posts in ‘Cambridge, UK’

fixing local democracy

local democracy is broken:

  • there is a deficit of trust between the public, councillors and council officers, owing to poor communication and, in some cases, poor performance.
  • the deficit of trust extends to central government’s view of local government, leading to a reluctance to devolve more power.
  • councillor allowances are so low that few people can afford to be a councillor, severely constraining the pool of potential candidates.
  • councillors who have to earn a wage find themselves working an unhealthy number of hours, leading to burnout and strain on their family life.
  • the quality of committee debate, decision making and policy is often unsatisfactory, partly because councillors rarely have time to read, yet alone digest, meeting agenda packs, which can run to hundreds of pages.
  • constituents have a poor understanding of which councillor to contact about what issue.

but it needn’t be this way: a radical reorganisation of local democracy could lead to better representation and governance at no greater cost.

allowances for councillors representing the 14 wards of Cambridge city in 2014-15

Cambridge allowances
councillors basic average leader annual cost*
Cambridgeshire 14 £7,700 £11,747 £22,700 †£164,464
Cambridge City 42 £2,782 £5,756 £13,632 £241,737
total 56 n/a £7,254 n/a £406,201

*not including travel and subsistence expenses (which are not income).
†pro-rata from total cost of £810,577 for 69 county councillors.

fewer, full-time city councillors

imagine that, instead of electing three City and one County councillor per ward, you elected just one, full-time councillor to represent you on both councils. if the £406,201 of allowances paid out in 2014-15 to local councillors had been paid to just fourteen, their average remuneration would have been £29,014. that could equate to a pay scale ranging from around £25,000 to around £50,000 for the leader – livable (though not generous) salaries: £25,000 equates to £12/hour (based on 260 8-hour working days).

by comparison, Cambridge’s MP represents thirteen wards (Queen Ediths is in South Cambridgeshire constituency), with the assistance usually of a part-time researcher/administrator, and receives a salary of £74,000 (as of 8 May 2015). therefore it is not unreasonable to think that local matters could be well-represented by a team of fourteen full-time councillors.

by further comparison in 2014-15, the chief executive of the County Council received remuneration (salary plus pension contributions) of £228,177; and the chief executive of the City Council received £138,820.


this arrangement would have many benefits:

  • councillors would be committed full-time to representing their constituents, and guiding and scrutinising the work of council officers.
  • having all councillors involved in both city and county councils would ensure more joined-up thinking, and facilitate collaboration leading to cost savings.
  • fewer councillor positions and more people feeling able to be councillors would create greater competition for the best talent, commitment and performance, ensuring consistently high calibre elected councillors.
  • constituents would have a single point of contact for local issues.
  • councillors could be reasonably expected to correspond in a timely manner, to hold weekly surgeries, and to communicate regularly (e.g. via a website) with their constituents.
  • more effective local democracy would argue strongly for more powers to be devolved from central government.

part-time councillors

being a councillor part-time works well for some people, especially those who have caring responsibilities or have their own business. job-sharing could be the answer. in a sense that is what happens now, because each ward or district is typically represented by between two and four councillors, but there is no formal job-sharing arrangement; in fact quite the reverse when councillors are from different political parties.

if each ward or district is to be represented by one full-time councillor, then anyone who wants to do the job part-time would need to arrange a job-share with someone else, and stand together with that person for election on the same ticket. the terms of the job-share should be made public at the time of standing for election so that it is clear who would be responsible for what; how they would split the allowance; and how they would be contactable (ideally offering a single point of contact).

political party organisers should be able to arrange suitable matches, but independents would need to use their initiative. once the principal is established, there should be no reason to stop three or more people standing together for a single councillor position.

beyond the city

outside the city, each district would elect a single councillor to represent them on the relevant district and county council. (in reality many already stand for election to both councils.) since many rural wards have small populations (as low as 1,200 – compared with around 6,000 per ward in the city), there would need to be a radical redrawing of ward boundaries to enable a 75% reduction in the number of councillors across the whole county.

further information


Edward Leigh

solving the traffic problems of Cambridge, UK

Many of these ideas are now being developed by the Smarter Cambridge Transport group, led by the author of this post.

