Cambridge’s Riverside Promenade

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009. 12:17pm

Riverside Plans - T-AJC April 2009
There are proposals to change Riverside in Cambridge, narrowing the road and building a “promenade”. I made some brief comments in response to plans displayed in the area during May 2008 in which I suggested improved consultation, for flooding / drainage to be taken into account and for a clear cycle-route through the site. I support improving this area, but don’t think we need such an expensive (£500,000 has been mentioned) scheme – achieving so little value for money. The road could be closed, railings painted and the area spruced up for well under a tenth of what it is apparantly proposed to spend. The views, some of which are outlined below, of those who use the area and those who live there need to be taken into account and acted on.

Key Current Points:

  • The East Area committee on the 7th of May 2009 was told nothing has been set in stone – everything is sill up for discussion.
  • Councillors and residents are unhappy with elements of the current proposals, including the location of the cycle route and the siting of trees and benches.

Current proposals were taken to a joint committee of City and County Councillors on the 27th of April 2009. That committee decided to approve the “the advertisement of a traffic regulation order (TRO)” to close the junction between Riverside and Abbey Road. I believe this TRO is currently a proposal which is being advertised in the local press inviting any objections. I don’t think it is available online.

Funding for the work is to be approved by three of Cambridge City’s Area Committees. So far the North Area committee has said it only wants to contribute a 1/3 share on the basis that each committee makes an equal contribution and the West/Central committee wants to contribute less due to it being a committee covering less wards and therefore receiving a smaller budget. Trying to approve the details of this scheme and associated spending at three separate area committees as well as the joint traffic area committee is a tangled mess. Unless a better mechanism is devised those wishing to influence the proposals will have to attend four different committees each of which will consider the proposals a number of times.

I am not aware of any detailed proposals for lighting, tree planting, benches, paving etc. that are publicly available online. I have attended North, West/Central and East Area Committees where the proposals have been discussed and no detailed plans have been available at those. The only detailed plans I have seen made generally publicly available were those posted in the window of the Renault garage on Newmarket road for a few weeks in May 2008. Detailed plans were exhibited to selected local residents on the 6th of May 2009 but these have not been posted online and made publicly available. The image associated with this article is from the report to the Transport Area Joint Committee, it doesn’t contain details of paving, or lighting for example.

I submitted a question to the East Area committee on the 7th of May asking how an exhibition held on the 6th of May had been advertised. I intended to ask why it had not been promoted on the council’s website or at the Area committees where Riverside had been discussed. Cllr Howell asked a similar question so I was not called to speak (I’m also not a resident of the East Area and there were plenty of local residents there!). The answer appears to be that exhibition and consultation generally has been very limited to a small group of Riverside residents. This fails to reflect that those from throughout the city have use this area and have an interest in it.

Discussing Riverside at the East Area Committee

Discussion of Riverside at the East Area committee on the 7th of May 2009 began with Cllr Wright questioning Chris Capps, the County Council’s Head of Transport Asset Management about street lighting. She asked about the process for deciding what type of street lighting will be used on the scheme. Mr Capps said that lighting had to meet certain standards and that he was aware of some issues, a log-jam, at this stage. He explained that the county’s position was that lots of bespoke lights were difficult to maintain and required lots of stocks of spares to be kept. Mr Capps said that there were four options being considered, and that he considered one of them – continuing the type of lights currently on Midsummer Common as not a possibility.

In response to a bit of coaxing from the meeting’s chair, Cllr Blencowe, Mr Capps agreed to investigate what is happening at Riverside.

During the open forum a member of the public, Jane Earlwood who introduced herself as a resident of 23 Riverside first praised the basic aspects of the scheme – closing the end of Abbey Road and thereby making the cycle route safer. However she complained that she was not aware of what was proposed before a recent leaflet had dropped through her door (The council ran some kind of consultation last year, and plans have been approved by the Transport Area Joint Committee already). Councillor Paul Sales spoke at the transport AJC complaining about the consultation and communication.

