Construction of the new North Cambridge station is well underway, and it is expected to open in May 2017. The Cambridge News has today published comments from me, Cambridge City Council leader Lewis Herbert, and Jerry Alderton a director of Railfuture.
I thought I’d publish my extended thoughts here:
The new station will be improve the travel options for those visiting and working for the organisations on the Science and Business parks, and those living in North Cambridge.
One of the big effects will be increasing the area within which its practical, convenient and pleasurable to commute in to work in the science, innovation and business parks. People will have a wider choice of homes, and may be able to choose a cheaper, or larger option – maybe both. The thousands of new homes planned for Waterbeach will become particularly well connected to the centre of employment. The train will offer a more consistent travel time than travel by cars and buses on roads which get congested.
The impact of the new station will be subject to timetabling, trains need to stop there for the full benefits to be realised. Recently we’ve had confirmation that the new station is to be served, from its opening day in May, by trains serving a wide variety of routes. The new station should reduce the need for people to travel from the north of the city to the central station on the roads, reducing the pressure on congestion. Particularly when we’ve got another new station at Addenbrookes using the train to get from one part of Cambridge to another might well become common – so long as it’s affordable.
Residents of North Cambridge will get to enjoy even better access to London and other destinations – with the added bonus of being able to get on London bound trains, and get a seat, before they reach Cambridge station, from where they are often crowded at peak times. Taking people travelling between north Cambridge and the central station off the city’s roads should help keep traffic congestion in check.
The station is being built in advance of the construction of thousands of new homes at Northstowe as well as Waterbeach. If changing from the guided bus to the train is made as easy and attractive as possible, with co-ordinated ticketing, and routing buses via the station, we may see people travelling from Northstowe opting to take the train rather than sit on buses in traffic on Milton Road, meaning fewer buses need to be on the roads.
There may well be parking issues accompanying the opening of the new station.
Local councillors should be drawing up plans to deal with any commuter parking on residential streets which has an unreasonable impact on those living there. We don’t know yet exactly which areas will be affected, any restrictions should only be imposed where they become necessary. Parking restrictions should be kept to the minimum practical to tackle the problem – such as requiring residents’ permits, or a pay and display ticket purchased after 10am, to park from 2-3pm.
Making cycling to the station a safe attractive option, including by turning a disused rail maintenance track from Milton Road into a dedicated cycle track from Milton Road, linking to the new bridge of the River Cam, and ensuring the cycle routes are well lit could help reduce demand for parking.
The price of parking at the station, and the number of spaces available, might need to be optimised; excessive charges, or too few spaces, could encourage parking on neighbouring streets.
This is not just about a new station, but a new quarter of the city with homes and shops, and hopefully other businesses, services and employers too. Those living and working in the area will, I expect, soon benefit from a wider range of shops, restaurants, and more.
Something which will need to be properly tackled though is the smell in the area. Things have improved in recent years following improvements at the sewage works and recently there has been quite a debate about exactly where the remaining smells come from, and how much is due to the sewage works, or if the landfill or lakes are sometimes responsible. The area won’t be a pleasant place to live and work if its smelly; the development of the area will surely provide an incentive to investigate and address the pong, though really councillors should have made fully understanding and eliminating the smell a prerequisite for permitting the development.
I expect the opening of the new station to prompt a significant change to this part of North Cambridge; we could later see a bridge over the railway providing even better access to the station from both sides of the tracks; and enabling the level crossing on Fen Road to be closed. Commercial traffic could be routed away from the residential roads of East Chesterton.
We’re about to see improvements to the connection between the Science and Business Parks and the A14. I’ve suggested that the planned remodelling of Milton Road extends to tackling the junctions for the science, business and innovation parks to improve traffic flow and improve cycle safety.
Communication with local residents during the planning and construction of the new station has been patchy. When Network Rail were leading the project there were a series of local public meetings during which environmental and access matters were discussed. (Lizards were one of the key matters discussed).
I think our local councillors should have kept the communication going, either through dedicated meetings, getting material online, or using the existing North Area Committee. I would like to see a local public forum for discussing the parking and access provisions, the emerging timetable, integration with bus services, compliance with the planning conditions, and other matters that arise.