Mayor James Palmer’s plan for new garden villages to pay for metro is ‘barmy’, claims Lib Dem opponent
The mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer, has come under fire for concocting a “barmy” plan for thousands of homes in new garden villages across the south of the county to fund his “wildly expensive metro scheme”.
But Mr Palmer, the Conservative leader of the Combined Authority, has dismissed the criticism from Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer as “misinformed” and “completely out of touch”.
The latest spat between the pair was prompted by the emergence of a map of four potential garden village sites that have support from the Combined Authority.
The sites are:
- Land owned by Pembroke College east of Linton, proposed for up to 7,000 homes
- 1,000 acres north of the A428 and west of Madingley
- 1,500 acres around Babraham
- 600 acres on land east of the A11 and south of Great Abington.
None of them is approved for planning permission at this stage.
The Combined Authority, which does not have planning powers, said they are “still very much early options being considered as part of a much wider piece of work, not solid commitments”.
The Linton site was proposed by Bidwells along with a letter of support from Mr Palmer when South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council put out a ‘call for sites’ for consideration in the next Local Plan blueprint.
The Cambridge Independent has made all sites put forward to the Local Plan, and all the documents associated with them, readily available using search tools.
The letter - which has been in the public domain since September 2020 but was written in March 2019 - said: “The landowner has discussed the proposed development with my office and officers from the Combined Authority who consider the location has potential to be well served by the proposed Cambridge area metro.”
Mr Palmer has, since 2018, suggested that garden villages could be used to help pay for the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM), while providing affordable, connected homes.
The concept is to use “land value capture”, in which the increase in the value of land once connected to a transport network helps pay the upfront costs of building the network.
Cllr Van de Weyer, the deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, who will stand against Mr Palmer at the May 6 mayoral elections, said: “Mayor James Palmer has spent the last three years putting together a plan for half a dozen new settlements across southern Cambridgeshire in order to pay for his wildly expensive metro scheme.
“The is a barmy way of going about things. From what we can tell, Palmer has got some options on various pieces of land and wants to design the CAM network around these locations, regardless of the merits of building there
“Palmer has spent too long concocting this idea behind closed doors. He now needs to come clean about what deals he has done and what his real plans are for Cambridgeshire.”
Asked if he was supporting the Pembroke College submission for the purposes of providing a development site that could help fund a metro, Mr Palmer said: “Yes, and any other sites that are deemed suitable”.
He did not identify others, but said there were “currently less than 10 sites identified across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough”.
The map of four showed “potential sites” he said, but added that as the metro develops “other suitable sites may come forward”.
“We expect more sites to come forward for development over the next 50 years, but not all will be developed all at once,” he said.
“The key point is it is a possible funding source, but certainly not the only.”
And he hit back at Cllr Van de Weyer’s suggestion that the CAM - which cost up to £2billion - “now seems to rely entirely on these new villages”.
The mayor said: “It is clear that Cllr Van Der Weyer is completely out of touch with how to deliver major infrastructure and with the views of the local public. To say that garden villages are the only potential funding source for the CAM is, coming from a member of the Combined Authority transport committee, disappointingly misinformed and at worst disingenuous.
“It is imperative that we deliver infrastructure in advance of housing, and it is essential to speak to local landowners ahead of time to do that. It is also the best way to capture the value of land and development for sustainable economic growth.
“We have spoken to a few landowners in and around Cambridgeshire – doesn’t mean to say that those sites will come forward. I don’t know where the garden villages and towns will be, that will be up to public consultation where we look at appropriate sites along the route.”
Any development proposals linked to the CAM would, he said, be “done in the proper way, through proper consultation, total understanding from local people of the options that are there”.
He added: “This is about trying to provide a platform for growth that is both ecologically sound and common sense planning policies that do not ruin the nature of the villages that we have”.
Mr Palmer also noted that the mayor has “absolutely zero powers over planning” but said the county “needs to build houses” and they should built in places “linked to public transport”.
He described the metro as “a platform for growth across all Cambridgeshire and Peterborough”.
“We will welcome all communities who want the new homes and new jobs this network will bring,” he said. “The aspirations for what CAM will achieve, and how we can get it built, are limitless, and I think the public welcome that level of vision and opportunity.”
Three concepts for the CAM were recently put forward by companies, which the Combined Authority is examining ahead of preparing a business case.
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