City centre congestion in Cambridge and Peterborough a cause for concern

10:23 Tuesday 13th January 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: We’re also talking about congestion in our city centres, in Peterborough and Cambridge, and asking whether you’re being put off venturing into both cities because of the terrible traffic. Does it put you off? Yesterday Margaret in Peterborough got in touch with us about the traffic along Bourges Boulevard in Peterborough. She had this to say.
CALLER: Bourges Boulevard is not as good as it used to be. You could go down Bourges Boulevard, be into town in a few minutes. Now you’re just sitting in queues of traffic. The journey down from Werrington to Queensgate shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon, it was awful. I caught the Delaine bus. I felt quite sorry for the driver really. We got to B&Q just over the roundabout and it was two lanes of traffic. Luckily the bus driver turned off at the Toys ‘R Us roundabout and went round the back street, and he must have only had about five minutes before he then had to drive the bus back to Stamford. With the roadworks, there’s too many traffic lights. I’m just wondering whether the Council seem to be deterring people, deterring them from coming into the shopping centre, because it will be a little while before I go down there again. It’s awful.
PAUL STAINTON: Well that was Margaret on the Show yesterday. But it’s not just Peterborough of course. Cambridge experienced some of the most congested traffic it’s ever seen just before Christmas. And joining me now is Andy Campbell. He’s Managing Director of Stagecoach in the East. Morning Andy.
PAUL STAINTON: How difficult is it in Peterborough and Cambridge for your bus drivers at the moment?

ANDY CAMPBELL: It’s very difficult. Congestion is getting worse and worse. We made some changes in Peterborough in February 2013, but that’s compounded by the works that are taking place on Bourges Boulevard. The question is, when the works are complete, will we still have the congestion problem with the extra traffic lights?
PAUL STAINTON: Because they’ve been put in in front of the new Waitrose there, haven’t they?
ANDY CAMPBELL: Yes they have. You’ve got the Waitrose crossing, and then you also will have the crossing to the railway station as well.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes, which is going to stop traffic and stop traffic. And I know last Wednesday afternoon, and it’s not the first time, I was driving out of Cowgate, wanted to turn right but the traffic was all over the big roundabout in front of Queensgate. I couldn’t turn right effectively without joining a queue and blocking the roundabout. Went down Thorpe Road and it was 150 yards back down Thorpe Road, the traffic, at one thirty on a Wednesday afternoon.
ANDY CAMPBELL: Yes. I think you’ve got to give the Council some credit, because they did postpone the works in the build-up to Christmas. But unfortunately they then had the gas works on the roundabout, which didn’t help. The two weeks where we had those together, that was just a nightmare. But we’re hoping that when the scheme is complete, we’ll be able to get back to normal.
PAUL STAINTON: So a bit of hope for Peterborough, but perhaps not so much when you’re driving around Cambridge, because it’s just grid-lock all the time, isn’t it?
ANDY CAMPBELL: Well something radical needs to be done in Cambridge. I know it’s not going to be popular, and it’s certainly not going to be something that politicians want to grasp, but with the City Deal coming, I think somebody needs to say we need to do something in the city centre.
PAUL STAINTON: What do you think? What sort of thing?
ANDY CAMPBELL: Well whether you expand the core scheme that has worked in reducing traffic right in the heart of the city, whether you expand that out towards the railway station, or whether you go back to the congestion charge that was talked about before, but when you’re taking an hour to go from the city centre to the railway station, a one mile journey, something radical has to be done.
PAUL STAINTON: And back to Peterborough, we heard yesterday that some of the bus drivers are having to go round the back roads, which cannot be good, fiddling about driving round the back roads because you can’t get down Bourges Boulevard.
ANDY CAMPBELL: No, it’s not good, and it’s never good when you have to come off the designated route. We’re also looking at Peterborough Hospital, because the service goes around the hospital. And we’ve got a meeting with the people from the hospital, because the buses are just getting stuck there at peak times when people are going in and out. And we’re wondering whether we just stop on the edge of the site during peak times.
PAUL STAINTON: And not actually go in. Well with us also is Simon Machen. He’s Director of Growth and Regeneration at Peterborough City Council. Simon, morning.
SIMON MACHEN: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Now we’ve talked many times about Bourges Boulevard, and I think most people agree that when it’s finished it will look very nice, and I think what’s been done already looks very nice. But the traffic is a nightmare, even on a weekday afternoon.
SIMON MACHEN: I think Paul in a sense you’re right. As we explained right at the outset with this scheme there will be inevitable delay whilst we get the scheme completed. We’re a couple of months now away from that, but I think the finished product will be worth that pain. Let’s not forget that Petereborough has the fastest commute time by car of any city in the UK, and only a couple of weeks ago we were criticised by the Campaign for Better Transport because it’s so easy to drive around the city in your car, and that’s what people do. So in a sense you can’t win the argument. But I think remember when Bourges Boulevard is finished there will be still two lanes of traffic on either side of the road. Yes there will be crossing points, but it’s really important that we can get people safely from the city c entre to the train station and back again.
