Cambridgeshire mayor: ‘I will listen to the experts to tackle county’s challenges’
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s new mayor will “listen to the experts” to help meet the challenges facing the county.
Labour and co-operative mayor Dr Nik Johnson was speaking after his first day in office as leader of the Combined Authority.
Referring to his experience as an NHS children’s doctor, Dr Johnson told the Cambridge Independent: “One of the things that’s got us through this crisis is the expertise. There was a phrase previously of ‘We’re listening to experts’. I love experts and I think expertise particularly in the science and business community – they’re the ones who are going to get us out of the challenges we’ve had.”
Top among the priorities for the former district councillor is bringing the bus service under the control of the Combined Authority.
“I think there is a lack of a bus service that is accessible to all and both frequent and affordable,” Dr Johnson, who will continue to work in the NHS, said. “Quite clearly there are many rural towns and villages that feel isolated. There is no secret that all three candidates said they wanted bus franchising, but I feel I was the most vociferous in saying I can see a real benefit for all.
“We’ll be moving wholeheartedly to develop a Combined Authority franchised bus service where we have control, we design the routes, and we have good connectivity with other modes of transport. This also links in with the push to get people out of their cars and using other forms of transport including cycling and walking because that’s also good for public health.”
On how quickly could he achieve a franchised bus service, Dr Johnson, who has previously worked at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, said: “I need to understand what is currently available and inevitably it will have to go to consultation. We know where the profitable routes are because they’re the ones that have been running well. What we need to understand is where are the profits being made and by what organisations, and where the financials can work across the patch so the less profitable routes are provided in a more coordinated way – and that’s only going to be done with hard-nosed negotiating.
“I’m looking for people who know how to negotiate with the big players because the big players are going to want to do this as they’ll be a population invigorated by the idea of connected buses. Routes that are currently classed as non-viable, my thoughts are one day they’re going to be more and more viable and we’ll be able to extend the services even more.”
He is hoping to look at pricing to encourage uptake and a Cambridgeshire-branded scheme like Greater London’s Oyster card.
“The idea of subsidising some of the fares for people who are most likely to use it but also the ones who can’t use it at the moment because it’s prohibitively expensive,” he said. “In the longer term, you want people who are currently regular car users to say, ‘You know what, I don’t have to worry about the car parking at the other end, I can hop on a bus, I’m not going to be waiting around for hours for a bus that never comes’. There’s a level of reliability that really appeals to everyone – and we start thinking we are a must network.”
He continued: “I recognise that the challenges for a Combined Authority bus network that works for the whole of Cambridgeshire is going to be different in terms of size and the communities that you’re serving, but it doesn’t mean to say that we shouldn’t at least try, because that’s what I’ve been elected to do. That’s what I have every intention of trying to deliver.”
Dr Johnson has said he will not be continuing with the previous administration’s 100k homes scheme, but he is keen to deliver affordable properties against a backdrop of a national “broken model of housing”.
He referred to the city council’s Mill Road depot development which will deliver 118 council houses alongside the same number of privately owned homes, plus a community centre.
“The emergency is significant,” he said. “My drive is to emulate the success of Cambridge City Council in terms of delivering developments that are giving meaningful numbers. They’re giving social housing alongside market housing now.”
He said will meet Cambridgeshire MPs and looks forward to working with the local authorities.