Peterborough’s metro mayor in robust defence of ‘pie in the sky’ spending plans

Mayor James Palmer
Mayor James Palmer
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Peterborough’s metro mayor has clashed with a member of his authority’s scrutiny committee after funding for projects such as the University of Peterborough was again raised.

Less than a week after Mayor James Palmer, leader of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, claimed to have been the most scrutinised politician in the country, he was arguing with members of the scrutiny committee whose job it is to question the policies he brings to the table.

Not for the first time a member quizzed the mayor at length about where the funding would be coming from for the 12 projects which form the ‘Crown Jewels’ of Mayor Palmer’s future plans for the county

These include the A47 dualling, the Huntingdon Third River Crossing, Cambridge South Railway Station, the CAM-METRO system, the A10 Dualling and the University of Peterborough project.

Cllr Markus Gehring (Lib Dem, Cambridge City Council) said: “Mayor Palmer, you talk about transport infrastructure schemes for large parts of Cambridgeshire and other projects that you have imagined. But isn’t it just pie in the sky what you are promising? At the same time, you don’t even have a financial officer at director level.

“All you have done is to re-structure the numbers which doesn’t allow the combined authority to have any financial security on these really large projects. So, isn’t it just that you are tricking us in the city into supporting your big infrastructure projects?

“The financial officers within your authority are not really in a position to properly oversee such a very, very complex operation.”

Mayor Palmer responded: “Thank you Markus, I’m glad you’re so fully behind these schemes for transportation in Cambridgeshire.

“So, how do we finance these projects? I have spoken about this matter at length and I will continue to speak about it at length. Garden villages are the way to deliver the infrastructure.

“I have been talking with land owners across the south of Cambridgeshire and I have people who are ready to go to option right now on a 10 times agricultural price. That’s around £80,000 per acre.

“But land values in the south of Cambridgeshire are significantly more than that – there’s some land that recently sold in the region of £2 million an acre.

“The work we have had done by the CBRE on sites near to Cambridge suggests that an uplift of £420 million in the value of the land is possible.

“So, this is not something that is pie in the sky, this is something that I’ve had checked out, that independent experts have agreed upon and was also in a recent Government paper that made it quite clear using the value of agricultural land is the right way for us to raise financial infrastructure.

“Ultimately, we have to look at the economy in Cambridge and Cambridgeshire and see what the economy can do for us, rather than continuously taking taxpayers’ money and expecting that there is unlimited amounts of that money available.

“We know that traditionally government have tended to spend their money – vast amounts of it – elsewhere. So ultimately if I’m going to go to Government I need to go with a clear scheme of how to raise finance. Garden villages, land value capture, is one.

“The reality is that the next stage, the full-out business case, will give us a clear indication of how much and how well the funding strategy works.

“I would hope Markus, that somebody who is so passionate about the environment and passionate about technologies that can bring clean, green air to our cities, I would hope that you can support a metro system that takes 44 per cent of cars off the road.

“It allows us to build eco-garden villages that we cannot do at the moment, reliant as we are on buses and the car.

“I would hope that you might find it somewhere in your heart there might be some positivity in this scheme.”