options to reject

bus lanes/ways

the Cambridgeshire Local Transport Plan and first phase of the City Deal transport initiatives contain some excellent, eminently worthwhile schemes, but the main solution that councils are proposing for solving Cambridge’s congestion woes is to build bus priority lanes or busways. the hope, based more on intuition than evidence, is that this will persuade more people to leave their cars at home and take the bus, or use park-and-ride. however:

  • the cost is huge (£60m estimated for Madingley and Milton Roads);
  • new bus lanes increase road capacity as far as the city outskirts; since we cannot increase vehicle capacity of central Cambridge streets, the additional traffic (even if only buses) will exacerbate congestion in the centre;
  • in most cases there is only space to provide a single bus lane, so buses only benefit during one (typically morning) peak period; (tidal lane allocation is theoretically possible, but not practical or safe on space-constrained urban roads with junctions, e.g. because bus stops have to be built on both sides of the lane, and the lane has to be physically segregated to prevent other vehicles straying into the path of a bus approaching from an unexpected direction);
  • every arterial (and orbital) road is heavily congested, so increasing capacity on just those that have space for a bus lane will not solve the problem city-wide;
  • much green space would be lost in widening roads;
  • the space required for a single bus lane could provide two, high quality, 2.5m cycle lanes at lower cost, which would benefit more people at all times of day;
  • there would be no improvement to air and noise pollution, even if the buses run on electricity or hydrogen (because there will still be the same volume of cars, vans and lorries on the roads).

congestion charging

congestion charging is attractive to councils because it would create a new source of revenue; and it would work: the charge just needs to be set high enough. but it has two unpalatable side effects:

  • entering the city becomes a rich man/woman’s privilege;
  • businesses that require vans (for deliveries, or providing building, installation, maintenance or repair services) become subject to a significant new tax, inhibiting growth and competition. would a plumber drive into the city to quote for a small job if s/he has to pay a congestion charge?
  • administration and enforcement is costly, requiring a high charge simply to break even.


a logical solution to congestion above ground is to create additional capacity for transport underground. however, tunneling is hugely expensive, at around £30m per kilometre, added to which is the cost and disruption of building underground stations in a city centre. this level of investment can be justified for a large city where daily ridership is in the high tens of thousands (the Tyne and Wear Metro carries around 100,000 people a day); but in a city the size of Cambridge, the investment cost per passenger-journey would be unjustifiably large.

a new vision for Cambridge

we need a shift in mindset about cars entering city centres: that they are for people with impaired mobility and for transporting goods and equipment. except where it is impractical (and not just less convenient), workers, school children, shoppers and visitors should be walking, cycling, or using public transport to access the city centre. and it’s not only because of congestion that we should be reducing the volume of traffic and parking in city streets: it’s to make them enjoyable and safe spaces for residents and visitors.

this can be achieved – and permanently – by implementing the following measures:

  • use ‘gating’ to shift congestion to outside the city: this means buses and other traffic flows freely within the city, and drivers approaching the city can make an informed decision about using park-and-ride rather than ‘chancing it’.
  • build more park-and-ride sites to minimise the distance people must drive to reach one.
  • provide more bus services.
  • reduce car parking provision in the city centre, releasing space for cycle parking, planting and other uses.
  • create convenient, continuous, connected and safe foot- and cyclepaths wherever possible in the city and out to all surrounding villages.
  • use IT to make public transport more user friendly.
  • support the creation of a city wide shopping delivery service.

the proposals here are very much work in progress: all comments and suggestions welcome!

build new city ‘gates’

the first step in curing Cambridge’s congestion problems permanently is to ‘gate’ all of the arterial roads into the city. the technique is a form of integrated traffic management and is used to good effect in Zurich. it is also known as ‘queue relocation’: congestion in the city centre is shifted to out-of-city sites where it is easier to build additional road capacity.

at each gate, the road is widened to create holding lanes for traffic wanting to enter the city; traffic lights, connected to queue detectors in the road ahead, release vehicles only as fast as they can move along the road ahead. a bypass lane permits certain classes of vehicles, such as emergency services and buses, to jump the queue. other classes of vehicle might also be permitted to use it, such as taxis, delivery vehicles, tradesmen, and multi-occupancy vehicles (to incentivise ride sharing).

building a park-and-ride site close to a gate means drivers can make an informed decision about whether to proceed into the city or use park-and-ride. road-side notices can inform drivers of expected queuing times and give directions to the nearest park-and-ride site.

this is a list of all the gates that would need to be built, starting from the south and working clockwise around the city:

