This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 119.
There has been significant progress on the Abbey to Chesterton Bridge, a vital link in the Chisholm Trail. Indeed, the Atkins feasibility study says ‘it is considered that the construction of any other discrete sections of the proposed routes would yield few benefits for cyclists and pedestrians without a new crossing of the River Cam. These sections would provide routes with a higher proportion of Off-Road cycleway, but with only slight reductions in journey lengths.’
Now, not only has full funding been secured for the bridge, with the agreement of the City Deal, but a specialist firm of architects has been appointed. It was announced on 25 February, at a public meeting about the bridge, that Knight Architects (www.knightarchitects.co.uk) had just been chosen. Knight Architects specialise in designing bridges and as such are familiar with the challenges, including, for example, trying to reconcile demands from wildlife experts to keep lighting levels really low, to avoid light affecting bats and other wildlife, with the desire for better lighting from the Highways Agency. Their director was responsible for the Millennium bridge: a pedestrian and cycle bridge over the River Tyne, linking Newcastle and Gateshead, which tilts to allow shipping to move along the river.
It also became clear at the meeting that negotiations with Network Rail may mean that the new bridge can be closer to the existing railway bridge than originally thought. The consultation suggested it would be 30m to 60m from the bridge. It seems generally accepted that a new bridge quite close to the existing railway bridge would be preferable to one further away, but this is subject to the constraints of Network Rail, the possibility that the existing railway bridge might need to be altered at some point, and concerns about safety. Discussions are continuing.
As the architects have only just been appointed there are no designs for the bridge yet, but they were made aware, at the public meeting, of many of the issues that will influence the design. There is much concern that the bridge, and more specifically the access ramps, will spoil the beautiful riverside landscape of Stourbridge Common and Ditton Meadows, and harm the wildlife. Indeed, the first objective of newly-formed Friends of Ditton Meadows is ‘to protect Ditton Meadows from the current threat of development, namely the proposed new bridge across the meadow’. Here, may I correct an error in our briefing note about the bridge (www.camcycle.org.uk/campaigning/cycleroutes/chisholmtrail/). Our research was not thorough enough and we overlooked the fact that the Central Conservation Area was extended in 2012 to include the Stourbridge Common and Ditton Meadows areas.
There are also worries about the impact of construction on the meadows. A compound would be needed, with welfare facilities for workers such as toilets, and including access for construction vehicles and materials. The county council officers at the meeting emphasised that contractors would be required to survey the site for the compound and to reinstate it to the original condition once work had finished. We note that work on the Sheep’s Green bridge and access ramps was completed in spring 2014 without lasting damage to the environment.
The bridge in context
Cambridge Cycling Campaign believes that a well-designed bridge would blend in and enable more people to enjoy the meadows. We are confident that it can be designed and constructed to avoid spoiling the meadows or harming the wildlife. Indeed it may be possible to include enhancements to the habitats as part of the project. Furthermore, a route closer to the railway line could reduce traffic on the path through the middle of the area, from the river to Wadloes Road.
More importantly, the bridge must be seen, as explained at the meeting, in the broader context of the growth of Cambridge and the need to keep Cambridge moving. It is, as already stated, an important part of the Chisholm Trail (see map) and will enable many more people to move easily between the city centre and the east of Cambridge (Abbey Ward) across the river to Chesterton, the Science Park, the station now being built nearby, northern Cambridge and further afield. Nor is it just for cyclists; pedestrians will also benefit. It was explained at the meeting that discussions had already begun about accessibility requirements and making it suitable for wheelchair-users and others with disabilities.
Our new briefing note, prepared especially for the meeting, provides more background to the Chisholm Trail and its many benefits, and some of the issues around the bridge. It has been circulated to key stakeholders and can be downloaded from our website.