17:06 Thursday 9th June 2011
Drivetime BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
ANDY BURROWS: A date has finally been set for Cambridgeshire’s £180 million Guided Busway to open. After two years of delays, and contractual disputes between the County Council and the builders BAM Nuttall, it will be operational on August 7th. The project, designed to ease congestion on the A14, will carry passengers on buses run on guided trackways between Cambridge and St Ives. Let’s speak to Nick Clarke, who’s the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. Good afternoon to you.
NICK CLARKE: Good afternoon to you Andy.
ANDY BURROWS: So why have you set this particular date? What’s ready? What’s been completed? Why now?
NICK CLARKE: Well the Guided Busway is effectively completed. We have to give notice to the Traffic Commissioners through our contractors who’ll be running the buses. And that notice has been submitted today, which then moves it forward to 7th August. It’s a date that we are confident we’re going to meet, and we’re looking forward to this fabulous new service being available for the people of Cambridgeshire.
ANDY BURROWS: Confident, or an absolute assurety that buses will start running on August 7th?
NICK CLARKE: I have no doubts that the buses will be running on 7th August, and I invite you to come and join us and join me perhaps on the first ride. You’ll be more than welcome.
ANDY BURROWS: (LAUGHS) Well we’ll see how you get on, because it’s an almighty challenge, isn’t it? So is everything done, or are there stil bits and bobs to do?
NICK CLARKE: Yes there’s a few bits and pieces we’re doing, and some trials of some of the lights, and bits and pieces. But there’s nothing there now that will stop the buses running on 7th August.
ANDY BURROWS: So, in many ways you must be very pleased that this has been completed. But I do wonder, if this project had been suggested now, would you have gone for it? Would you have decided to take up the challenge of putting a guided busway between St Ives and Cambridge?
NICK CLARKE: That’s a fascinating question Andy, but the reality is now I’m not looking backwards. This is looking forward to a fantastic facility for the people of Cambridgeshire. It will be a fast frequent and affordable way of getting from a market town into the centre of Cambridge, and then onward onto Addenbrookes. It should provide a stimulus for business, for Longstanton, for St Ives, for Huntingdon, and also help to relieve some of the congestion in Cambridge. Because of course we’ve introduced two new park and rides to assist them, and we all know how populat they are.
ANDY BURROWS: I am interested to know though, whether you’ve been a fan of this all the way through.
NICK CLARKE: The great news for me Andy is that I’m a brand new councillor. I’ve only been a County Councillor for two years, and a Leader for about three weeks.
ANDY BURROWS: Even better then. Even better then Nick Clarke. Because you watched from outside of Shire Hall. Were you a fan of it when it was first mooted?
NICK CLARKE: Frankly I paid very little attention to it. What I am pleased about is that given the fact that the A14 improvements have now delayed, and we’re not sure where the future lies with that, this will help to allieve a lot of congestion, which will help the casualty rates. It will help people get to work. It will help business.
ANDY BURROWS: Yes but were you a fan of it? You can’t fail to have noticed the headlines it’s made over the last few years, when you were outside of the Council.
NICK CLARKE: Absolutely. What I want though is good effective transport around the County. And this is fitting beautifully with my initiative about the community transport as well.
ANDY BURROWS: I’m still interested to know. You had to complete it. It was past the point of no return. But would you have built it? Would you have suggested the idea those few years ago?
NICK CLARKE: If only I would have such imagination to do so Andy. That’s not what we’re here to talk about though. This is about a fantastic new facility for the people of Cambridgeshire. And you know we need to get people on these buses. If you sit on them like I’m sat on one at the moment, it’s fantastically furnished, it’s got free wi-fi. It’s just an excellent premium service, but not at a premium rate.
ANDY BURROWS: It’ll be interesting to find out if that is the case, but there will be people listening to this who will be listening to that figure of £180 million, and think, was that really, has it been, money well-spent.
NICK CLARKE: Well the proof of the pudding will be when people come and join me on the bus to see how effective it is. Of course we’ve had people who have made all sorts of comments. But there are just people out there, that’s what they want to do. This is now about celebrating the success. And it’s been a long time coming, I’m not going to dispute that. But now this is about the opening, the 7th August, and it is a fantastic day.
ANDY BURROWS: The figure though will still continue to alarm people for some time to come. How do you gauge success?
NICK CLARKE: We’ll gauge success by people using the busway, by the congestion that it will relieve within Cambridge, with the alternative use of it, rather than the A14. So we’re expecting the A14 to become less congested. And let’s not forget ..
ANDY BURROWS: Over what period of time Nick Clarke?
