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Busway could be built through orchard as council moves forward with plans

A bus-only road could be built through a traditional orchard near Cambridge as local councillors voted to push ahead with plans despite opposition from campaigners.

The route of the proposed busway, between Cambridge and Cambourne nine miles to the west, would pass through Coton Orchard.

It is the eighth largest traditional orchard left in the UK, according to Anna Gazeley, whose father bought the orchard in 1996 to save it from development.

In a debate at a full council meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council, arguments were advanced about the need for a public transport route from Cambourne into Cambridge, balanced against loss of habitat.

Councillors approved the busway motion by 33 votes to 26, and the authority will now make an application to the Secretary of State for Transport for permission to go ahead with the scheme.

Ms Gazeley, whose family own Coton Orchard, said afterwards that she was “shattered” by Tuesday’s decision.

Coton Orchard
Coton Orchard (Anna Gazeley/PA)

James Littlewood, chief executive of heritage charity Cambridge Past, Present and Future, said he was “really disappointed”.

“From our perspective, the fight doesn’t end there,” he said.

“It does go on to public inquiry.

“We’ve launched a fighting fund.

“Anyone who wants to support our campaign to protect Coton Orchard and preserve the trees can help support that.

“We’ve raised £50,000 already and that will be used to pay for transport experts and legal experts to help us make our case at public inquiry.”

He said it would be a “terrible loss” if trees gave way to a busway.

Some councillors also raised concerns about the loss of trees.

Speaking during the meeting, local Labour councillor Neil Shailer said he would like to see “more orchards in the green belt”.

He raised concerns over population growth and more cars and warned of moving “one step closer to a burning planet”.

“It is time to grasp the nettle and do what we know is right,” he said.

“Future generations will thank us for it.”

Coton Orchard
Coton Orchard is described as the eighth largest traditional orchard left in the UK (Anna Gazeley/PA)

But Liberal Democrat councillor Neil Gough said the busway scheme was “desperately needed” by people in Cambourne “who want better access to economic and educational opportunities of Cambridge right now”.

Lucy Nethsingha, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council and of its Liberal Democrat group, said: “Of course I wish it were possible to build a high-quality public transport route without chopping down a single tree.

“But it is not possible.”

She said that an alternative option of widening existing roads had been “thoroughly examined over many years and would itself have a significant impact on trees”.

Ms Nethsingha said it was “urgent… that we take steps to decarbonise our economy, and high-quality public transport is a critical part of decarbonising transport in our area”.

She gave a “personal commitment” to do “everything in my power to ensure firstly that the minimum damage is done to Coton Orchard”.

“But also and equally importantly that the promises made as part of this proposal to ensure biodiversity net gain as a result of this route is honoured,” she said.

“Moving to a net zero economy cannot be done without changing the way we travel.”