Girton park and ride site

new park-and-ride site at Girton

  • A1309 (Hauxton Rd): the gate would be on the city side of the main exit from the existing park-and-ride site. Vehicles would not be permitted to enter the city from the park-and-ride site so as to prevent people driving through the site to skip the queue. The bypass lane would also serve to access Addenbrooke’s Rd.
  • A603 (Barton Rd): the gate would be about 500m beyond the roundabout and there is space to build a park-and-ride site either side of the road.
  • A1303 (Madingley Rd): this requires two gates, one about 500m beyond the A428 roundabout, with a park-and-ride site being built near the roundabout; the second gate would be just beyond the entrance to the existing park-and-ride site (which would be restricted to park-and-cycle/walk – see below).
  • A1307 (Huntingdon Rd): the gate would be where the existing dual carriageway ends and a park-and-ride site can be built in the triangle of land within the M11-A428-A14 interchange. the northbound carriageways would become a two-way road as far as the park-and-ride entrance.
  • Oakington Rd: the gate would be south of the junction with New Rd, which would provide access to a new park-and-ride site on the Guided Busway on the north-west edge of Histon.
  • B1049 (Histon Rd): the gate would be just north of the junction with Kings Hedges Rd, with the possibility of a small park-and-ride site to the west.
  • A1309 (Milton Rd): the gate would be north side of the Cowley Rd junction. there is already a park-and-ride site north of the A14, so signs on the roundabout would need to inform drivers of the expected queuing time at the gate.
  • B1047 (Horningsea Rd): the gate would be south of the A14, and there is space for a new park-and-ride site either side of the road.
  • A1303 (Newmarket Rd): the gate would be south-west of the A14 junction, and there is space for a new park-and-ride site either side of the road. there might be a need for a second gate near the entrance to the existing park-and-ride site (which would be restricted to park-and-cycle/walk – see below).
  • Balsham Rd: the gate would be at the edge of Fulbourn with a park-and-ride site nearby.
  • Station Rd (Fulbourn): the gate would be south of the railway. there will be the option to park-and-train from here when the planned new Fulbourn station opens (date to be determined).
  • Babraham Rd: the gate would be at the junction with Haverhill Rd, with a new park-and-ride site to the north (which would also serve Wandlebury Country Park and Magog Wood). the existing park-and ride site would serve only people wanting to park-and-cycle/walk – see below.
  • A1301 (Cambridge Rd): the gate would be between Stapleford and the old Cambridge Rd through Sawston. there is space for a new park-and-ride site either side of the road.


a generous budget for doing this would be:

  • £65m for road widening at the gates (13 @ £5m average)
  • £150m for new park-and-ride sites (10 @ £15m average)
  • £10m for installing queue detectors around the city
  • £5m for the control systems

total: £230m. this is less than a third of the £853m currently allocated from the City Deal funding for transport.

reduce city car parking

multi-storey car parks

Total: 3,040 parking spaces

*excluding motorcycle bays

park-and-ride sites

  • Babraham Rd: 1,458
  • Madingley Rd: 930
  • Milton: 792
  • Newmarket Rd: 873
  • Trumpington: 1,340

Total: 5,393 parking spaces

the elephants in the room when discussing congestion are the huge city centre car parks, which together have a capacity of over 3,000 spaces: they are magnets for traffic that competes with buses. reducing parking capacity, at council car parks, on street, and on business premises has to be the next step in eliminating congestion and making roads safer and more pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists.

reducing parking capacity in the city centre entails the City Council forfeiting income (the five multi-storey car parks alone yield an income of almost £9m for the council, covering 8% of annual expenditure), so that money will have to be found in other ways.

