. While we tend to think the big problem here is the volume of through traffic, which has not really been addressed, the process itself has been excellent.

Car-capacity-driven design

Two other contrasting examples: At the Wing housing development being promoted by Marshalls near the Newmarket Road Park & Ride site, the developers themselves have carried out a great deal of both public and stakeholder consultation. We know pretty much what to expect and have been able to have input into the process and make suggestions. However, the North-West Cambridge development promoted by the University (while internally apparently being moderately cycle-friendly and with lots of consultation opportunities) has some horrendous mega- junctions with Huntingdon Road and Madingley Road which will have a major impact on cyclists. There has been almost no public involvement in developing these. The development principle seems to have been car capacity taking precedence over every other aspect, including the huge number of cyclists using the area.

A close shave

Changes are afoot at the two roundabouts at the ends of Fendon Road (that is, the main entrance to Addenbrooke’s on Hills Road, and the junction with Queen Edith’s Way and Mowbray Road). We only learned of these through the grapevine, and we feared they were going to be presented as a fait accompli through development agreements just like at The Marque. However, it now appears that the council has relented and will consult on these after all.

Plug that hole!

All changes to the road system should be consulted on. Ideally the consultations should not come as a surprise either, plans having been developed in conjunction with stakeholders and communities. Mostly, the first happens and the second sometimes does. But the gaping hole in the system is Section 106 agreements, and this needs to be plugged.

Of course, consultation itself is only as good as the actions taken as a result. Listening doesn’t always mean doing! And inevitably consultation gives widely diverse and often opposing opinions which have to be resolved.

Cambridge transport decisions by committee again

After a few years when all transport decisions for Cambridge were taken through the County Council’s cabinet system, the change in balance of power at last year’s elections has meant that a committee system which also involves the city has been brought back. Though good consultation beforehand is and has been very helpful in knowing what is going on and influencing it, the previous Area Joint Committees were an important way of being in touch with the decisions actually being taken. It’s good to see the system back again.

David Earl