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Press Release 9 February 2004
Government grant for guided bus is not £65 million - read the small print
In the run-up to Tuesday's vote on whether to proceed with a Transport and Works Act Order application for its guided bus scheme, Cambridgeshire County Council's transport team has told the press that it has received £65 million from government for the bus project.
Details published by government say otherwise. In its Local Transport Settlement letter to the Council of December 2003, the government states its grant contribution as being just £32.5 million. The remaining £32.5 million is money that the Council is permitted to borrow for its scheme.
Meanwhile the transport team admits that the cost of the scheme has now risen from £74 million to £85 million. Transport officials told a meeting of cycling campaigners last week that the Council would now be seeking Section 106 contributions for the guided bus from five developers instead of the three originally planned, to make up the extra funding shortfall. "Section 106 contributions from developers are intended to be used by the Council to pay for a whole range of important community services, such as schools", said Tim Phillips, Chairman of CAST.IRON. "Pouring more and more of these contributions into the soaring cost of the guided bus is a disgrace".
In fact the Council transport team has also moved £13 million of guided bus expenditure out of its major scheme budget into other transport budgets, making the true cost of guided bus £98 million rather than the £85 million figure currently claimed. The Council would have to borrow this extra £13 million also, bringing the total Council borrowing requirement for guided bus up to £45 million.
The transport team has been assuring the public that neither central government nor council tax subsidy will be needed to meet the ongoing costs of the guided bus. Yet the ongoing costs published by the team do not include any allowance for finance costs. "Before giving a go-ahead for the guided bus, Councillors would be well advised to check the true annual costs of financing it" said Tim Phillips.
The transport team says that the costings of its scheme are reliable as they have been verified by professional engineering consultants. The costings verified by these consultants included £2.5 million for a bridge under Hills Road. Yet, two weeks after the government offered its £32.5 million grant, the Council admittted the true cost of this bridge would be Â£10 million rather then £2.5 million. This puts the credibility of the whole scheme costs into serious doubt, says CAST.IRON.
As the true cost of guided bus inches towards £100 million, CAST.IRON is promoting its alternative railway scheme. CAST.IRON has costings from industry experts to show a railway from Cambridge to St Ives can be built for just £30 million, including land purchase costs and park and ride facilities identical to those proposed for the guided bus. This scheme would provide the quality public transport needed for the Northstowe development. Extension to Huntingdon would cost a further £20 million, meaning that rail would still cost only half as much as the guided bus.
In an internal leaflet produced for Councillors by the Council transport team, to urge them to vote for the guided bus, CAST.IRON's proposals are downplayed by pretending that CAST.IRON intends to run the railway using volunteer staff. Yet the Council acknowledges having studied in detail written proposals from CAST.IRON, which clearly state that CAST.IRON's railway would be built, maintained and operated entirely by salaried professionals.
The same Council leaflet also gives figures for guided bus journey times. These show that for many passengers, guided bus journey times would actually be slower than today's bus timetables, despite the guideway. This is the major weakness of the proposed system: the guided bus would have to fight slowly through the same city streets as all other buses; passengers would see no real differentiation between guided buses and conventional buses.
CAST.IRON has a substantial petition calling for rail. The level of public opposition to the guided bus will become clear at public inquiry, should the Council vote to proceed with its application for a Transport and Works Act Order.
END OF PRESS RELEASE
EDITORS' NOTES ABOUT THIS PRESS RELEASE
Government funding for the Guided Bus.
CAST.IRON will restore regular timetabled rail services to the dormant Cambridge to St. Ives railway line, creating Britain's first community commuter railway.
Details and full costings of CAST.IRON's plans were made public for the first time at a public meeting on 2nd December at the Holiday Inn, Impington, Cambridge and are now available by visiting www.castiron.org.uk/VisionDoc.php.
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