There was a great turn out from local people to both these events. Good effort from EWRCo. for putting them on. Some of the staff were more knowledgeable / forthcoming than the low base of last year’s “no new information” event in Haslingfield. One thing I did notice was that EWRCo. staff never took any notes of what had been said to them, either they have good memories or perhaps the input is filed in the bin. Tick box exercise or consultation with the public? You decide.
Figure 1 Cambridge Approaches Protest in the Eversdens 22nd June 2023
Figure 2 Cambridge Approaches Protest in Harston 26th June 2023 (front page on the Cambridge News and the Independent)
There was also a good turnout from local politicians. We even had the Lib Dem MP candidate for the next General Election acknowledge the poor business case that the railway has in a tweet shortly after the event. Her opposite number also appeared in a puff of blue smoke and told the assembled crowds that “personally, he was against the railway” to great applause. Democracy in action for the politicians.
In contrast, EWRCo. continued like the Titanic, completely unsinkable.
Figure 3 Is EWR Unsinkable?
As always there were interesting conversations with EWRCo. staff inside the hall. Here are some of them. Do add more in the comments. I have changed the names to protect the innocent! (with apologies to Douglas Adams).
“I spoke to a business case guy, Marvin, who had been at EWR a year. He said he had never worked on a project with a lower BCR than this one. He also encouraged me to keep fighting the project(!) and didn’t make it sound like the northern approach was off the table.”
There was a recorded video of Beth West at the end of the room. It seems that someone had been sick over the video screen. Afterwards Trillian explained “Sorry, but my son vomited over the Beth West video screen”. I suspect it was at the point where Ms West was explaining that Tempsford is a brown-field site, even though RAF Tempsford is outside the 2km catchment for the station. Unfortunate, but understandable – the vomiting that is.
“I spoke to Zaphod on the business case side. He did not know that the local plan was held up by the water infrastructure. ‘Yeah, someone else told me that, just now’” I mean EWRCo. has only spent £150 million over the past two years studying the problem, you can’t expect them to know about our water infrastructure problems can you?
Zaphod also said, ‘we’re going to have to work hard on the business case because we have chosen the most expensive route. Yes, we also need to look at the local plan. I asked about there being only 20% of Cambridge commuters from Cambourne using the railway and would that not make the roads busier. He said ‘yes, rail is not a dominant mode [of transport]’. He also said, ‘it’s about houses, it’s always been about houses’.”
I challenged the Will Gallagher on the point that the jobs target for Cambridge in the local plan is an independently assessed demand estimate and that the local plan already has the interventions necessary to support those jobs. 57,000 houses supported by GCP’s various transport schemes. Either the 28,200 jobs that EWR is trying to support is additional the local plan – in which case why was the independently assessed forecast wrong? Or it is part of the local plan numbers in which case which part of the local plan needs to be undone? After a bit of dancing around he said, “it’s a fair challenge” and followed up with “in the end the chancellor will decide”. Resistance is futile.
“I spoke to Ford Prefect on the business case side and explained that lack of water infrastructure was a serious risk to his business plan, he replied that this was an environmental problem and that I should speak to an environmental person. I explained the concept of “responsibility dispersion” in the context of a railway project which was 95% about housing but the transport organisation proposing it took no responsibility for signing off on that housing and nor so far did anyone else. He thanks me for teaching him a new term. Responsibility dispersion, he’ll probably find it useful.”
“So, I spoke to an environment person, Wowbagger, who gave a great explanation of how biodiversity net gain would work. After an assessment of the number of units of biodiversity lost (the unit for biodiversity is called the “unit”), they would acquire land, ideally alongside the railway and create replacement habitats. In some cases, ten times the land area would be needed for the replacement as was lost in the first place. I asked if that meant they needed 2x or 10x the land for the railway and the housing developments to achieve the object. Wowbagger didn’t have an estimate, but it would not be that much.”
“I spoke to one of the local farmers at the event and he confirmed that he had been asked to sell them more land than was strictly required for the railway. He told them where to go with that.”
If you have more feedback from the event do add it to the comments.