Monday, April 5, 2010

What next for the station area?

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A period of exciting changes to the station area are planned for the future, that could be vital to transport infrastructure for the City.

To the west of the station, the Council finally signed off the s106 agreement for the CB1 development at a recent planning meeting. This gives the development permission to go ahead. We have blogged previously on the merits of the scheme as a whole, but the arguments go on about the financial viability of the whole scheme, what the Council knew about the previous developers Ashwells financial problems, and why even now their is a risk that only parts of the development will be built (like the student accommodation that appears to be most profitable), with some of the vital transport infrastructure never being built. The recent serious fire affecting listed buildings on the site only clouded the situation further.

But independently of the CB1 development, network rail has plans for the Coleridge side of the site. They would like to build a central platform, that will open up a range of options for accessing the station from Coleridge. They also have a vacant site that appears to be ripe for development, and could provide much needed housing in an area that is well served by transport links.

Further afield, we understand development of the former Cambridge Water site on Rustat Road could be about to be picked up again, and there is scope for improvements to the Leisure park.

What is the Conservative approach to the station and leisure park area?
Firstly, public consent - we need meaningful dialog with local residents before decisions are taken.

Second, we need high quality development - in such a key strategic part of the city, we must have a very high quality built environment. The Travelodge on the Leisure Park clearly fails this test - we mustn't make the same mistake with other sites.

Finally, we must develop the best possible transport links - and this means getting the agreements right when granting planning permission, and making sure developments are viable with the improvements to transport that must be provided to make the developments work without putting local residents in Coleridge to any greater inconvenience than they are already from problems such as commuter parking .

What are we doing about this?
I spent considerable time with network rail trying to setup a meeting to discuss a range of issues of public interest - what are their plans for a second platform? how will it connect to the main platform? How will it link to Coleridge? Will they help improve cycle parking at the station? Will they support the Chisholm Trail that could significantly improve cycle links from our ward?  What are their plans for the vacant sidings? How can the public get involved? After emails with many people with 'communications' in their job title, I was no nearer speaking to anyone who actually had a meaningful role in decision making in these areas, and have asked the Director of Planning at the City Council to try setting up a meeting. It appears network rail, whilst enjoying all sorts of statutory protections and operating in many respects like a public body, operates outside of any type of democratic scrutiny. This needs to change!

We will be keeping up the pressure on the planning system at the Lib Dem run City Council - it isn't delivering quality, and we fear the station agreements will turn out to be a terrible deal for taxpayers - who have already funded much of the site through the bank bailouts prior to Ashwell's going bust, and who are now likely to pay for a lot of the transport infrastructure on the site as well. Our planning policies need to change, to ensure a quality build environment is not an unaffordable luxury after all the Council's other requirements have been met. Our planning policies also need to support and encourage better transport infrastructure, particularly on key sites like the station area.

Last week I also met with the owners of the Cambridge Leisure Park, along with other local Councillors. We pressed the case for better usage of the site, and talked about some of the transport issues - like how to encourage leisure park users into the multi storey car park rather than surrounding roads, and how to improve access to the site from the station area. I support some type of bridge (and/or possibly a connection to the new platform) - I could never understand why the Lib Dems allowed this to be taken out of the original planning permission for the Leisure Park in the first place...


Frugal Dougal said...

As you, Richard Normington and Nick Hillman have all mentioned before, we could also do with loads more cycle-parking spaces.

Anonymous said...

There is already a bridge linking the station to the leisure centre - Hills Road Bridge. All it needs is a set of steps on the station side to match those already in place on the leisure centre side.

Equinox said...

As Frugal Dougal said, more cycle spaces please. But again, because the whole thing has been privatised and given that politicians of all parties are calling for this, I fail to see how any private company would be interested in making any changes unless a) failure to do so would cost them money, or b) someone paid them - i.e. the tax payer.

This is one of the big problems with privatisation of anything - private companies deliver against contracts, not against political pressure unless the latter costs them in terms of profits.

On another point re: local government, what difference do local councillors make? Are local authorities primarily driven by officials or do local councillors really have influence over both policy and delivery?

Coming back to the Station Road area, it's good to see news about extra platforms at the station that I'm hearing from the grapevine. What I would like to see is communication between Stagecoach and the train companies in terms of when trains arrive and when buses leave. There's nothing more frustrating coming back from a hard day in London to face a half an hour wait for a City1/3 to take you back home.

My journey to/from work involves Citi-3/Train/Tube. (Doesn't "Citi" breach Plain English Campaign rules about not being able to spell properly? Maybe we should tax companies that have names that are not in the Oxford English Dictionary in order to pay off the deficit!)

How to get the public involved? Mixture of ideas such as:
- encouraging people from the public sector to go into schools/residential homes etc to publicise the cases
- working with local supermarkets (i.e. where people go for essentials)
- notices at bus stops/ Cambridge station
- the voluntary and community sector - we've got enough churches in our area for example
- social networking sites
- Even getting together with all of the other political parties and saying that "This issue goes beyond party politics and we, the political parties of this area would like you to get involved"

After all, on the last point there are various cross-party committees in Parliament. How about you all make it happen locally?

After all, there is a huge responsibility on all political parties to rebuild trust in the political system after what's happened in recent years...