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Mayor's Cambridge underground plans move step closer

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Detailed proposals are to be developed for a £1.5-1.7bn metro system, including an underground station, linking Cambridge and its surrounding areas.

If all goes to plan, early services could be in operation within three years while the whole project could be completed by 2026.

A strategic options assessment has been carried out but a more detailed business case is now due to be drawn up.

A paper due to go before Cambridgeshire & Peterborough CA’s board tomorrow states: “Whilst the existing study has concluded that CAM [Cambridge Autonomous Metro] represents the best overall mass transport solution for the area, significant further work is required to develop the proposal and make a robust case for investment.”

During the election campaign, mayor James Palmer (Con) told LGC he wanted to “exhaust every single opportunity” to see if it is possible to create an underground transport system in Cambridge.

While the initial study acknowledged “there are a number of major transport schemes currently under development in the Cambridge area that will deliver significant benefits”, it added: “However, these solutions alone will not deliver seamless connectivity between the city centre, key development sites on the city fringe and the wider corridors in the region.”

The use of ‘light rail transit’ or ‘affordable very rapid transit’ vehicles has also been considered but the CAM system has been identified as the “best” solution.

“Of all the options considered, CAM is the most likely to achieve value for money and an operating surplus,” the report said. “This greatly increases the deliverability of the mass transit proposal and is most likely to achieve private sector investment.”

The report said these “bespoke rubber-tyred articulated… tram-like” vehicles can hold between 100 and 200 passengers and can run “every five minutes during peak periods”. They can also “operate on both segregated and existing on-street infrastructure”.

The report added: “There are no technical feasibility showstoppers with CAM although there are recognisable challenges, as there are with the other options, in tunnelling and the provision of underground station [sic].”

The combined authority’s board is now being asked to approve spending £600,000 to develop a strategic outline business case and options appraisal report on the CAM system. It is proposed the combined authority pays for this from the £74m allocation from the transforming cities fund.

While the estimated £1.5-1.7bn cost of the project is “very significant” the report said “a number of potential funding solutions” will be explored.

It added: “What is clear is that central government is increasingly looking for means through which major infrastructure can be (part or fully) funded from private sector and/or local contributions. It is too early to speculate on what the preferred funding model might be but it could include, amongst others, land value capture, community infrastructure levy and business rate supplement.

“The combined authority believes that it is well placed to draw upon a blend of funding streams to ensure the delivery of this major transport proposal.”

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