Cambridge station: third time lucky?

This article was published in 2006, in Newsletter 64.

Redevelopment of the area around Cambridge railway station has been in the air for many years with ‘definite’ proposals and planning briefs shuttling back and forth between developers, the City Council and the rail companies. Now, though, it looks like something is actually happening. Developers Ashwell held a brief exhibition in November (announced just too late to make our last Newsletter) and have now submitted a massive planning application with a deadline for objections of 10 February. The triangle site between Hills Road and Station Road is, of course, already being redeveloped for housing.

As a key destination for cyclists, both for travel and work, and as a through route as part of the Chisholm Trail, the station area is high on our list of interests. Lack of cycle parking has been a constant chorus of complaint over many years. The competing interests of all kinds of transport in such a small area affects cyclists moving around.

The range of buildings by platform 3 might be a new station entrance, adjacent to the new 2000 space cycle park beyond.
Image as described adjacent

Ashwell’s new plan retains the listed station buildings and Spiller’s Mill, and also the current alignment of Station Road, but there is little else that would remain untouched. The site extends along Station Road and includes the Octopus store, all the car parks and the derelict area between the Mill and platform 3. The new buildings are large: higher than development in Cambridge has traditionally been. No doubt many people and groups concerned about the nature of the city and its architecture will be troubled by this. But as a cycling group, we can only deal directly with the impact on cyclists, which boils down to four issues:

  • the role of the area as a transport interchange,
  • the scale of development in so far as extra or inappropriate traffic might be using the area,
  • the way in which cyclists move around the site, and
  • cycle parking.
  • summary, the plans, when published in November, called for
  • a multi-storey car park alongside platform 6
  • flats in the current car park and into the Octopus site
  • an open square immediately outside the station
  • a hotel and conference centre roughly where the bus stops now are
  • demolishing nearly all the existing office blocks along Station Road and replacing them with much larger ones (with shops at ground floor level)
  • shops in all the buildings around the square, including a large shop where the police station now is, extending towards the new car park
  • a museum and County Record office in the refurbished mill tower, and flats in the rest of the building, and new flats alongside it towards Hills Road
  • an entirely new road (for the guided bus, leading out under Hills Road bridge) from where the roundabout is now to the Brooklands Avenue junction with Hills Road. This will also allow general buses, taxis and importantly cycles a new way in and out of the station, and access to an off-road cycle route alongside the guided busway to Long Road and Trumpington
  • a larger set of bus stops would line this road
  • indoor cycle parking extending from the signal box alongside Hills Road bridge up to the existing station buildings by platform 3, with low cost housing above (but see below)
Proposed cycle park and surroundings
Image as described adjacent

In principle there is a lot of good news for cyclists in this. While the location was unacceptable, the plan accepts the need, as given in the City Council’s planning brief, for 2,000 cycle parking spaces expandable to 3,000 in the future; gives a much more satisfactory separation of different kinds of traffic and a considerable short cut from Hills Road. We are assured that the shops, as well as the offices, will have their own cycle parking to the standards required (though given the abysmal way in which this has been suggested at the neighbouring site also being developed by Ashwell near the war memorial – see the article elsewhere in this newsletter – we will need to watch this carefully).

On the other hand the density and scale of the development swamps the area’s primary role as a transport interchange and will undoubtedly generate very large amounts of new traffic (considerable car parking is planned in basements for each of the office blocks – as well as private cycle parking).

Ramps into station proposed by Ashwell
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent

Also, the original plans omitted proper provision for a ramp leading off the cycle bridge towards the station which we fought hard to get included in the planning brief. Access from Devonshire Road for bikes wasn’t very clear. The planning application now submitted proposes two options for a ramp. One is a loop which starts out heading away from the station and goes back under the bridge. The other is straight and runs alongside the car park, but links to the existing suspended structure. The latter is far and away the better. It is direct and stays high up to cross above the car park entrances before descending, but engineering may be difficult. Both options show more direct access to Devonshire Road than presently. [new diagram]

Multi-storey cycle parking at Amsterdam Centraal Station.
Image as described adjacent

The main concern, though, was the location of cycle parking. It was far too far from the station buildings. Following representations, not least from’one’ (the rail operator), a multi-storey cycle park has been proposed, perhaps like the one at Amsterdam Centraal station in the Netherlands, together with a new, additional, closer entrance to the station. This still leaves some doubts about the willingness of cyclists coming from the Devonshire Road end to use the new park, though the added security and convenience should make it popular. The cycle park is still further away from the Station than desirable, partly because of a desire to retain an open view of the mill buildings from the south. It will also be interesting to see how the hundreds of parking spaces required by the shops fronting the square will actually be provided.

This is probably the biggest development Cambridge has seen in many years – bigger than the Grand Arcade now in progress in the centre, and bigger than the Cattle Market site. It could be seven or eight years before it is complete, and will certainly change in many ways during the planning process. Indeed, cynics might say that some of the proposals are made so big and clearly unacceptable in order for the developer to negotiate down to what they actually want.

David Earl