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Call for ‘radically improved’ bus services across Cambridgeshire

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The business board of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority says radically improved and more reliable, affordable, frequent, and convenient to use buses are vital.

“Nothing less than an ambition of this scale is required to achieve the outcomes proposed,” says board chair Alex Plant.

His comments form part of the board’s response to the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s ‘Making Connections’ consultation on public transport.

Mr Plant: “We are broadly supportive of the proposals set out in the Making Connections consultation to improve public transport, reduce carbon and congestion, and improve air quality.

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“We are making our submission to the consultation public with the aim of encouraging more businesses across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to find out more about these important proposals and have their say in the limited time remaining.”

The board (effectively the Local Enterprise Partnership for the region) is tasked with supporting the sustainable economic growth of the whole of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Mr Plant referred to the board approval this year of its economic growth strategy with a primary objective “to reduce inequalities between and within our distinctive sub-economies of Greater Cambridge, Greater Peterborough and the Fens”.

It also proposes “driving the jobs, higher wages and greater productivity needed to do so. These core aims have helped guide our Making Connections consultation response”.

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The board describes Greater Cambridge as a jewel in the crown of the UK economy.

“With its unique combination of world class academia, R&D and entrepreneurship, alongside globally renowned science and technology excellence, the sub-region is a crucial part of the country’s existing and future industrial success,” says Mr Plant.

“But the strategy also makes clear the challenges in making its continued growth sustainable.

“A growing population, vastly overheated housing costs coupled with congestion and low public transport connectivity in the travel-to-work-area make it harder for people to access opportunity and enjoy the high quality of life that they could expect from a prosperous economy.

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“This has additional knock-on effects for businesses that are competing globally for the talent they need to thrive.”

The board says pollution, long commuting times and lack of accessibility to opportunity via public transport have now become long-standing issues for Greater Cambridge.

“Following Covid-19, the return to commuting by public transport has lagged behind use of the private car, threatening to push pollution and carbon emissions higher, and air quality lower, unless change is implemented,” says Mr Plant.

“There is also significant appetite in the city and wider region to do more to tackle and mitigate climate change in the area of transport.

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“The pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis threatens to entrench inequalities still further, and the business board is focusing on a lower carbon, fairer and healthier economy as we emerge from these unprecedented economic challenges.”

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He added: “The status quo on transport in Greater Cambridge, and for the wider area, seems to be unviable and a different approach is needed.

“One example of this is the recent removal of vital rural services across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough by a commercial provider suggesting that a radical overhaul of the existing approach is needed.

“This context explains why the business board broadly supports the proposals set out in the Making Connections consultation. The consultation proposes necessarily bold changes in response to the scale of the transport challenges already facing our area, and their negative impacts described above.”

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Mr Plant says the board believes that to achieve the necessary scale of modal shift – reducing the numbers of people using cars by 50% and increasing public transport use by 40% as proposed – requires “an approach that is truly transformative.

“Radically improved buses, which are more reliable, affordable, frequent, convenient to use and accessible to more people and communities is something the Business Board supports.

“Nothing less than an ambition of this scale is required to achieve the outcomes proposed”.

Mr Plant says the board that consideration given in the proposed bus network map to the wider travel to work area, linking more rural parts of East Cambridgeshire, Fenland and Huntingdonshire, is important in the economic growth strategy’s aims to improve connectivity across the geography, to reduce inequalities and improve access to employment, education, and leisure opportunities within and between the region’s sub-economies.

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He said it also supports the proposed active travel improvements, building on what is already a strong base in the city and which needs to benefit the wider area.

“It also supports the objectives of lower carbon emissions, better health and wellbeing, better air quality and improving the quality of life that should come from the additional future prosperity generated by the city and region,” he said.

However, whilst supportive of the proposals, Mr Plant says the business board has set out several key matters for closer consideration:

  • It is essential that a radically improved public transport system be implemented before any charge is introduced to help pay for its costs.
  • The Business Board sees this phased approach as a critical element of the proposals: a much-improved alternative public transport option should be in place before a charge is introduced, and more detail on the precise commitments that are being made here should be part of any next steps for the proposals.
  • Given the immediate scale of the congestion and connectivity challenge, the implementation of better bus services quickly is strongly encouraged, as they will take time to establish at the level of the ambition described.
  • The Making Connections work should be developed closely with the Mayor’s proposals to explore bus franchising within the region, as part of a regional integrated transport approach which also takes forward further enhancements to cycling and walking provision within and beyond the Greater Cambridge area.
  • This integrated approach is vital when considering the whole of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and the particular benefits of a joined-up transport system that better links our market towns and villages.
  • The Business Board would also urge the GCP to refine the proposals and consider the precise mode of operation, particularly to address the case of those living within the zone and needing to drive to leave the zone for work purposes.
  • Where movements are away from the city, they contribute less to the most acute congestion problems that the charge is designed to address. These journeys, particularly if for certain work purposes, may also have less viable alternatives in terms of public transport and so some mitigation may be necessary.
  • The expected significant feedback to this consultation, including on the matter of the precise implementation of the Sustainable Travel Zone and associated charging should be very informative of how best to develop the proposals further.
  • It is vital that a two-way flow of information between the public and other stakeholders continues to develop the proposals in a way which is sensitive to local need.

“As well as broadly supporting these proposals, the board would like to thank the GCP for engaging with us directly as part of this consultation,” said Mr Plant.

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FACT FILE

The business board works with businesses, education, and local authority partners to drive economic growth, secure inward investment, improve skills, and protect and create jobs across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The board is made up of people with a wealth of experience from a variety of industry sectors and uses this expertise to advise the Combined Authority Board in its decision making

 

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