After earlier plans for the Cambridge railway station area had the planning application deservedly turned down in 2006, developer Ashwell has now announced a replacement for their ‘CB1’ scheme. There will be a series of new applications over the next few months. The first of these, for outline planning consent, may have been submitted by the time you read this.
The Cycling Campaign has already attended three private consultation meetings with the developers and architects as well as the public exhibitions.
The new plan is similar in concept, but scales down the original aspirations. Heights are lower. Most importantly, car parking for the commercial property and in the station car park will be no more than at present and a substantial amount of the housing will be Anglia Ruskin University student accommodation. They say that Cambridgeshire County Council has agreed with them that there would, as a result, be only a very small increase in the amount of traffic in the area. One of our key objections to the original plans was the impact on cyclists that the massive scale of the proposals would have had because of substantially increased traffic over a wide area. We are very pleased to see that this overwhelming concern has been addressed.
The new proposals still envisage a large piazza in front of the station, covering the whole frontage and what is now the short-term parking area, most of the cycle-parking area and season-ticket holder car park, and Murdoch House (the office block on the corner nearest the station, which would be demolished). More open space and permeability via connecting streets is also now proposed meaning there will be many options for cyclists to approach the station or pass through the area, compared to only two now.
The plan continues to propose access from Hills Road via a new road at the Brooklands Avenue junction for buses and cycles only. The guided busway and cycle track enter at the southern end under Hills Road bridge as before. All the bus stops would still be on the Hills Road side of the station between the (refurbished) Mill buildings and platform 3. In fact the County is constructing this bus station as part of the guided busway scheme, but will involve a turn until the link road is built.
3,000 cycle parking spaces
The station cycle parking is now proposed to occupy nearly the entire lower two floors of the car park building. This extends from where the police station now is, all the way up to the cycle bridge alongside platform 6.
Ashwell have conceded that expansion from 2,000 to 3,000 cycle parking spaces without funding commitment was not realistic and will make space available for 3,000 spaces now. However only a proportion may go in initially – leaving some very tempting space to be taken over for other uses (revenue-raising car parking for example) which we may never see returned. Except for a small amount of long-term disabled parking and a shop fronting the square, the whole of the lower two floors of the parking building will be cycle parking. This looks like about 5,000 square metres of space – to be confirmed – which should indeed be enough.
This seems like a much better arrangement than was previously proposed alongside the bus station and platform 3. Access by bike is from the north near the cycle bridge (on two levels) for those coming from the bridge and Devonshire Road, and from the west near to where the police station and hotel are now, for those coming from Station Road, Tenison Road and Hills Road. Access to the station after you’ve parked your bike is direct onto the square in front of the station.
One/Network Rail want to open up the arches at the front of the station to provide a larger ticket hall and more entrances, so a new entrance will be quite close to the nearest cycle parking, assuming this goes ahead (which is not in Ashwell’s control).
There will also be a significant number of racks in the square to serve the shops and short-term station users: currently around 250 spaces are envisaged (the actual number depends on the mix of shop types around the square). The developer would like to control these spaces so they aren’t taken over by the long-term users, but they have no idea how to do this so far, and apart from having staff on hand to police it, nor have we.
Each of the new or refurbished office blocks should also have an appropriate number of spaces determined by the City Council’s cycle parking standards.
The plan still doesn’t put the long-term station cycle parking in more than one location as we had asked, but the single location is arguably better, and the increase in space is excellent. Because access to both floors is from ground level entrances (this can be achieved because the site slopes slightly), the whole arrangement will be easier to access on a bike and there should be no problem finding a space.
The horizontal layout would mean that as it gets busier, there is further to walk than a many-storied cycle park would have required. The plan will not satisfy those who are adamant that they want the long-term cycle parking immediately outside the station entrance. However, we think that would always have been impossible: 3,000 spaces requires a footprint of 5,000m2 which is much bigger than the proposed square, which of course also has many competing uses.
The developers have accepted our desire that cyclists will be able to cycle more-or-less anywhere in the square, so they will be able to avoid circulating traffic and the bus access road through the square. I have been attending detailed design meetings about the piazza and have been favourably impressed with the ideas so far.
Inevitably, there is still quite a lot of traffic movement in the square. This is concentrated in the north-west corner though, roughly where the second bank of cycle parking and the season-ticket holders’ car park currently are. Here there would be a taxi rank, drop-off circulation space, short-term disabled parking, frontage for a new up-market hotel and shops, and an access road to the car park.
Except for the road running round to the bus stops (which will look very much like the rest of the paving) the remainder of the square (including the area currently occupied by Murdoch House) is landscaped and paved open space. The idea is to use paving and surface texture to make the space in front of the station feel like a pedestrian-dominated area in which other vehicles are necessary but secondary.
The wider site
The buildings have much more space between them than before. In particular cyclists coming from Hills Road need not go across the front of the station to get to the cycle park, but can travel through a landscaped park and a side street, crossing Station Road before turning right to the cycle-park entrance.
There are two other north-south roads available. Trumpington cyclists coming off the guided busway path would however still pass through the bus stops and across the station frontage.
Cyclists coming from the north west (Tenison Road) can approach the cycle park on a new road parallel to Station Road if they want. Cars will access the car park from Station Road and alongside the north-west corner of the square (which is also the frontage for hotel and retail units).
Station Road has a 20mph speed limit (excellent), but is plagued with central islands in their plan (anathema). This needs rethinking. No cycle lanes are currently proposed.
A route is preserved under the cycle bridge for access to Network Rail premises and possible future northbound routes (Chisholm Trail/guided busway).
There is still no ramp proposed off the cycle bridge into the station area though. This requires more work. If arrangements on Devonshire Road were better, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but that is outside Ashwell’s control. Indeed most of the flaws in the new plan are in areas where the developer doesn’t have complete control over what happens.