Underground Cambridge Metro dismissed as ‘Pie in the Sky’ in NIC report

Andrew Gilligan for the NIC

Oxford and Cambridge, at least, are ideal candidates for growth in every way but one: they are almost uniquely constrained in transport. If current plans succeed, more transport demand will inevitably pour into them. Yet their roads are already at or near capacity, and their historic centres are inviolable. So what’s the answer? New roadbuilding is impossible; gone are the days when plans could be drawn up for a highway through Christ Church Meadow. A tunnelled metro, suggested by some for Cambridge, would also be destructive, disruptive and prohibitively expensive, would take a decade or more to deliver and would not serve most of the journeys that people will need to make. In the centres of these cities, especially Oxford, there isn’t even much room for more buses.
One far simpler, cheaper, quicker and less obtrusive answer is staring Oxford and Cambridge in the face, even as they commission studies into busways, light rail and the like.

At the suggestion of the new Greater Cambridgeshire mayor, James Palmer, a study has beenlaunched into building tunnels beneath Cambridge for light rail, buses or the untried concept of
“affordable very rapid transit” using bored tunnels only 12 feet wide. Another option, according to the published brief, is a monorail.68
105. It is fair to say that all those I discussed this with were sceptical about it. Indeed, tunnelled light rail should perhaps be seen as a way of avoiding the actual issues rather than addressing them. It is sometimes cited as a magic alternative to politically difficult subjects such as traffic reduction, but it is not a realistic answer and it will not deal with Cambridge’s problems.

106. Even if the Fenland soil allows it, any tunnelled project would be colossally expensive, disruptive and destructive; nearly all tunnelling requires the demolition of some buildings on the surface. At 2017
prices the closest comparable UK tunnelled project, a recent extension of the Docklands Light Railway, cost around £150 million a mile;69 the most recent surface scheme, in Edinburgh, around £115 million a
mile.70 These sums exclude operating costs; any scheme in Cambridgeshire would need sizeable ongoing subsidies, since the population of the area is much lower than in any other place given a light rail system
in the UK and not high enough to cover its operating cost through fares.
107. It would take too long to deliver; Edinburgh took 11 years from approval to opening, and six years
to build, for less than nine miles of (surface) route. In a city developing as a series of hubs, any rail project would be overly focused on journeys to the city centre (though orbital routes are also suggested).
108. Most importantly, it is unneccessary. Cambridge is a small place. It already has an affordable rapid transit system which could be expanded much more easily, cheaply, quickly and usefully: the bicycle.

York’s Green Belt Catch 22 – The Inspector Asks a Question that Can’t be Answered

The York Local Plan Examination

The only authority without any kind of local plan, and consequently the only authority where the Green Belt is established in Structure Plans (as a general extent) and not a local plan.

Consequently the Inspectors have asked a question without a clear answer, indeed they asked the wrong question, and national policy does not consider this case.

It is clear from your topic paper that the issue of a Green Belt around York has a long and complicated history. As we understand it, there has at no time been an adopted development plan for York with an adopted policies map identifying the Green Belt, or at least not its boundaries. The Local Plan now sets out to rectify this. It proposes to designate land as Green Belt and to delineate Green Belt boundaries.

Paragraph 82 of the National Planning Policy Framework (‘the NPPF’) says that “The general extent of Green Belts across the country is already established. New Green Belts should only be established in exceptional circumstances …”. Paragraph 83 of the NPPF says that “Local planning authorities with Green Belts in their area should establish Green Belt boundaries in their Local Plans … Once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances …”.

We note that the Order1 partially revoking the Yorkshire and Humber Plan Regional Spatial Strategy to 2026 (May 2008) (‘the RSS’) does not revoke section C of Policy YH9 or sections C1 and C2 of Policy Y1, all of which are York Green Belt policies. It also does not revoke “the Key Diagram of the RSS insofar as it illustrates the RSS York Green Belt policies and the general extent of the Green Belt around the City of York”.
In the light of this, it would assist us to understand the Council’s position in respect of the present status of the York Green Belt and the implications of that in relation to paragraphs82 and 83 of the NPPF. We ask the Council to produce a concise paper explaining this. In particular, the paper should answer the following questions.

1 The Regional Strategy for Yorkshire and Humber (Partial Revocation) Order 2013
 For the purpose of paragraph 82 of the NPPF, is the Local Plan proposing to establish any new Green Belt?
 If so, what are the exceptional circumstances for so doing, and where is the evidence required by the five bullet points set out at paragraph 82 of the NPPF?
 If not, does the Local Plan propose to remove any land from an established Green Belt?
If it does, is it necessary to demonstrate that exceptional circumstances exist to warrant that approach? Or is it the case that the Local Plan establishes the Green Belt boundaries for the first time, such that the exclusion of land from the Green Belt – such
as at the ‘garden villages’, for example – is a matter of establishing Green Belt boundaries rather than altering them, in the terms of paragraph 83 of the NPPF?
Notwithstanding all of the above, it is not clear to us how the Council has approached the task of delineating the Green Belt boundaries shown on the Policies Map submitted. Unless we have missed something, no substantive evidence has been provided setting out the methodology used and the decisions made through the process. We ask that the Council now provides this.

Yes I think you have missed something.  Long appeal precedent has established that the general extent of the inner boundary of the York Green Belt has been established.  It is not new Green Belt.  However of course in establishing the inner Boundary had it been done at the time of the structure plan it would have been done so its boundary was permanent – to last 20 years or so the period of a structure plan as was the convention.  That task can no longer be done,  It could not have anticipated the housing needs of today.  So the general extent of the inner boundary now needs to be larger than shown on the key diagrams to accommodate the Garden Villages -which now need to be larger given the inspectors findings on the SHMA evidence.  Hence now the ‘general extent’ needs to change the exceptional circumstances text needs to be triggered and in line with the NPPF the boundary should be wide enough with reserved land to persist beyond the plan period (30 years or so by convention (a matter which got Nick Boles in a pickle in parliament).

Establishing a new Green Belt boundary to the edge of a feature which isn’t there yet – such as a Garden Village or urban extension is a matter not covered by national policy.  In urban design terms it might be better to define one through a new hard or soft urban edge than follow a field boundary which might not even be there.  The pragmatic example being the new Green Belt inner edge defined through the Cambridge Local .Plan.   York seem to have followed much the same approach, and its fine.

Am I missing something?