NIAB site – Huntingdon Road to Histon Road

Looking south-west to the site scheduled for development beyond the pylon
Image as described adjacent

This development site, associated with the plant research organisation, the National Institute for Agricultural Botany, stretches east from Huntingdon Road across fields to Histon Road. The outline planning application is for 1,780 dwellings, a primary school, community facilities, and associated infrastructure (roads and cycleways.) A park is proposed for the centre of the development.

We have submitted a formal objection to this planning application. Here is a shortened version of our letter.

Our main points

We welcome very strongly the idea of 2 m-wide, on-road, hybrid cycle lanes on the site access roads at each end of the development, particularly for their continuity of priority across side roads.

When entering the site from Cambridge Road (northern end of Histon Road), the cycle lane appears to end before the 20 mph limit begins; we believe that the lower speed limit should apply from well before where the lane ends, so that motor vehicles have slowed down before they encounter on-road cyclists. In our opinion, the 20 mph limit should apply right back to the junction with Cambridge Road.

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Image as described adjacent

While the Huntingdon Road junction provides fairly well for cyclists, especially southbound cyclists not entering the site, the Cambridge Road junction is very complicated. We welcome the provision of advanced stop lines (ASLs) for cyclists at most of the traffic signals, particularly on the right turns. However, we would like to see an access lane to the two-lane-wide ASL on the northbound side of Cambridge Road (immediately before the site access road) in both the inner (left-hand) and the outer (right-hand) lanes; this will be necessary for on-road cyclists to safely access the right-turn lane into Kings Hedges Road. We also have concerns about the complexity of the junction, particularly its multi-lane nature, its proximity to the Kings Hedges Road junction and the fact that the speed limit here is 40 mph. We believe this should be reduced to 30 mph throughout the junction. We also wonder whether a four-way signal-controlled crossroads might be a better solution as it would reduce the complexity of the junction.

Routes through the site

The City Council’s Local Plan Policy 8/11 calls for restriction of through access for motor traffic, but the plans do not appear to do this. We note that the plan refers to a ‘sinuous orbital route’ to attempt to discourage through traffic, but the plans show a through route which has a long, relatively straight section which will not help to keep traffic speeds down and is unlikely to have the effect of reducing rat-running, with the attendant hazards for cyclists and pedestrians. Any through route should have multiple junctions with give-way signs to discourage rat-running; or better still, through access should be restricted to buses, cyclists and pedestrians by using rising bollards or some similar method.

We need to be certain that the segregated pedestrian routes to Brownlow Road, Blackhall Road and towards Tavistock Road will in fact provide cycle access, as stated in the text, and will conform to government guidance in relation to width, and other details.

The Design & Access statement illustrates the layout of the cycle and pedestrian access from Windsor Road. This route contains a number of right-angled turns around a green area. This is not conducive to safe or comfortable cycling, and should be replaced by a straight path keeping cyclists away from house entrances or by curved paths.

Not a Home Zone

We are concerned that the reference to ‘Home Zones’ in the planning documentation is misleading, in that it does not refer to what is considered to be a Home Zone in the generally accepted usage of the term. Generally, a Home Zone is an area with no footway, but instead a paved area that is used by pedestrians, cyclists and (slow moving) motor vehicles. However, the example shown is of residential shared space which looks like a conventional street with a 2.5 m footway and a 5.5 m carriageway for both cycles and motor vehicles. We do not believe this constitutes a Home Zone.

Not enough cycle parking

Cycle parking is proposed at the rate of one space per residential unit. This does not accord with the City’s cycle parking standards which require one space per bedroom for dwellings of up to three bedrooms, three spaces for four bedroom dwellings, and four spaces for five bedroom dwellings plus ‘some level of visitor cycle parking, in particular for large housing developments’. As this is without doubt a large development, and makes claims to being highly sustainable, the City standards must be enforced, and there is a case for arguing that they should be exceeded. In addition, the cycle parking should be located close to the entrance of the dwellings it serves, and must be of good quality and secure. As we outline in Section 2.6 of the Cambridge Cycle Parking Guide, we feel that 25% of the provision should be in higher-security locked compounds, and the rest in covered on-street (or near-door) Sheffield-stand provision. Orchard Park shows what happens when insufficient cycle parking is provided: cycles are chained up wherever space can be found, for instance against railings.

