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Guided bus: Highlights of the BBC Cambridgeshire debate
People attending a debate about the guided bus
Around 70 people packed a school hall to take part in the debate

Around 70 people turned up to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire's guided bus debate at Impington Village College on Monday 29 November 2010.

Four years after construction began, the BBC asked the council, the bus operators and opponents of the plans, whether the scheme remained viable.

The contractor, BAM Nuttall Ltd, was invited to attend but declined. Their full statement is printed on this page.

Listen below to some of the key players discussing the issues from the debate.

The one-hour debate was chaired by BBC Radio Cambridgeshire's mid-morning show presenter, Andie Harper, and co-hosted by BBC Cambridgeshire and Look East reporter, Jozef Hall.


The Question Time-style debate included the following panel members:

• Graham Hughes, Cambridgeshire County Council's director of growth and infrastructure.

Guided bus debate panel
Debate panellists Graham Hughes, Roy Pegrum and John French

• Councillor Roy Pegrum, Cambridgeshire County Council's cabinet member for growth, infrastructure and strategic planning.

• Mike Mason, independent district councillor for Histon and Impington.

• Tim Phillips from CAST.IRON (Cambridge And St Ives Railway Organisation, which is in favour of reopening the existing rail line linking Cambridge and St Ives).

• John French, an independent expert in integrated transport solutions.

• Andy Campbell, managing director of Stagecoach.

Debate introduction

Andie Harper introduced the panel members and asked for their opinions about the Cambridgeshire guided bus.

Graham Hughes, the county council's director of growth and infrastructure, said that the plan was still viable and the bus would be up and running soon.

"We've not given a date yet, but certainly next year we will have it running, and we're convinced that it will be very successful," he said.

Roy Pegrum said: "Yes I believe people will use it and they will enjoy a quality, reliable, fast, effective ride."

Meanwhile, John French, an independent transport expert, added: "As a concept it's great. It's not working here and as a transport professional I feel really sad that something that could be really, really good, just isn't working."

Questions and answers

Will the guided bus encourage car drivers to switch to public transport? That was the first question put to the panellists.

Mr Pegrum said yes, and, agreeing that the A14 was a notoriously bad road, he added that the guided bus would be a viable, quality alternative for drivers.

In terms of the cost of the scheme to the taxpayer, he said: "The latest financial out-turns I've got show that we're within 1% of the £116.2m original budget for the busway build."

He further stated that an overspend had been built into that budget and added: "The liability of any overspend falls entirely - subject only to legal processes and challenge - on the contractor."

Tim Phillips, the panel member representing CAST.IRON explained why the organisation's £50m alternative rail proposal would be a better solution.

A 'robust contract'?

"What's robust about a contract that leaves us with a guideway that's been covered in snow for two seasons now?"

Roy Pegrum, Graham Hughes and John French answered that, and other questions from the audience regarding the contract with BAM Nuttall Ltd.

"We will not adopt a liability. We will adopt an asset," said Mr Pegrum.

Potential court case and costs

Is the council prepared to meet with BAM Nuttall Ltd and settle their differences out of court?

Mr Hughes said that senior staff from the council had met with the contractor on many occasions but, he said, there had been "absolutely no movement".

He added: "We are not going to do a hasty deal which is what some sort of a compromise would be."

He admitted that there was always a risk involved in taking anything to court but said the council had taken careful legal advice.

"We are convinced they will find in our favour," he said.

Viability of the busway

Tim Phillips of CAST.IRON said: "I think the patronage projections have been extremely optimistic - Northstowe or no Northstowe.

"Noboby's ever built a guided busway on a soggy fen before, either."

Andy Campbell from Stagecoach cast doubt on whether the system would be profitable for his company if the proposed 9,500 new homes at Northstowe were not built.

Meanwhile Mike Mason, independent district councillor for Histon and Impington, said he did not think the busway would be used by the people in the villages.

He said the guided buses would take the same route into the city as the traditional buses and said that they always got stuck in congestion.

Conversely, Chris Thomas from Huntingdonshire Business Network, said he thought the guided bus was a very good idea.

He pointed out that the busway would not just go to Cambridge - it also went out to St Ives and Huntingdon.

He said it would encourage people to shop in their local market towns instead of braving the traffic and the crowds heading into the city centre.

BAM Nuttall Ltd statement

The company responsible for the construction of the busway, BAM Nuttall Ltd, was invited to take part in the debate but declined.

It did, however, provide the BBC with the following statement:

"Our primary aim was and remains the delivery of a world class guided Busway project for the people of Cambridgeshire and for our client Cambridgeshire County Council. We are disappointed that at this moment in time buses are not running and the completed parts of the Busway are not being utilised.

In a recent interview with the BBC, the chief executive of BAM Nuttall, Mr Stephen Fox, explained the company's position in relation to the various public allegations made by the County Council that the work completed by BAM Nuttall is defective and publically stated that in the view of this company buses could have been running on the northern section for some considerable time.

