Buggin’s Turn

Nearly every four years since I came to Cambridge, the County Council has changed political control. This year was no exception, when the national trend was confounded in Cambridgeshire by returning from joint Liberal Democrat and Labour to the Conservatives.

In the past, this constant vacillation has hindered progress on transport developments, good or bad. In 1985, the Tories lost control just in time for widening of East Road to dual carriageway along its full length to be abandoned. The diggers had already started on St Matthew’s School. Had that gone ahead, we’d probably have dual carriageway all the way round by now.

In 1989, the Tories had control again and proposed a so-called ‘balanced’ package of transport measures, which focused on major road building. But this was a major feature of the 1993 election when the transport chief Robert James lost his seat.

Since then, Park and Ride and a shift away from junction capacity to junction safety have characterised the County’s approach. Slow progress on City Centre traffic restrictions, and the notorious Bike Ban were also features.

Now, in 1997, further street closures may not go ahead, at least for the time being, given the early noises coming from the new administration about Bridge Street. On the other hand, the Tory approach to traffic in cities has changed radically at a national level since the damaging 1989 proposals, so we may not have too much to fear – time will tell.

Robert James did not regain his seat, so at the time of writing we don’t know who is in political control of transport at the County. However, Brian Oldridge, road-builder supreme, is long gone as Director, replaced first by Mike Sharpe, and last year Brian Smith. Indeed, the department no longer exists, now being Environment and Transport to reflect the greater emphasis on sustainability. Liaison with district councils is also being revamped at the moment, with a new set of co-operative committees. The removal of Peterborough from the County next year will reinforce Tory control.

One thing is certain. There will not be enough money to make much impact on the problems faced by cyclists in and around the City. Progress is painfully slow.

Dave Earl