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Second busway conflict of interest debate rages on between City Deal and residents

By Ben Comber

Guided Busway, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Guided Busway, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Residents say University board position needs to facilitate action in the interest of the public

Professor Nigel Slater is to step down from the board of the Greater Cambridge City Deal to pursue his academic interests.

Cllr Lewis Herbert, chair of the City Deal Board, said: “Nigel has played a valuable and active role in progressing the work of our unique partnership, bringing a fresh and academic perspective to solutions for overcoming the barriers to securing future prosperity and managing growth in Greater Cambridge.

“On behalf of the board, we respect his personal decision to pursue his academic interests and wish him well in this role in which he will, undoubtedly, continue to play a vital part in staking Cambridge as a world-leading city of innovation.

“The City Deal is two years into an ambitious 15-year programme and it’s perfectly natural board representation will evolve but this does not detract from the strong commitment of the five partner organisations to work collaboratively for the greater good of our city region – including on behalf of future generations. We look forward to working closely with Nigel’s replacement when they are recruited.”

The university’s position on the board came under some scrutiny over the proposed introduction of a second busway to the west of Cambridge, an area over which the university and some colleges own land and could potentially stand to benefit in the future should the busway be built.

Helen Bradbury, parish councillor for Coton, said she thinks the resignation is a result of a conflict of interests.

She said: “I think there’s a big problem with the governance of the board and it’s that these three people seem not to be accountable.”

The three council representatives on the City Deal board have the votes that make City Deal decisions.

Mrs Bradbury continued: “They have an enormous amount of power and an enormous amount of money to spend.

“What these three people can do, and what they did do last month on the 13th, is ignore.”

Mrs Bradbury said that the position of the university on the board alongside the three council members and LEP representative was justified, but said that the university should reconsider the way it operates as a board member.

She continued: “It’s the way that they behave on the board that is in question.

“It’s a strategic role and they are not behaving like a strategic partner.”

Of the University’s new appointment, she said: “It’s got to be someone that the general public has confidence that they are going to act in the wider interest of the residents of Cambridge and not in the interests of the university and profitability.”

Prof Slater has been the university’s representative on the City Deal’s board since January 2016, replacing its original representative, Professor Jeremy Saunders, the previous Pro-vice Chancellor.

Recruitment is now underway for his replacement. The university has reaffirmed its commitment to city and regional affairs, including in its role as part of the Greater Cambridge City Deal partnership.

Community group Save The West Fields have today written to the City Deal Board to reaffirm that questions asked before Prof Slater’s resignation should still be answered.

The group has also brought attention to the university’s place on the City Deal Board, and highlighted claims about conflict in interest.

The statement questions the university’s involvement in the A428 Cambourne to Cambridge project, stating: “Cambridge University has a huge commercial and financial interest in the A428 busway scheme going ahead, even if South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen has described it as a “white elephant”, “vanity project” and “a gross waste of public money”.

“It is precisely the constant claim by Lewis Herbert and fellow Board members that Cambridge University is treated like any other landowner (or indeed consultation participant) that has prompted us to issue this statement as we find it very concerning.

“Lewis Herbert has stated at the October 13 City Deal Board meeting that he has ensured that the conflict of interest and potential conflicts are addressed in advance of relevant decisions. For example, he has said that before the summer break, he made it clear to officers and Professor Slater as University representative that the October decision making meeting and all further and future decisions on this issue would not include the University’s representative, given the University’s “pecuniary” interest on the project’s proposals. We believe that this approach may not start to manage the conflict if in practice City Deal planning officers, who are making the recommendations to the Board, are working closely with Cambridge University designers to achieve a route with respect to the West Cambridge Site.

“We would like Lewis Herbert, Francis Burkitt and Ian Bates to respond in full to our questions on conflict of interest. e would like a written response and not just a commitment to discuss this in a future meeting.

“We also would like an independent organisation to now review the governance of the Cambridge City Deal given the large number of recent resignations without adequate explanation. Local communities are entitled to independent confirmation that the governance is being conducted in an acceptable way.”

The full letter can be found here.

Cambridge University addressed reasons for Prof Slater’s decision to leave the board. A spokesperson said: “Professor Slater decided to stand down in order to focus on his research interests and his role as Professor of Chemical Engineering in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology.

“The University remains committed to its City and regional responsibilities and leadership.

“The current Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Regional Affairs will continue in post until 31 December 2016, after which time the role’s duties will be carried out by the wider senior leadership team.

“The search for a new Pro-Vice-Chancellor is underway, with a start date for the post of 1 January 2017.

“We cannot at this stage confirm who will be replacing Professor Nigel Slater on the City Deal Board as the recruitment process is still ongoing.”

“The University will communicate about its representation on the City Deal Board in due course.”

City Deal chair Cllr Lewis Herbert issued a response.


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