No trips over three miles

Section 9 of the Traffic Assessment (TA) looks at the assignment of trips to modes of transport. It assumes that no trips over three miles in distance will be undertaken by cycle; this is an entirely unreasonable assumption in a city like Cambridge, with 26% of commuter journeys by cycle and a generally flat topography. The TA also states that ‘Bar Hill rates are used historically by the County Council’, but Bar Hill is a motor-centric development, with no suitable cycle routes out of the village and too far from neighbouring settlements for walking. Such rates are likely to over-estimate motor traffic, so that estimates described as ‘robust’ are produced. On the other hand, cycling rates appear to have been reduced to make them ‘realistic’ because they came out too high. The figures for car drivers from NIAB are very similar to those for Orchard Park, yet no-one would claim that Orchard Park is a triumph of sustainable travel. This seems to indicate a level of defeatism in terms of creating a model development with sustainable travel.

Much is made in the TA of the School Travel Plan for primary children on the site. However, no secondary school is to be provided, so 11-16+ year olds will have to travel to Impington Village College (IVC), or Chesterton or Manor Community Colleges. Although there is off-road provision for cycling much of the way to IVC, the route involves crossing the A14 slip roads which have no signal control. An alternative route should be created using the NIAB accommodation bridge to the west of the A14/B1049 junction; we recognise that this land is outside the site and that NIAB have security concerns about the provision of such a route, but we believe that further work and discussion are required to find a solution. There are no identified off-road cycle routes to the other two secondary schools; the developers should be required to consider this point, as there is likely to be a significant number of school-age children in a development of this size.

The revised plans show the bus stops on Cambridge Road as now being in the single lane part of the road, within the current 40 mph limit. This will lead to cyclists and motor vehicles pulling out to pass stationary buses in a narrow stretch of road; in the southbound case, just after cyclists have joined the road, and in the northbound case, just before a toucan crossing. Further consideration should be given to these bus stops; for example, the northbound stop could be moved to north of the toucan crossing and perhaps into a lay-by (as elsewhere on Histon Road). This also further supports the case for extending the urban 30 mph limit.

It is essential that there should be easy access from the development to the orbital cycleway and footpath, to avoid long detours for residents to access them. Lack of direct access will act as a disincentive to cycling and walking. The plans seem to suggest that there will only be one access point from the development to the orbital cycleway, and only a further two access points to the footpath.

No details are given for the lighting of the orbital cycle route. As it runs around the perimeter of the site, some attention should be given to the issue of safety, both in terms of navigation and security. We recognise that this route is essentially on the edge of the city, but a cycleway that is not safe to use at night does not contribute to sustainability.

Noting the City Council’s Local Plan Policies 8/4(a) and 9/8 which require cycling and walking priority over cars and priority for cycling and walking links between Histon Road and Huntingdon Road, respectively, we would like to see the toucan crossing where the orbital cycleway crosses the site access road from Cambridge Road set so that pedestrians and cyclists have priority here.

We are pleased to see the use of single-stage crossings without pedestrian cages on the access roads to the site; were any two-stage crossings or guard-railing to be proposed, we would object, as that would fail to be in line with the Manual For Streets, the relevant government guidance in this case.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we do not believe that as much has been done to benefit cyclists (and pedestrians) as would be expected from a development that claims, in para 12.1.1 of the Transport Assessment, to be a ‘high quality sustainable new urban extension to the City’. We would welcome an opportunity to discuss the various suggestions we have made with the developers of this site. We would much prefer for an agreed scheme to go before the Planning Committee rather than a controversial one to which we would have to object.

Chris Dorling