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Mayor James Palmer: ‘We’re ready to take CAM project to the next level’

Opinion by James Palmer, mayor of the Combined Authority

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

The Combined Authority board, which I chair, decided on Wednesday to set up a new, separate company tasked with taking the delivery of the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM) to the next level.

The increasing scale of the CAM project means now is the right time to form a special purpose vehicle (SPV), wholly-owned by the Combined Authority. Other major infrastructure schemes, including East West Rail, Crossrail and HS2, also use delivery bodies.

But the SPV represents something much more fundamental about the delivery of CAM.

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

When I’m asked how a world-class, regional metro network can possibly be pioneered here, my response is, ‘where better?’.

When it comes to the ‘brightest and the best’ people and an economy humming with innovation and bold new ideas, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is world-leading.

The formation of an SPV will help harness that local ingenuity and spirit of ambition which has made this region what it is today. Our leading academics, scientists, engineers, tech pioneers and entrepreneurs can all potentially lend their talents. A grassroots energy and capability can, and should, be used to power forward the delivery of the CAM.

And I believe that will happen because everyone who has an interest in a thriving future for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will benefit from the CAM’s delivery.

The next phase, now the SPV is approved, will be to appoint a high-profile, outstanding board chairman in September.

How an underground metro station could look
How an underground metro station could look

The rest of the board will be formed shortly after, drawing as far as possible from the exceptional people we have on our doorstep. With strong leadership and governance in place, the SPV will then take forward a new, joined-up ‘One CAM’ approach to the whole scheme, with delivery planned between 2023-2029.

As we innovate new technology and intellectual property as the scheme progresses, we also have the potential to create a new growth industry, centred around the future of mobility, where Cambridgeshire and Peterborough leads the world.

CAM is not just about creating a cleaner, greener future for how we move around the county, it also underpins a wider levelling up of our economy.

It will unlock houses that people can afford, in sustainable developments; it will support our economy’s continuing global competitiveness, and it will create jobs and spread opportunity to more people.

CAM will help this region take the initiative and reshape itself for the many challenges that we and future generations face. Short-distance busways and Park & Rides are, I’m afraid, already obsolete.

The metro network map
The metro network map

It is imperative we take control of our future. Government is exploring a big new town at Cambridge as part of East West Rail, which I would expect to be between Cambourne and the city, to help meet its housing targets for the Oxford to Cambridge Arc.

But with CAM, we can prove that growth can be spread sustainably and sensitively across the region, benefitting more people, rather than concentrating development in a limited area.

Local action, local talent. The formation of an SPV will be just the start of an exciting new phase of delivery.

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