Prioritising left behind communities and tackling inequalities will form major part of transport strategy across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

Prioritising left behind communities, tackling inequalities and accelerating carbon reduction will form part of a renewed strategy for better transport across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

At its meeting last week, the Combined Authority Board agreed to proceed with a reinvention of the transport strategy in the region through a revamped Local Transport Plan (LTP).

Work to deliver the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM) programme has already been suspended. The Combined Authority Board approved that the work of the delivery body One CAM Ltd is suspended until a comprehensive review of the CAM programme is carried out and until the update on the LTP renewal work is reported at the Board in September. At that meeting the Board will be asked to agree next steps for the CAM programme’s future, as well as deciding on the further use or permanent closure of delivery body One CAM Limited.

However, as part of the LTP work, learning from the CAM, including potential technologies, insight on zero-carbon journeys, and shifting people away from private car use, can help inform transport improvements which will offer most benefit to communities.

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Dr Nik Johnson said in his 2021 election campaign that a multi-billion-pound CAM system would not be deliverable or bring improvements to where they were needed most. He said a major rethink was needed on how transport can level up areas which suffer most from deprivation and inequality, such as in Fenland and Peterborough.

The Mayor said that his values of Compassion, Co-operation and Community should underpin a fresh approach to the Combined Authority’s transport strategy. Allied to this, a strong ‘greenprint’ running through the strategy which will include linking the work of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Commission on Climate. In June, all 31 of the Commission’s recommendations for being a net zero carbon region by 2050 were passed by the Combined Authority Board.

The report to the Board highlighted the need for focus on those left-behind communities. Priorities will include making transport a driver for social mobility and better health and wellbeing. Transport should deliver cleaner air and encourage more active travel like cycling and walking. And transport must support the future vitality of communities, including proper public transport for villages and estates.

The Mayor also highlighted the use of consultants, and the need for more work to be done in-house by the Combined Authority wherever possible. A review of their use will be brought back to the Combined Authority Board in September.

Work is also taking place on a Bus Service Improvement Plan, with the Mayor already highlighting the need to explore the potential of franchising and how it could make a transformational impact on connectivity for people and places.

Collaborative working will also form an important part of the new transport approach, especially with the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP). Part of the LTP revamp will see a specific focus on supporting the GCP’s work on developing ways to improve journeys across the Cambridge city centre.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson said: “I want to build a transport system shaped by Compassion, Co-operation and Community. We can show compassion by investing in areas which for too long have been left behind. This is a moral question – a lack of good transport causes real harm. It holds places back, cutting people off from better jobs, services, and social contact. It results in poorer public health and wellbeing, and, worst of all, lower life expectancy. We must work to a plan which puts the success of left behind areas first.

“Co-operation is about working with our partners. The GCP has hundreds of millions of pounds to improve transport in Greater Cambridge – we should be working closely so that its investments link with a strategy for the rest of the county. In particular, we will work together on the challenge of improving journeys across Cambridge city centre. Collaborating with local councils, with government, with East West Rail, with bus and rail operators, and with colleagues across borders is also vital in creating a transport system which recognises the interests of all our partners.

“This will, of course, remain a plan for the whole region, with an aim to develop one of the smartest, most joined-up transport systems in the country. A demand responsive transport trial in St Neots and Huntingdon, and journey improvements around St Ives, are just two examples of our approach which will invest where it is most needed.

“I’m also pragmatic. A multi-billion-pound CAM is too expensive, and in my view, not deliverable. It won’t offer a solution to the inequalities exist across our region. But the work done on the CAM can be used, and the latest thinking on 21st Century transport can be just as well deployed in other parts of the county as it can around Cambridge. For example, there is real potential for new metro-style solutions for linking March and Wisbech and where cycling and walking infrastructure comes built in.

“And it is too easy to forget about the untapped potential of buses for better connecting communities, and helping reduce the weight of transport’s carbon footprint. We must look at buses with a fresh eye, that will fully explore the potential for a franchised system which makes services work better for people and places, and cleaning up air with emission-free journeys.

“What I want to see are effective, deliverable projects, which accelerate our journey to net zero carbon, and that make a difference to people’s lives. I want to take those projects to the public to see what they think. So in the autumn, when our transport team has developed more detail on potential improvements, we will be consulting to hear feedback and improve our plans further.

“And I believe we need to be extremely judicious in our use of consultants. At the Combined Authority Board on Wednesday, I did not approve £350,000 of consultancy spend on taking learnings from the CAM to develop new transport schemes in the area. We are reviewing the use of consultants in delivering transport schemes and I would always prefer to see projects worked on in-house whenever possible.

“My third ‘C’ of community is about improving the vitality, health and prosperity of places. Transport infrastructure is a key lever for social change, for beating unfairness, for improving health, wealth and wellbeing and safeguarding our precious environment.

“I don’t think transport can aspire to any higher aim than that.”

Since the publication of LTP in January 2020, there have been many changes to the transport landscape. That includes the Combined Authority’s approval of the initial recommendations of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Commission on Climate Change, new CO2 and electric vehicle targets published by Government, including its Decarbonsing Transport document, and the changes in travel caused by Covid-19. The development work on the revamped plan will take these changes into consideration.

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