Tackling congestion in Cambridge

What’s it all about?

If you live in or around Cambridge you may have heard of the Greater Cambridge City Deal. It is a deal by which central government is providing finance to the Greater Cambridge area with the aim of “[helping] secure future economic growth and quality of life in the Greater Cambridge city region“. More information about the deal between central government and Greater Cambridge can be found here.

The City Deal is broken down in to the four main areas of transport, housing, skills and innovation; and at the moment the focus is on transport, with a key City Deal consultation closing on Monday 10th October (tomorrow!).

I had hoped to find the consultation on the ‘consultations’ page of the City Deal website, but when I clicked on the link there was no mention of this consultation. Instead you have to visit www.gccitydeal.co.uk/congestion. The City Deal say they are seeking people’s views from 11th July to Monday 10th October, but they have not given a time cut off – so it’s not clear whether the deadline is the beginning of Monday or the end of Monday. Given the ambiguity, I would hope that they will still consider all responses received at any time on Monday itself.


There are various elements to the City Deal’s transport proposals and most of these will affect Mill Road, whether directly or indirectly. Through chats with lots of local residents and businesses I’m hearing that although a number of local people seem to be aware of some kind of transport discussion, most haven’t seen a leaflet (I don’t think the City Deal delivered these through doors in Cambridge, though a kind local resident put some through some of our doors in the Mill Road area just a few days ago) and many had no idea that there was a consultation about to close. As there has not been an official City Deal meeting held in the Mill Road area, this is not surprising.

Of those that are aware of the proposals, many did not realise what the implications might be. For example, I have spoken to a few people about the proposed Peak-time Congestion Control Points (PCCPs) that are planned for Cambridge (including one on Mill Road) and most assumed that there would of course be exceptions for local residents and businesses. However, I was at a City Deal meeting recently and was told by officers that exceptions would not be made in these instances.

What are PCCPs?

The Peak-time Congestion Control Points (PCCPs) are points at which only buses, cycles and emergency vehicles will be given permission to cross during peak hours (expected to be 7-10am and 4-6:30pm) without incurring a fine. ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras will be in place at the points and will fine all vehicles that pass the points but do not have permission – expected to be a fine of £60.

Will PCCPs affect businesses?

There is a lot of concern about the PCCPs, as it is felt that there are a lot of exceptions that would need to be made – and the amount of exceptions would make it unviable and indeed cost the City Deal/Councils more in administration. For example, local businesses are understandably concerned that this would affect their ability to receive deliveries from their suppliers, their ability to deliver to clients and the ability of customers to shop with them. Rather than bringing people to high streets, this will discourage shopping and affect the local economy. Having worked at local companies that receive deliveries, I know that you need to be flexible about when you can receive them – otherwise suppliers just won’t deliver to you.

Will PCCPs affect people’s health, care and wellbeing?

Another concern – perhaps the greatest concern of all – that I have heard from a number of people is that regarding health and care. For example, many people have carers come and visit them at their homes in the Mill Road area and wider Cambridge, or live in these areas and travel to other parts of the city to care for people; or they help people by doing their shopping for them. Some of these might be more formal care arrangements, often through a private company, but many are more informal arrangements – e.g. between friends and contacts. Some carers balance work with caring and may carry out caring duties on the way to work (peak time), and patients who need help getting out of bed and preparing breakfast will undoubtedly need carers to attend some time between 7 and 10am. If these carers and helpers cannot travel to/from those who they’re helping at any time, then this could greatly affect these formal and informal services. For example, if a carer cannot travel by car to visit patients, they may not be able to visit at all. Although we should of course be aiming to reduce travelling by car, this is an area where it may not be practical to do so. For example, carers often have to carry medical equipment, shopping, cleaning equipment and other colleagues with them – and this would not be possible at peak times. Care is necessary at all times of day, not just outside of 7-10am and 4-6:30pm.

The other concern in this regard is that private care companies would greatly reduce the care they provide, and charge more for what care they do provide (i.e. pass extra costs on to customers), if they are regulated by PCCPs – for example, it would take longer for carers to travel between patients, and therefore reduce what they are able to do. The introduction of PCCPs could also affect the ability of Cambridgeshire County Council Social Services, community nurses, Papworth Trust, community rehabilitators and those providing re-ablement to patients leaving hospital, to provide care and support to people that need it when they need it, therefore reducing people’s quality of life. If the amount of day when they are able to do this reduces, this will limit the number of people they can help and the extent to which they can help them.

