Why City Deal should be paused to prevent widening of inequality in Cambridge

The Cambridge Commons has decided to lobby the City Deal board to “pause” the road works and their infrastructure proposals in the light of crucial evidence given to the government Planning Inspector last week.   The inspector was re-convening the examination of the joint Local Plans of the Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire councils, having so far declined to approve the plans and ordering the two councils to think again.

We believe that it is foolish to go ahead on a “Carry On Regardless”.  We have doubts about the value of clearing the way for more economic growth as the existing high levels of growth have created major inequalities in and around the city, contributing to the massive increases in house prices and rent levels which are socially cleansing the city and then disrupting the work and social lives of displaced inhabitants through chronic congestion when they drive in from villages around Cambridge.

This is a significant moment for the future of “greater” Cambridge. For the plans form the planning base for the City Deal proposals; and if they are unsound, then the City Deal itself will be unsound with consequences for congestion, bus travel, affordable homes and investment.  Cambridge Commons believes the City Deal process should be “paused” to take account of the evidence presented arguing that the Local Plans are flawed.

At the renewed hearing in the South Cambs council chamber, the Inspector heard submissions on two questions:

1. Is the Transport Modelling in the plans sufficiently robust and comprehensive to demonstrate that the plans’ development strategies are, in terms of transport and traffic – and hence for the City Deal – the most appropriate when considered against the reasonable alternatives, based on proportionate evidence?

2. Does their Transport Modelling fully demonstrate that the transport infrastructure necessary to support the Plans’ development strategies – and again, the City Deal – can be delivered satisfactorily and within the required timescales?

The Inspector has already received responses from developers and others arguing that the plans’ development strategies are not “the most appropriate when considered against reasonable alternatives”; and that their modelling does not “fully demonstrate that the transport infrastructure necessary….can be delivered within the required timescale”.  They warned that traffic delays in the sub-region would double at morning and afternoon peak hours even after the City Deal interventions are implemented.

This week planning consultant Leonard Martin appeared alongside developers and local parish councils to argue that the two Local Plans have failed on both counts.  He presented an independent dossier to show that the modelling work done was insufficient and the wrong way round. His case is that the local plans should have started with a full assessment of the transport accessibility of all potential development sites. Instead, they begin by identifying sites for development, and only subsequently address the need to mitigate the transport impact of what is proposed.

In other words, the result of this fudge is that the development cart has been put in front of the transport horse. The local development options taken up by the City Deal are not evidently those that are the most sustainable options; nor are they  supported by proven local sustainable transport capacity – in for example central Cambridge, north east Cambridge and in all urban fringe green belt developments and corridors into the city.

Martin argues, secondly, that the plans as drafted have not identified the “actual and available measure of transport accessibility”. This is a crucial weakness for the City Deal, for it means that it is all but impossible to draft a convincing system for managing congestion. It is not evident that proposals for congestion management by means of the City Deal’s Peak Time Congestion Control Points, or any other alternatives that may be proposed, can achieve what is required, or can be put into practice effectively.

And yet the prospect of “transport congestion gridlock” is imminent in Cambridge’s central station area, and then at Addenbrooke’s. Evidence for sustainable transport capacity is a must, says Martin, in order to manage and maintain control over transport and traffic.  Without that, the City Deal will continue to flounder, because it is failing to achieve public consent for its proposals – and public consent needs, in Martin’s words, “informed, robust and transparent evidence as part of a coherent evidence-led planning, development and development process”.

As Martin said to the inspector, affordable housing means not only lower-cost homes, their new homes must be truly accessible in a pattern of development supported by sustainable transport capacity.  The City Deal is not delivering that. One further point. Martin suggests that the level of investment required to make a success of the City Deal will only be forthcoming if the joint local plans are based on clear evidence that they provide a sustainable future for the Cambridge sub-region.  They do not.

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