I got the chance to speak to Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat candidate to become Cambridge’s MP, on the first train into Cambridge from Cambridge North on the 21st of May:
Richard Taylor: So what’s your role in bringing the station to Cambridge North?
Julian Huppert: It’s something I’ve been banging on for ages about, so the idea had been around for thirty years or something but when I became a councillor for East Chesterton I saw this as a crucial thing to fix the challenges that we have with transport.
Richard Taylor: So you were able to lobby for this just as a councillor, local councillors are that influential?
Julian Huppert: So I started as a County Councillor and I got a bit of stuff there but I couldn’t get it over the threshold, there was no interest in supporting infrastructure in this area, you know government did the guided bus, that was where the money went.
Julian Huppert: I got on to the regional assembly and was on the executive of that.
Richard Taylor: So this was a long time ago then?
Julian Huppert: Yes this was 2005 or so and managed to get this listed as the number one infrastructure bid for the whole of the East of England which I was quite pleased about. We discovered that the government was allocating a total of zero pounds for our infrastructure. So while it was number one, it still didn’t happen.
Julian Huppert: Then as the MP I managed to get the transport minister to come here, Theresa Villiers, made the case really strongly to her and the county also got lots of other people behind it so we could say we will do this, and that’s what kicked it off. There were a lot of steps then about making sure the department would write the right letters, make sure the council would write the right letters, and obviously I didn’t actually physically build it myself, but it was fascinating to see the whole thing almost veer completely off the rails and I’d have to go into the Department for Transport again and say look you know you have to fix this and no you can’t do something daft like that, something silly like that, and we’ve seen you know I obviously lost a couple of years ago… we’ve seen lots you know … why aren’t there more stations, trains stopping here.
Richard Taylor: Presumably that will happen?
Julian Huppert: It will happen, but it needs somebody who will keep pressing on it.
Richard Taylor: So our next MP, you as our next MP?
Julian Huppert: I would absolutely
Richard Taylor: More trains in the morning from Waterbeach in the morning, better connections when the trains come into Cambridge?
Julian Huppert: Absolutely, also I want to get the other, the equivalent station in Addenbrookes which again has been a vision for a long time, we have very old livery versions of the sidings for Addenbrookes, that will be equally hugely important.
Julian Huppert: The East-West rail line that goes out there is important for transport and also for housing along that route.
Julian Huppert: So some small things, just to be really picky, the tracks for bikes to go down the stairs…
Richard Taylor: I saw you looking at that
Julian Huppert: They’ve been placed right next to the side, and that’s simply just not acceptable, so actually did while I was here, it’s not just a fun trip was to talk to some of the people who will be fixing any problems and I got someone to show all the problems with moving your bike up which I think the got now so. So they’ve promised they’ll fix it, let’s make sure that happens.
Richard Taylor: That’s really interesting because when you say you’ve worked to get the station it’s really interesting just to know the details and know what you’ve actually been doing.
Julian Huppert: It obviously wasn’t just me, there have been other people who’ve talked about this but actually having that ability as a councillor on the regional assembly and as an MP to really put the oomph into it to make it actually happen and that to me is really important. It doesn’t show up in voting records, and often takes a while to happen, that’s why it’s so good to see it.
Richard Taylor: It’s a fantastic, quality, station.
Julian Huppert: Is everything perfect, no. Do I have visions of how I’d make it better, absolutely, but it’s something which.. I have friends who live just where we’re going past now who got so bored of me saying, I was pushing it was going to happen and they said it’s really never happening.
Richard Taylor: Something we really need in this area is signage, to it, if you go on Fen Road they haven’t got signs up and we’ve got temporary signs on Milton Road.
Julian Huppert: Which is astonishing, it is not as if they didn’t know this was happening. How long does it take to print a sign? No I think there’s real problems with some of the infrastructure around it and it has taken a couple of years longer than it should have done. I think there are real questions about how Network Rail in particular go about these programmes.
Richard Taylor: About how they’re influenced by local people, as they are national?
Julian Huppert: Well there’s several things, there’s whether they talk to local people enough, but there’s also whether they get things to happen properly. This should have happened a couple of years faster; it should have happened twenty years ago, but at least it has happened.
Richard Taylor: When do you think we’re going to get the Addenbrooke’s station?
Julian Huppert: I’m hoping in five years, it could be sooner, but I haven’t been able to push that ahead in the last couple of years as I was doing but I think it will tie in with the East-West rail line. That’s crucial as well, because that means firstly strategically we connect Ipswich, Norwich through Cambridge, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Reading Oxford which means it is not just about Cambridge it’s also if you want to go up any of the other mainlines, rather than going to London and back out again, you can come across and up. Another thing I want to see is new garden towns along that rail line, there are a number of sites which will be about fifteen minutes from Addenbrookes by train, twenty from the centre, twenty-five from the Science Park – put twenty thousand homes there, it’ll be really attractive, do it nicely, good environmental standards, got the community, it’ll be really attractive then for people who want to work in Cambridge, rather than driving down the A10 or any of the other roads, if you’re fifteen minutes from Cambridge it’s fantastic.
Richard Taylor: So Cambridge has definitely grown beyond the point where everyone can live in the centre and walk and cycle?
Julian Huppert: We already …. I still would love people to walk and cycle as much as possible but we’re not going to have everybody who walks in Cambridge..
Richard Taylor: That’s now not practical given..
Julian Huppert: We’re just far too big for that so making it easy for people to get to the Science Park and areas around that, making it easier for people in the North of Cambridge to take the train to London or wherever without having to go into town all the time. You know I used to live in East Chesterton by the Golden Hind, and the idea that to get up to Ely you had to
Richard Taylor: Go there other way first…
Julian Huppert: Go the other way and then back out again, it’s so much faster now.
Richard Taylor: Thanks Julian that’s really interesting.