I attended the first public meeting of the Friends of Ditton Meadows on the 21st of January 2015. The meeting provided me with an update on the consideration of proposals for a new bridge over the River Cam to carry the Chisholm Trail cycle route.
I found out about the existence of the friends group having seen it mentioned on Twitter and I found out about the meeting by seeing a poster on the Green Dragon bridge.
I volunteered to film the meeting and place the video on YouTube. This offer was enthusiastically accepted and the video is now embedded here.
Initial publicity about the group was entirely anonymous, with no-one putting their name on the group’s posters or website and the group’s web domain was, and remains, registered to “Identity Protect Limited”.
Despite the initial impression of a secretive group it was good to see an open meeting being held, and those running it welcoming having it filmed. Those forming the friends group did generally identify themselves on the evening.
The group’s primary objective is:
To protect Ditton Meadows from the current threat of development, namely the proposed cycle and foot bridge across the meadow.
There were both people supportive of the aims of the group, and people in favour of a new cycle and foot-bridge, present at the meeting.
Some of those at the meeting urged the group to tone-down its stance and rather than oppose any bridge outright work to ensure that the bridge, and associated paths, are constructed in such a way as to minimally impact, or even enhance, the area. That is the approach that I am taking myself and I would of course like to see others join; those forming the friends group though were keen to stand by their objective though I could detect hints of wavering from some individuals.
The meeting was well attended with between forty and fifty people present.
Current Status of the Bridge Idea/Project
Cambridgeshire County Council has a webpage for the project at:
http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/new-bridge. ( Update: The council have moved the webpage) (Further Update: the project webpage is now here.)
A consultation was held on proposals in July 2014. The County Council’s website stated consultation is ongoing but doesn’t give many details apart from stating:
There is a meeting for stakeholders and interested parties on 25 February, 2015 at Barnwell Baptist Church, Howard Rd, Cambridge CB5 8QS from 6 to 7.30pm. Those who wish to attend should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01223 699906.
The council’s webpage on the project does not state the responses from the initial consultation were taken to a committee of councillors who decided more consultation was needed.
As someone who made a submission to the July 2014 consultation, and someone who is regularly on Stourbridge Common and Ditton Meadows and who reads posters in the area I have not been kept informed of progress, I wasn’t pro-actively informed about the committee consideration, or the stakeholder meetings.
I think the council’s communications have been poor; and the performance of local councillors in ensuring those interested are kept up to date has been poor too. I think the “stakeholder” meetings ought be freely open to the public and listed on the council’s meeting calendar.
The meeting heard that an architect has been appointed to design a bridge. Cllr Ian Manning confirmed this.
The bridge is to carry the Chisholm Trail cycle route which has the support of the County Council and City Council.
I made a submission to the July 2014 consultation:
I very strongly support a foot and cycle bridge being built in the area of the existing railway bridge across the Cam.
I think the prime consideration ought be the continuation of the Chisholm Trail path along the line of the railway to the new station with as little deviation in direction or level as possible for crossing the river.
I think a bridge west of the railway bridge should be considered; and the option of buying property where required to cut a path through ought be considered.
I do not share council officers’ concerns about “flickering” at all. [This relates to the potential visual effect caused by two adjacent bridges]
My prime concern is the impact on the open spaces of Stourbridge Common / Ditton Fields and I strongly oppose placing the bridge a long way downstream of the existing bridge, in the middle of Ditton Fields. I think keeping the new bridge as close as possible to the railway bridge will minimise the impact.
I liked the idea of hanging a new bridge off the existing one; if that’s not literally possible something giving that appearance would be the best option in my view.
I would like the new bridge not to restrict the navigation any more than the existing railway bridge does.
Having heard the comments made at the meeting I have the following additional thoughts:
I think the case for the Chisholm Trail has already been made so I didn’t re-state it in my submission. As Cambridge grows, if we are going to keep the city moving we need to see more people using alternatives to private cars such as cycling. Cycling is also a pleasant and healthy way of getting around the city. The bridge will link the Science Park and new station through to Newmarket Road and on to Romsey and the central station; it links places of employment with residential areas and shopping areas.
An argument is made that it’s only a short detour off the line of the route to use the existing Green Dragon bridge. I think the detour is significant and the benefits of an uninterrupted continuous cycleway are significant in encouraging use and making for speedy journeys with as few stops and starts and hazardous areas as possible. I’d like to see the cycleway continue off-road through to the Science Park Station and the Science Park itself.
While slightly off topic I think the path on the wooden structure under the railway bridge; while installed not that long ago isn’t really suited to the level, and type, of use it currently gets. It’s narrow and has sharp blind corners; some also complain about it being slippy. I think it needs to be upgraded and made more cycle-friendly.
Lighting needs a comment; I think the level of lighting needs to reflect the use of the space. I think this is something which does change with time. I’ve seen attitudes among those in power to lighting in central Cambridge’s green spaces change over the fifteen years or so I’ve been in the city; with more consideration now given to those using the spaces to get around. I think sensitive lighting which wouldn’t impact the surrounding area, such as uplighters on a new cycle path would be acceptable should there be demand for that.
I think the Chisholm Trail could cross the common or meadows, and then the river with minimal impact.
One added benefit of a cycleway on the railway embankment would be more people getting new views of the river, Fen Ditton, and Cambridge; views of the kind only those who venture up on to the almost disused footbridge currently see.
Tweets relating to the Meeting
Jim Chisholm’s Contribution to the Meeting
Jim Chisholm said he first proposed a foot/cycle bridge here in 1998 and it’s been in the local plan since 2005 and it’s in the South Cambridge transport strategy. He said
We all value the wonderful green space in Cambridge, we cycle through it, we walk through it, we take trains through it. A bridge close to the existing rail bridge with ramps on the adjacent network rail land is what I want but I’ve been trying to campaign for that from Network Rail for some years and they are an organisation which is very difficult to work with. I believe that we should be able to get some sort of licence to use parts of Network Rail land. I originally wanted, when I proposed this, to hang the new bridge on the side [of the railway bridge] but for safety reasons they won’t do that. We can work to get the bridge as close as possible to it. There’s no way the bridge can be on the other side for various reasons.
Network Rail is a public body and it should be working with, and for, the public of Cambridge to assist with this project. Our elected representatives should be ensuring it does so.
When questioned why it can’t go on the other side Jim Chisholm said:
The reason it can’t go on the other side is because of the ramps, and ramps are required at a slope of about one in twenty because of disability access; they’ll have to in front of a group of houses there and part of the other side is common land and I think it would be much harder to build a bridge on common land that it would be on this side; and also because most of the demand for people wanting to use the bridge will be on this side.
My view is placing the bridge on the West side is possible. That will provide the best connection to the new station. I think the ramps could be parallel to the line of the railway and cycle-path. (I’m envisaging a cycle path along the line of the railway, next to it).
Jim Chisholm said most of the cycling infrastructure which has been installed in Cambridge has ended up with twice as many people using it as the county council originally estimated and some of those people have stopped using cars.
If anyone else wants to extract further elements of the meeting, by transcribing, or commenting on elements I’ve not covered do add contributions below.
- Say yes to the New Chesterton Foot and Cycle Bridge – Chris Howell, 19 January 2015