Another health-related concern is that it could delay patients attending doctors surgeries, health centres, out of hours doctors services and Addenbrookes. I have learnt from experiences with my own family and friends recently that Addenbrookes now will often contact a patient on the day or the day before, to ask that a patient attend for an appointment. This means there are no official appointment letters (probably a good thing, as Addenbrookes try to reduce their reliability on paper) and patients might have just an hours notice to attend for an appointment. If people are having to take large detours to get to hospital, they could miss these appointments. Although some patients could travel by bus, many will not be able to – bus journeys in Cambridge are often rough (with drivers accelerating and decelerating suddenly) and not good for those who are already sick and suffering with nausea and other symptoms.

Some patients (e.g. oncology) often have to visit Addenbrookes every weekday for several weeks, with the following day’s appointment often being given/updated at each appointment; and with Papworth moving to Cambridge in April 2018, the number of oncology appointments in Cambridge will greatly increase (thousands already use Papworth at it’s current location each year). These are appointments where friends and relatives might drive the patient to Addenbrookes (Addenbrookes does not have the facility to provide transport themselves). It is possible to claim back mileage in some cases, and I guess with the introduction of PCCPs this would mean that people’s mileage claims would potentially be larger – costing Addenbrookes more money.

Those of you who have tried to get a doctor’s appointment in Cambridge recently will be aware that most surgeries operate a system by which you have to be one of the lucky handful of patients to phone them at 8:30am sharp to get an appointment on the same day, and that if you don’t take the given appointment (which might be just a few minutes later) then you are likely to have to wait anywhere between two and four weeks for an appointment. PCCPs could affect the ability of people to get to appointments on time, which in turn could affect the number of people attending A&E (people should of course only visit A&E in an emergency, but with no minor injuries units or urgent care centres in Cambridge, A&E attendance is ever-increasing). Also, depending on the condition that the patient needs to see the doctor about, they may not be able to walk and so will need to travel by car.

Doctors also carry out home visits and these are typically done either in the beginning part of the day or end of the working day i.e. peak hours. Doctors travelling in their cars to patients at home are not emergency vehicles (and therefore are not exempt from the £60 fines), although the patient is obviously in some need if they cannot get to a surgery themselves. The PCCPs could affect the number of home visits a doctor does, or indeed whether they do them at all.

As a local resident, I can thankfully get most things I need on Mill Road and so will probably not go in to town during peak hours unless I have time to walk there and back (a minimum one hour’s round trip). But I can think of occasions where it would be useful to be able to drive in during peak hours – such as with a friend or relative who needs to visit town but who is unable to walk very far, or who is recovering from an injury.

Childcare is also an issue. During peak hours there are a lot of journeys being made where people have to drop their children off with childcare providers/family, before making their own journeys to work; and these journeys are often already made on a very tight schedule and routine, especially where people have to drop off children at more than one location. Having to make longer journeys may mean that it’s just not possible to do the journey and get to work on time.

The City Council’s own refuse vehicles and other Council vehicles will also have to pay the fines for passing PCCPs (i.e. a refuse lorry is not an emergency vehicle, bus or cycle) and these vehicles typically do their collections throughout the City from 7am on weekdays. I wonder how much these fines will cost the City Council and how this will affect their operations.

Have people been consulted on the planned PCCPs?

Apparently the discussions have been going on since July, but I (and many others) was not aware of any official City Deal events about the Mill Road congestion control point, and have only recently found out about it and that apparently there was an event held on Hills Road about the congestion points affecting Mill Road (rather than hold an event in the Mill Road area itself).

Although some political parties have held their own events, I think most local residents look to an official notification or event (rather than a party political one) for confirmation, and so will have missed some events; and without leaflets being delivered to every address locally, people just won’t be aware. Although some people will be aware of articles in the local press, it’s worth noting that Cambridge News circulation dropped by 50% between 2001 and 2011 and that people are increasingly looking to other sources to get their news.

People are concerned about the proposals themselves.

People are also concerned that they have not had time to consider the proposals properly and respond appropriately.

