Northstowe and the Cambridge Guided Busway were inextricably bound. Northstowe, a proposed eco town of 10,000 homes, made no sense without the Guided Bus. And the Guided Bus, the world’s longest such route, made no sense without Northstowe residents using it to get in and out of Cambridge, 6 miles away. And because other new settlements around Cambridge had been built before the transport infrastructure was in place — thus turning them into car dependent exurbs — the Guided Bus route had to be up and running before Northstowe became a reality. That was the Plan.
But now it looks as though Northstowe has been cancelled. It certainly hasn’t been started, and there is no appetite to make a start. Another crucial part of the transport infrastructure that had to be in place before Northstowe became a reality was the upgrading of the overloaded A14, the east-west trunk road that bisects the countryside between Northstowe and Cambridge. This project was about ten times more expensive than the Guided Busway and, guess what, it’s been put on hold indefinitely by the new government.
But at least we have a Guided Busway? Now even this is in doubt. It’s nearly two years late, and it’s still being “snagged.” The original budget of £120million has been blown apart. The latest estimate puts the bill at over £160million. Worse still, 25% of the costs were to be raised from the developers of Northstowe. Hmm. That's never going to happen unless someone actually builds Northstowe.
The rumours circulating now are that the council has no desire to ever open the Guided Busway because it will lose money from Day One. It is in fact quite content to keep the “snagging” going because it’s cheaper than subsidising the operating costs. Looks like we could end up with the world's most expensive cycleway.
Cambridge’s over-arching growth agenda looks to be in tatters. For years, we were told that businesses were queuing up to move into our science parks, our hospital was about to expand from employing 11,000 to 17,000 and that there was an unquenchable demand for low cost housing. Now it all looks like pie in the sky. Just another example of ambitious plans being funded with easy credit, and expropriated profits from developments.