08:20 Wednesday 27th March 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL STAINTON: Fifty years ago the Beeching Report was released, massive cuts to lines, massive cuts to jobs. It begs the question, are we suffering for it now, as our roads struggle with the weight of traffic. And could expensive projects like the Guided Bus and the proposed A14 upgrade have been avoided if Beeching had never happened? And even if the need is there, can our train companies provide a financially viable service?
Nick Clarke is the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. Morning Nick.
NICK CLARKE: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Do you wish Beeching had never been born?
NICK CLARKE: Not at all. His report was a report of its time. He looked at the viability of the rail network, and clearly a lot of it wasn’t viable. We can’t expect the rest of Government and taxpayers to subsidise industries that weren’t meeting the needs of the people. And at the time there was a great shift, individuals wanting to drive cars, and they had to build roads for them. So you can understand how it happened. But we’re now in a position of looking forward, so we’re putting in place at the County Council a number of initiatives, lots of them to support rail as it turns out. As you’re well aware, the recent announcement of improving the Kings Dyke crossing at Whittlesea. We’re looking at the Wisbech rail station, and the one in Soham, and of course we’ve already made the announcements of the new station in Cambridge. So it’s about having a mixture of transport, and of course the one we can’t avoid talking about is the Busway, the Guided Busway, and that’s been a tremendous success.
PAUL STAINTON: Would we have needed it though Nick if we’d had some of these railway lines? We’re reaping what we sowed back in the day, because all this traffic is there for a reason. There are no railways.
NICK CLARKE: We have to look at the original point of it (which) is to move people around from and to where they want to go at the times they want to go. The Guided Busway at the moment for example is running five minute services. It’s beyond belief that anybody would run a train service to that regularity. I think when we looked at the studies at best we’d get a twenty minute service. And even then the viability, it’s difficult. And what we need is a flexible transport system which is what we’ve got in place for the Guided Busway. We’ve got 4 million people have used it. It’s a success by any measure. And it’s not costing us now, our operating costs, anything from the public purse. So we’re not subsidising it. That’s the key to this, if it needs to be sustainable, which it is. But the real one I’ve got to worry about at the moment is the A14. We’re leading a coalition at the County Council of local authorities who are all prepared to put some money in to bring that forward, and that’s the model the Government is proposing. But I’m getting some worrying signs that Cambridge City Council are now hesitating whether they’re going to contribute to that. And if that were to be the case, that would have a real problem for the sort of coalition of people who are prepared to fund this.
PAUL STAINTON: So the City Council have yet to commit their bit.
NICK CLARKE: They haven’t committed, and probably worse than that, the mood music is that they may not. So I’m really concerned about that. I’ve been spending an awful lot of time working with them recently.
PAUL STAINTON: Are they struggling to see what benefit it might bring? Surely it’s there in black and white, isn’t it?
NICK CLARKE: Well that would be my view, but yes, that’s exactly the point. I think they are struggling to see what the benefits would bring to Cambridge. But if I can’t convince the people of Cambridge that they need the A14 upgrading, how on earth can I convince Norfolk and Suffolk, Essex and all the rest to contribute?
PAUL STAINTON: What happens if they don’t commit? How much are we talking about here?
NICK CLARKE: Well I’m not sure it’s the quantum that’s the problem. It’s that the Government is insisting on a local contribution, as it’s insisting on tolling. I don’t like tolling. I don’t want to be contributing locally either. But that’s the deal on the table, and of course if we don’t pull that off, then there are plenty other counties up and down the country with road schemes that would take the Government’s right arm off. So this is about coming together to contribute, and what we’re talking about with these contributions of course is providing a slice of the benefit for the road upgrade. And Cambridge has got to benefit from that. We’ve seen AstraZeneca coming here. I’ve had correspondence from a number of very significant business leaders saying we have to have the A14 upgrade. The Local Enterprise Partnership has put £50 million on the table, and they’re doing that because they know that business needs the A14 upgrading, and without it, business is going to stall. And I don’t think it’s a case of, oh well, if it doesn’t get upgraded we won’t improve. I think if we don’t upgrade the A14, we will go backwards. And that’s not acceptable.
PAUL STAINTON: What would your message be then to Cambridge City Council, and the people that are delivering the mood music at the moment?
NICK CLARKE: Well I’ve given my message very clearly. I think it’s now time for the people of Cambridgeshire and Cambridge to let the City Council know how they feel about it. Because we politicians have a duty to respond to the people who we represent, and I think we need to let them know.