On Thursday last week, there was a protest against the PCCP proposals in Cambridge (more links to information about the protest are here and there are further protests planned soon). There have also been specific concerns raised by local commentators (such as this video and this blog post), teachers, vets, Mill Road traders, local councillorssocial scientists, local community groups (like this one), charities (like this one) and local businesses, (including Fitzbillies) and small businesses, not to mention several local residents and employees (like this example from my Twitter feed); and there have been various petitions set up too, including one on the Change.org website and one set up by a collective of local businesses.

What else is in the City Deal proposal?

There are a number of elements to the City Deal proposals regarding transport. These include some very welcome initiatives, such as the Chisholm Trail and other cycling schemes. However, it seems that there is still a lot of work to do in order to secure/improve the quality of life for people living in and around Cambridge. For example, there is a proposed busway planned for Cambridge to Cambourne (which has received a lot of opposition), but several bus services to/from villages have been cut in recent years and therefore need bringing up to a reasonable standard before such schemes can even be considered. As Cambridge is growing and house prices are increasing (whether renting or buying) many people are having to move out of the City altogether and out to surrounding villages. But several bus services have been cut, meaning those who thought they were moving to a commutable area are now having to drive in to Cambridge to work (for example a morning bus might get someone from Comberton to Cambridge, but following timetable changes over the last couple of years they would now have to catch the evening bus by a certain time – meaning they could not work late if needed; or those who do shift work often can’t get buses at all) and also for pleasure (many villages have no buses on a Saturday evening or at all on a Sunday). This works both ways, and means Cambridge residents often can’t consider jobs (or social activities) in some of the surrounding villages, due to lack of public transport.

A lot of the buses that do travel in and around Cambridge seem bigger than needed, therefore reducing some of these to single decker buses might help too.

If Cambridge is going to house all the staff moving to Cambridge, as well as existing residents who are inappropriately housed in the City and surrounding areas, then transport must be given a certain amount of priority. If people cannot afford to live in Cambridge itself, cannot commute to/from Cambridge by public transport because there aren’t any buses, and cannot afford to commute because buses are so expensive (often twice the price of London buses), then we are likely to see the detrimental effects more acutely as time goes on.

In summary

Although congestion is obviously an issue that we need to address in and around Cambridge, it seems the PCCP proposals have highlighted a number of adverse impacts and unintended consequences. There will be effects on residents and local businesses which will affect the local economy, but most concerning of all are the impacts on health, care and wellbeing. Indeed, it seems that far from the proposals “securing future economic growth and quality of life” (as per the City Deal aims), they could end up doing the opposite.

What can we do?

Make sure you complete the City Deal survey (direct link also available here). The City Deal website says that people can respond to the consultation up to Monday 10th October – tomorrow! You can also email the City Deal officers at: City.Deal@cambridgeshire.gov.uk.

Having been at a meeting with City Deal officers recently, they highlighted that people filling in the consultation (or emailing them) with specific examples, would help them assess impact. So please be as specific as you can with your responses.






Who’s doing your bidding…?

It has been proposed that Cambridge set up a Business Improvement District (BID) in order to help City centre businesses. I had not heard of the ‘BID’ concept until just a couple of weeks ago but it turns out they are not a new idea – in fact, discussions about the Cambridge BID (CBBID) have been happening for some time now and BIDs have actually been in existence in the UK since 2003.

Originally an idea that began in America in the 1970’s, a BID is a partnership made up of a Local Authority and businesses, with the aim of developing projects that benefit the trading environment within a specified area.

The concept of a BID centres around each business (above a certain value threshold – £20,000 rateable value proposed for Cambridge) within a pre-determined BID area paying an annual levy (a percentage of the rateable value of their business – normally 1%) into a central pot. This is run by a separate not-for-profit company (which has a board of BID levy payers, and a management team) and these funds are spent on things that will help those businesses – so long as the spending is not on areas that are already the responsibility of others (like the relevant Local Authority). A BID requires approval from the relevant Local Authority and is also voted on by the potential levy payers in the area.

The kinds of things that a BID might pay for could include promoting the BID area to visitors, better Christmas lights, making the City safe, joint networking etc. The CBBID is proposing various projects that fall under four main themes: Pride & Promotion, Welcoming & Vibrant, Clean & Safe and Business Support. The CBBID Business Plan has more information about what they’re proposing.

