The Impact of 2035: Rail in Cambridgeshire
18 May 2021
On 10 April this year France’s lower house voted to abolish some short haul domestic flights where there is an alternative option available to travellers to use the train, and where those train journeys would result in journey times of less than two and a half hours. The preferred alternative, rail, being seen as a less environmentally damaging travel solution. The bill has yet to be ratified and is but one of some 126 measures proposed in a French climate change bill. There were calls for this to apply to journey times of up to four and half hours.
Back in the UK on 23 January 2021, transport minister Grant Shapps announced the cancellation of the Oxford Expressway. This was a proposal to provide a dual carriageway link road between Milton Keynes and Oxford. In the same announcement he confirmed government support and £760m of funding for improvements to the rail links between Bicester and Bletchley, for those who follow the Oxford to Cambridge Arc a key section of the proposed East-West Rail route. He cited the “cost as outweighing the benefits” as the reason, but underlying the decision, at county council and local authority level, along with numerous lobby groups, was recognition of the concern the detrimental environmental impact the Expressway was projected to have. The result again being rail as the preferred, more environmentally friendly option.
Both the above see a shift to rail. Combine this then with the recent announcement by Boris Johnson that it is committing the UK to reducing emissions by 78% by 2035. Environmental considerations, whether you label them the quest for carbon neutral, sustainability, environmentally friendly, or simply green, are now right at the top of the agenda. With the public’s increasing awareness of environmental impact comes that very same public demanding greater accountability of decision-makers at all levels for the impact their decisions have on the environment. Decision makers in both the public and private sectors are themselves becoming more driven by environmental considerations. As this momentum continues to grow, so will the outcomes of decisions such as the two above at an exponential rate. The targets are now there and we all need to deliver, in 14 years!
The move to rail is one such manifestation, so what will it look like in our region? The station at Cambridge North near the Cambridge Science Park opened in 2017 and the current Network Rail projection is Cambridge South to be located in the vicinity of the Cambridge Bio-Medical Campus will open in 2025. Cambridge North connects with the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway (linking east to Huntingdon and St Ives) and the Park & Ride, whilst Cambridge South is intended to open up access to the Bio-Medical Campus, for businesses, their employees and visitors, but with intentionally no Park & Ride. Further north, Ely is seen as a key point of focus for rail network improvement for both passenger trains and rail freight routes, those improvements intended to reduce journey times and increase rail users. This will improve the rail journey options for travellers both in and out of north Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. Running west from Cambridge, the Cambridge to Bedford section of the proposed East-West Rail route is out for consultation but new stations are planned at Cambourne, St Neots with a new (or relocated) station at Bedford. What this gives the region is an improving rail network to provide people with viable alternatives to using cars, whether for school, work or leisure. It will also stimulate and support the growth of housing within reach of the stations.
As more of the workforce take the train what are the likely affects in town? For businesses, it seems highly probable that on-site office parking is likely to be less of a requirement and that parking is kept distinct from leased office space to allow for tenant flexibility. Firms may well start to look at communal electric cars to provide for the need to meet clients or go on site visit in places out of reach of public transport, and why not a pool of electric bikes to bring more clients within reach of a trip to see them by boosted pedal power? Businesses’ mileage policies are likely to apply only to electric vehicles. At the other end of the rail commute, in the market and commuter towns, residential development land in the vicinity of the stations is likely to be at an increasing premium.
The pandemic has had some catastrophic affects, however not without some positive consequences. The lockdown, and the “stay at home” “socially distance” “protect the NHS” slogans have been directed at each and every one of us. We have seen first-hand the direct correlation between our individual actions and a national objective, the number of Covid19 cases and deaths increasing or decreasing. From one day to the next entire workforces staying and working from home successfully has demonstrated to leaders and their workforces, to us, that embracing radical change can work and can deliver quick and successful results. It gives confidence to us all that we can deliver in challenging times. 78% emissions cut by 2035, “pourquoi pas”?