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Warnings new mayoral transport plans could be a “threat” to Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire

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Cambridge city leader Cllr Lewis Herbert (Labour), South Cambridgeshire leader Cllr Bridget Smith (Lib Dem), and Combined Authority mayor James Palmer (Conservative)
Cambridge city leader Cllr Lewis Herbert (Labour), South Cambridgeshire leader Cllr Bridget Smith (Lib Dem), and Combined Authority mayor James Palmer (Conservative)

‘Government, businesses, and people will lose confidence if government bodies continue to “squabble” among each other’ says district leader.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’ set out its vision for the future of transport in the county at its annual meeting last week.

But some saw the strategy statement as a direct “threat” to existing plans, with some raising fears the combined authority was trying to absorb other groups’ responsibilities.

Introducing the combined mayoral interim transport strategy statement, Martin Whiteley, chief executive of the combined authority, said the intention was to create a “truly futuristic” transport system in Cambridgeshire, including an underground metro system in Cambridge.

He said the Combined Authority’s overarching aim for transport in the region was to create something “so good it will become the first choice for all users” effectively designing out the need for using cars and getting more people onto public transport.

“It is a bold move,” said Mr Whiteley. “But it is possible.”

Cllr Bridget Smith, the Liberal Democrat leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, however, said she could not support the strategy statement as it was because it risked “derailing” the South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge city local plans.

She also said there was a danger of sending a message that the Combined Authority was too antagonistic towards the Greater Cambridge Partnership.

She said the perception that the Combined Authority wanted to take over and absorb the GCP would be damaging and could end up jeopardising future government funding.

Cllr Smith said: “I think this is a threat to South Cambridgeshire. I think risks losing the confidence of the business sector.”

Cllr Smith said the City Deal (now the Greater Cambridge Partnership) had originally been set up to ensure sustainable development and growth in the region.

Funding for the organisation, which oversees schemes like the greenways project, the Chisholm Trail, and the Cambridge to Cambourne busway, is allocated in three tranches.

Cllr Smith said there was a risk the second and third tranche could be “lost” if the government lost confidence in the GCP and the combined authority.

“If the government sees us squabbling like this, they will have no confidence in us,” she warned.

“The risk of losing the confidence of the business sector too is very clear. I think this plan will damage confidence beyond repair.

“It gives a message we can’t work together in the interests of local communities.”

Cllr Smith also expressed hear fears that the Combined Authority simply wanted to take over the Greater Cambridge Partnership and absorb its funding and responsibilities as, she said, it had done to the LEP (local enterprise partnership) last year.

Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council, also had misgivings about the direction of travel, saying that, while he was enthusiastic about the metro project, there needed to be better clarity over where the GCP and the Combined Authority stood in relation to each other, and who had ultimate responsibility for which projects.

Cllr Herbert said: “There are critical issues with the plan here. The economy is not pausing, and the job growth in the area is still about five per cent a year, which is pretty phenomenal.”

Cllr Herbert said there needed to be greater clarity about the roles of the GCP and the Combined Authority, and both groups needed to be sure of where they stood with one another.

James Palmer, the mayor, said the Combined Authority would work with the Greater Cambridge Partnership, but that they needed an ambitious plan to make progress.

He said he did not believe Park & Rides and similar transport hubs were going to be effective solutions, and said that, while the busway was “relatively successful”, it would not be able to cope with the increasing growth anticipated in the region in coming years.

“If we are going to create beautiful places for people to live, we must first create transport for them,” said Mr Palmer. “We have a window of opportunity to do something exceptional. If we are foolish and over commit to short-term solutions, we will never deliver for our communities.”

The board approved the interim transport strategy statement, with six votes in favour and two votes against – only Cllr Herbert and Cllr Smith opposed it.

A further report will come back to the July board meeting.

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