NICK CLARKE: Well let’s just remember one of the reasons for putting it in in the first place was because we need to establish some .. em .. Northstowe. And this means the infrastructure is in place before we start building lots of houses. And without that the A14 would have just ground to a halt.
ANDY BURROWS: Over what period of time though, will it be gauged a success? Because as you pointed out just a moment ago, you’re anticipating around 3,500,000 trips to be taken on the Busway each year. How long a timescale do you give yourself to get up to that mark? Because it won’t be straight away surely.
NICK CLARKE: I’m sure it’ll take a while, because people will have to change the way, or would like to change the way they think and operate. But, you know, if you’re paying something like £5.40 to get on to this bus, and it takes 20 minutes to go from St Ives to the Science Park, why would you want to drive your car?
ANDY BURROWS: Yes but I’m still interested in ..
NICK CLARKE: It will be a modal shift onto the bus ..
ANDY BURROWS: .. I’m still interested in the timescale that you set. What have you told your senior officers? What have you told Stagecoach and Whippet Coaches, who’ll be running this service? What have you told them? How quickly have they got to get up to the anticipated 3,500,000 trips?
NICK CLARKE: I’ll tell you exactly what I’ve told them Andy. I’ve told them three weeks ago, when I became Leader of this council, to get those buses running on the Guided Busway. And I’m pleased today to say that’s what we’re going to be doing.
ANDY BURROWS: But what is that optimum timescale though?
NICK CLARKE: This is about getting .. after delays as you quite rightly pointed out .. it’s about getting the buses running on the Guided Busway. And that’s what we’re celebrating today. We’ll be monitoring the usage figures.
ANDY BURROWS: A year? Eighteen months? Two years? Three years?
NICK CLARKE: You can pick any of those figures you like. The success story right today is about getting these buses running on 7th August.
ANDY BURROWS: Can you undertand why I’m asking the question though?
NICK CLARKE: Oh of course I can. But equally ..
ANDY BURROWS: because £180 million is going to be spent, and so there’ll be people listening to this who will want to know when that money will be repaid, effectively in fares and people using the service. And it will only be repaid surely if you get up to your projected figure of 3,500,000 trips.
NICK CLARKE: Well we have to remember Andy that this is not a project for one year or five years. This has a longevity of many tens of years. And this is a facility that needs to be used, and appreciated by the people of Cambridgeshire, as it will be, for a long time to come. Look, we’ve had two problems to deal with. One was the buses couldn’t run, because we didn’t have control of the Guided Busway. And the second part is the litigation that may follow to sort out the finances. And what we’re celebrating today is we’ve crossed the line. Buses can now run. That is fantastic. And of course we need to sort out the litigation. We need to sort all the numbers out. Don’t dispute that. But we will do that in a way that gets the best value for the people of Cambridgeshire right now.
ANDY BURROWS: How much are you hoping to get back from BAM Nuttall?
NICK CLARKE: Forgive me, but I’ve been in business a long time Andy, and I’m not going to conduct a negotiation with a contractor on the radio. (LAUGHS) Suffice to say we will be applying a sensible, a business approaches to resolving this issue in the most cost-effective way we can.
ANDY BURROWS: Seven figures? Eight figures?
NICK CLARKE: Well I probably need to repeat myself . I’m not going to conduct the negotiation with you.. (LAUGHS) ..in lieu of the contractor. Look this is about, look, there were doubters, weren’t there? There were doubters last week, a month ago ..
ANDY BURROWS: I think you were a doubter. I think you would have been a doubter. I think you were a doubter looking on from before you joined the County Council. And now there is a chance to perhaps put things right financially at least.
NICK CLARKE: Andy, how could you possibly call a positive upbeat chap like me a doubter. That’s not fair at all.
ANDY BURROWS: I think you were a doubter about the project, because you never denied that you were, if you see what I mean.
NICK CLARKE: I mean I have to give full credit ..
ANDY BURROWS: You wouldn’t have built it would you?
NICK CLARKE: I give full credit to Jill Tuck the previous Leader, my predecessor, and Roy Pegrum. They’ve taken a project from .. through gestation, and they’ve delivered now. A Guided Busway on the 7th August, will be running. This is fantastic news. OK? I’m not going to be looking backwards. We’re looking forwards. I’m looking forwards to it being well-used, through to helping my ambitions to increase business in Cambridgeshire. Look, one of the things we need to do is to extend this wonderful brand of Cambridge further afield than just five miles outside of Cambridge. And this Guided Busway will help us do that.
ANDY BURROWS: Right, Nick Clarke, thanks for talking to me. Nick Clarke, he’s the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council.