City university is top of new mayor's list

It was the election few wanted and very few voted in, but any apathy felt by Peterborough residents towards a new '˜metro mayor' is not shared by the man who intends to make the role a huge success.

Sunday, 14th May 2017, 3:00 pm
Updated Monday, 15th May 2017, 9:23 am
Cambs and Peterborough Mayoral Election count at Soham. The elected Mayor James Palmer EMN-170605-214446009

Conservative James Palmer strolled to victory during last Friday’s election, racking up nearly 22,000 first and second preference votes more than his nearest challenger, Liberal Democrat Rod Cantrill.

And having promised big things for the whole of Cambridgeshire during his campaign there are no plans to sit back now that victory has been secured.

Mr Palmer, who is expected to earn around £70,000 a year, was straight into work the morning after the election as he prepares to make the step up from East Cambridgeshire District Council leader to elected mayor.

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And right at the top of his in-tray will be paving the way for a Peterborough University to open its doors by 2020, he told the Peterborough Telegraph.

“The university is at the top of my list - it needs to be done,” he said.

“It’s been 20 years waiting for a Peterborough University and I intend to back Peterborough and invest in a university.

“Investment in the university will bring investment into the city.”

The dad-of-two from Soham is aware of the apathy towards his new job, but he stated: “Proof of the pudding is in the eating. Is a mayor something we need? I’m absolutely convinced it is.

“But, of course I’ve got to show the people what the mayor can achieve for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and I’ve got to show I’m part of what they need.”

There was also a ready response when asked whether Peterborough will receive as much attention as Cambridge which is widely believed to be the biggest beneficiary of devolution: “Well Peterborough is bigger than Cambridge, let’s not forget that,” replied Mr Palmer.

“Think what we can achieve if we can spread that Cambridge effect into the Peterborough area. And that huge success we’ve seen in Peterborough already - it’s the job of the mayor to merge the two and create a Silicon Valley right here in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

“And part of that is investing in the infrastructure around Cambridge.

“We’re never going to spread that Cambridge effect unless we sort out the infrastructure in and around that city.

“I would like to create a Cambridgeshire where high-profile, international companies can come and can set-up anywhere in the county.

“And, if that’s in Peterborough, let’s get it in there.”

As mayor, Mr Palmer will head a new council called the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

Joining him in the cabinet will be the leaders of the seven biggest Cambridgeshire councils - including Peterborough City Council - and a representative of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership.

The authority will control a devolved transport budget and be able to spend £170 million on new housing, of which £70 million is ringfenced for Cambridge.

There will also be £20 million a year to spend on infrastructure.

Mr Palmer used his victory speech at the Ross Peers Sports Centre in Soham to take a dig at the unions, claiming that during the early 80s they felt “it was entirely fair to ruin the education of children who were at secondary school at the time by taking many, many, many days of strikes.”

The word “fair” featured heavily in the new mayor’s speech, central to which is a promise to open up opportunities for young people to take on apprenticeships.

One idea is to give league table points to schools which place children into apprenticeships.

Asked about housing in Peterborough, Mr Palmer said he wants to “open up housing development,” but that it will be up to the city council to tell him what housing is needed.