Redevelopment of the Cambridge Station Area


Thursday, October 9th, 2008. 6:36am

An outline planning application for the redevelopment of the Cambridge Station Area is going before a planning committee on Wednesday 15th of October 2008, it is due to start at 0930 in the college generally known as Newhall and is expected to last all day.

Observations

The station is a functional area of the city; ensuring this area works well and has appropriate bus, taxi, cycle and car provision for those moving though it ought to be right at the top of the minds of those considering these plans. Functionality should certainly come above any desire to create make grand statements with this scheme. I believe the current plans do not show adequate provisions for taxis and busses which are critical to those using the station. What is proposed will not cope with Cambridge’s coach traffic redirected to the site, and will be swamped on a day when rail replacement busses are operating.

The draft management plan for the development proposes that the station square will remain within private ownership for maintenance and management purposes and will not be adopted public highway. This coupled with the proposed loss of the on-road public taxi rank leaves the possibility open that those who can run bus and taxi services to the station can be controlled by the owners of the square. If councillors accept this at next week’s planning meeting it will be a very short sighted move, the potential lack of free and open competition in taxi and bus services may well result in a poorer and more expensive service for those using the station. Surely running important civic spaces like this is the role of the council?

Council officers are recommending to councillors that we should accept money in lieu of open space provision on the site. This is something money can’t buy, open space is genuinely priceless in the centre of Cambridge. A permanent lack of proper provision is not balanced by a one-off payment £668 880 out of a budget of two hundred and fifty million. The development is too dense even for this area of the city where high density development is appriopriate.

The county council’s submission to the city council predicting the transport impacts of the scheme has been shown to be seriously lacking in terms of both content and independence. The submission forms part of the officers report to be put before city councillors deciding the planning application on the 15th. The submission’s author, under questioning from members of the public including residents representatives in Cambridge admitted that it contained misleadingly low figures for the increase in vehicle traffic associated with the development, and that the predicted growth of Cambridge and the surrounding region had not been properly taken in to account. (This lack of strategic vision appalled many present)

Cambridgeshire police are seeking a police post on the site (in addition to replacing the British Transport Police base); this is something the planning officer has promised to update the committee on at the planning meeting on the 15th. Why do the police think they will need such a presence in this area; is there not an opportunity to design out and prevent the problems they are anticipating?

Short stay cycle parking is proposed; how on earth does anyone propose enforcing the use of a cycle rack as short stay only.

Transport Effects

While commenting on the proposals Cllr Herbert requested an opportunity for public scrutiny, specifically on transport and access which he wanted to see including the wider community affected, resident association representatives and local businesses. He got the session he requested, which was entitled: “CB1 Transport Issues Meeting”, and was held in Hills Road Sixth Form College on the 7th of October 2008, about 60 members of the public were present, many representing residents groups from around the city. While it was a public meeting, and Cllr Herbert had been on local radio on the morning of the meeting inviting everyone to attend and had obtained coverage in the Cambridge Evening News, The meeting was promoted as a “Residents Association Briefing” and not mentioned on the City Council or the Developer’s websites so could have been significantly better advertised.

Daniel Zeichner, the Labour Prospective Parliament candidate for Cambridge was present for the first 20 minutes of the meeting.

The session was primarily led by Huw Nicholas, who until earlier in the summer was working for the county council. In response to a question by Chris Howell he explained he has now left that job but has been brought back in as a consultant to speak to events like this, and presumably write the County Council’s comments on the planning application which have formed part of the report presented to councillors in advance of the planning meeting. A county council officer explained that Mr Nicholas had been hired to speak on their behalf. It would be interesting to know if he is getting paid more as a consultant than he was as a council officer and County Councillors have approved this arrangement. To confuse matters still further when Cllr Howell asked if the transport assessment had been carried out completely independently from the applicant, his answer revealed that the county council’s report had in fact been produced in close collaboration with the applicants.

Mr Nicholas’ presentation was based on his transport assessment which starts on page 42 of Appendix E to the officers report to the planning meeting on 15th October 2008 and is linked from the agenda.

I think it would be fair to say that Mr Nicholas’ methodology and conclusions were torn to shreds by the well informed members of the public present.

Frank Gawthrop of the Tenison Road Residents Association

Frank Gawthrop kicked off the questioning and set the tone for what followed. He noted that Huw Nicholas had stated the development would result in an increase of traffic levels by 16%, and asked how Mr Nicholas had arrived at the baseline figure which that 16% was an increase on. He asked if the baseline had included trips to the now closed Rank Hovis site. Mr Nicholas said at first yes that was true those figures had been included. He then clarified by saying while they were included in one table in the report they were not included in the junction capacity assessment analysis as these were based on counts. He accepted that this should have been made a lot clearer. Mr Gawthrop then pushed Mr Nicholas to give him the real number for the increase in traffic he was predicting the development would result in, he gave this as being a 35% increase.

