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Page last updated at 13:39 GMT, Friday, 3 September 2010 14:39 UK
Guided busway: Cambs v Manchester
By Helen Burchell
BBC Cambridgeshire

A guided bus
A guided bus currently being used on traditional routes in Cambridge

A transport expert who described Cambridgeshire's guided busway as a "guinea pig" has called for a review of a similar scheme in Manchester.

Richard Knowles, a member of the Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority, visited the Cambridgeshire busway in July 2010.

Professor Knowles' report resulted in a review of the projected cost and user-demand of the planned Leigh busway.

He said: "I have concerns following my visit to Cambridgeshire."

While the guided busway scheme in Cambridgeshire has yet to open - four years after contractor BAM Nuttall Ltd started work on the tracks - a similar scheme in the north of England has been on the drawing board for even longer.

Progress and cost

The route, linking Wigan, Leigh, Salford and Manchester, was first mooted in 1996.

Richard Knowles, a transport geography professor from Salford University, attended an LGA Regeneration and Transport Board meeting in Cambridge in July 2010, part of which included a tour of Cambridgeshire's guided busway.

Other guided busway schemes clearly want to see what happens in Cambridgeshire and learn the lessons
Professor Richard Knowles

He reported back to a meeting of the Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority (GMITA) on 27 August.

Prof. Knowles expressed concerns about the progress and cost of the scheme and as a result, members of GMITA have asked project officers at the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive to (GMPTE) to review the likely total cost of the Leigh project and forecast passenger demand for the scheme.

Although there is no fixed timescale for the review, GMITA has requested that the report should be provided "in a matter of weeks".

'Learn the lessons'

Richard Knowles explained to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire that the review was necessary because "any expenditure of public money on transport schemes needs to be justified".

Top deck view of tracks
The view from the top deck of a guided bus travelling towards Histon

He said: "The [Cambridgeshire] project is well over budget and way behind time. The cost of any overrun is borne by the local council tax payers - and that will be the same in Greater Manchester.

"I am anxious to make sure that we learn the lessons from Cambridgeshire which is why this review is on-going, and is why the officers of the Passenger Transport Executive will be reporting back as to whether it still represents value for money.

"The idea is a good one," he added, "but guided busways have always been promoted on the basis that they're a lot quicker and cheaper to build than light rail systems.

"However, in Cambridgeshire, it's 10 years since the multi-modal study recommended it and the budget at that time was half what it looks like it's going to cost, and it's well out of time.

"The contract was let in 2006. It's now 2010 and it's still not open."

'Guinea pig'

Prof. Knowles said the Cambridgeshire guided bus scheme was "a guinea pig".

"It's the national trial project, if you like, for guided busways.

"This is why the government put a huge amount of money into it, because it is the pilot project for guided busways in Britain.

"So other guided busway schemes clearly want to see what happens in Cambridgeshire and learn the lessons."

David Leather, GMPTE's chief executive, said: "The Leigh-Salford-Manchester Busway has been identified as a priority by both GMITA and the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) through the Greater Manchester Transport Fund investment programme, and work on the project is under way.

"Following a member's visit to the Cambridgeshire guided busway, members of GMITA have requested GMPTE to review the costs and forecast demand for the Leigh-Salford-Manchester Busway and this will be presented to the authority in due course.

"In the meantime, work to develop the busway to the schedule agreed with GMITA and AGMA will continue."

The Leigh busway is part of a £1.5bn transport fund awarded to the Greater Manchester area. A total of £76m of that has been prioritised for developing the Leigh busway route, 4 miles (7km) of which will run on a guided track.

Although work has started to clear land and lift disused rail tracks, a contractor has not yet been decided upon.

Cambridgeshire's busway

The contract for Cambridgeshire's guided busway was awarded to BAM Nuttall Ltd in July 2006.

Work was expected to be completed and the busway opened in February 2009.

River Great Ouse viaduct expansion joints
St Ives Park and Ride surface ponding
Maintenance track flooding
Guideway shallow foundations
Thermal expansion gaps between the guideway beams
Rubber tyre infill between the guideway beams

Six major defects were identified along the northern route and despite the county council being given assurances in April 2010, the contractors have yet to rectify them.

Graham Hughes is the director of growth and infrastructure strategic planning at the county council.

He told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire: "If they [BAM Nuttall Ltd] haven't corrected the defects we've identified on the north part of the route, and indeed, anything we may see on the south by the time they completely hand over the route, we will have no option but to step in and correct those ourselves.

"I'm afraid to say it will almost certainly end up in a legal battle... but the important thing from our point of view is that we are absolutely clear that we have administered this contract correctly and that the job should have been completed a long, long time ago.

"We're absolutely clear as we go into that legal process that we are well set to get all of our money back and indeed, well in advance of that being determined, the busway itself will be up and running.

"I'm afraid to say it's not going to open this year, but it's not going to be too much longer.

"The contractor has told us that they will finish all of the work on the south (the final section of the route) by mid-December.

"Assuming they do, at that point the busway will be available to us and there is then a process for us to go through - if they haven't done it already - to correct the defects, and we can then open the busway."


Councillor Roy Pegram, Cambridgeshire County Council's cabinet member for growth, infrastructure and strategic planning, was unfazed by Richard Knowles' report about the busway.

He said: "Councillors in Cambridgeshire would be looking for exactly the same reassurances if the route from Leigh to Manchester had been built first, and they had experienced delays and overspends by their contractors.

Councillor Roy Pegram trying to cycle through flooding near busway track
Councillor Roy Pegram cycles through flooding near the guided bus track

"BAM Nuttall are now moving at good speed on completing the southern section of the route and we look forward to them getting the job done.

"Once the route opens we expect over 3.5 million trips to be made on it and we are confident it will be a big success."

However, a report that will be presented to the council's cabinet on 7 September states that "progress on resolving the defects continues to be at best limited".

It further states that "whilst the council is keen to secure beneficial use as soon as possible, this should not be at any cost, particularly in terms of future maintenance liabilities".

'Fingers crossed'

Meanwhile, Bedfordshire is still planning its 8.3 mile (13.4km) guided busway, using the same contractor as Cambridgeshire - BAM Nuttall Ltd.

The route received government funding in March 2010.

At the time, transport minister Sadiq Khan said that the contractor had learned lessons from the Cambridgeshire scheme which would ensure that the same problems would not be encountered in Bedfordshire.

He said: "Fingers crossed, I'll be able to go to Cambridgeshire soon to announce the opening of that scheme."

Luton Borough Council hopes the guided route will ease congestion in the town

On 2 September 2010, Luton Borough Council gave the BBC the following statement about the progress of its guided busway:

"BAM Nuttall Ltd, the contractor awarded to deliver the scheme, started advanced site clearance work in January, removing overgrown vegetation from the route of the former railway track bed at the heart of the route.

"This followed work in summer 2008 and 2009 to prepare the site.

"The busway is on schedule.

"Detailed design work is also already under way, with site works due to start in earnest shortly and opening of the 13.4km busway scheduled for 2012."


In a statement to BBC Cambridgeshire, the Department for Transport, which allocated a maximum contribution of £92.5m to the Cambridgeshire guided busway in 2006, said: "All local transport schemes, including the Cambridgeshire guided busway, are approved on their own merits on the basis of evidence following extensive research and studies, and had to meet economic, environmental, safety integration and accessibility objectives.

"Of course any lessons learnt from Cambridgeshire provide useful evidence for other authorities but it is incorrect to suggest it is a 'guinea pig' or pilot."

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