Friday, September 26, 2008

Another Piece in Station Area Jigsaw

Another piece has been put in place for Ashwell's mega station area planning application, as the County Council Transport team has published its response to the application. As the local highway authority, it has a duty to look at the plans and assess if the impact on the local highway network is acceptable. More details are published here (towards the bottom of the page), In summary, I looks like the County Council believes the application is OK on highways grounds.

I spent yesterday afternoon with other Councillors listening to Atkins, the County Council's consultants on how they came to this conclusion. The application will see significant improvements to several junctions, including a new bus/cycle access road from the Brooklands Avenue junction, and resiting of the war memorial to improve the Station Road/Hills Rd junction. But a key factor in the County's conclusion is Ashwell's decision to severely restrict car parking spaces on site, which it is believed will reduce car traffic to the site. Overall, the effect of the plans in terms of increased daily journeys to buildings on the site is expected to be as follows:

Vehicle movements (mostly cars) Up 17% from 3,212 to 3,749

Cyclist movements Up 192% from 3,145 to 9,199

Pedestrian movements Up 556% from 1,322 to 8,666

Public transport passengers (excluding rail) Up 173% from 2,112 to 5,757

With total movements up 180% from 9,791 to 27,371.

In other words, with the high development density planned for the site, journeys to/from the site will rocket, but only a tiny part of the increase will come from car movements. Frankly I'm sceptical. The wholly erroneous claim that the station area is surrounded by controlled parking zones so car parking won't be displaced to neighbouring area was again made - this completely ignores Coleridge ward across the bridge, a large part of which is a short walk from the site - it could end up being renamed 'Ashwell's car park ward'. But new development with so few parking spaces is untried, and there will be severe pressure from users of new buildings particularly the offices. Existing car parks are currently lightly used - in the new development every square inch of parking space allowed by the planners will be full. I also think there will be significant unmodelled traffic movements from people being dropped off to offices on the site. So despite this new report, I see no reason to withdraw my objection to the application.

The work that has gone into this report is significant, with lots of experimental work and modelling, but as in any work of this nature, as noted above there will be some key assumptions made that could be seen as controversial. I support calls for a further public meeting to discuss the implications of this traffic report before the planning application is decided (pencilled in for an October planning meeting). This issue is just too important for Cambridge, we need to give some real scrutiny to these plans. And on the topic of scrutiny, the multi-million pounds of spending that the Council demands from planners like Ashwells in so-called s106 agreements shouldn't be just left to Council officers to agree with developers - these agreements are really a form of taxation, and in view of their importance should also be subject to democratic scrutiny by Councillors.

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