‘It’s insane’ that Cambridge South station has taken so long, says mayor James Palmer
Mayor James Palmer has said third parties are slowing up the delivery of major projects in Cambridgeshire and called for additional powers to speed them up.
The mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority said it was “insane” that Cambridge South Station - earmarked for land on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus - has taken so long to deliver.
“17 years for a single station? It should have been done in 17 months,” he said.
His comments came the day after former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine called for metro mayors to be given more powers.
Mayor Palmer said he welcomed the report, and is now calling on the government to give up powers to allow mayors more control over roads and railway infrastructure, regional financing and the student curriculum.
He said dealing with third party organisations is “infuriating,” and is slowing down infrastructure improvements and “blocking growth”.
He said: “Sometimes it can feel like I’m cycling with the brakes on dealing with third parties – Network Rail, Highways England, Whitehall.
“Should I really have to go through Network Rail to put a station up in Cambridgeshire?
“I would like to be able to build railway stations without going through a third party. I would like to be able to deliver significant highways improvements without having to bend over to Highways England.”
And he said he wanted to deliver “transformations” to education policy so the curriculum can be changed to meet the region’s skills needs, giving sixth form education as an example where more control could see skills matched to local business needs and opportunities.
“I think the general public look at things and they don’t understand why on earth projects don’t get realised,” he said. “These things take more time than they should and it’s infuriating.
“The most successful cities and regions in the world have significant amounts of devolved power – more than we have now.”
More devolution, including more control over raising and spending money regionally, is a fairer way to govern, he said.
He said Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, as well as London and the South East, are funding the rest of country. He claims Cambridgeshire is “sending £100million a week to the rest of the UK” – a situation he wants to change.
Two years in
Mr Palmer is just over two years into his role as mayor – the first metro mayor the area has had, which has involved overseeing the Combined Authority’s first steps.
He said: “The thing that excited me about the Combined Authority and mayoralty role was to break down the barriers in the way that infrastructure was delivered but also try and break the cycle of lack of investment into Cambridgeshire which has been the case for all of my life.”
He said that although he wants more power to speed up the process, he still thinks the authority is “working pretty well”.
Besides additional powers, he also said projects could be delivered faster if it was less politicised, insisting the fiery rhetoric has for the most part not come from him.
The Combined Authority, he said, has been “transformational” and has the potential to deliver “something nobody ever believed could happen”.
The Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro plan is one example he gave of the power of devolution. Difficult third parties was not, he said, something that should slow down or derail the metro. The mayor said the county can deliver it alone, and only needs two things: local agreement, and for the Treasury to allow Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to raise the money itself.
He also said the authority is looking into the possibility of setting up a Transport for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough – similar to London’s city-run transport system. But he said rather than take a nationalise versus privatise ideological approach he would do “what’s the best approach” for the county.
Backing Mr Johnson for prime minister
The mayor is backing Boris Johnson to be the next leader of his party, the Conservatives.
He said he backed the controversial former secretary because “we need to get out of this malaise with Brexit”.
And he said Mr Johnson’s time as London mayor may mean he will be more supportive of devolution.
Mr Palmer said he and the other Conservative metro mayors would be meeting the two candidates to be the next prime minister in the next few weeks to make the case for further devolved powers.
More by this authorBen Hatton, Local Democracy Reporter