Campaigners fear no man's land in park and ride fight

October 19, 2009 1:29 PM
Kilian Bourke

Kilian Bourke

Campaigners, who have battled to reinstate a Park and Ride bus stop in an historic part of Cambridge, fear that the area could become a "no man's land" for non-car drivers.

They have already seen customer numbers fall the shops in Northampton Street, with some closing altogether.

The Folk Museum and Kettle's Yard art gallery have reported that visitors have found it difficult to get to the area and many with mobility problems have been forced to stay away.

Councillors, residents and shopkeepers had hoped that members of the Cambridgeshire Joint Transport Forum would recommend that Stagecoach reinstate the stop. But at their meeting today the Forum's report concluded that "neither Stagecoach nor county officers are minded to support its reinstatement."

County Councillor Kilian Bourke, who fought to get the problem discussed by the Transport Forum, said: "When the stop was removed two years ago there was an immediate impact. Footfall dropped, and people with mobility issues were no longer able to access it. This has had a harmful effect on the independent shops, the galleries and museums, and Magdelene College.

"Without this stop, more and more people will find it difficult to get to this part of the city. The independent traders will suffer further and eventually I am worried it will become a no-man's land for anyone who doesn't drive.

"The reason the stop was removed is that Stagecoach prefers to ferry its Park and Ride customers more quickly to the city centre. But local organisations are furious that their part of town is being bypassed."

Castle County Councillor Belinda Brooks-Gordon asked: "Who gave Stagecoach and Cambridgeshire County Council the power to decide that this vibrant, historic part of the city is not part of the centre? It clearly is, and as such needs to be properly serviced - not cut out - by the Park and Ride."

"The county council has a statutory obligation to ensure adequate transport provision, and there is a clear need to lobby Stagecoach to restore this stop. The people of my ward demand it."

A multitude of local organisations have written to the county council asking it to reinstate the stop.

The Cambridge County and Folk Museum's curator, Polly Hodgson, claims the museum relied on the service to provide access for school groups, day trippers and tourists. The museum also relies on the help of volunteers, many of whom are elderly and have mobility issues. Since the stop was removed many of these have not been able to access the museum to help out.

Polly said: "I feel disappointed for this part of the city, which is the oldest part of Cambridge, as it is progressively being cut off from the centre due to poor services."

The Assistant Bursar of Magdelene College, Mr Peter Daybell, has written to the county council on behalf of the college: "That stop enabled people to access Magdalene College and Magdalene Street and the Folk Museum - as well as the Cambridge streets beyond. The withdrawal of that service has significantly reduced the pedestrian footfall in Magdalene Street and has inevitably had a detrimental effect on many of the small businesses in the area. There are now a number of vacant premises."

Mr Daybell added: "Magdalene Street is one of the oldest and most picturesque shopping streets in Cambridge, and I urge the county officers to press for the reinstatement of the bus stop on Northampton Street."

St. Giles's Church has also made representations to the county council, asking that the stop be reinstated.

Michael Harrison, director of Kettle's Yard art gallery said that the number of people with mobility issues and disabilities using the museum has plummeted since the stop was removed.

County Councillor Tim Stone said: "What I find most absurd about the removal of this stop is that it also provides access to Shire Hall and Castle Court, the county council's vast employment centres. I previously used it for this purpose. Ironically, the county council appears to be encouraging its staff to get in cars and drive to work, instead of using the Park and Ride. This is not the sort of modal shift we want to be encouraging."

Chris Powell, of Powell & Bull independent jewellers, said: "What is most galling is that the stop was removed without any consultation, and the county council is now demanding that we produce evidence to show the impact that removing the stop had. It is not possible for us to gather this kind of information retrospectively."

"The county council also claims that very few people used the service. Every organisation in the area disagrees with this claim. Indeed, if so few people used it, it wouldn't be a problem, as there would be no need for the bus to stop."

David Mitchell, owner of Cafe Jello art gallery, said: "I think this is evidence of a much wider issue. Stagecoach and the county council are working together to get commuters straight into the middle of the town, where the big malls are, bypassing the independent shops. This is quickest and most profitable for Stagecoach and the big corporations. The county council and Stagecoach are quietly redefining the "city centre" and cutting us out of it."

David Howarth MP said: "It is unacceptable for the county council to consider the 'city centre' as simply describing the very middle of town, near the major shopping centres. The Magdelene Street area is a vital part of the city centre, with its galleries and museums, independent shops and Magdelene College. For it to be simply bypassed as if it didn't matter is completely unacceptable."

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