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Combined Authority mayor James Palmer joins Greater Cambridge Partnership board as government calls for closer working

Mayor James Palmer has said he is taking a seat on the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) board to “secure a breakthrough” over joint working on the metro scheme.

The two organisations have been at loggerheads over transport plans for the region and have now been urged by ministers to collaborate.

Mayor James Palmer. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mayor James Palmer. Picture: Keith Heppell

In particular, they have clashed over the GCP’s Cambourne to Cambridge (C2C) busway scheme , which is on hold after the mayor claimed it did not fit with his vision for the wider Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM) scheme.

Proceeding with the scheme risked wasting public money and costly legal challenges, he warned.

Now Mr Palmer, the mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, has an ally chairing the GCP - fellow Conservative Cllr Roger Hickford - and his request to join as a non-voting member of the GCP’s executive board has been accepted.

Mr Palmer said: “As I have long said, CAM will not work if the network is broken down into different bits, delivered by different bodies, with no unifying working arrangement and strategy.

“We can only build the best possible case for CAM if we can account for the benefits of delivering a whole network. The tribulations and controversies of the GCP’s C2C scheme are a portent of what would be to come if we were to carry on down a fragmented path.

“We need to solve this with a single strategy and a unified working structure which incorporates the short GCP corridors into this comprehensive and transformative region-wide, world-class public transport network.

“My previous repeated attempts to encourage GCP work with us on this basis have not been reciprocated, but I am very encouraged by the approach of new GCP executive board chairman Cllr Roger Hickford to work collaboratively and so I intend to take up this non-voting position on the GCP board.”

And he revealed there had been ministerial intervention to end the impasse between the two organisations.

“On Monday, Simon Clarke MP, then Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, and Kemi Badenoch MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, wrote to Cllr Hickford, copying me in, to state that it was ”essential” that the GCP worked in close collaboration with the mayoral Combined Authority. This should focus minds,” said Mr Palmer.

Mr Clarke resigned from the government on Monday, citing personal reasons.

Ms Badenoch, meanwhile, has responsibility for City Deals, such as the one funding the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s activities.

Olukemi Badenoch, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Minister for Equalities). Picture published under Creative Commons licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Olukemi Badenoch, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Minister for Equalities). Picture published under Creative Commons licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Mr Palmer went on to stress that his vision for the £2billion metro network - which he describes as One CAM - encompassed the individual projects being worked on by the GCP.

“The reality is the short GCP routes are sticking plasters which do not allow us to shape future growth in a way that is truly economically and environmentally sustainable,” he said.

“By forming part of a regional network that will extend from St Neots to Haverhill and Alconbury to Mildenhall, via tunnels in Cambridge, these GCP routes will be vastly more than the sum of their parts.

“It is vital therefore that these elements promoted by the GCP are properly aligned and ‘CAM compliant’. I will look to work at a political level with the GCP to ensure this is the case.

“In the meantime we are pressing ahead with CAM’s development, including appointing the hugely experienced leader in infrastructure delivery, Simon Wright OBE, and establishing a special purpose vehicle (SPV), where this month an outstanding candidate for its chair will be recommended for appointment.

“The establishment of the SPV, giving CAM the dedicated resource needed, and harnessing some of the brightest and best minds, represents the most exciting phase yet of the metro’s delivery.”

The SPV will act as a separate delivery company for the metro, overseen by the Combined Authority. Former Crossrail chief executive Mr Wright, as the Cambridge Independent has reported , will act as an advisor on the project, which is scheduled for delivery by the end of the decade .

A GCP spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent this evening: “The GCP executive board invited the mayor of the Combined Authority to take a non-voting seat to try to improve collaboration and information sharing. The board has not yet heard directly from the mayor about whether he has accepted this offer, but note his press statement and look forward to working with him.”

Liberal Democrat Aidan Van de Weyer , who has stepped down from chair to vice-chairman, will stand against Mr Palmer at the next election for the position of mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

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