Parking crisis "white elephant"?

A BITTER row has broken out over a raft of controversial proposals - including a new 180-space park-and-ride site - to curb Ely s mounting parking crisis. East Cambridgeshire District Council s environment and transport committee approved £2 million-worth

A BITTER row has broken out over a raft of controversial proposals - including a new 180-space park-and-ride site - to curb Ely's mounting parking crisis.

East Cambridgeshire District Council's environment and transport committee approved £2 million-worth of transport measures last week, including a new car park at Cambridge Business Park and an extensive overhaul of the city's existing parking facilities, but the decision has thrown up bitter divisions within both the council and the wider community.

The proposals, put forward by Conservative councillors in a shock departure from existing plans to build a 120-space tiered car park at the train station, have been welcomed by Ely Traders' Association, which has been calling for a new Angel Drove car park and the scrapping of the station project.

Elaine Griffin-Singh, chairman of the ETA, which represents the city's independent traders, said: "We were delighted when members of the Conservative Party agreed that our plan was sound and preferable."

"Everyone agreed we needed a car park in the vicinity of the station to facilitate commuters, thus removing them from city centre car parks."

But outvoted Liberal Democrat councillors are furious about the move, which they have branded a "white elephant of enormous proportion".

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"A few people have put their heads together and put something on the back of an envelope," said Cllr Gareth Wilson.

Chairman of the City of Ely Perspective Philip Eden joined Liberal Democrats in their condemnation of the proposals, and said the shift of focus away from the station plans was a waste of the time and money spent on consultation.

"It is disgraceful - there are a number of fundamental flaws in the scheme and it is ignoring the advice of the officers, consultants and, most importantly, the public," he said.

"This is a knee-jerk political reaction, and with the election just around the corner, it is very sad."

Councillors opposed to the new scheme fear the mooted car park is too far away from the station and poorly lit.

There are also concerns that ongoing negotiations with Network Rail to develop Ely Station's tiered car park are in jeopardy because the new site would undercut the station's parking charges by around 30 per cent.

Cllr Ian Allen, who chaired Thursday's meeting, said: "I am extremely disappointed - Network Rail are going to walk a mile."

Conservative councillors, however, have said the plans will widen the council's options in the future; Cllr Ashton, who proposed the scheme, said progress towards finalising Ely's transport strategy had become "a one horse race"

"There are differences between both schemes and both could be desirable," he said.

"The scheme at the station could offer the potential of a series of improved accesses for buses, pedestrians, taxis and cyclists, whilst the other scheme opens up the opportunity that will significantly increase access for shoppers and visitors alike; in addition, there is the potential to establish a park and ride facility on Saturdays."

He dismissed the claim that the scheme had been worked out 'on the back of an envelope'.

"At this time, the only costed scheme was that provided for the new commuter car park," he said.

Council planning director David Archer stressed the importance of a new park-and-ride scheme in Ely.

"This is a significant investment into the transport needs of Ely," he said.

"The measures are designed to make it easier for shoppers and visitors to make the most of their time in the city, while increasing the parking provision for commuters from Ely railway station."

"We want to make a significant step-change - there is £192,000 of investment in cycling and walking routes and we hope to implement this over the next couple of years."

What the new measures mean for Ely

# A new 180-space car park to be built at the Cambridge Business Park for commuter with a Saturday park and ride service.

# £190,000 to be spent on improving cycling and pedestrian access in the city.

# Additional car parking spaces to be developed at St Mary's Street car park.

# Short and long-term parking in existing car parks to be re-organised to meet the needs of visitors and shoppers.