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‘Metro will be transformative – and not just for Cambridge’


By James Palmer | Opinion


James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Picture: Keith Heppell
James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Picture: Keith Heppell

When talking about my proposals for a metro, I am always keen to stress that this is a transport solution for a much wider area than just Greater Cambridge.

But sometimes a picture tells a thousand words, and when I revealed last week the indicative route maps of the extent and reach of the metro, I think it has given the public a much clearer idea of the vision.

As you may have seen, the ambition for the metro is to serve transport corridors from Cambridge to St Neots, Huntingdon and Waterbeach, and a further two corridors into Suffolk, extending to Mildenhall and Haverhill.

The precise routes of the network are still to be determined, but the maps at least show the proposed reach of the scheme.

The metro is of course about bringing in the world class transport infrastructure needed to ensure that our dynamic and growing economy remains competitive on the global stage. Our road and rail system as it stands is not geared up to sustaining that growth and this Autumn’s Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER), chaired by economist Dame Kate Barker, urged bringing forward the metro to help alleviate the congestion and crowding we face.

But the metro is also about bringing forward the significant amount of additional housing of all types that we need. Communities, fairly in my view, get angry and upset when housing is foisted upon them in speculative, bolt-on developments that bring very little in the way of supporting infrastructure to make them sustainable. Unfortunately, this is a function of the planning system we have, which is both not delivering the amount of homes we need, nor does it support homes with enough infrastructure.

The CPIER’s analysis suggests we need to build between 6,500 and 8,000 homes a year in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, but the current system is building just over 3,000. The facts speak for themselves – we need a bold, ambitious solution to housing delivery, and the metro has a hugely significant contribution to make.

With the support of local planning authorities, the metro can deliver significant new housing, especially through well-planned garden villages and with the transport infrastructure already in place, making them sustainable places to live and work. The transport corridors outlined in the map open up the potential to bring forward significant numbers of homes over a wide area.

I firmly believe that communities understand the need for new homes, and will consent to them, if they can see that they come with the necessary infrastructure. It is incumbent on us as local politicians to offer those solutions.

The next question I get asked is, how deliverable is the metro? Let me be clear that the metro is a reality and it is happening. But my view is that in order to see this scheme delivered effectively, and in the 2023-2028 timetable I have previously proposed, the Combined Authority needs to consider using a mayoral development corporation (MDC). The advantage is that MDCs put transport and planning powers in one place, liberating investment funds through land value capture and accelerating the delivery to the timescales that the situation demands.

The Chancellor in his Budget made specific reference to a MDC with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority specifically in mind, and follows meetings I have had with the Treasury about how those powers can accelerate the delivery of the Metro. We need to continue to work with the Government in bringing MDCs forward.

But I’m quite clear that an MDC could only happen as a partnership with the full involvement and consent of the local planning authorities. This isn’t about centralising power to one authority but about a consensual, partnership approach.

And let’s also be clear that the Government, unfortunately, is not going to write me a cheque to pay for the Metro. I will discuss with the government, with local partners and with investors on models for using land value capture and tax increment financing to raise the necessary investment funds . There is a huge appetite from the private sector to invest in the economy of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and investors can see the value and growth potential that the metro has the ability to unlock.

In short, we can’t have the Metro without significant new housing, and we can’t have significant new housing without the delivery of the Metro.

A conventional local government approach will simply not deliver a project of this scale, so we must forge a new path in the spirit of positive partnership. I think the recent announcement that the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the Combined Authority have agreed an approach for the A428 Cambourne to Cambridge scheme, which will see it transition into the first phase of the Metro, is a really positive example collaborative working. I’ll be looking for much more of the same with all our partners.

An outline business case for the metro is due to be presented to the Combined Authority Board in January when more details on costs and funding, as well as the overall strategic case, will be presented. In the meantime our work on bringing this scheme to delivery continues at pace.



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