When I was told that two important bus services for St Neots, the 61 and 63, were about to be axed, I decided it was right in this case to step in and keep them going in the short-term.
The 61 and 63 bus services connect residents of Eaton Socon, Eaton Ford and Eynesbury with the town centre and the Combined Authority will subsidise the services to keep them operating until March 2019.
I saw this as a sensible intervention to avoid disruption to people and businesses and especially as we have built momentum in the rollout of the Combined Authority’s bespoke Masterplan for Growth for St Neots. The Combined Authority agreed this summer to spend £4.1 million on a wide-ranging package of improvements for St Neots designed to reinvigorate the town and improve it as a place to live and work.
As mayor, a big focus for me is improving the vitality of our market towns, which play an important, and sometimes under appreciated part in the economy and fabric of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Improving transport is central to that goal.
But the fact that the 61 and 63 services were deemed unsustainable by the operator Whippet is just another indicator of the fact that transport in St Neots, as with many of our market towns, is in need of a complete rethink.
St Neots has always been well placed to connect with the rest of the country, through its rail links and its closeness to the A1 for example, but its local transport infrastructure is suffering from lack of investment.
A pipeline of improvements is set to help.
A revamped bus service, the rollout of the metro to St Neots, and the dualling of a key part of the A428 to the A1, all have the power to help transform transport for the town. Part of the Masterplan for the town is a comprehensive transport study, to ensure that all improvements will be joined-up and working together.
Starting with buses, the system we have is clearly not working for people and one of my first actions as mayor was to commission a full review of our bus services in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. That review of buses, and its recommendations, are due to come back to me in November. People in market towns such as St Neots need a bus service that is reliable, affordable and convenient. I have a number of options open to me on buses, including franchising, and all will be considered.
Some people are still unaware that it has always been the intention to extend the metro to St Neots. I see the metro as very much a project for Cambridgeshire, not just the Greater Cambridge area. To be clear, this is not about bringing tunnelling out to St Neots – underground sections will only be necessary for a small part of central Cambridge - but will be about bringing an overland link to the town.
The metro is not just about taking people to the middle of Cambridge, but connecting people to the wider area, its business and science parks, as well as other towns and villages. We also then need to ensure that our bus service works with the metro, feeding into the St Neots metro station, as well as the rest of the town, to ensure we have a joined-up public transport system.
Some people question how realistic the metro is. Although I am limited in what I can say, the project has attracted significant interest from major investors who are keen to be a part of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough economy, and equally appreciate the additional economic benefits a world class public transport system would bring.
The Highways England upgrade to the A428 has moved from a start of 2020/21 to 2021/22 but it represents a significant upgrade to the A1 Black Cat junction and the A428, with dualling through to Caxton Gibbet. There will be real savings to journey times.
This route will also be a crucial part of the Government’s wider Oxford to Cambridge transport corridor plans which St Neots is of course well placed to take advantage of. My focus on this corridor is ensuring that we get the road and rail infrastructure delivered in a timely way and with no further slippage, and before significant new housing is built.
My intervention on buses in St Neots was very much a short-term measure, but longer-term my vision is for St Neots to benefit from a joined up transport system that moves people efficiently, affordably and reliably around the town, to the rest of Cambridgeshire, and beyond.