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.






Blue Monday

Beautiful blue skyThe third Monday in January is often referred to as ‘Blue Monday’, as it is said by some to be the most depresing day of the year – for a number of reasons including that it’s a Monday (back to work after the weekend!), the mornings are dark (sunrise isn’t until 7:57am), bad weather makes for a longer commute to work (especially while while we have the snow), people may have by now broken any new years resolutions they made, extra money spent at Christmas can make it harder to get through January and the end-of-month pay cheque is still a little way away!

Snowy window boxThis does indeed sound rather depressing and there’s no doubt that mid to late January can be a particularly difficult time of year for many. But there are a number of initiatives around the country aimed at helping people – for example   Mind in Cambridgeshire (formerly Cam Mind, but they recently merged with Hunts Mind) have all sorts of resources and suggestions on their website, including a timetable of whereabouts in Cambridge ‘Blue Man’ will be throughout today (in case you want to pop along and meet him!).

With this in mind, I thought today might be a good opportunity to mention that if people are feeling low or depressed then there are charities and organisations that can help, and there is always someone to talk to. Here’s a list of useful (mostly local) contacts:

  • The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and you can call them on (08457) 909090 or email jo@samaritans.org. If you would prefer to talk to someone in person you can call in to the local branch at: 4 Emmanuel Road, Cambridge CB1 1JW, between 10:30am and 10pm. There’s more info on the Cambridge Samaritans website.
  • Lifecraft is a self-help user-led organisation for adults that have experience of mental health difficulties in their lives. They provide free confidential support via the Lifeline telephone service, which is open 7pm-11pm 365 days a year – call (0808) 808 2121 (free if calling from a BT landline). Based at the Bath House on the corner of Gwydir Street and Mill Road, Lifecraft also provide a range of support services and activities including one-to-one counselling and group activities such as art, meditation and a social club.
  • The Citizens Advice Bureau can provide advice on a range of specific issues such as help with debt, welfare rights, housing, employment and relationships. Cambridge Citizens Advice Bureau & Advice Hub is based at 66 Devonshire Road, Cambridge CB1 2BL and you can drop in any time 9:15-12:45 Monday to Friday. Their advice line telephone number is (0844) 8487979 and you can call Monday-Friday, though do note that advisers are often only available 2pm-4pm. There’s quite a bit of information on their website, so you may be able to find what you need online.
  • Mind in Cambridgeshire provides counselling and wellbeing services. Their website has lots of info and you can phone them on (01223) 311320 during office hours.

Hello duckyIf you’re feeling down or depressed today, or at any time, please remember that you are not alone and there are people you can talk to 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; and if you know someone who isn’t feeling happy then please be kind and thoughtful – a smile or a ‘hello’ can go a long way.