  • charge tiered prices for multiple resident parking permits, starting at, say, £70 / £120 / £200 / £300. give a year’s notice, during which time necessary exceptions can be identified. increase the differentials by £10 each year. notify ZipCar and competitors of the intention, so that they can prepare to cater for the upturn in demand.
  • expand the residents’ parking scheme to the whole of the city (inside the A1134 plus a few areas). this will yield additional income, some of which must go to the City Council to replace income lost from reducing public car parking provision. the principal aim of the expansion would be to stop commuter parking, so the hours of restricted parking can be short (e.g. just one or two hours in a day), reducing the number of wardens needed to patrol the streets.
  • gradually reduce the parking capacity at all central Cambridge car parks.
  • convert part of the ground level (‘-1’) deck of the Grand Arcade car park into additional cycle parking (see below); convert the roof deck to a landscaped roof garden with a concession for a cafe/bar.
  • build a new eastern entrance to the main rail station from Clifton Road. link this with a footpath alongside the railway sidings to the Cambridge Leisure site and multi-storey car park (which is nearly empty during the day). have the rail franchisee (currently Abellio) negotiate with Cambridge Leisure to provide the same parking rates for rail travellers as at the NCP station car park. these measures together would relieve congestion on Hills and Station Roads.
  • gradually remove pay-and-display bays on city roads to create space for cycle parking, loading bays, and (in time) household refuse collection points.
  • double-yellow Regent Terrace and relocate residents’ parking to the southern end, keeping this busy thoroughfare clear and safe for cyclists and pedestrians at all times of day.
  • double-yellow the whole of Station Road (removing all pay-and-display bays). this will make room for high quality cycle lanes in both directions (see above).


  • encourage retailers of bulky goods to club together to run a delivery service to all park-and-ride sites (following the example of John Lewis in delivering to Trumpington park-and-ride).
  • provide covered cycle parking at all park-and-ride sites, maintaining at least 10% more capacity than demand.
  • as new park-and-ride sites are built further out from the city centre, designate inner sites for bus-and-cycle, with covered, secure cycle parking for people arriving by bus (both regular and park-and-ride services).

parking reservation system

  • fund/sponsor/license a computerised parking reservation system for all city centre car parks. gradually increase the reserved allocation at each car park over time.
  • involve retailers in the scheme so that their customers can reserve and pay for a space, then receive a rebate on presentation of their ticket (or QR code) in the shop.

cycle parking

  • new Grand Arcade cycle park

    this section of level -1 of the Grand Arcade car park could be separated off for cycle parking.

    convert an area of the southern end of the ground level (‘-1’) deck of the Grand Arcade car park (beneath the City Hotel) into a 600+ space cycle park. this would be separate from the existing cycle park. the area involved is easily isolated from the flow of vehicle traffic. the only structural work required would be to widen and ramp the existing pedestrian entrances, from the City Hotel car park access lane (Tibbs Row) and from the elevated walkway alongside Corn Exchange St.

  • reassign part of each of the other multi-storey car parks to cycle parking and a cycle hire shop.
  • encourage bike hire companies to set up at park-and-ride and bus-and-cycle (see above) sites. ideally it should be possible to rent a bike one-way between any of the following: park-and-ride sites, train stations, and city centre sites (e.g. each of the multi-storey car parks).
  • aim to provide sufficient secure cycle parking within 20m of every pub and shop.
  • incentivise universities and businesses to replace all ‘wheel bender’ cycle stands with upright frames (Sheffield/Frankton/A-frame/etc.), installed at the correct height and separation (see Cambridge Cycling Campaign guide).

reduce traffic to schools

  • have the County Council employ a City Schools Transport Co-ordinator to work with all schools (state funded and private) on:
    • designating suitable car drop-off/collection points, away from congestion hotspots, in and around the city, such as park-and-ride sites, rail stations and bus stops;
    • timetabling shuttle buses between schools and designated drop-off/collection points;
    • organising adult supervision of groups of primary school children cycling or walking between school and designated  drop-off/collection points.
  • aim to introduce a ban on private vehicle drop-offs and collections in the vicinity of all schools, with exceptions being granted only by the head teacher at his/her discretion.
  • require sixth form colleges in the city to bring in a ban (with appropriate exceptions) on their students using a motor vehicle in Cambridge (extending the ban that already applies to university students – see the University of Cambridge’s Proctorial Notice on Motor Vehicles). designate a County Council officer as the contact point for the public to report vehicles that may be in breach of a student ban. the officer would pass such reports to the relevant university or school to investigate and, where appropriate, take disciplinary action.

create a Cambridgeshire transport planner

  • fund/sponsor and coordinate the development of a comprehensive Cambridgeshire transport planner for route planning and real-time travel information across Cambridgeshire, accessed via the web and mobile apps:
    • bus and train routes, timetables and real-time wait times. (consulting timetables, especially where changes of service are required en route, is complicated, tedious and outdated).
    • CycleStreets for cycle routing options.
    • carpooling organiser to enable people to request and offer rides. (this would cater to commuters and shoppers in Cambridgeshire, unlike established carpooling services (e.g. and Bla Bla Car), which focus on inter-city journeys.)
    • community transport services (e.g. Dial-a-Ride).
    • taxis (which would pay to be included).

