Anthony Browne MP: OxCam Arc is no longer a government priority - and Levelling Up will take pressure off Cambridgeshire
Opinion | The Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire writes for the Cambridge Independent.
I have interesting conversations with residents on the doorstep every weekend, but it was curious to meet people this week who didn’t want government support.
Obviously, cost of living was a topic as I knocked on doors in Bar Hill, but people were also very curious about the impact of the Levelling Up White Paper, the much anticipated first look at how the government will break the link between geography and destiny, transforming the UK in the process.
One woman was almost emotional as she told me how she wanted money and investment to go elsewhere to areas of the country that are really struggling.
What we need from the Levelling Up Bill is the targeted funding being delivered and the chance to take the pressure off.
What do I mean by that? Cambridgeshire’s massive growth is an attraction to many companies and workers, who are keen to move here and fuel our development boom. But residents who have grown up here are then left out of the loop.
Most people want to live close to where they grew up and shouldn’t feel they have to move around the country for work if they don’t want to. If we spread out that prosperity, we can ensure our residents and those across the country have the jobs and homes, reduce the pressure on Cambridgeshire to fuel the UK’s growth, and have the scope to protect our communities.
The OxCam Arc is a prime example. I have given a very clear message to the government that the arc can’t be about concreting over swathes of the countryside with new homes. To be acceptable, it needs to bring clear quality of life benefits to our communities and businesses, as opposed to the bland and meaningless ‘pillars’ that currently hold it up.
The government has listened. I am glad the OxCam Arc appears nowhere in the levelling up White Paper, and is no longer a government priority. Those community groups who fear the consequences of the OxCam Arc on their villages can breathe a little easier.
As we spread prosperity across the country, it needs to be about lifting up areas and not pushing ours down. I understand the concerns around science funding, for example, where we will see a higher share of overall funding going to other areas.
However, this also comes as the government commits to more life science and R&D funding than ever before. We will be increasing annual investment in UK research and development to £22billion, growth the Chancellor described as the “fastest, largest increase in R&D spend ever”. A reduction in our share should still see a real-terms increase in funds for our valuable life science sector, and I will personally be working hard to ensure that South Cambridgeshire receives more than ever before.
All of this is not to say there are no areas not of deprivation in Cambridgeshire that need government support. I’m glad to see support targeted towards areas of real need in our county.
Cambridgeshire’s MPs have been working together to address concerns around education funding, and now the county is one of 55 areas across the country that will see targeted support. This includes retention payments to help schools keep the best teachers, prioritisation for new specialist sixth form free schools such as a new specialist age 16-19 maths school in Cambridge, and new reading, writing, and maths achievement targets.
We will see additional funding for our beleaguered public transport system, including the 30 zero emission buses announced by Grant Shapps earlier this year.
These come with road upgrade schemes, something I have been fighting for and will continue to push on and additional funding for local communities who need it most as part of the Community Renewal Fund and the Transforming Cities Fund. We are also continuing to benefit from Project Gigabit, something I can truly appreciate, having both an office and a home in rural South Cambridgeshire.
This is also why the White Paper has received support from across the political divide. I very much welcome comments by Nik Johnson, mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, who took a more nuanced view than some of the haphazard political attacks from his political colleagues might suggest. He is right that we need to find ways for this to work for Cambridgeshire.
The government must concentrate on regenerating the UK’s most deprived areas, places where the median family income is a half or a third that in South Cambridgeshire. I agree with my residents – let’s get this money to those who need it, in and out of our county, and concentrate on giving everyone the future they deserve.