Cambridge Connect recognises that the proposals put forward would require substantial and sustained investment. A full and expert technical and economic feasibility study is needed to evaluate the costs and benefits of the proposals. It is acknowledged unequivocally that the costs would be high, and careful consideration needs to be given to the return on that investment. It would be risky to adopt a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach in a city like Cambridge, and fail to consider investment over the appropriate time horizon. Cost is certainly a valid and relevant consideration, although also is value.
The Greater Cambridge City Deal / Greater Cambridge Partnership
Substantial resources have been committed to the Greater Cambridge City Deal, although at this stage none of its priority schemes include Light Rail. Previously, the City Deal excluded consideration of Light Rail. Cambridge Connect has played its part – together with organisations such as Railfuture and UK Tram – in successfully getting light rail onto the agenda for consideration. We are encouraged that a more forward-looking Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) (which took over the ‘City Deal’) is now considering light rail as part of a study of mass transit options for Cambridge.
We believe that short-term decisions should be connected to a more long-term strategy, and as such Light Rail should be given serious consideration as an option for Cambridge transport. We believe a responsible approach is to allocate at least some of the substantial resources available through the City Deal to detailed appraisals of Light Rail. The results of this research may have far-reaching implications, and major influence on decisions, including on some of the shorter-term schemes under consideration.
We believe Cambridge is at a pivotal moment in its history, and that decisions made now have the potential to irrevocably change many of the important values that define the City that we love.
Given demands on GCP resources, and the likely resources that would be needed, there would be a need for additional financial commitments to achieve a Cambridge Light Rail system. Cambridge Connect does not, therefore, pin its arguments or aspirations on the GCP. Of course, we remain hopeful the GCP will seize the opportunity to make progress. However, we take the view that all regional and national government bodies will need to work together, including with business and residents, to develop a transport system to meet Cambridge needs that is a sustainable investment for the long-term.
The European Investment Bank (EIB), as part of the European Commission’s European Local Energy Assistance programme (ELENA), supports construction and transportation projects that contribute to energy savings. For example, the major 110 km Aarhus Light Rail Project (Denmark) has been under construction since 2013 and has benefitted from EIB support. Closer to home, the EIB agreed in Feb 2015 to provide a loan of almost half of the funds required for the £1B seven km underground extension of the Northern Line between Kennington and Battersea.
Unfortunately, with the UK decision to leave the EU these opportunities are probably no longer open to us.
Public – Private Partnership Financing
Public – Private Partnership (PPP) financing is a well-established mechanism used to finance infrastructure projects worldwide. A range of options for PPP implementation exist, and these should be explored by those with specialist knowledge to ascertain whether or not PPP is a suitable and viable vehicle for raising finance in the context of a Cambridge Light Rail system. At least intuitively, there seems merit in combining some public resources available through the GCP and Combined Authority with resources from the private sector, perhaps with investments from other institutions. Investments will be returned by the economic, environmental, educational, cultural and social benefits of the scheme, and different stakeholders might benefit in different ways. Failure to invest could see current vibrant growth weaken and wither as barriers to connectivity increase, and much we value about Cambridge placed at risk. It is worth noting that the Northern Line extension to Battersea mentioned above is being funded entirely through developer contributions, showing that major private investment in underground rail developments is feasible in some circumstances.
Recently there has been discussion of some form of congestion charge for Cambridge, and potentially this could discourage people from driving private vehicles into the City centre. Viable and practical alternatives to private vehicles are likely to play a key part in gaining public support for congestion charging. Indeed, it could be argued that a Light Rail system is a necessity in Cambridge to provide people with those practical alternatives to driving private cars.
Let us assume that the objectives of congestion charging are to a) reduce congestion, b) improve air quality and c) reduce the carbon footprint of commuter travel. A Cambridge Light Rail system may in itself be an effective way in which to deliver on those targets simply by achieving more widespread consumer adoption of public transport. In these circumstances, a congestion charge may not be needed to dissuade people from driving – people will choose public transport simply because it is faster, more reliable, more frequent and more convenient. Detailed appraisals of Light Rail may show that congestion charging in Cambridge is not necessarily the only way to achieve the stated objectives.
Giving people positive choices rather than beating them with sticks would receive a warmer welcome than congestion charging. On the other hand, some form of congestion charging, or alternatively perhaps employer parking fees, could be a means to help fund the public transport system needed. If that is the case, local residents may be more positive about paying if they see real and tangible benefits for their money. Support may not be as forthcoming, however, if residents see congestion charging as another means of revenue raising for wider government, particularly if they are faced with a public transport system that is inadequate and not fit-for-purpose.
Cambridge Connect has not evaluated proposals for congestion charging, and remains neutral on this issue until more detailed economic, social and environmental data emerge supporting or refuting this method as a means of demand management and / or infrastructure funding.
Fares from an operational Cambridge Light Rail line would raise revenue to operate the service, and perhaps pay back some of the up-front investment. Work on fare revenue remains to be undertaken, and is one of Cambridge Connect’s many priorities.