Is Mill Road included in the CBBID area?

The CBBID area covers the City centre and parts of East Road, but doesn’t actually include Mill Road itself. On the face of it this seems like a good thing, as I suspect a number of Mill Road businesses would struggle to afford the levy payments (especially in such tough economic times); and also the vast majority of traders on Mill Road are independents and so a scheme that suits City centre businesses may not be right for an area like Mill Road.

In any case, Mill Road traders could decide to set up their own BID in the future, if they wanted – though, as I will discuss later in this article, they may not have much choice.

Will the CBBID affect Mill Road?

Even though Mill Road is not included in the CBBID area it does not mean it wouldn’t be affected by its’ implementation. For example, if businesses in the City Centre get together to network with each other and promote themselves, could Mill Road end up getting left behind? I do hope not. But it’s probably just as well the Council have recently appointed a new Mill Road Co-ordinator, as it looks like we’ll need her help and support to promote Mill Road and ensure that it remains an important part of the City of Cambridge.

One of the key parts of the CBBID (and a pre-requisite for any BID) is the delivery of a retail crime partnership. This sounds like a good thing, as we need to tackle shoplifters across the City. But if shoplifters in the City centre are targeted by the BID (e.g. in the form of exclusion notices, which ban troublemakers from certain businesses) will they then be displaced to areas like Mill Road (especially the Petersfield side, as this borders the CBBID area) increasing crime on the outskirts of the City? It’s worth noting that the CBBID proposal includes the sharing of information through an online database and a two-way radio link to Council CCTV and the Police (all delivered by Cambridge Business Against Crime – CAMBAC). Though I assume CAMBAC members will still be able to access all these services, even if they’re not part of the BID.

There could potentially be some positive outcomes, if the BID goes ahead. For example, in some BID areas the BID has liaised with the owners of town centre car parks and got them to reduce car parking charges by up to 30%, which has meant more people can now afford to go and shop in their town centres – affordable parking in Cambridge is an ongoing issue, perhaps a CBBID could help achieve the same here? (though it should be noted that such a proposal is not currently part of the CBBID). BIDs in other areas have also organised (and paid for) city-wide festivals and events, which are normally aimed at promoting specific types of business.

There could be benefits for Mill Road itself – any extra visitors to the City centre (not that there’s really room for many more – it’s difficult enough for those of us that do visit to get around the city on any Saturday afternoon, due to sheer numbers of people!) might be inclined to walk a little further and visit areas like Mill Road if they’re in the City anyway. In fact, it could well be Mill Road’s uniqueness and independence that end up making it a more attractive proposition to shoppers than the City Centre itself (!). Indeed the City centre has already been labelled as the UK’s number one clone town – according to a report which claims it does not have enough independent shops – and some critics of the BID idea say that they turn BID areas into clones of each other.

What about displacement issues?

On one hand, the BID could be good for Cambridge as it would allow various improvements to be made to the City centre and will genuinely help businesses there tackle issues that affect their day to day trading, as well as enable them to procure services more economically. But on the other hand there are valid concerns about displacement issues and the potential effects there could be on businesses and residents outside of the BID area.

Journalist Anna Minton wrote a book in 2006, published by the Royal institute of Chartered Surveyors, called What kind of world are we building? The privatisation of public space. There is a chapter dedicated to BIDs and as part of her research she spoke to existing UK BID managers and directors. Here’s what some of them had to say about BIDs:

“It’s not my job to care about displacement. We have to be a little bit selfish, we’re business-led, we’re funded by business so we have to improve the area for them.”

“Am I going to pretend part of the response isn’t to displace the problem to somewhere else? No I’m not. If King’s Cross changes and the problems move onto Euston then they’ll address it there.”        

In spite of the above, I don’t think that the majority of Cambridge businesses (or the Council) are as ruthless. Having heard some of them speak about the CBBID recently I think most of them believe (rightly or wrongly) that it will be a good thing for our City – not just for them. A task force, businesses and staff at the Council have also been working on developing the CBBID for some months now. However, this still doesn’t necessarily ease worries about the bigger picture.

