Northstowe objections

This article was published in 2008, in Newsletter 78.

The Campaign sent its formal objection letter to the Northstowe planning application to South Cambridgeshire District Council at the end of March 2008. At the outset we made it clear that the new development was a blank canvas where the highest standards of sustainable transport could be achieved – equal to those in Holland and Denmark. We recommended new guidance in Manual for Streets as a starting point for effective road design.

Map of Northstowe

Map base from CCbySA2.0 – some rights reserved

These are the main points we raised:

How could we judge the proposed infrastructure when the planning application only gave details of provision for motor vehicles but not for pedestrians and cyclists?

We had to do a lot of filling in the gaps.

So we recommended that the proposed network of off-road cycle routes within the town be a minimum of 3m wide, segregated and unobstructed; and on- and off-road cyclists should have priority at all side or minor roads over road traffic. Toucan, or other cycle, crossings should be designed as single-stage with built-in detectors. On-road cycle lanes must be red-surfaced and have a minimum of 2m width.

The internal road network should avoid guard rails, roundabouts, fast left-filter lanes and wide splays at side roads. Any on-road build-outs must have proper cycle bypasses or be designed so that cyclists have no directional deflection, with parking restrictions in the immediate area. Lay-bys should be the norm at bus stops and for car parking.

There should be 2-3 m wide ‘hybrid’ cycle lanes, rather than bi-directional off-road paths, along Runway Boulevard (the main southern access road) and on the Primary and Secondary road network.

The planning application proposed ‘a 30 mph speed limit although the majority of roads will be designed so that speeds are controlled to 20 mph’ (7.4.10 Transport Assessment or TA). We acknowledged that road design can reduce speeds, but it needed to be reinforced by a legally-defined 20 mph limit. We also supported the extensive use of Home Zones where speeds would be lower still.

Northstowe will contain many blocks of apartments and mews/terraced houses so residential cycle parking should be based on one cycle per bedroom, and be secure and easily accessible. Work, school, retail and leisure cycle parking should also be close to main entrances.

We criticised the 4000 Town Centre car parking spaces which seemed excessive for a ‘sustainable’ town of 9500 dwellings, especially if elsewhere on site, car parking would be up to South Cambs’ maximum standards. Why were there to be regular reviews of car parking (flexible multi-storey, surface and on-street to which ‘additional parking can be introduced’ (7.5.19 TA)), but none promised for cycle parking, despite being set at South Cambs’s minimum level?

We questioned the low prediction of cycle use (4.5%) when compared to that of Cambridge (28.3%) and the assumption that 5 km is the maximum distance that people are prepared to cycle when recent Travel for Work statistics show 22% of commuter cycle trips are over 5 km. The Guided Busway (CGB) maintenance track is an important part of Northstowe’s off-site cycling strategy but agreement has still not been reached on an improved surface. Without a smooth all-weather tarmac surface, particularly in the section between the B1050 and Park Lane, Histon, this route will never reach its potential as a high-quality commuter route for cyclists.

Commerce and employment must be established early on in the new town if the predicted number of residents is going to be working there. The pressure on the surrounding road network could be overwhelming if more housing and less employment were to be available in Northstowe than originally predicted.

We expressed our concern that funding for mitigating traffic impacts will be found for locations where it is at its worst, but there’ll be little left over for areas where it is harder to ‘prove’ the Northstowe effect.

The Transport Assessment made many assertions about the high standard of existing cycling provision that were just not credible: it stated that the shared-use foot/cycleway between Oakington and Girton (part of National Cycle Route 51) provides ‘a high quality cycle experience’ (4.2.34 TA), yet at between 1.4 m and 1.8 m wide it falls well below minimum guidance standards. And by suggesting an upgrade of parts of it to 1.8 m width, it would remain so.

No details are included of the Longstanton to Bar Hill off-road cycleway yet the TA states it should be a priority for the first Northstowe residents.

The other proposals for new or improved cycling infrastructure in the surrounding villages are either misguided or inadequate, especially when considered alongside increased road traffic. For example, the proposal for a substandard, shared-use foot/cycleway between Oakington and Cottenham is completely unacceptable given the very high vehicle speeds right next to it.

The early years of construction present particular difficulties: we expressed our concern, for instance, that cyclists coming from Longstanton, Willingham and further north should not have their cycling routes towards Cambridge cut off and there should be safe provision for crossing the main access roads. The proposal to build the northern section of Northstowe first would mean residents crossing a building site to access Town Centre amenities in the southern section. The effectiveness of sustainable travel plans would be severely undermined by such hostile conditions.

South Cambridgeshire District Council has issued a response, and the County Council a draft response, to the Northstowe planning application – both are highly critical and often identical in their comments. And much of what they say is in keeping with Campaign policy!

The County Council does not believe ‘the Master Plan will encourage cycling as a primary mode of transport for journeys within Northstowe’; and goes on to suggests a strategy of indirect routing for cars.

S Cambs and the County both state the need for more North-South linkages in the first few years and ‘a clear cycle strategy needs to be produced indicating how non-motorised users will have priority within the town’. There should be segregated cycle routes to all key land uses, single-stage crossings and no guard rails. The County even goes as far as proposing hybrid cycle lanes with enhanced physical segregation. They both assert that cycle parking should be based on one space per bedroom, and car parking levels should be more ‘challenging’ to deter car use. Secure cycle parking should be located at all five CGB stops in the town.

S Cambs and the County believe a 20 mph speed limit should be investigated ‘to evaluate its enforceability and practicality for Northstowe’.

S Cambs asserts that ‘prioritisation needs to be carried out on the potential value of linkages proposed’ to the surrounding area. It recommends a new cycleway along Wilson Road and a cycle bridge over the A14 to Bar Hill. It requests more details of the Hatton’s Road cycle path and questions how NCR51 will cross three 60 mph roads. It criticises the lack of detail for the proposed cycle/foot link to Willingham and the overstating of the quality of the Oakington/Girton/Histon shared-use path. If the GADG bid for a proper CGB track surface fails, then alternative funding must be found; it is far from clear in any case whether the Cycle Audit, which stresses the value of this route, includes an upgraded surface or not.

Like the Campaign, the County believes the modal share figures don’t reflect the ‘potential or ambition’ of cycling that could be achieved. The County thinks a cycling isochrones map should be produced, based on an assumed cycle speed of 25 kph, to highlight the potential for commuting for experienced faster cyclists.

The transport strategy relies heavily on an early A14 upgrade – S Cambs requires a limit on the occupation of dwellings before the completion of the upgrade if no schedule has been agreed. Both say the Transport Assessment is incomplete because key parties have not yet agreed on the trip generation methodology for multi-modal or construction traffic trips.

The County Council finds the lack of reference to climate change in Northstowe’s ‘Vision and Objectives’ (part of the Design and Access Statement) unacceptable and demands a Climate Change Strategy.

Vanessa Kelly