£15 million for transport in Cambridgeshire

‘There does need to be a further development of public transport provision with the operators.’

Just before Christmas, Government funding allocations for the first full Local Transport Plans were announced. Cambridgeshire has been awarded a little over £15 million, of which £8.1 million is for ‘integrated transport’ (for the whole county) and the rest for maintenance and upgrading bridges to carry heavier lorries. Because the Plan is for five years, the Government has also suggested what we might expect for ‘integrated transport’ over the next four years, namely: £7.2m, £7.3m, £8.0m and £8.2m.

What does this mean in practice? As the money available has nearly doubled from previous years, more of the Plan can be implemented. But, interestingly, in the future fewer people will be deciding on how to spend it. This is because of organisational changes within Councils. The County will have cabinet style government. Committees will be a thing of the past. Let us hope that consultation, much improved in the last few years, is maintained.

Park & Ride development is the key plank in the County Council’s strategy for the Cambridge area. Funding will allow the 1,000 space Trumpington site and associated changes in Trumpington Road to proceed this year. These changes have a direct impact on cyclists – mostly for the good, we hope – as Jim Chisholm discusses in his article.

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Cambridge – ‘under tremendous pressure’

Many advocates of sustainable transport have criticised the emphasis on Park & Ride as detrimental to other public transport (and indeed, since so much of the money is tied up in it, possibly as detrimental to cycling too). The Government Office for the East of England appears to have noticed that public transport, other than Park & Ride, does not figure much in the County Council’s Plan. To quote them:

In the annual report we want to see a much firmer programme drawn up based on the allocations we have made. In particular there does need to be a further development of public transport provision with the operators.

and

You need to work with the Strategic Rail Authority etc. to develop a rail strategy for the Cambridge area.

In fact, they bemoan the lack of a rail strategy twice in the letter.

Recognising the focus of the Plan for Cambridge, they also said more positively:

Many of your strategies such as park and ride, the central core and cycling networks should benefit considerably from the investment.

Two major schemes are considered in the Plan and in the Government’s response. One of them, the Fordham by-pass near Newmarket, was pretty much certain to be approved.

The issue of the St Ives line, however, continues to drag on. The competing options of guided bus, light rail and heavy rail, maybe with a cycle track alongside, are complicated further by the Cambridge to Huntingdon corridor study which has proposed new roads to relieve the A14. On top of that the Government Office in its response says they have not yet been provided with the right information for deciding on whether to fund a scheme here or not.

Feather in our cap

The Government Office is complimentary about the way in which transport in Cambridge – ‘under tremendous pressure for further high tech development of national importance and claims to need significant transport investment to maintain competitiveness in a sustainable manner’ – has been handled:

The work done … has been a significant success in a difficult area and we are pleased to see the enthusiastic approach that you and partners have taken to green travel through the travel to work club and other initiatives.

As one of the partners in Travel for Work, the ‘club’ they refer to, we can take a little bit of credit here.

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Park & Ride is at the heart of the Cambridge area’s strategy

Parking Levy

One of the changes heralded by the Integrated Transport white paper a couple of years ago has now become law in the 2000 Transport Act. This allows Councils to raise funds and, at the same time, to put a brake on traffic increases, either by taxing workplace car parking, or by introducing charges for using urban roads.

Cambridgeshire has expressed interest in the workplace parking levy method, and the Government response to the Plan welcomes this:

Ministers have recognised your readiness to explore the scope for advancing modal shift through the use of workplace parking levy powers contained in the Transport Act 2000. There is significant potential in the new powers and Ministers look forward to your continuing participation in the Charging Development Partnership.

It seems quite likely that Cambridgeshire will be selected for a pilot scheme, provided councillors keep their nerve and continue to go with it. Strangely, the Cambridge Evening News ran a prominent article recently trying to scare people about road tolls. This is very odd since the County Council expressed a preference for the workplace parking levy method very early on in the process. Given that News editorials on non-car transport spending announcements are usually along the lines of ‘good, but we mustn’t forget the poor motorist…’, we can expect more scare stories about ‘hitting motorists pockets’ as this subject comes up in the future.

Reductions, or at least smaller increases in traffic, are likely to be one of the best measures to help cyclists. It is to be hoped that this initiative would have such an effect.

However, the Local Transport Plan settlement has nothing to say about specific facilities for cyclists. That is just so much noise in the background, and the settlement does not commit the County Council to spending the money on specific items. There is more money, so we should see more done. But whether it is in the form of good schemes like that along Barton Road, or more rubbish like the recent work in Newmarket Road, remains to be seen.

David Earl