Some people have spoken out about about the CBBID and its long term effects, expressing concerns that BIDs developing in central areas will result in displacement issues, which will in turn mean outer areas will eventually have no option but to form a BID to tackle their new issues; and that soon the UK will be full of BIDs, which will effectively mean that businesses will be paying for, and controlling, services across the UK that Councils should be providing – it’s worth noting that although BID’s must only provide additional services, BID guidance available suggests that they may still simply be more of the same service that a Council already provides (e.g. extra street cleaning). If businesses are in control of these services, how will residents have a say?

There is also concern that this is actually moving towards Government and Councils cutting their own funding in the long term, as responsibility for paying for them moves on to businesses. Looking at other examples in the UK, Council posts such as district managers and town centre co-ordinators (our equivalent might be a role such as the Mill Road Co-ordinator) have been cut in (and around) BID areas, once the BID is in place.

Where can I find out more?

To help you make up your own mind about BIDs and the CBBID (please do – rather than just going along with what I’ve said) I suggest checking out the following:

There’s a lot of information available, on the internet and elsewhere, so do explore!

What next for the CBBID?

Cambridge City Council will be discussing a report about the CBBID at their Strategy & Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting on 3rd October, and deciding how to use their votes on the CBBID. This is a public meeting. There is also due to be a ballot of (potential) levy-paying businesses in the CBBID area from 4th-31st October, with the result being announced on 1st November.

I think the kinds of questions that the Council will need to ask during their scrutiny and risk assessment of the CBBID proposal, and to help them decide whether to agree to it, or not, are:

  • If the CBBID results in increased crime in other parts of Cambridge (e.g. Mill Road) what resources (financial and otherwise) does the Council have in place to tackle this? Will extra resource be available from the Police, if needed?
  • We now have a Mill Road Co-ordinator. But what else can be done to help Mill Road? And how will the Council help promote other parts of Cambridge that are outside the BID area (e.g. Mitchams Corner, Hills Road, the Eastern Gate)?
  • The BID would include networking amongst BID members, but how can we make sure all Cambridge businesses network with each other (rather than in separate ‘pockets’)?
  • Are there any safety/crime related benefits for CBBID members, over and above those already provided to any member of CAMBAC?
  • The general BID criteria says that small businesses should be excluded (from paying the levy) if the cost of collection would make their inclusion uneconomic. What contingencies are there for businesses that are required to pay the levy but can’t afford it?
  • The current CBBID Business Plan gives a brief overview of finances involved. When will the full breakdown, cash flow and management costs (as is required of BID Business Plans) be available?
  • What are the potential long-term displacement issues of the CBBID? How can we tackle these?
  • Displacement issues are likely to bring a requirement for increased Council spending in other parts of Cambridge. Does the Council have the funds for this?
  • Is the implementation of the CBBID genuinely in the best interests of the people of Cambridge?

It will be interesting to see what Councillors voting on the CBBID proposals make of it and what they feel the important issues are. They are voted for by us – the residents – and we need (re)assurance that they are considering all views and acting in the best interests of the whole City, not just part of it.

I am not sure who the CBBID idea came from, but the Governments own Local Authority guidance I have found has not helped:

It is important that the BID should not look like it is being initiated and run by the local authority. Even if the BID is part-funded or started by the local authority it should be seen to be private sector led”.

Even though at a recent public meeting, Cambridge City Council’s leader dismissed claims that the City centre would be run as a private company and for the retailers as nonsense, guidance is clear that BIDs are to be set up as private companies and existing BID managers have said that BIDs are for benefit of business and that they act in the interests of those businesses. Indeed when the BID concept was first brought over to the UK in the 1990’s, it was marketed to our Government as the way to move retail back towards town centres.

I am not sure if my musings and findings on BIDs have actually been helpful for those of you still trying fathom it all. This blog article has been a little (actually a lot!) longer than intended, as I have discovered new bits of information whilst writing and changed my mind several times on what I think of the CBBID proposals and how Mill Road could be affected. However, it hopefully goes some way towards informing the debate about the CBBID – though as I’ve already said, please do make up your own minds.

As this blog suggests, there’s something about Mill Road – we need to work together to make sure our unique and vibrant area thrives, regardless of what others are doing, and we want to continue to be an important part of a City that people (most importantly) want to live in and work in.