Councillors will have the 16% number in front of them in their officer’s report next Wednesday.

Mr Nicholas tried to defend his report by saying it was usual practice to include figures for trips to closed premises such as Rank Hovis in baselines for assessments like the one he was presenting on the basis that they could lawfully start operating again at any time.

Ben Bradnack, Labour City Councillor for Petersfield ward

Mr Bradnack said:

  • There had been no assessment of the impact on each individual junction down Tenison road.
  • There was no Eastern access to the site/station proposed, he suggested that even pedestrian access would reduce the impact on Tenison Road.

The response from Mr Nicholas on behalf of the county council was to say that the assessments of junctions on Tenison road were included in the “network appraisal”.

He went on to say that £250 000 had been allocated to manage traffic on Tenison road and stop rat running as well as mitigate the impact from students – noting that Tenison road was on the desire line between the proposed new student residences and the ARU campus.

Shaun Noble – Bateman Street and Mews Residents Association

Mr Noble asked about the peak time 8-9am on station road, and asked how many more cars were anticipated at that time and if it was sustainable. A heckler asked if “Station road would be come Stationary”. Mr Nicholas told the meeting there would be an extra 150 to 200 vehicles in that hour. He referred back to his presentation in which he had stated his prediction was that there would not be great changes at peak times, but consistently higher traffic levels throughout the day.
Mr Nicholas reminded the meeting it was part of the CB1 proposal to take away all the parking on Station Road, which he thought would increase the capacity of the road sufficiently to cope with the new traffic, particularly by removing any conflict between buses travelling in opposite directions which currently struggle to pass each other.
Mr Nobel persisted in asking the straight question: “Will it work?”
To which he got a straight “Yes” from Mr Nicholas.

Mrs E Cary on behalf of CB1 residents

Mrs Cary suggested that the public transport functionality of the area should come first.

She asked what was proposed for Foster Mills, and was told by the planning officer that the proposal was that it would become residential. Mrs Cary stated her opinion that the building was not worth keeping, and ought be demolished to provide more room for transport needs. She again stated her main point which was that there should be a “clear focus on transport”.

Newnham Residents Association

A representative of Newnham Residents Association who I believe was called Mark questioned the survey data. He asked when the surveys (traffic counts) had been done, over what period, in what weather and in what areas. He was told that some went back to October 2003, others from Feb 2005 and that those on Station road and in the station area had been repeated many times. They had all been 12-16 hour surveys, and the weather was unknown.

Mr Nicholas told the meeting that the data collected had been checked against county council data which was collected as a matter of routine and he had confidence in it.

There was also a question asked about plans for “student delivery” on the site, and the meeting was told a “student arrival plan” would be drawn up.

Roger Crabtree – Rustat Neighbourhood Association

Mr Crabtree noted the annual traffic survey stated that there had been no increase in traffic numbers coming in to the city over the past decade. He stated that the evidence from his own eyes told him that the amount of queues in the city had increased. He blamed poor junctions. He gave the example of the “Waitrose Junction” on Trumpington road as one which causes traffic jams and chaos over a large area. He wanted lessons to be learnt and mistakes not repeated at the Brooklands Avenue / Hills Road Junction.

Mr Crabtree continued – he asked if the large growth anticipated in the Cambridge sub-region had been taken into account. He noted this Cambridge area redevelopment had been trumpeted as a 30-50 year plan, yet future projects were not being taken into account.

Mr Nicholas first said growth had been taken into account; but then said: “those who come next have to take account of what has gone before”, he said it was not possible for example for the station area redevelopment to take account of development that may or may not happen on the Airport site, and might well take place over many decades.

In terms of scale, he claimed growth of the city and subregion had been taken into account and gave as an example a anticipated capacity of 120 buses an hour or one every minute in each direction.

Peter Brechen

Mr Brechen introduced himself as a current resident of the Triangle who was currently renovating a house on Tenison Road to which he was planning to move. He said that Station Road was becoming more difficult to cross as traffic has got faster with the removal of the cars from one side of the road already. He noted that with the opening of the Triangle more people are walking though that area and crossing Station Road. He said he had been lobby the county council for a crossing on Station Road only to be told: “there had not been enough accidents”, a statement which got quite a response from the room.

Mr Nicholas responded that the whole project was transport led, and not only that but the pedestrian was at the top, followed by the cyclist, then the public transport user and finally the private car.