Many of the issues beyond the alleged defects, and now surrounding the delivery of this project, involve complex questions of engineering and legal analysis. The County Council has made clear that its view is that legal action is inevitable (Councillor Roy Pegrum, Hunts Post, 29 September 2010). In such circumstances, it is not felt appropriate to debate in public issues which would form part of the legal action the County Council are describing as inevitable.

BAM Nuttall is continuing to try and assist the County Council in delivering the Busway to the people of Cambridgeshire and remains optimistic that the County Council will start to utilise this infrastructure for the benefit of the travelling public early in the New Year, all our works to allow buses to run on the whole Busway being scheduled to be complete before Christmas."

Have your say

Use this form to let us know what you think about Cambridgeshire's guided bus and our live debate.

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The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

Your comments

• If the busway had feeder bus routes joining it at the road crossing points, and there was a joint bus stop for the 6 at Oakington with the guided buses instead of 1,200 yard walk, then people from the local villages might patronise it better. The operators are still treating it like a railway and failing to take advantage of the advantages of guideways - that buses can join and leave at any point. Too few buses will be fitted with guidewheels so that they can use the busway when the A14 is blocked, which happens about once a week and will get more frequent as they government has cancelled its upgrading, Andrew Lansley doing a u-turn on it once his party was in power.
Nigel Pennick, Chesterton Hundred

• I visit St Ives annually and have walked part of the guided bus way. Coming from a normally colder climate (not this winter so far), I was curious to know just what provision had been made for the clearing of ice and snow from the wheel troughs? The severity of your UK winters appears to be on the increase. Looking at it from an engineering standpoint the whole project appears to me to be extravagant and ill conceived to service a comparatively low traffic volume.

Surely restoration of the rail system would have proven far more practical?
Bill Roberts, Cape Breton, Canada

• I have been looking forward to the opening of the busway as a means of travelling to and from Cambridge free from the delays and unreliability of the A14. I currently use the Park & Ride bus service from Milton and am familiar with the rush-hour delays caused by congestion on Milton Road. The guided bus journey along this route will be no worse than the existing P & R service, so I do not see this as a disincentive for using the guided bus.

My criticism of the Guided Bus scheme is that there appears to have been almost unbelievable incompetence in the Project Management. How can the County Council defend the role of the "independent" Project Manager when he seemingly permitted the scheme to proceed to within days of opening without insisting that the technical defects, now the cause of dispute, delay and probable litigation, were rectified at the time that they came to light? What I now find additionally worrying are the reports that the concrete used in the track may be developing cracks and in places crumbling away. If this is the case, then I wonder if we will ever see the service becoming operational.
Chris Shaw, Ramsey

• I can't wait for it to be up and running as I won't need to drive to the Madingley Rd park and ride to get into Cambridge. Unfortunately as Susan Mansfield points out there is no footpath from Longstanton to the guided busway from the village which is a fundamental flaw. There's a nice new entry road and car park but what about the pedestrians... they seem to have been forgotten.
Stephen Hatch, Longstanton

• If the County council should lose against Bam Nuttall in court, the councillors responsible should be held liable and not expect the public to pay through service cuts or increased council tax.
Dave Jackson, Trumpington

• The regional significance of this matter seems to have been overlooked. In the long term, the creation of a massive concrete, expensive-to-dismantle busway over a key future low energy transport corridor is a waste of a resource. Cambridge has lost a future, rapid, low friction, low energy rail connection to the ECML at Huntingdon/ St Ives for the transport of passengers AND freight. How many containers will the busway carry? Busways to guide buses for SHORT distances in certain city streets - fine. This helps beat congestion with a restricted special right-of-way. But a guideway for miles and miles - this is simply a very expensive way of spending public money for the benefit of BAM Nutall. What is the cost of dismantling the thing?
Eric Parkinson, Canterbury

• I would be very interested to see the original tender documents for this project. Being involved in a number of major projects with large companies, the problem usually arises from original inadequate scope of works. I would have expected most of the additional work now required particularly structural testing to have been required before build commencement. Good quality contract specifications up front are essential, and having being involved in considerable corrective action works I just wish businesses would eventually learn.
John Moore, Bassingbourn

• As a resident of Longstanton Village I listened with interest to the debate, unfortunately I was unaware that this was taking place so did not attend the meeting. My initial thought on the Bus way was 'great', I could catch the bus into Cambridge for work (City Centre). Unfortunately the powers that be have failed to provide a footpath from the village for us to walk the half mile to the bus stop at the old railway? I for one would not walk along the edge of this very, very busy road!
Susan Mansfield, Longstanton

• Very interesting. But.. I have yet to meet anyone around here who wants it or will use it. We have more than enough ways to get in to Huntingdon or St Ives and as we personally already don't bother with Cambridge, can't see that this will make us want to go in any more than now. Just see it as a money pit. Sorry.
R Dyer, Willingham

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