End to gridlock?

TRAFFIC gridlock and parking woes in Ely look set to be resolved with a raft of new measures to end nearly five years of fierce debate and abandoned plans. But the council is under fire for spending nearly £100,000 of taxpayers money on reaching the deci

TRAFFIC gridlock and parking woes in Ely look set to be resolved with a raft of new measures to end nearly five years of fierce debate and abandoned plans.

But the council is under fire for spending nearly £100,000 of taxpayers' money on reaching the decision.

The district council's environment and transport committee gave the green light on Tuesday to a series of proposals, including a new 180-space commuter car park at Cambridgeshire Business Park, now scheduled for Autumn 2007, and a public transport interchange at the railway station, scheduled for 2008.

The plans secured cross-party agreement after a Liberal Democrat motion tweaked earlier Conservative proposals, but the Ely Traders' Association is furious that the taxpayer is footing the bill for outside consultants.

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Chairman Elaine Griffin-Singh said: "We are delighted, of course, that progress has been made but we feel that local knowledge and common sense has prevailed - why are we asking consultants from miles away what is best for our town?"

"That money could have gone towards the construction of the car park, but instead we've got nothing for it but bits of paper."

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She said the plan for the new car park originated with the local traders, and that public money should not have been spent outside the town.

Fellow trader William Burton reiterated the point: "At last our public representatives have seen some sense," he said.

"But that money could have been spent on the cycling improvements they're talking about or they could have spent it carrying out the analytical work for the next step, rather than lining the pockets of some consultants."

Councillors have welcomed the decision as "the way forward", and have said consultancy, including public consultation, was necessary for the committee to make its decision.

Chairman of the environment and transport committee, Cllr Ian Allen, said: "What we have now is a much more rounded proposal."

"There will be more spaces in the forecourt of the railway station and an extra Saturday shuttle bus; consultation does cost a lot of money, but we are all much better educated about the issue than we were four years ago."

District council planning chief David Archer said funding for developing Ely's transport strategy had come from the county council and the countryside agency as well as the district council.

"This was entirely necessary to inform the debate over the last four years and it's been entirely necessary to inform the final judgement of members."

"We have to say this isn't the full cost because a lot of officer time has been spent on it, but it has been a journey of discovery for members and they have asked for research to be carried out along the way."

Conservative councillor Philip Read said the proposals represented the way forward for Ely.

"The problem has always been long-term parking in what should be short-stay car parks for shoppers - hopefully this long-stay car park will make the city of Ely a more attractive place for shoppers and visitors."

n. New report highlights residents' town centre needs - PAGE 3.

What the plans mean for Ely

* A new 180-space commuter car park close to the train station, designed to draw long-term parking away from the town centre.

* A Saturday park-and-ride scheme will operate from the new car park, in conjunction with the existing scheme at Ely Community College.

* Existing car parks will be adjusted to meet the needs of shoppers and visitors.

* A £30,000 interchange put in at the train station to provide better access for buses, taxis and cyclists.

* Walking and cycling schemes implemented.

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