Betjeman House redevelopment threatens cycle route

This article was published in 2006, in Newsletter 64.

A planning application has been submitted for the redevelopment of the Betjeman House site, fronting Hills Road. It lies alongside the boundary with the Botanic Garden, on the opposite side of the road from the junction with Station Road. It involves the demolition of almost all the existing buildings on the site, although the frontage of the Flying Pig public house may be retained.

The whole area behind the Flying Pig and the Ashwell building is proposed for redevelopment. The war memorial would be moved.
Image as described adjacent

The development is massive and includes a tall office building, shops, a restaurant, a public house and 188 dwellings. An underground car park is to be constructed beneath the entire land area of the site. The on-site development is intricately linked with the relocation of the War Memorial from the centre of the road junction adjacent to the site to a new public square just north of the development and with the consequent remodelling of the junction and the roads leading into it using designs prepared by the developers. The site plans cannot be assessed without at the same time examining in detail the options for the road junction submitted with the planning application. The Campaign has submitted a formal objection to the application on the grounds that it makes inappropriate and insufficient provision for cyclists and cycling.

In summary our main objections are listed below. Those interested in the detail should refer to our letter of objection.

  1. On-site cycle parking is not given sufficient space and is not sufficiently accessible.

  2. The exceptionally large numbers of cyclists using the cycle routes which pass through the road junction and their space requirements are entirely ignored in the calculations of the capacity of the junction.

  3. We particularly object to the arbitrary and unjustifiable removal of the length of mandatory cycle lane which runs through the junction and is used by northbound cyclists. This length of lane is removed in both proposed options for the junction.

  4. The carriageway outside the proposed development is too narrow to accommodate an adequately wide mandatory cycle lane and adequately wide northbound and southbound traffic lanes. The Hills Road frontage of the proposed development needs to be set back by some two metres.

  5. We object to the proposed large on-road island at the exit from the junction for northbound cyclists which would create an oppressive and dangerous pinch point. This island is present in both proposed options for the junction.

  6. The main access to the site is too narrow, and fails to provide a footway to keep pedestrians segregated from cyclists and motor vehicles. More important still, the visibility sight lines for motor vehicles and cyclists entering and leaving the site are unsatisfactory. We are particularly concerned that vehicles leaving the site will endanger cyclists using the mandatory cycle lane which runs past the entrance.

We think that it is extraordinary that the County Council should be considering costly improvements for cyclists on Hills Road bridge while a few hundred metres further along Hills Road a developer is proposing road designs which will, if implemented, seriously damage the same cycling route. This links the city centre with Addenbrooke’s Hospital and is used by more cyclists every day than almost any other cycle route in the UK.

This is a real test for the planning process in Cambridge. We have seen in the case of the Grand Arcade planning applications how inadequate attention to the transport implications of development can lead to insufficient road space being provided for cyclists and pedestrians (in Corn Exchange Street). It is important for the future of cycling in Cambridge that the same should not happen in the present instance. In our letter of objection we have called for both stakeholder and public consultation on the transport issues followed by consideration by the Cambridge Traffic Management Area Joint Committee before this planning application is decided. As yet we have received no response on this crucial issue.

We recommend interested readers with a few hours to spare to read our letter and to go to the Planning Office in the Guildhall where they will be able to view all the documents and to make up their own minds about what they think of the cycling issues raised by this proposed development. Comments would be welcomed.

James Woodburn