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Think-tank Centre for Cities offers help to Cambridgeshire region mayor candidates

25 06 16 Cambridge views, Kingss College. Picture: Keith Heppell
25 06 16 Cambridge views, Kingss College. Picture: Keith Heppell

Three policy priorites to press in the mayor's first term have been identified, including a congestion charge and expanding Cambridge city centre.

Paul Swinney, principal economist at think tank Centre for Cities, which earlier this year revealed Cambridge as the UK’s most unequal city, today released a report highlighting the ‘very differnent challenges’ the first Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor will face in the region’s two growing economies.

‘Cambridge has seen its recent success driven by knowledge-based activities (including research and development and information technology), which has made it one of the most productive parts of the UK economy, but has also pushed up house prices and contributed to congestion problems’ the report states.

‘Much of Peterborough’s success in recent years has been based on the expansion of lower-skilled activities. The challenge here will be to attract higher-skilled business investment, while improving the skills of the residents living in and around the city’.

‘For the metro mayor to support economic growth, they will likely require very different approaches in these two areas, but these will need to be coordinated as part of a coherent narrative and vision for the area’ he says.

He said a quick win - in the form of introducing a congestion charge for Cambridge - would set the tone for delivery from the start. City Deal has opted against the introduction of a congestion charge because it could take years to introduce one, as the process involves parliamentary approval.

“It is hard to envision a solution that does not involve road use charging in some form – and this is exactly this kind of issue that the new metro mayor must take the lead on,” the report says. City Deal is currently progressing a clean air zone with a pollution charge as a ‘more nuanced set of physical demand measures’.

Two further ‘quick wins’ suggested involve reregulation of bus services using powers that could be devolved through the Bus Services Bill, and smart ticketing system, which is also being progressed by City Deal as part of the Smart Cambridge programme.

The second priority suggests putting in place ‘a spatial plan to address housing pressures and provide commercial space where it is required’. This recommendation also suggests building new satellite communities with caution, saying it is preferable to expand the central city of Cambridge. ‘Settlements such as Cambourne have brought welcome new homes to the area in recent years but new homes there require greater infrastructure investment and have lengthier commutes to work than if Cambridge itself expanded’ the report says.

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The third priority encourages a mayor to address low skill levels, particulary in Peterborough, and improve the skills of those already in work.

The report says; “A long term vision for the city region will be the key election platform – it is what the mayor is working towards while in office. This should be ambitious, but reflect the real needs and potential of the city region. Some aspects of the vision will be achievable within the mayor’s term in office, while others will build momentum or signal a change in direction. It is important to be clear and strike the balance of where each policy lies on this spectrum.”

The full report can be read online.

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