Monster Public Inquiry for Monster Retail Parks

This article was published in 1997, in Newsletter 12.

Early June sees the start of a public inquiry which is expected to last several months. The two proposals for retail parks in the land between the A14 and the present edge of the City, known as the Northern Fringe, would have a big impact on the City, generate car journeys over a wide area and concentrate traffic in the immediate area.

In the red corner (well, off Histon Road and Kings Hedges Road) is Sainsbury’s. They are pushing a ‘quality bus’ service to get a minority of people to and from the site, with improvements to the pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in the area. Nevertheless the majority of people are expected to reach the site by car. The inclusion of a food store, and the location, is at odds with Council studies for the area. A separate application for a leisure centre right next door is not being considered at the same inquiry.

In the blue corner (on land off Milton Road, now occupied by the sewage works and Chesterton railway sidings) is Anglian Water and Railtrack, who promise a rail and bus station, a cycle bridge over the A14 and a new high-tech sewage works to replace the existing one. The development would be more mixed, but still include a vast area of shopping. Road access would be separate from the existing junction, meaning slightly less local impact.

So, what does this have to do with cycling?

Firstly, apart from the few who live in the area around the new development, it is likely to limit choice for cyclists. Many small businesses are likely to suffer, and quite likely City Centre businesses may close. Some stores might choose to move out of town, making them much less accessible for cyclists. (Robert Sayle seems to be having second thoughts about its desire to do this, and a recent study for the City Council puts much more emphasis on the City Centre).

Secondly, the extra traffic in the area will undoubtedly inconvenience cyclists and make the roads in the area less safe.

Thirdly, the fundamental car-borne nature of these parks (despite the cosmetic sops to other modes) leads to ever increasing car dominance in society, which means cyclists suffer more generally in the long term.

On the other hand, both proposals do offer some direct infrastructure for cyclists. This hardly compensates for the bad effect of the additional traffic, though. The Sainsbury proposal focuses on getting cyclists to and from the development, rather than on the ability to avoid it.

Both parties are now offering cycle bridges over the A14. We don’t know the details of the Railtrack one, but we have just had sight of the Sainsbury plans, which are quite new. And they are crazy! You can see from the plan of the A14 junction (the stores are off the bottom right) that what is proposed is a bridge in the middle of the existing roundabout. This means that cyclists would have to cross not only the slip roads as they do now, but also the main flow of the roundabout.

HistonJunction.gif (81k)

The junction would be signal controlled, but they are proposing to widen the roads to three lanes in most places, so you would have to cross between ten and twelve lanes of traffic to get across, and be guaranteed to have two red lights against you, often more. It is a very expensive white elephant. The only improvement on the existing abysmal arrangement is that all four crossings you have to make are light controlled, where on the present route one of the two would not be. The only satisfactory solution (whether a development is allowed or not) is not to mix cyclists with the traffic at all at such a busy junction, which effectively means bridging or tunnelling along the line of the old road west of the roundabout.

We objected to the original proposal for the general reasons given above, but now need to respond to this silly suggestion, which, in my opinion, demonstrates a total lack of understanding of cyclists’ needs.

Dave Earl