PAUL STAINTON: Margaret though, as you heard, thinks you’re trying to put people off going in there. Let me read you some of the other comments we’ve had this morning. Sarah McGee, ‘I’m fed up with the bad traffic in Peterborough. Don’t go in.’ This from Brian, ‘I avoid Peterborough and Cambridge. I go to Bury St Edmunds. It’s much nicer, much easier.’ Robin, ‘I avoid the city centre of Peterborough like the plague at the moment.’ You’re putting a lot of people off, aren’t you?
SIMON MACHEN: Well we’re actually also encouraging a lot of people Paul. You know, footfall is up. We have a very low high street retail vacancy rate here. We’re the lowest in the country. You’ve seen the investment that’s been made. You’ve seen the new high street names that have come to the city. So pretty much the investment is paying off there. We have a brand new Waitrose store adjacent to the train station, so clearly operators and footfall are evidence that things are improving in Peterborough.
PAUL STAINTON: When is it scheduled to finish, the works on Bourges Boulevard?
SIMON MACHEN: We’ve got a couple of months left. We’ve got the dual issue at the moment of our roadworks plus the Anglian Water roadworks, but the intention there is that whilst we’re doing works on that bit of road, rather than somebody else coming back six months down the line and digging it up again to put in utilities, we’re doing everything that we can to future-proof it. So be that CityFibre, or be that Anglian Water, as much work as we can possibly do is being done during the construction period.
PAUL STAINTON: And we heard just then from Andy saying that he’s not convinced that when it’s finished there won’t be traffic problems anyway, with the traffic lights you’ve got on there slowing people down and causing queues.
SIMON MACHEN: Well also if you think about it one of the things that we’re implementing for the first time since that road was constructed is the ability to turn right out of the train station and right into the train station. What we have at the moment are lots of journeys, particularly for people like taxi drivers and people picking up and dropping off at the station, that loop round Bright Street and Crescent Bridge roundabouts, because there’s no ability to move in the direction you want to travel out of the station. So we’re cutting out a lot of those movements, which in itself creates additional capacity. So having modeled the impact of the Bourges Boulevard improvement schemes, which are fundamentally about making it better for pedestrians and cyclists, I need to be clear about that, there will be some short-term delay for motorists using that road in the city. But if you look at the long term benefits of that, it’s worth that cost.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you confident that when it’s finished there won’t be cars queuing over the Queensgate roundabout, there won’t be cars queuing down Thorpe Road?
SIMON MACHEN: Paul, like most cities, you know, remember Peterborough is growing by 25,000 more houses over the next 15 or 20 years. Traffic in this city will get worse than it is today.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes I know that. I’m saying as a consequence of what you’ve done on Bourges Boulevard, will it get worse?
SIMON MACHEN: As a consequence of the growth of the city, traffic will get worse through the city centre. What we encouraged people to do when we announced these works was to not use the city centre as a rat run. We know that a number of journeys are simply cutting through the city centre …
PAUL STAINTON: It’s not a rat run though, is it? People have to get into Queensgate car park. They’re the main car parks in town.
SIMON MACHEN: No no no. No. There are many …
PAUL STAINTON: They are. They are.
SIMON MACHEN: Yes. There are people getting into Queensgate car parks. Equally there are people for example coming down Bourges Boulevard, cutting through the city centre, and getting onto Perkins Parkway. So there are lots of people that we know that use it as a short cut, rather than using the parkway system for what is was designed for, which is essentially you drive out, you drive around, rather than cutting through the middle.
PAUL STAINTON: So you’re trying to deter those people, but keep the ones that are coming into the centre basically?
SIMON MACHEN: Absolutely. Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. OK. I get it. Andy, are you convinced it’s all going to be hunky-dory when it’s finished?
ANDY CAMPBELL: Well I’m a bit of a pessimist anyway, but I hope it’s back to normal.
PAUL STAINTON: OK. Listen, Simon, thank you for coming on this morning and answering the questions.
SIMON MACHEN: You’re welcome.
PAUL STAINTON: We always appreciate that. Simon Machen, Director of Growth and Regeneration for Peterborough City Council. Andy Campbell, managing Director of Stagecoach in the East. He’s in charge of all the buses and the bus drivers who are frustrated with their journeys at the moment, when they’re trying to get into Cambridge or Peterborough, and he’s called for a bit of radical thinking in Cambridge in order to solve problems here. And in a couple of months hopefully, we heard from Simon Machen there, everything will be hunky-dory in the centre of Peterborough.