Conservative candidate to be Cambs mayor lays out his policies

The current Conservative mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will not be releasing an official manifesto, but says he has a clear vision for a second term.

James Palmer told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that if re-elected, his ambition is that homes available for purchase for £100,000 make up 10 per cent of all new developments in the county.

The mayoral election on May 6 will decide the next leader of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, which has significant powers and funding for transport, housing and to support the economy and adult education.

He acknowledged that the goal cannot be directly achieved through the office of mayor, but said: “It’s achievable if the councils are willing. If you are any council you can change your local plan at any time if you have got the will to do so. If the public are telling the district leaders, through my campaign, who voted me into office, that they support the £100K homes, then the district leaders will have to front up to the public and tell them why their particular districts are not providing £100K homes”.

‘Proved’ the £100K home concept

The idea behind the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s £100K homes policy is that as part of a new development’s affordable housing provision, developers can offer homes available to purchase for £100,000 regardless of their market assessed value.

The discount applied – for example 50 per cent of market value – would stay with the property when it is resold.

The combined authority confirmed on April 15 that eight have been completed so far, in Fordham, and a further eight are under construction, four in Ely and four in Great Abington, with a further three allocated for Cambridge city.

Mr Palmer says the homes are delivered at “zero cost to the taxpayer”, but critics have said the current homes in the scheme have required loans of £1 million each, tying up capital they say is linked to the government’s assessment that the wider combined authority housing programme has made “insufficient delivery progress and that the value for money being achieved is below our expectations”.

Mr Palmer says that under his leadership the combined authority has “proved the concept” for £100K homes and that “the next stage is to do it at significant scale”.

He said that if 10 per cent of new developments are £100K Homes it will deliver “around 500 a year”, adding he is “confident” it is achievable and that local plans will be changed.

Mr Palmer also highlighted the “massively important” proposals in the current combined authority pipeline.

These include dualling the A10 and A47, upgrading Ely North Junction, building a new Cambridge South Station, reopening Wisbech’s railway line, and delivering the next phases of the new university for Peterborough.

“Four years ago none of those projects were happening at all”, he said.

Mr Palmer is also proposing to absorb the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) into the combined authority, an idea which has not attracted government backing or support from the GCP’s constituent councils when he and others have suggested it over the past few years.

He has in addition said he will deliver bus franchising in Cambridgeshire, which is also supported by the other two candidates, and which Mr Palmer said could integrate the bus network with other transport services, including the proposed metro, and prevent the various modes of public transport competing with each other.

Metro ‘platform for sustainable growth’

Mr Palmer said he is still committed to delivering his proposed metro, which he says would use autonomous vehicles and include underground tunnels in central Cambridge, saying the plan “protects from inappropriate and poorly planned development”, describing a metro as a “platform for sustainable growth”.

Asked if he is still proposing a 2029 delivery deadline for the later phases, including underground tunnels carrying passengers, he said “we’re looking at 2023 to 2029, 2030 – that’s where we are”.

He said his position on funding a metro is the same as it was when he was running four ago, which is that using so-called tax incremental funding and so-called land value capture can help pay for it and persuade the government to invest.

Mr Palmer said tax incremental funding could be used to “ring-fence business rates” on sites where development is made available via a metro, which he said can then be used to pay back the borrowing required for its construction.

He gave the current Northern Line extension in London as an example of where the policy is being used. He said land value capture could use an increase in land value created by connecting areas to a metro in a similar way.

Despite his support for a development of 7,000 new homes in Linton as it has “the potential to be well served” by the proposed metro, Mr Palmer said his plans would not increase the number of homes built in South Cambridgeshire.

He said a metro system “takes the burden off Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire” when it comes to building new homes, by connecting areas further afield.

He said: “As mayor, part of my remit from government was to try to build 100,000 homes above the local plan”, adding that an independent economic review in 2018 found Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is building 5,000 homes fewer than needed.

He said since being elected four years ago, the housing need is “now 20,000 more because our transport network does not allow for sustainable growth across the area. So of course there will be homes in South Cambridgeshire because South Cambridgeshire is a very desirable place to live, but it doesn’t mean to say all the homes will be in South Cambridgeshire. Absolutely not, that’s why CAM Metro was planned to spread that burden of growth across the wider area”.

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