Jane Earlwood made a substantial contribution to the meeting, her main points were:

  • She was disappointed that cyclists were still sharing road with car drivers and had hoped that the wide promenade would have been divided into areas for cyclists and pedestrians. She added: “I cycle everywhere myself”.
  • On seating she questioned the quantity of seats proposed; she said there were eleven to be located in a small stretch. She said the road connected the two commons, but was not an extension of them. She was not opposed to the odd seat, but didn’t want arrangements which would encourage people picnicking outside the houses. She was also worried that the seating would “attract people at night”.
  • She said the nature of Riverside changed at night when it was not just happy joggers and cyclists, there was she said quite a lot of drug dealing and there was one seat, at the end of Priory Road which resulted in noise nuisance to residents.
  • On trees, she said that the valuable trees to here were those situated on the opposite bank. She was concerned that the proposed trees, as situated, would block views from bedrooms. She said the best views from houses like hers was from the upper floor and said the proposed trees would cut out light.
  • She described the scheme as a whole as a waste of tax payer’s money, especially given that those living at the other end of riverside are crying out for improvements.

Jane Earlwood asked a series of questions:

  • Can Riverside be on the agenda at the next meeting?
  • How much the project is to cost?
  • When is it likely to happen?
  • How much set aside for rest of Riverside?
  • How is judgement made as to if this is money well spent.?
  • Who makes the ultimate decision?

Her contribution ended with her saying that people were emotional and there were two people saying they’d sell their houses if what is proposed goes ahead. She said that she went to the exhibition the day before the meeting and was told about the rights of the bats, she asked: “do we not have rights too? We’re the residents who live there twenty-four hours a day”.

Another Riverside resident made a brief contribution to say that the rowing coaches would never cycle along the road, they’ll cycle along the pavement next to the river as many do at the moment. She said she wasn’t complaining about that, but thought they’d carry on. She added that particularly since Tesco was built the amount of cycle traffic meant Riverside was now an important access route, not a leisure promenade. She thought seats and trees were inappropriate for such a road. She also claimed that new proposals for lamp-posts appeared out of the blue and only people living on Riverside who went of the exhibition were aware of them.

Cllr Bradnack declared an interest as he lives in the area, and said he didn’t take part in the initial decision to go-ahead with the work. He said he would though take his penny-worth now.

He said: “Personally I think the scheme is really naff for the reasons Jane and her neighbour talked about.” Cllr Bradnack said that £500,000 was being spent on an area which doesn’t need prettifying, he was concerned with the proposed trees and lighting and said that there was a lack of separation between cyclists and motor-vehicles which was the original purpose of the work.

On the seats he said that there were already seats on the commons, within 150m, and those were not close to homes. He said while he was happy that the proposals addressed the problem at the corner of Riverside / Abbey Road he was fed up with being misquoted by Mr Isherwood (The City council officer responsible for the scheme) as supporting this scheme. He said that Mr Isherwood was responsible for the current arrangement and that he made a mess of it the last time he did it. It is unusual for councillors to speak about officers in such scathing terms, it indicates there might well be a problem here.

Cllr Bradnack said that he had proposed taking cyclists right along the river edge, with the pedestrians and motor traffic elsewhere. If that was done he claimed there would be no roundabout. He said that his proposal hardly got a look-in at the Traffic Area Joint Committee. He also commented on the benches – saying they needed to be at a reasonable distance from each other and on trees he said he saw no point in the proposed trees, the trees on the opposite side are the amenity. He finished his comments ayding that there was a need to seriously consider for whom the footways are to be provided, he said we don’t get crowds of pedestrians but do get crowds of cyclists and it is the cyclists who will need the space.

Cllr Lynn expressed concern about how the consultation had taken place. She said that the fact there had been an exhibition of just one scheme had made people emotional, feeling they were stuck with something, and described the consultation as: “back-face”.

She asked: “What’s the process?”, saying “There’s no timetable of events?”. She urged “this and other area committees to do proper consultation” and asked “who makes the final judgement?”

