Peterborough’s days of competing with Cambridge are over. From now on, our target is Silicon Valley.
That’s according to James Palmer, the overwhelming favourite to be Cambridgeshire’s first ever elected mayor.
If Mr Palmer’s vision as mayor comes to fruition
then the county will be a world-leading hub for technology and science, with businesses queuing at the door to get in.
So could Fletton Quays be discussed in the same breath as Facebook? Maybe not, but under Mr Palmer’s vision Peterborough will not be seen as a poor neighbour of Cambridge, but a dynamic city doing big business with the rest of the world.
“Cambridgeshire and Peterborough are not at war with each other, we are
working together,” said Mr Palmer, leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council and the Conservative candidate for mayor.
“Our competitors are Silicon Valley, they’re Boston, Germany, Shanghai and China.
“I want to create an environment where businesses worldwide say, ‘that’s where you’ve got to go to do business.
“That’s where you’ve got to be to be at the heart of the technological industry, to be at the heart of science, education.
“Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has got the ingredients to become the very best, not just one of the best.
“I’m determined to make sure that if I do become mayor, that I will take Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
onto another level than it’s on now.
“If the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough can be as successful as they are at the moment, without any tangible government investment over the last 30 to 40 years, think what they can achieve with tangible investment.”
Football fan Mr Palmer is reminiscent of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, both in his appearance and the passion with which he speaks.
He talks about spreading both “the gold dust of Cambridge” and “the Cambridge bubble” to the rest of the county.
The dad-of-two from Soham comes from a business background, having taken over the running of his dad’s milk round firm which he says he quadrupled in size before selling in 2004.
And he says he has a “drive, an ambition and a vision” to make Cambridgeshire a world leading centre for business. But, to do that the infrastructure has got to change, he says.
“If you want to go north or south the infrastructure is pretty good.
“If you come out of Peterborough and want to go east or south east, the infrastructure is not very good.
“Here we have two of the best places to live - Cambridgeshire and Peterborough - two of the most successful places in the country, and yet they are doing it with one arm tied behind their back because the infrastructure is not up to the level necessary.”
Improving the road system in the county will be a priority for Mr Palmer. He also promised to push ahead with a Peterborough university which the city was promised by the Government in exchange for agreeing to a devolution deal with a mayor.
Under devolution, Peterborough City Council
will have a representative on a new combined authority which will be headed by the mayor.
The fear is that with the city council receiving just one vote out of nine on the authority Peterborough may be left behind, with money for transport, housing and economic growth concentrated elsewhere.
But Mr Palmer is adamant that there will be no repeat
of the past, when Peterborough was part of Cambridgeshire County Council and felt like it wasn’t getting a good deal.
He added: “This combined authority is equal for all and there will be no bias against Peterborough in this scheme.
“I’m absolutely determined mistakes of the past won’t be repeated in the future.
“And I am absolutely determined that Peterborough will have its fair share of everything that goes on.
“I don’t want Peterborough people to think this is a new version of what happened before. As long as I’m involved Peterborough will get its fair share.”
‘I want to know all there is to know about Peterborough’
James Palmer’s knowledge of Peterborough has been largely formed through shopping and watching Posh.
But the Conservative politician has been backed from the start by MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson to represent the city as its elected mayor, even when he was competing against fellow Tories for his party’s nomination.
Now, he is determined to discover as much about the city as he can.
He said: “I know Peterborough very well. It’s a city I’ve visited innumerable times to shop or to go to football. My wife went to college there and had her first job there. It’s not somewhere I don’t have an understanding of. It’s not as if I’m from the other side of the planet.
“Do I know everything about Peterborough? No. Do I aim to know as much as there is possible to know about Peterborough. Absolutely I do. The same as I do for every part of the county.”
Asked about his thoughts on the Bridge Street cycling ban, Mr Palmer said he was not aware of it. But he added: “The job of the combined authority is not to sort out cycling or issues in Peterborough.
“The job of the combined authority is to listen to Peterborough City Council who will bring forward projects for us to fund if that’s what they need. I don’t want to get embroiled in the minutiae of detail of city council control.”
The combined authority will have £100 million to spend on housing for the entire county, with Cambridge given its own £70 million housing budget on top of that.
Asked how much of that £100 million Peterborough can expect to see, Mr Palmer replied: “I’ve already spoken to the leader of Peterborough City Council about what he wants for Peterborough. And that’s the key actually. It’s not necessarily what I want to see for Peterborough, it’s what Peterborough wants for Peterborough.
“Ultimately the city council have to come to the combined authority with what they want done. And if they apply and have a worked-up scheme that’s financially viable, I will do everything I can to make sure it comes in.”
Mr Palmer, who is also a Cambridgeshire county councillor, plans to come to Peterborough city centre to hand out leaflets in the run up to May’s election.
And who knows, he may even have Mr Jackson by his side.
“I’ve known Stewart for a number of years and clearly he’s a very driven and successful MP and someone I admire greatly,” he added.