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Transport strategies for congested science cities

Cambridge station and bike stand - which sits at the heart of the CB1 development

Modern infrastructure and integrated transport are at the centre of expanding science cities, so our discussions in Cambridge had an important focus on how the city is coping with bringing staff to work. The problems of housing a diverse workforce was also debated and considering the 'whole journey chain' that may include dropping off children at childcare centres.

Dr Mike Snowden, Head of Discovery Sciences at Astra Zeneca commented on the challenges the company faced moving from Cheshire to Cambridge:

'When you look at the rival centres where you can turn a protein into a drug Cambridge is a natural place to go. The reputation for blue sky science at Cambridge is second to none, with collaborative and networked communities and we were not surprised at what we found. What the pharma industry can do is turn those eureka moments into the drugs of the future. As we are mixing with academics and small bio-techs we can see the community building - and we are bringing on these small companies. We are as close to the colleges and the university departments as we could be. We are building a landmark building, one that sits well on the campus, and which is positioned to be part of the community.

'However, getting our people into work on the Cambridge Biomedical campus in the long term, and currently to Great Chesterford, Milton and Granta Park is a big issue. We have worked closely with the council on this, and succeeded in not putting people on Astra Zeneca buses but using public transport instead. You need to be part of the community. Although you are not always ready to do your best creative work if you have been stuck in a traffic jam on the A14 on the way to work!'

'With a properly diverse organisation in mind we have been working to create creches and gyms at our new site. Traffic congestion can make people arrive earlier and earlier. However we are mindful that we don't want to create a two phase organisation split between those people working in the labs - where there are fixed times, and those based around office desks who have much more flexible arrival and departure times.

The Chief Risk Officer at the Cambridge Building Society, Vicky Stubbs, amplified these points:

'We have talked a lot about infrastructure problems, but if you really want a diverse workforce you have to think about the whole journey chain. That's not just the journey to work but the dropping off at child-care nurseries and at school breakfast clubs and the picking up at the other end of the day. We are one of the few organisations with a call centre in central Cambridge and the fact that the park and ride buses stop quite early in the evening can be a problem for call centre staff.

'We also have to build a Cambridge that works for everybody, and that includes the pay-roll staff, the lab assistants, the cleaners and the primary school teachers. That's why we asking more employers to collaborate with us on attracting people to work in the city, and why we have created a 'rent to home' initiative to help people climb on to the housing ladder.'

Planning expert Simon Payne of Lambsquay Consulting asked: 'Do you treat the symptom or the cause - the cause being the ability of people to choose to work and live in the same place? How did you treat the Astra Zeneca move and deal with housing affordability for your lower and mid-paid staff?'

Mike Snowden replied: 'There was a re-location plan in place, and a plan for while we built the new campus building. We provided financial and relocation help, and the help has continued. Forty to fifty per cent of people based in Cheshire chose to move down to Cambridge from a reasonably priced housing area that was far less congested. That is testament to the determination of scientists to get to live in and close to a city with a science-rich culture.'

Cambridge City Council's Director of Planning and Economy, Stephen Kelly observed:

'From the council's perspective you developed a really impressive app for your staff, thinking about tackling transport issues. It's less about public sector solutions, more about collaboration.'

Mike Snowden explained the motivation:

'We carried out an exhaustive mapping of our staff's journeys to work to examine their experience. We worked on getting people to hubs from where they might cycle or get a bus. We discovered that some people were very much 'planes, trains and automobiles' (!) while for others it was a straight bus journey. We have tried to equalise the experience of people getting to work...this may mean subsidising some journeys. It has taken two years to achieve this but the staff are really appreciative of this universality in experience.'

Join us at our 2020 future infrastructure forum in February, when we will continue these important discussions.

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