£10m spent on Cambridgeshire metro which could be scrapped

Plans for a Cambridgeshire metro system have cost taxpayers around £10 million so far – and the project has been thrown into doubt after the county’s new metro mayor pledged to take a different approach. 

Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 9:53 am

The idea for the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM), which has been estimated to cost in the region of between £1.5 billion and £4 billion, would see custom-made vehicles travelling across the county on purpose-built routes, including tunnels under Cambridge city centre.

It could also eventually extend up to Peterborough. 

The vision was a flagship policy of the former Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Conservative James Palmer, who did not retain the role in the May 6 elections. 

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Nearly £10m has been spent on the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro project so far

The new mayor, Labour’s Nik Johnson strongly criticised Mr Palmer’s metro vision during the campaign, describing it as a “white elephant”.

Speaking in March, he said: “This project has all the hallmarks of being an expensive folly and a potential black hole for national and local government finances.” 

Dr Johnson did not produce an official manifesto for the election.

Addressing the cost of the metro so far, Dr Johnson said he does not believe it will continue as “currently proposed” and that he recognises the need to upgrade transport links and is focused on delivering an improved bus service “right away”.

But he also said he still needs to “sit down with the CAM team to understand the project and what aspects of the work done so far can be used to drive forward short and long term transport improvements”. 

He said: “Where we can make the most of any investment in CAM, we will do.”

Responding to questions from the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, which is led by the mayor, said the cost of the metro plans to date is £9,759,632. 

Prior to the election, the combined authority set up a company to help deliver the project. The ongoing costs have not yet been released and may now be subject to change. 

But the combined authority did say it has made offers of employment to three people who have not yet started their roles at the company. 

More detail on the ongoing costs of the metro project and company, OneCAM Ltd, are expected in June, but all six non-executive directors have been appointed and remain in their roles, and according to combined authority reports they receive a remuneration of £40,000 each per year, for a “minimum” of 15 days work. 

According to the combined authority’s medium term financial strategy, there is currently £20 million budgeted for the CAM project up until March 2024. That includes £2 million for OneCAM Ltd this financial year, and a further £18 million for delivering the metro’s business case over the next three years. The combined authority said the funding remains “subject to approval” by the board for drawing down if needed.

A spokesperson for the combined authority said: “We are currently working with members of the One CAM Ltd Board to assist the mayor in developing a new direction for an integrated transport network for the whole of Greater Cambridgeshire. Members of the One CAM Ltd Board are supportive of this process. A decision on the future of One CAM Ltd and the CAM programme will be taken in due course.”

Information provided by the combined authority shows the vast majority of spending on the metro – £7.3 million – was in the last financial year, April 2020 to April 2021. 

The year before, the combined authority spent £1.5 million, the year before that £930,000, and £28,000 in 2017/18. 

The figures provided by the combined authority show £3.8 million has been spent on the outline business case for the tunnelled section under Cambridge. 

And around £4.6 million has been spent on the CAM Innovation Company, including £174,297 on the garden villages strategy, which has been suggested as a way of paying for the metro through land value capture. 

Work on the metro has been undertaken by a combination of combined authority staff and consultants.

Dr Johnson said: “Although no decisions have been made, I don’t believe the CAM as currently proposed will continue. I think there are opportunities for better, more immediate and deliverable investments to build a convenient, affordable, green and joined-up transport system which works for every community in Greater Cambridgeshire. A revamped bus network, unlocked through potential franchising, is one such improvement I’m focussed on right away.

“However, I recognise the money already spent on the CAM prior to my election as mayor, and I also recognise the pressing need to upgrade transport, tackle congestion, cut carbon and improve air quality across the region.

“It is therefore important that I continue to sit down with the CAM team to understand the project and what aspects of the work done so far can be used to drive forward short and long term transport improvements. Where we can make the most of any investment in CAM, we will do.  

“The CAM also has some very experienced and talented transport people associated with it and I want to explore how we can use that knowledge to drive forward solutions to the transport challenges faced in the region. This is one of my priorities as I continue to bed into the role.”

Ben Hatton, Local Democracy Reporting Service