Cllr Wright said that she had picked up on two issues which residents raised – trees and benches. She said that benches were a hot topic in many cities, and elsewhere in Cambridge. She said that in one case in Arbury Court someone has dismantled a bench and posted the keys (perhaps she meant screws/bolts?) though the council’s door. She said she had spoken to John Isherwood who had assured her that trees would be placed so that sight lines from the houses were unaffected, she felt that the current process was contorted and residents ought have been asked at the beginning. More positively she reported some liked the scheme, and looked forward to a more pleasant environment, she said that there was “seasonal traffic” to consider as well as cyclists. Cllr Wright agreed that the Stourbridge Common end of riverside also needed improvement saying: “people at the other end do feel miffed the whole thing’s beginning at the other end” and said it was surprising that there is a “new £3 million cycle bridge down to a crap road where railings are not even painted”. She finished by rather exasperatedly saying she hoped her comments were being taken on-board at some level.

Cllr Howell started his contribution to this debate saying: “I’m coming up to speed on this”, he said he had three main concerns:

  • Declaring an interest as an officer of a city rowing club he said: “The design is deeply flawed if cyclists can’t cycle down the river.” He expressed astonishment at the proposals asking “how can anyone who understands the traffic flow on riverside have come up with this”.
  • Cllr Howell again asked the question of who makes the final decision, given it is going to three Area Committees and the Area Traffic Joint Committee. He also said he hadn’t been aware of the exhibition / consultation meeting, though accepted that might have been his fault.
  • Responding to the residents’ and Cllr Bradnack’s questioning of the scheme’s costs Cllr Howell offered an explanation. He said that it related to contributions from developers, Section 106 money, he said: “the council is taking this money and treating it as ‘fairy gold’ which no one has to pay for, the result is grandiose schemes”.

A member of the the public chipped in to say that the Riverside houses were built for gas-works workers, and complained that what’s going on has no connection to the history of the area. She was particularly critical of: “pink brickwork” and asked who had requested the developer contributions.

She was told that money from Tesco to be spent on riverside improvements was asked for by the council’s planning office when the Tesco application approved by the council.

Cllr Blencowe explained that there were two avenues of democratic accountability to take into consideration – the area committees and the transport area joint committee. He said that the consultation had been “better than we envisaged but could be better still” he said that what was being presented was still an initial proposal by WS Atkins and “we need to listen to see if it needs to be improved”. He said that if other committee members agreed, which they did, he would place it as an item on the next agenda.

Another resident spoke to ask that drainage and flooding be properly taken account of, along with solving the problem of a small amount of snow and ice making it difficult to walk/cycle on Riverside.

Cllr Wright responded to say that she had been assured that flooding was “part of the study” and “will be addressed and looked at”. She said Atkins had a deadline for a “design statement” which was the end of the month so that anyone wanting to feed things in could still do so. She and Cllr Blencowe said that nothing, not even the position of the road / cycleway were set in stone, and those who had been told they were and nothing can be done had been mis-informed.

I would concerned if cycling was actively banned on the riverside promenade, if for example there were no-cycling signs there. I would not be opposed to a free-for-all where cyclists can choose to ride on the roadway or on the promenade as is appropriate to their speed / confidence. Cyclists and pedestrians effectively share paths on the adjacent Midsummer and Stourbridge commons so that could work here.

As I understand it advertising a traffic regulation order means a large amount of public money is spent on adverts in the local press yet the cheap and effective option of posting the advert on the City and County websites is not taken up; this is due to primary legislation which I believe needs to be modernised to ensure that all proposed and “made” TROs can be easily found on the appropriate council’s websites.

An interesting aside arising from the recent discussions on punting in the city resulted in the County Council being asked to clarify ownership issues at Riverside. I was surprised that there was any question here as it has always been said categorically that the railings and the river-wall owned by the County Council as the highways authority.

See Also

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s letter (PDF) to the AJC commenting on these plans is available via this link. They have made useful points on removing under used car-parking spaces from under the bridge to provide clear access to the newly proposed cycle route and have worked with officers to improve the route for cyclists. The campaign’s letter offers further input if the plans are modified.