Malcolm Schofield – Cambridge Group of Residents Associations

Mr Schofield asked for details of assumptions which had been made in two areas:

  1. Chesterton Interchange
  2. Future increases in the capacity of the station

On Chesterton Interchange he was told that no assumptions had been made, this was because the worst case scenario for the Cambridge Station Area was that the Chesterton project did not get built. We were told the Cambridge station area was designed to be able to operate without the Chesterton Interchange. The Chesterton project would no start until 2011/2012 at subject to funding according to a County Council Officer.

On the future capacity of the station, Mr Nicholas said that the station’s current lack of capacity had been recognised, and claimed the transport assessment had taken into account future growth to be enabled by twelve car trains running from a new “island” platform.

Stephen Walsh – Unex Group

Mr Walsh focused again as Mr Gawthrop had done earlier on the figure of the predicted increase in traffic volume. He drew attention to differences in figures between what Mr Nicholas was presenting on behalf of the County and what the applicant Ashwell was presenting. He also claimed Mr Nicholas had himself been inconsistent – with his presentation predicting a 16% increase and a technical note via which he had reported to elected members a figure of 35%. Mr Walsh noted that the applicants, Ashwell had admitted the high 65% figure and he made clear he was very surprised that the county council’s figures were not only lower than the applicants, but so low.

Mr Walsh referred to inconsistencies between two technical notes Mr Nicholas had produced, he claimed one said 30% of people would be using cars and in another the number given was 38%. Mr Walsh calculated a percentage car use from table 0.2 in Mr Nicholas’ submission which predicts 3652 car journeys out of a total of 27351 when the scheme is complete which gives 13.4 percent of trips by car per day. He questioned why this figure was so much lower.

Mr Walsh then went on to note a major difference between a baseline figure quoted by the developers and that quoted by Nr Nicholas. Ashwells he stated started with 5700 per day, added in Rank Hovis, then inflated the figures in line with general traffic increases to get a baseline figure of 9000.

The only response Mr Nicholas could manage was: “I’m having difficult trying to get my head around the numbers while standing up” which did not endear him to the room. However I believe Mr Nicholas had already conceded his key statement that:

There is only a modest increase in vehicular traffic (16%)

was misleading. The reduction in percentage of car trips though is I believe potentially explained by high numbers of trips predicted to be internal pedestrian trips. I believe what Mr Walsh was pointing out by drawing attention to Ashwell’s raised baseline figure was that they had added 65% to an already higher initial figure making the absolute difference between the County Council and Developer’s figures are even greater.

Mr Nicholas then made a second presentation entitled :”Development Impacts and Traffic Model”.

He said he was setting out to show the impacts of development and how they have been mitigated, all modes across the network. He claimed impacts had been assessed under three headings: Capacity / Safety / Operation. He then went though each area covered in page 47 of Appendix E to the officer’s report to the planning committee adding nothing new to what he had presented there.

The meeting returned to public questioning:

James Woodburn – Cambridge Cycling Campaign

Mr Woodburn described what he had to say as a: “Procedural Question”. He said that having the traffic assessment only had this at this late stage leads to difficulties. He said: “We’re concerned in the cycling campaign of the design for highways on the periphery of the scheme”. He mentioned the ramps down from the Carter bridge and asked : “Are these going to be the subject of separate detailed planning applications?”. He complained that : “We don’t know which of many options for the ramps will be built?”

Sarah Dyer, Principal Development Control Manager for Cambridge City Council responded, saying that the ramp design would be: “dealt with though the conditions process – not normally involving the public.” Huw Nicholas added that in his opinion both options for the ramps would work. in terms of safety, capacity, and visual impact.

Mr Woodburn responded to say he was left with a great worry that there doesn’t appear to be any context for his campaign to comment on the detail of these proposals. He said the cycling campaign didn’t want to be put in the position of formally objecting at the planning committee (noting it was probably too late now anyway). He said he wanted proper consultation before the proposals go forward. He concluded: “Effective consultation hasn’t happened.”

Lucy Walker – City Councillor for Petersfield.

Cllr Walker again focused on the Tenison Road area. She refereed to estimates for cars queuing in a tailback 20m or more past Devonshire road junction and asked what the £250K refered to earlier as money set aside for improvements to Tenison road was a figure for, and asked: “do you have plans in mind?”

Huw Nicholas said the £200K sum was “Derived from looking at likely types of things you would like to see; in consultation with the County Council who know what things cost.” He said it was an appropriate sum of money.

Cllr Bradnack interjected: “What if it’s not possible to mitigate in that area with £250K?”

