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Laying foundations for 'Lego' homes at first Cambridgeshire mayoral debate

Participating in the lively debate were Cllr Paul Bullen (UKIP), Cllr Rod Cantrill (Liberal Democrats), Peter Dawe (Independent), Cllr James Palmer (Conservative) and Cllr Kevin Price (Labour).

Lego homes and underground railways were just some of the ideas being promoted by candidates in the race to become the first Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor.

Paul Bullen of UKIP, Liberal Democrat Rod Cantrill, Labour’s Kevin Price, James Palmer of the Conservatives and independent Peter Dawe addressed an audience from the property, development and construction industries on Friday (March 17) in the first mayoral hustings leading up to the May 4 election.

Julie Howell, of the Green Party, and the English Democrats’ Stephen Goldspink declined to attend.

The link between infrastructure and housing was highlighted by all candidates.

Mr Palmer said: “Developers can’t afford to develop and put infrastructure in. So the mayor has to look at it another way. We have to sort out the infrastructure in Cambridgeshire first.

“We’ve got a massively overheated housing problem in the south – we know that in Cambridge you’ve got to earn £115,000 to get a mortgage, which is totally and utterly impractical. We’ve got to stop looking at parts of the county as rural. We have to link the whole county.”

Mr Price said that the housing crisis comes down to affordability, in agreement with Mr Cantrill, who said housing for key workers is essential.

Mr Bullen said farmland needs to be protected and claimed that Cambridgeshire has some of the worst rented social landlords in the country: “I think a lot of landlords have got too greedy, too quickly and we need to take control at a local level,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Dawe said new towns should be built for the 21st century, with factories turning out “houses almost like Lego”.

“A potential factory near Thorney could churn out 20 homes a day within four years,” he said. “In order to get the price of housing down, we have just got to have more houses. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a millionaire’s house or a hovel.”

All the candidates agreed that infrastructure and transport should be the mayor’s priorities, but there were differences in the way forward.

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Mr Price supported buses, but said that they should be run on a not-for-profit basis, with city services funding rural routes. “Once it gets brought down to wanting to make money, it stops being a service,” he said.

Mr Dawe thinks buses are a small part of the answer, but luxury coaches are preferable for long-distance travel, and minibuses would better serve residents in urban areas, providing more frequent services and diverse routes.

He said trains are good at some things, “but they only go the way they go”, adding that the links between Soham and Bury St Edmunds or Ely, when “everyone wants to go to Cambridge”, are simply not economically viable.

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Mr Palmer said buses are not a solution, that roads need to be improved for drivers, and rail, both light and heavy, is the way forward for mass transit.

Mr Bullen agreed buses are not a solution and thinks the county is ‘ideal’ for a tram system.

Mr Cantrill said he believes all modes of transport can be used, but needed to be linked together effectively.

A poll taken after the debate showed Conservative candidate Mr Palmer in the lead, with 59 per cent of votes.

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