improve city roads

  • set all bus companies operating services with intermediate stops in Cambridge a deadline of, say, 2018 by when contactless payment will be the only form of payment accepted (as it is now on London buses). this minimises stop times for buses, allowing quicker bus journey times and reduced congestion.
  • create segregated cycle lanes on all main roads with sufficient width to accommodate.
  • include a cycle-first traffic light phase at all large road junctions. the chief benefit is in allowing cyclists to turn right without crossing the path of moving vehicles. when approaching an advanced cycle box at a junction, there is often not enough time to get into the right-hand lane before the lights change and traffic starts moving.
  • paint split cycle lanes at the approach to multi-lane junctions (e.g. on A1134 approaching junction with Mill Road from the north). this gives cyclists confidence to change lane for a right-turn, and car drivers clear warning of where cyclists may pull across in front of them.
  • use sinusoidal ramps on raised tables to improve comfort and safety for cyclists.
  • pedestrian crossing

    pedestrian crossing with in-road flashing lights (instead of a Belisha beacon) © Intelligent Traffic Equipment Marketing Ltd

    install zebra crossings on all key pedestrian routes and in the vicinity of shops. a change in the highway law would enable the use of in-road flashing amber lights, which are more visible in the day than Belisha beacons and do not create an annoying distraction at night for nearby residents.

specific projects

  • remodel Station Rd–Hills Rd junction with cycle lanes on all routes.
  • remove pay-and-display bays on Station Road, enabling the addition of cycle lanes in both directions.
  • remodel junction between Downing and Corn Exchange Streets to enable cyclists to turn right safely.
  • remodel the Devonshire Rd–Carter Bridge junction to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Long-Road-station

    looking north: stepped access (in white) from Long Road to Guided Busway and site of new bus stop (in red)

    build a stepped link between the Guided Busway path and the south side of Long Road.

  • build a Guided Bus stop to the south of Long Road bridge. this would serve the sixth form college, Clay Farm development, Sedley Taylor Rd, Rutherford Rd, and the northern fringe of the Addenbrooke’s site.
  • build a bridge connecting Cowley Road and Fen Road; sever Fen Road at the railway; create a pedestrian and cycle underpass beneath the existing level crossing. this removes a dangerous level crossing and opens up the Fen Rd area (over 50 hectares) for future (sensitive) development.
  • create a light-controlled cycle crossing of the A1134 ring road at Natal Road to improve the link with Brookfields and the (unnamed) road that leads to Budleigh Close. this is a missing link in the east-west cycle corridor from central Cambridge to Cherry Hinton.
  • create a pedestrian crossing on Cherry Hinton Road between Rustat Road and Rock Road.
  • Brookside bridge

    new bridge and cycle path (in red) between Trumpington Road and Brookside at Fen Causeway roundabout

    build a cycle-pedestrian bridge over Hobson’s Conduit between the Trumpington Road-Fen Causeway roundabout and Brookside. This would allow cyclists to avoid the Trumpington Road-Lensfield Road roundabout, and the awkward turn and narrow bridge level with Pemberton Terrace.

  • create segregated cycle lanes along Fen Causeway, with proper junctions with cycle paths on Coe Fen, Sheep’s Green and Lammas Land.
  • cantilever a cycle path over the edge of the Mill Pond to enable cyclists to make more use of the cycle/footway to Fen Causeway on Coe Fen, and avoid the Newnham Road-Fen Causeway roundabout.

improve village transport links

putting neighbouring communities, local schools, shops and other amenities within safe walking or cycling distance reduces car use for short journeys, and has valuable social and health benefits. it also provides a free and healthy option for villagers to commute into the city, and for city dwellers to get out to the countryside and patronise village pubs, cafés and shops.

  • provide more bus services, connecting with (or serving as) park-and-ride buses for greater flexibility and speed.
  • build continuous, dedicated cycle and footpaths to connect the city with all surrounding villages (to at least the standard of the link to Great Shelford).
  • connect up village schools, shops and other amenities with safe cycle ways and all-weather footpaths.

further reading


Edward Leigh, Jim Chisholm