The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) is proposing to improve journeys between Cambourne and Cambridge using funds from central government.

The main focus of this project is to improve bus journeys in order to encourage more people from Cambourne and those arriving from the west of the city to use the bus rather than their car and thus to reduce traffic congestion in the city.

Their preferred option is to construct a new road for buses through the countryside. From Cambourne it would run either alongside, or on, St Neots Road and then go across country on the side of Madingley hill close to Coton village, through orchards and habitat and over the M11 before going through the West Cambridge Campus, across the West Fields and down a farm track past the Cambridge University Rugby Club to reach Grange Road, on the edge of Cambridge. Details of the scheme can be found on the GCP website.

This scheme would run through the Green Belt and would be very damaging for habitats, landscape, views and local communities and so we have been campaigning for alternative routes that would deliver the much needed public transport benefits but without the damage. The video below gives a drones eye view of some of the habitat that would be destroyed at Coton Orchard.

Depending on the final route alignment, we estimate that 0.5-1.5km of wildlife habitat would be destroyed, this is not arable farmland but trees, meadows, scrub, orchards and hedges. With the kind help of a volunteer, Tristan Marshall, we have created a video which shows some of the impacts that the preferred route of the busway would have on wildlife habitats:

In February 2020 the government announced that a new railway connecting Cambridge to St Neots and Bedford will be routed via Cambourne. The government's preferred route option for East West Railway includes a new station to the north of Cambourne serving the A428. This would provide the mass transport system for the west of Cambridge which many people have been arguing is needed.

If the Railway goes ahead, it should mean that plans by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) to construct a very damaging £200m bus road between Cambourne and Cambridge should be re-considered. CambridgePPF has commissioned a report that demonstrates that, in conjunction with East West Railway, there are other solutions which deliver similar transport and economic benefits and can be achieved quickly, at significantly less cost, with less impact on the environment, green belt and local communities.

It is also worth noting that:

  • There would be significant cumulative impacts of a new railway, new busway, new cycleway and expressway (A428) on the western approaches to Cambridge.
  • Although a new cycle route is proposed alongside the busway from Coton to Cambourne our view is that there is a much better cycle route based on the bridleway that runs from Coton to Bourn Airfield, as this has less of a climb up the hill and is away from traffic. Part of this route is already being progressed through the GCP's Comberton Greenway project and is also recommended by Cambridgeshire County Council.
  • A third of the traffic congestion on the A1303 is caused by vehicles wishing to reach the M11 from the A428, due to the absence of an access road at the Girton Interchange (junction 14). This junction is part of the the main road infrastructure for the government's OxCam Arc growth corridor and will surely eventually be made "4-ways" - and this would reduce congestion on A1303 by 30%.
  • Compared to an in-bound bus lane on the A1303, the proposed busway would only cut a few minutes off journey time into central Cambridge which is unlikely to result in additional modal shift to public transport and therefore the damage and costs of this scheme are not justified.
  • Between 2018 and 2021 the busway was being proposed as a future metro route with tunnelling under Cambridge - but so far there is no evidence of sufficient funding being available for this and following a change of Mayor the metro idea has been abandoned. This means buses will arrive at Grange Road and enter central Cambridge traffic, the same as they would if a bus lane was created instead.
  • Several alternative route options have been proposed as less-damaging alternatives and an Independent Audit in May 2021 confirmed that these were viable. The GCP is unwilling to use one of these options as a comparison with their proposed busway route - and instead are comparing it with doing nothing. No-one believes that doing nothing is an option.

Initial proposals for this scheme included a park and ride on top of Madingley Hill which would have had a significant impact on the landscape and local habitats. We (and others) lobbied strongly against this and the preferred option is now to locate a park and ride at Scotland Farm, which we feel is the better option if a park and ride is necessary. We have also managed to persuade the GCP not to destroy some of the mature trees and meadow in and around Madingley Mulch by proposing an alternative route.

Madingley Hill is one of the few high points in Cambridge and has locally significant landscape and nature conservation value. Indeed, the founders of our charity purchased land in this area to prevent it being damaged by urban sprawl and to protect the views of Cambridge. We still own land which the bus route would cross and which is covenanted by the National Trust. The GCP has said they would Compulsory Purchase this land in order to build on it.

Today we are continuing our founders’ efforts by opposing this proposal and pressing the GCP to choose one of the many alternative routes proposed, such as an eastbound only bus lane alongside the A1303.

Our trustees, volunteers and staff are working hard on this in dialogue with local communities, protest groups and the National Trust.

You can also read a blog about this scheme click here

Griff-Rhys Jones gives support

In summer 2018, Griff-Rhys Jones visited Cambridge and we took him to see the countryside which would be affected. He said “Having visited the site I hope that decision-makers will work with the local community and avoid damage here. Let’s plan for our great, great grandchildren. Something better and more visionary is needed”. 


What might the busway look like?

So far the GCP has not produced mock-up images showing what the busway might look like on the areas affected (we have asked them if they would). These photos, with super-imposed images of the Cambridge Guided Busway, might give you an idea. Can you see why we are objecting?

