Many of you will have read in the news last week that East Cambs District Council, after spending two years working out what to spend £500,000 of developer contribution on, will in fact, hand the money back to Sainsbury’s.
Many people are reasonably outraged at this outcome, and Ely Cycling Campaign aren’t too pleased either. We have spent much of that two years working with East Cambs District and Cambridgeshire County Council on schemes to improve cycling provision in the city. In particular, we have been working on what would have been Ely’s first fully segregated cycle only path on the road network, all the way along Lisle Lane. The Council themselves have spent money with transport consultants on feasibility work. Now we hear the money is gone and although we haven’t had a detailed conversation with the Council since we heard this news, we assume that all bets are off with regard to Lisle Lane and various other improvements that were envisaged as part of the funding.
How has this happened? The Chief Executive of East Cambs District Council tells us that the situation is simply unfortunate because the money could only be spent on mitigating the traffic impact of the development and that the store hasn’t generated enough “traffic” movements to warrant any mitigating measures.
This version of events begs a number of questions – not least of all, why did the council take us so far down the track of developing schemes on which to spend the money, including spending their own money on consultants, only to tell us now that the developer monies could only ever be spent on road/car based schemes?
It is instructive to look back at what was said by East Cambs District Council at the time that Sainsbury’s was being built. Indeed, the leader of the Council at the time Peter Moakes was reported to have said in the Cambridge Evening News:
“People often ask what happens to this money and whether communities really do benefit. With the money we will receive from Sainsbury I think anyone who walks, cycles, drives or catches a bus in Ely will see a difference.
“We want the bulk of the money to pay for any improvements which need to be made to the transport network in Ely,” continues Councillor Moakes. “This is not just about cars as the work will look at how to make life easier for pedestrians and cyclists too.
This directly contradicts what CEO John Hill has said about the money ONLY being available for traffic impact mitigation measures. Despite what Cllr Moakes said at the time, it seems the development IS just about cars and with a bus service which many understand is about to end, the claims that all road users and pedestrians will see a difference ring very hollow today.
We must also take issue here with the definition of the word “traffic”. Once again the car centric mindset seems to have prevailed here with the assumption that traffic means cars. We’re told that the store has had no significant “traffic” impact. We do know however that the development of the Lisle Lane area, linked to Pocket Park has increased the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists, for whom the provision is pretty poor, including the inaccessible, unused cycle parking at Sainsbury’s. As Ely grows, the footfall and general usage of Lisle Lane will continue to grow too, as of course will the number of cars. Lisle Lane will become a key access route through the city for the North Ely developments. It is bordering on preposterous to hand this money back on the grounds that it’s “not needed” simply because two years in to the development we don’t have gridlock.
Finally, we cannot ignore the part that Sainsbury’s has played in all this. They appear to have lived up to the image of the big scary corporate beast that no-one will dare stand in the way of, least of all a tiny under-resourced District Council. Indeed, they made pretty quick work of grabbing back money that to them is small change but which for Ely was meant to be a substantial investment in our community. We haven’t even seen the slightest indication of a gesture of goodwill or an attempt to consider alternative ways to invest the money for the benefit of Ely. So much for caring about their communities and their customers.
Ely Cycling Campaign call on East Cambs District Council to meet with ourselves and other stakeholders – including Sainsbury’s – to consider how to move forward with the schemes that are now in jeopardy as a result of this situation.