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Cambridge businesses will pay up to solve the congestion issue'

CAM metro would run on rubber wheels
CAM metro would run on rubber wheels

Mayor James Palmer and the Greater Cambridge Partnership's vision of an underground metro is a no-brainer for businesses, says Cambridge Ahead.

Interview Cambridge Ahead with Ian Mather and Jane Paterson-Todd. Picture: Keith Heppell
Interview Cambridge Ahead with Ian Mather and Jane Paterson-Todd. Picture: Keith Heppell

Businesses will be ready to pay their way to get the £1.5billion Cambridge Autonomous Metro (CAM) up and running.

And it needs to happen soon to make sure the Cambridge ‘cluster’ still has the gravitational pull to bring the next billion-pound multinational to the UK.

That’s according to Cambridge Ahead, a business member group that represents the likes of Arm, AstraZeneca and Redgate – around 36,000 people and £5billion.

But fundamentally the city needs to get behind it, says Jane Patterson-Todd, Cambridge Ahead’s CEO.

CAM metro schematic
CAM metro schematic

“It’s absolutely what we need for this city,” she said. “What we need to do is hold them to account. If they say that’s what they’re going to deliver then that’s what we want.

“But we as a community need to stop thinking about what it won’t do, and start thinking about what it will do. Get behind it, support the politicians and the officers that have created this system and find ways that we can make it a reality.”

As a member body Cambridge Ahead puts project teams together to tackle Cambridge issues. Growth and transport are currently on the agenda.

A 2014 Cambridge Ahead study showed congestion was the biggest issue facing the city’s businesses, and with no action it will only get worse, recalled the organisation’s chairman and head of office at Mills & Reeve, Ian Mather.

He said: “CAM presses all the buttons. The devil is in the detail but that’s why they’ve committed £600,000 to do a business case for it, to see how it is going to work in detail.

“The fundamental part of this new system is that it’s segregating the vehicles. It doesn’t matter that it’s not rail, it’s affordable and scalable and segregated and that’s going to make the difference.

“A lot of the criticism comes from burying into the minutiae, rather than asking if this is the solution for the city, and I think it is.

“This is a potential solution to a real headache for businesses here, which is how to attract and retain talent. If we carry on as we are this city cannot work to its optimum.”

The GCP has said that it could fund up to £300million of the project, and the Combined Authority, which is moving forward with the £600,000 business case, could also contribute. A workplace parking levy or some form of congestion charge would also pay for ongoing costs, but the project would be a public-private partnership and it has been suggested that businesses would need to chip in.

This won’t be a problem, Ian said. “Businesses have to be open to finding ways to fund this. But if that means the city works in a better way then I think they’re up for it,” he suggested.

“And £1.5billion, frankly, is quite cheap when you see what this economy produces for the UK and what it can produce. It is very affordable.”

“If businesses need to spend a bit of money on a system which is going to ensure that they continue to thrive then the answer is, they’d rather do that,” added Jane.

“People are not able to access the city. House prices are just under £500,000 on average and 16 times the average salary, so people are going to live further afield.

“But businesses need to attract talent. If that talent can’t access the city then that talent won’t come to work for them and that business doesn’t thrive as well as it could.”

Cambridge has thrived, Jane says, because clusters have developed organically over a long period of time. You can’t pick them up and move them, so Cambridge needs to make space for the next big multinational that is looking for a new location.

“If they are looking at places to locate they may look at Cambridge,” Ian said, “but they might not look at anywhere else in the UK.

“If we don’t find the space for another AstraZeneca they will go to Boston or Singapore or Munich. Those are real high-value jobs lost to the UK. That’s the fundamental value of Cambridge.

“There will be a tipping point unless we do something.

“But the flip side is that if we do things, and this transport system is key to that, that growth can be sustainable in two ways; we can have more growth without destroying the beautiful city that we all love.”

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