Latest Update

In May 2022 the GCP has launched a public consultation asking for views on how the environmental and social impacts of their development could be avoided or minimised. "By building a bus lane instead" is of course the answer, but not the one they want to hear. You can read about the latest proposals and give your views until 11 July by clicking here. These proposals also show the areas that would be used for work compounds and also the location of bus stops.

You will see that the GCP is proposing to create a number of areas of new habitat alongside the route, however they have not made very clear that these are aspirational and rely on landowners selling the land to the GCP for this purpose, and they have not yet been asked.

You may wish to highlight in your answers that the impacts could be best avoided by choosing an alternative route, such as inbound bus lane on the A1303. For question 24 you might like to highlight the significant ecological destruction caused by building a road and bridge through an orchard, scrub and woodland and that this could be avoided by building a bus lane on the A1303 instead.

It is clear that the Covid pandemic has reduced the peak-hour commuter traffic congestion that the GCP's scheme is designed to solve and it is unlikely that this will return to pre-pandemic levels. However there is significant new housing proposed to the west of Cambridge and so in the longer term traffic congestion may increase due to having a larger population - but by how much depends on whether East-West Rail is built or improvements made to the Girton Interchange during that timeframe.

Who do I give my views to?

If you would like to make your views known to decision-makers, then you can write to the voting members of the GCP Board (local politicians representing the councils of Cambridge, South Cambs and Cambridgeshire) and ask them to carry out work to seriously look at the less damaging alternatives. Here are their email details:

[email protected] (Cllr Bridget Smith, South Cambs District Council, Lib Dems)

[email protected] (Cllr Dave Baigent, Cambridge City Council, Labour)

[email protected] (Cllr Elisa Meschini, Cambs County Council, Labour)

You might also like to contact the non-voting members of the Board:

[email protected] (Andy Williams, AstraZenaca, Business representative)

[email protected] (Prof Andy Neely, University of Cambridge)

[email protected] (Nik Johnson, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough)

If you are not sure what to say, then something along the lines of: The Cambourne-Cambridge Independent Audit and CambridgePPF's report shows that there are viable and less damaging alternatives to the scheme you are pursuing. Please instruct your officers to carry out work to properly assess these alternatives and compare them to the scheme you are proposing, so that you can judge whether the damage that will be caused by your support for this scheme is really justified.

How else can I support this campaign?

If the GCP continues to progress this scheme then they will eventually submit an application to the government for permission to build their bus road through the countryside. This will be an application for a Transport & Works Act Order (TWAO) which will give them planning permission and compulsory purchase powers. A public enquiry will be held and a government inspector will consider the application as well as any objections and alternatives. The inspector will then make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport to either approve or reject the application. This process can take around 18 months. We anticipate the GCP will submit their application in winter 2022/2023 and we will need to submit our evidence shortly after.

We need to raise funds to pay for professional representation to help us present our case, including at the public inquiry. We would also welcome help from anyone who has a professional background in planning, transport or law who could help us put together our proof of evidence. If you can help, please contact us at [email protected] or call 01223 243830.

Previous Updates

In June 2020 GCP Officers recommended that the scheme be taken forward to the next stage (which would be a planning/transport application considered by a government inspector, as well as powers to compulsory purchase the land). The GCP Board (local politicians) had planned to make a decision on 25 June 2020. In response to this we organised a campaign to encourage people to email the GCP Board to let them know their views during Covid-19 lockdown. Faced with significant opposition from all-quarters the GCP Board decided to do further work before deciding on the fate of this scheme.

In December 2020 the GCP commissioned an independent review of the project, in light of the fact that it was several years since it started and things had changed during that time, such as East-West Railway. You can read Cambridge Past, Present & Future's response to the review by clicking here. The independent review reported to the GCP Board in July 2021. Frustratingly, the review only considered the process that the GCP had undertaken, it did not consider whether any of the alternative routes might be preferable. The audit concluded that the process was sound (which we already knew). It also confirmed that there were viable alternatives, that the GCP should review the business case for the busway to take into account the impact that an East West Rail might have, and that there would be environmental impacts and these should be considered further. 

Despite our pleas, the GCP Board voted to continue to progress the scheme. This will involve carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project and work on this is underway, with a public consultation planned for summer 2022.

Cambridge Past, Present & Future put forward an alternative alignment for the busway between Hardwick and Madingley Mulch, in order to save hundreds of mature trees and a meadow, which would be destroyed by the busway in this location. This alignment has now been adopted by the GCP.

We remain frustrated that the GCP will not produce a plan for the best scheme that could be delivered using the existing highway corridor, compared with their preferred "through the countryside" scheme. Thus allowing direct comparison of the two options. So, in 2021 we commissioned a report to look at such a scheme that we feel the GCP should have done. You can read our report which shows that such a scheme is possible and can be delivered more quickly, cheaply and without the damage to landscape, ecology and local community. We have shown that, in conjunction with East West Rail, there is a better way for public transport between Cambourne and Cambridge and we are asking the GCP Board to consider this option as an alternative to the off-road scheme when making a final decision.