Completion of the Cambridgeshire metro could be delayed by years and a clarification on the time scales is now required, according to the leader of Cambridge City Council.
Labour councillor Lewis Herbert told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that a recent proposed shift in focus for the kind of service and technology envisioned could change the time line, saying “I expect it would add a couple of years to the previous 2029 deadline”.
He said 2029 is also later than originally envisioned completion dates from around three years ago, and that “Cambridge badly needs a major uplift in public transport in the 2020s not just in the 2030s”.
And he said he wants to see “an accurate time scale both for the business planning underway now and a clear future target date for the opening of CAM Metro, particularly the central tunnelled section”.
But Cllr Herbert did also emphasise he supports the project along with other leaders in the county, and spoke positively about the approach in terms of the service and technology the authority appears to now be focused on.
The Cambrideshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s stated delivery timeline for the project is 2023 to 2029.
A report from the Combined Authority’s technical advisory committee in May said the cost of the project could be more than halved, from over £4billion to less than £2billion, by using smaller vehicles, meaning smaller tunnels and smaller stations.
The mayor and head of the Combined Authority, James Palmer, heralded the work as a “game-changer,” although other councillors have noted it is similar to a concept that was being looked at with the Greater Cambridge Partnership a few years ago.
When speaking about the possibilities of the technology, Mr Palmer told the Local Democracy Reporting Service at the end of July this year: “The delivery of the metro is 2023 to 2029. I think the most important thing is the 2029 and that we don’t go beyond that.”
But Cllr Herbert points to previous statements made by the Combined Authority which suggests the timeframe has already “slipped”.
The mayor was quoted in New Civil Engineer in July 2018 saying: “I want to be clear that I see the delivery of the first phases of the metro by 2023, with full completion by 2028, as an absolute baseline, from which I will be pressing for additional time savings.”
A report commissioned for the Greater Cambridge Partnership and Combined Authority from January 2018 suggested the tunnelled section could be completed by 2027.
It was reported in the Cambridge News in December 2017 that the overground sections could be completed by 2021 and the tunnels completed by 2025.
Cllr Herbert said “in order to have confidence” and to allow for the planning of and to provide the required public transport for the city prior to the completion of the CAM – for the 2020s and potentially beyond – a detailed and evidence-based delivery timeline is now required.
The Greater Cambridge Partnership – which is planning routes that would be convertible into the metro system – said earlier this year that a Cambourne to Cambridge busway and active travel route is now “unlikely to be achieved” by 2024, following the Combined Authority’s suggestion of using an alternative route.
An outline business case for the metro was expected this summer, but that was delayed to take into account the new work from the technical advisory committee which could offer a chance to cut costs in half.
Cllr Herbert said: “It is increasingly clear that the recent switch by the Combined Authority (CA) back to small vehicle technology and small tunnels for the CAM Metro, the close to Affordable Very Rapid Transit (AVRT) first proposed by the Greater Cambridge Partnership in 2017 and 2018, will add extra years to the previous CA target date for completing CAM Metro that all Cambridgeshire CA local authority leaders want to see succeed.
“On the plus side, this lower cost solution particularly for the tunnelled section under Cambridge, makes the essential need for an early and sound funding strategy potentially much more affordable and deliverable, at fares that will be fair. Obtaining funding and producing an outline business case as soon as practical for the revised AVRT-type system is now the next step, so that it is best in class for smaller UK city public transport proposals, and ticks all the boxes that government and funders rightly require so they will be persuaded to fund this ambitious and pioneering transport project.
“Along with other council leaders, I want to see an accurate time scale both for the business planning underway now and a clear future target date for the opening of CAM Metro, particularly the central tunnelled section. All leaders recognise the need for early progress on crucial elements, and it is good to see a developing consensus of leaders that the routes underway by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) should proceed to completion well ahead of the tunnelling, with a default of delivery not delay, and priority given to resolving the detailed routing of the Cambridge Cambourne section between the GCP and CA too.”
In response, and when asked if the Combined Authority is still intending to complete the metro network as currently envisioned between 2023 and 2029, a spokesperson said the existing timetable remains in place.
A spokesperson for the Combined Authority said: “The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority remains committed to the existing delivery timetable for the CAM.
“The direction coming out of the work of the technology advisory committee is a new, bold and innovative approach; it is by taking a similar stance that the Combined Authority has earned a record of delivery that busts pre-existing timetables, challenges comfortable consensuses and disrupts antiquated processes, making project delivery faster and better.
“As the impact of this exciting new work is rolled out across the project, we will take the same disruptive approach to ensure full delivery as quickly as possible.”