7 comments/updates on “Cambridge’s Riverside Promenade

  1. JonathanW

    Thanks Richard. I attended – albeit briefly – the exhibition (in the Sea Cadets Hall) the other week, as a nearby resident. They seemed deaf to the over-prettification of this short stretch when what’s badly needed is to spread this work out along the whole of Riverside (LED lights! Trees! Brick paving! Water-blasted road treatments! Granive board-walk like paving!). Cllr Wright’s comments about the unpainted railings under the bridge (visitors I was showing the bridge too recently immediately noticed them) and the fact the the plan (pictured, top) *still* shows 2 x Abbey Roads indicates the lack of concern they have for residents in the area. It just seems that the money’s to be spent irrespective of residents views, “comon-sense” and in particular cyclist flow. It’s depressing.

  2. Richard Article author

    In advance of the North Area committee on the 14th of May 2009 I wrote to my local councillors with some suggestions in respect of Riverside.

    I asked:

    How will North Area residents be consulted?

    Why weren’t North Area residents invited to the exhibition on the 6th of May – which was held for Riverside area residents?

    Why are the detailed plans which were displayed at that exhibition not available online?

    Is the Traffic Regulation Order advert available online?

    How will decisions on the detail be made with the Traffic-AJC and two other area committees wanting input?

    Will the committee modify its condition on the funding in light of the fact the West/Central committee decided it doesn’t want to pay a 1/3 share as it is a smaller committee with a lesser budget?

  3. Martin

    Note that there was a mistake in the Cycling Campaign’s letter, which was corrected to all Councillors subsequently. This was that the plan numbers were the wrong way round. The letter is now correct on the Campaign’s website.

    The letter now correctly states that the Cycling Campaign supports the direct route through, rather than the one nearest the river, which has the blind corner in (like the current layout).

  4. Richard Article author


    I think the many of the comments on cycling next to the river referred to the whole length of the proposals including Riverside itself.

    I suspect some of those wanting the scheme to allow cycling next to the river along the length of riverside would sill support your desire to remove the blind corner where cyclists enter/emerge from the the upstream side of the Elizabeth Way bridge.

    Plan 1 as taken to the Traffic AJC appears to have room to move the path of cyclists a couple of metres further away from the corner at the bottom of Abbey Road – though I realise the assumption now is there will be almost no traffic on that road. I don’t know if the amount of traffic coming down Abbey Road to turn will be sufficient to warrant trying to separate that traffic from cyclists as much as possible.

    An idea for the future : Could we dig up some of the road on the upstream side of the bridge and extend the common? Perhaps including some reinforced grass to park on?

  5. Richard Article author

    I’ve been asked to clarify some what I’ve said here:

    It was suggested that some cyclists, particularly the rowing coaches, will want to cycle immediately adjacent to the river. ie. they will want to cycle on the new promenade rather than on the remaining carriageway of the road.

    My view is that as long as cycling isn’t expressly forbidden on the “promenade” this will be fine and cyclists will have a choice. Some were arguing for a marked cycleway to be the nearest thing to the river all the way along the stretch to be worked on. I agree with what I believe is the Cycling Campaign‘s view that where markings etc. are unnecessary they ought not be installed. I think this applies here as cyclists and pedestrians share paths on the adjacent commons without a problem so if a similar “feel” can be obtained on this stretch there ought be no conflict.

    Most of the cyclists going through the area will I would have thought go on the road, but those who want to stick right to the side of the river to coach or just out of preference ought be able to.

    When the detailed plans come out it’ll be worth looking at the provision of drop curbs providing access to the promenade. Whatever gets built on this stretch has to work with a future phase encompassing an area where the new bridge meets riverside; I think the current plans are best from this point of view and a marked/dedicated cycle way immediately adjacent to the river would be harder to deal with at this point.

    I think there are many ways in which this area could be designed to “work”; eg. I’m not opposed to a dedicated cycle-lane installed sympathetically – there is a judgement to be made though on if one is necessary.

    I am looking forward to seeing the detailed plans and hearing more points of view on the proposal.

  6. Richard Article author

    The North Area Committee on the 2nd of July 2009 was told the current position is that the council is waiting for WS Atkins to provide detailed design and costings which they had promised by May.

    The committee asked for a review of how the three area committees are going to work together on this, to agree funding and the final details of the project. They noted the apparent impasse between the positions being taken by each committee.

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