Local decision-makers must take a radical approach to planning if the Cambridge Autonomous Metro (CAM) is to be built before 2041, Cambridgeshire leaders have warned.
Detailed proposals for a £1.5bn - £1.7bn metro system with a tunnel linking Cambridge and surrounding areas were published in January and suggested the scheme could be up and running by 2026.
But LGC’s sister title New Civil Engineer has reported on a paper set to go before the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough CA board tomorrow which warns that a further 18 years could be needed before the metro fully opens if planners were to take a traditional route by going through the Department for Transport (DfT).
Instead members of the CA, who wrote the report, suggest taking advantage of new localised powers to shave time off the delivery schedule.
The report says: “It is estimated that a conventional approach to delivery and funding would see the metro corridors delivered from 2029 to 2041.”
Five years could be taken off the project by delivering the tunnelled section and some surface sections at once, although the report’s authors admit this would stretch the local supply chain.
The report also suggests procuring a tunnel boring machine (TBM) early to save time later on the project.
Despite concerns over timing raised in the report, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough CA mayor James Palmer (Con) has stressed he is “deadly serious” about beginning work on the metro system by 2023.
Mr Palmer told Cambridge News that talks are ongoing with private investors to secure funding for the scheme.
“My aim is to get as much money through private funding as possible,” he said, adding meetings with interested parties have taken place in London this week. “What we are doing has to be supported by government, but we are in advanced talks with investors.”
In a statement issued to LGC after the meeting, Mr Palmer said: “I want to be clear that I see the delivery of the first phases of the metro by 2023, with full completion by 2028, as an absolute baseline, from which I will be pressing for additional time savings.
“The transport paper has estimated a ‘normal’ delivery time of 2029 to 2041 for illustrative purposes only. That timescale is simply not relevant to how the combined authority would go about delivering this scheme in terms of its approach to development and funding.”
Instead of a delay, Mr Palmer said the CA’s work was “in fact a significant time saving on the estimated timescales for funding and delivering the scheme via a conventional process”.
An economic review is set to be published in September, which a spokesperson for the CA said would provide more details on how the scheme will be funded.
The CAM would see 42km of new infrastructure built in the historic city, including a 3-4km tunnelled section in the centre.
New Civil Engineer reported earlier this month how the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) had poured scorn on the plans, labelling the metro “destructive, disruptive and prohibitively expensive”.
This story was updated at 17.47 on 31 July to include comments from mayor James Palmer.