Cycling to the Station

Our Assessment of the Latest Proposals for the Development of the Station Area.

The area around Cambridge railway station is to be redeveloped and this is likely to happen soon. A Planning Application for a massive development to cost £725 million was recently submitted to Cambridge City Council by the Ashwell Property Group. This dramatic proposal has huge implications for everyone in Cambridge, and whatever happens is likely to be much discussed and argued over in the coming years.

As individuals, many of us will have strong feelings about the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal as a whole, but as a Cycling Campaign we need to focus more narrowly on its implications for cyclists and cycling. It will, we believe, have major implications. The station is probably the most important destination for cyclists in Cambridge. Since Cambridge has more cyclists than anywhere else in the UK, it is probably the most important destination for cyclists in the UK. We must do whatever we can to try to ensure that the scheme which emerges from the planning process is cycle-friendly and encourages cyclists of all types to cycle to the station.

To understand Cambridge City Council’s view of appropriate development for the station area, the Ashwell scheme and the Campaign’s assessment of the cycling issues involves a lot of reading. But the information is readily available on the internet and we urge those who cycle to the station to read as much as they can manage. The key documents are:

In general terms we consider the framework set out in the City Council’s Planning Brief to be reasonable. Our opinion of the Ashwell proposals is quite different. In our formal objection we summarized our assessment as follows:

We expressed doubts about whether 2000 cycle parking spaces could actually be accommodated in the area allocated for the station cycle park.
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  1. Traffic generation: The scale of the development is so large, and so far beyond City Council policy – which recognises development in the area is traffic-constrained – that it will have major detrimental effects on the safety and convenience of cyclists across a wide area of southern Cambridge. This will be the case whether or not they are using the new development, because of the large amount of additional motor traffic it will generate. The planning application should be rejected completely because of this.
  2. Traffic movements: We understand that though this is an outline planning application, should the application be approved, all access matters will be determined at this stage (Letter accompanying application from R.N.Dowle, December 15, 2005: ‘As an outline planning application all matters of detail are reserved for subsequent approval except for the means of access’). Therefore we request a number of planning conditions be imposed on the developer regarding access for cycles around the site to ensure that those items they propose are indeed adhered to, and those they do not include now are not overlooked later.
  3. Cycle parking: While we welcome the major improvements to cycle parking proposed in the plan, it is clear that insufficient space has been allowed for the numbers of spaces either proposed or required under City Council policy.
  4. Construction: Cambridge Station will continue to be a major transport interchange during construction. Therefore we consider planning conditions are required to maintain access and parking for cyclists during the extended construction period.

Two major public meetings organised by Cambridge City Council have recently been held to discuss the Ashwell proposals. The Campaign petitioned the Council requesting a platform speaker to put the Campaign’s case at both meetings. (Very many thanks to our many members and others who signed the petition.) We were refused a platform speaker at the first meeting but allowed one at the second.

At the first meeting, described as a Public Forum and attended by 200-250 members of the public, Ashwell put their case. Spokesmen for local Residents’ Associations explained their opposition which focused on the excessive scale of the development, the likelihood of severe traffic congestion (and the inaccuracy of Ashwell’s traffic assessments), the inadequacy of provision for the transport interchange function of the station, the failure to meet the city’s open space requirements and the poor provision of community facilities. What was remarkable about the discussion which followed was that not a single member of the large and vocal audience gave any support to Ashwell’s proposals.

The second meeting was a Development Control Forum, a formal part of the planning process and subject to legally defined rules which precluded audience participation. The Ashwell team had twenty minutes to make their case. Opponents who had petitioned for a hearing had a total of twenty minutes. The Residents’ Associations were allocated two-thirds of this and I, representing the Cycling Campaign, was allocated one-third. We had cooperated with the Residents’ Associations in drawing up questions on specific deficiencies in the planning application. These were sent to the Ashwell team before the meeting.

When the meeting started the Ashwell team surprised those present by telling us that City Council officials had informed them that they would not accept amendments to the application and would recommend the Councillors who constitute the Planning Committee to reject the application. It is very unusual for this to be stated so much earlier than the decision-making meeting (which is to be held on 5 April) and the inference to be drawn presumably is that council officials are particularly strongly opposed to the application. The Chairman and Members of the Planning Committee were not aware of this recommendation until the Ashwell team revealed it and went out of their way to stress that they are not bound to follow the recommendation of their officials. However, the most likely outcome on 5 April is that they will follow the recommendation and reject the application.

In responding to questions put by the Residents’ Associations and ourselves the Ashwell representatives acknowledged a number of significant errors and deficiencies in their Transport Assessment but said that because reviewing the Assessment would make no difference to the current application, they would limit their comments.

In our questions and comments we stressed three issues:

Access to the area and routes within it

Whatever happens to the present planning application it seems certain that there will be a new way into the station area for buses and cycle only from the Brooklands Avenue junction with Hills Road.
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The site as a whole should be fully permeable by cyclists. Routes to be used should be coherent, continuous, as direct as possible and should conform to the best available government and other guidance in relation to widths, gradients, junction treatments, visibility splays, bend radii and so on. Route design should minimise conflict between cyclists and both motor vehicles and pedestrians. The application in general fails to provide the necessary data to judge whether cycle routes do or do not conform to these recognised standards. The data in the Transport Assessment about on-site cycle routes is sketchy and defective. Where the data in the Transport Assessment is specific, in a number of instances it fails to take account of recognised standards. The Ashwell team argued that much of what we were asking for was detail which was inappropriate for an outline planning application in which it is sufficient to show that access is feasible. The difficulty with Ashwell’s argument is that, if the outline application is approved, it may become impossible to design good-quality routes to recognised standards later. However, they did say that they want to work with us to develop what they had presented.

Cycle parking

We asked for a clear commitment that the proposed station cycle park with 2000 spaces, expandable to 3000, was intended strictly for users of the trains and other public transport and not for those living in, employed in or visiting the various buildings to be constructed on the site and that each of these buildings would have its own cycle parking in accordance with the Council’s Cycle Parking Standards. We were very pleased that the Ashwell team confirmed that this would be so. We also expressed doubts about whether 2000 (and eventually 3000) cycle parking spaces could be accommodated in the area allocated for the station cycle park. The Ashwell team stated that the area, layout, operation and means of providing for expansion of the cycle parking building would be determined at the detailed application stage but said that they were happy to work with us on these issues. We remain doubtful about whether there is sufficient commitment to provide fully adequate cycle parking.

Finally, we asked for better data on predicted number of cycle journeys into and through the site. We were told that these were not available. We are concerned that the number of cyclists who will be using the routes is still not properly appreciated.

We believe that what is most likely to happen if the current application is rejected on 5 April is that the Ashwell Property Group will appeal and will at the same time start work on a modified application. They will then at a later stage make up their minds which course of action to pursue. What is certain is that some form of large-scale development of the station area will occur soon. We will try to ensure that it takes proper account of the importance of cycling.

James Woodburn