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New company set up to develop CAM project

A new company will be set up to develop plans for the proposed Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM).

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority board voted on Wednesday, August 5 to incorporate a company to act as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for the project.

CAM metro would run on rubber wheels. (40404632)
CAM metro would run on rubber wheels. (40404632)

It will act as “lead entity” though some project decisions will be made by the board, made up of council leaders from across the county.

The board also approved £2million to set up the company – £1million from its capital fund, and an application for £1million to the Combined Authority’s local growth fund. Further specifics will be confirmed in September, including the chairman and board members.

Kim Sawyer, joint chief executive of the Combined Authority, said it intends to present a revised business plan and financial plan in September for this company over the next four years.

Also coming back to the board will be “an agreement on how we can continue working with our partners,” which includes the Greater Cambridge Partnership, which has been publicly criticised by mayor James Palmer in disputes over the metro.

The leader of Cambridge City Council, Lewis Herbert, voted against setting up the new company, and South Cambridgeshire District Council leader Bridget Smith abstained. Both say they support the metro project but questioned the process and timing of the decision to create the company. County council leader Steve Count said it was “borderline” as to whether now is the right time for the new company.

The board also heard the outline business case for the CAM is delayed and will not be ready this month as anticipated. Mr Palmer said it is expected in January following “a significant piece of work” from the technical advisory committee which questions the affordability of the Combined Authority’s current vision for the plan, and instead suggests using smaller vehicles, which could reduce the estimated cost by more than half to less than £2billion.

Metro route map (40404647)
Metro route map (40404647)

Cllr Herbert said the latest technology report proposes something “quite different” to the vision last presented to the board in the strategic outline business case.

“I’m as enthusiastic about the metro as you are and other members of the Combined Authority,” Cllr Herbert said, but he said his “core concern” is that the project currently lacks a clear definition and that the elected Combined Authority – not the company – should progress the scheme further for now.

He said: “Call me old fashioned, but I believe that we need to know what it is, and where it’s going, and how it’s going to be funded before we start setting up what is a very expensive administration. It’s the Combined Authority’s job to define what it is and what our priorities are for it.”

He added: “I do not think this is the right time. It isn’t that I don’t believe there is a need for such a vehicle, but I think it’s for this board and for the Combined Authority to provide the leadership and get to the point of resolving what it is. In terms of salaries and overheads, I just think we are being asked in a way to buy a pig in a poke, because we just don’t know exactly what the overheads and costs are.”

Cllr Smith said: “There seems to be an incredible rush to get this done. Why now? Why rush in this way?”

The leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, Anna Bailey, said: “If we are committed to CAM, and I certainly am, we absolutely have to go for this and we have to have the right resources to deliver it.”

Mayor James Palmer. Picture: Keith Heppell (40404740)
Mayor James Palmer. Picture: Keith Heppell (40404740)

Mr Palmer said creating the company is an “extraordinary step”.

“I understand that some may be nervous about it. Some may say, why the rush,” he said. “If we do not sort out the transport system by 2030 the economy will begin to go backwards – that’s the rush.

“Why we are setting up this special purpose vehicle is because we have gone out to the very best and brightest minds in the country, people who have delivered on major infrastructure projects across the world, and we have heeded their advice to set up this special purpose vehicle. We are doing what has been recommended to us.

“You have to look to world experts, and you have to listen to them, and this special purpose vehicle will allow us to do that. Setting it up now allows us to be in a position when the outline business case is completed that we can move forward at pace – the pace necessary, the rush necessary.”

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