Nichola Harrison County Cllr Petersfield

Cllr Harrison also jumped in on the discussion on work to Tenison Road. She told the meeting she had obtained written promises from county council officers that they will find additional money from the developers if it was needed on Tenison Road. She added that this money could be spent solving the existing problems. She wanted to emphaise there are big positives that come from the development, citing as an example current Tenison road problems and the prospect of getting them solved – a real opportunity to make things a lot better than they are now.

John Rely[sp?], Cambridge Drivers Association – A Taxi Driver

He asked if the public taxi rank is going to remain as it is.

The answer was a straight No, that is not the plan. There is no planed on road space.
It was noted the rank on station is a private affair between one group of drivers and the station.

Andrew Bower – Cambridge Conservatives

Mr Bower asked two questions:
1. He asked why there was no explanation of the assumption that there would be no additional car journeys. [See comments - Mr Bower said "low additional car journeys"].

The response he got on this from Mr Nicholas was that he didn’t say there would be no increase. And there would be more increase at points over the course of a day.

2. Mr Bower raised a concern about increased parking over the railway in Coldridge road. Saying it was not clear how it is to be considered.

Mr Nicholas said that could be dealt with reactively. He also said it didn’t need modelling, it was just common sense that people would park on streets as close as they could to the station.

Katie Preston

Katie Preston complained that we had heard far too much about “Mitigating effects”, she said the focus should be on creating a high class transport interchange for Cambridge.

Lewis Herbert

When Mr Herbert spoke he referred back to James Woodburn’s comments about the process. He said that this was the first meeting at which interest groups had had a chance to comment. He was looking to the future and asking how the various groups would be kept involved.

He asked again about overspill car parking, this time giving the closer example of Rustat Road. He asked the question of if councillors should require some residents parking allocated in the car park proposed by the developers.

He asked how do we keep a grip on this group of transport issues during the long process to come of a series of planning applications for different parcels of land. We need to keep the overview he said, and there needs to be a clear process for that.

If the outline planning is approved there needs to be follow up on transport issues.

Mr Gawthrop who started the public questioning, brought it to a close by questioning the capacity of the footpaths on Tenison road, drawing attention to the huge numbers of students who would be walking and cycling between their residences and their university.


I wondered how many councillors who will be sitting on next Wednesday’s planning committee were present at the meeting to hear the Transport Assessment criticised. Cllr Clare Blair was the only one I could see who was present, I asked her if any others were there but she refused to answer my question (she was ranting at me about the content of my post on members’ allowances).
The councillors on the planning committee are the people who’s conclusions count; we need to know what are their views of the quality of the traffic analysis and traffic predictions. Has this meeting this evening raised any questions in their minds about the assumptions made, about the degree of strategic forward thinking involved as I am sure it will have done in most of those present? Would councillors be giving the traffic assessment much weight having seen the way it has been discredited tonight? What mechanism is there for councillors on the planing committee to learn what came out of tonight’s meeting?

7 comments/updates on “Redevelopment of the Cambridge Station Area

  1. Chris Howell

    Hi Richard,
    I think Alan Baker, Chair of the planning committee was also in the audience.
    I think Huw misunderstood my question about independence – I am not so concerned about the relationship between the County Council and Atkins, their consultants which is fair enough, it was more the relationship between the applicants Ashwells and the County Council as the highway’s authority. At times Huw sounded like he was speaking on behalf of the applicant, when I think the County’s role should be to provide an independent i.e. objective assessment of the transport implications (positive and negative) of Ashwell’s application and conclude on its overall acceptability in transport terms. There seems to have been an overriding assumption by the officers for some time that this application is acceptable, and the County has worked with the applicants to ‘make the transport case work’, which is a bit of a problem if like me you disagree with this position.

  2. Andrew Bower

    Hi Richard,

    Alan Baker was indeed present on Tuesday but I’m not sure for how long.

    Thanks for your detailed record of the meeting.

    I’m not sure whether I was misheard or fluffed the question but my first point was actually meant to be querying how sure they can be that the demand (or need) for cars would be held low [not to no increase - I knew that wasn't the claim] simply by pretending the problem doesn’t exist and refusing to create parking spaces for the new dwellings.

    I’ve submitted an FOI request to find out how the assessment process was influenced by collaborating with the applicant:

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/communications_with_station_area

    Andrew
    Cambridge

  3. Richard Article author

    Andrew, “Low Increase” sounds very similar to “No Increase”; When Huw Nicholas responded to you I think he had heard “No Increase” and started his response by saying that this was not what he was predicting.

  4. Richard Article author

    The ~65% increase in car traffic predicted by Ashwells comes from table 7.6 in their travel plan.

    From a base of 2211 car trips per day they predict 3739 following the CB1 development. This is a 69% increase.

  5. Charles Hedges

    Thank you for your efforts to publicise what is wrong with this development, and to end the whitewashing of Brookgate.

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