City Deal – a sense of engagement

jb_cbe17:39 Monday 14th December 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: It’s worth up to £1 billion and promises solutions to Cambridge’s ongoing transport and housing issues. But eighteen months after the Cambridge City Deal was signed, has any progress actually been made? Hannah Olsson investigates.
HANNAH OLSSON: Milton Road in Cambridge. The early morning rush hour is a frustrating part of Cambridge life, with plans to improve this road and others coming into the city with millions of pounds from the Greater Cambridge City Deal. But just like many commuters., the plans aren’t going anywhere fast. (CAR HORN) Eighteen months ago the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visited Cambridge to launch the City Deal. It was signed by council leaders, the university and businesses.
NICK CLEGG: Cambridge if you like came to Government and said “This is what we want. We want this money to improve housing, to develop more apprenticeships and to have money to deal with some of the bottlenecks locally.”
HANNAH OLSSON: The Government guaranteed £100 million over the next five years, with more in the pipeline if there’s evidence the money has been spent wisely and generated growth. The first £20 million arrived in April, but eight months on there hasn’t been so much as a spade in the ground. And some councillors and business leaders in the city are getting increasingly frustrated at how the rules and bureaucracy are slowing things down, John Bridge is the Chief Executive of the Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce.

JOHN BRIDGE: Well I have to say from a personal point of view it’s probably the most bureaucratic sticky treacle process that I have been involved with. And I feel that the people that set it up really didn’t understand the need to focus quickly on outcomes, to inject some really different high-level professional thinking into the process, and actually look at real quick wins to be able to deal with it.
HANNAH OLSSON: One of the reasons we haven’t seen any building work yet is that before the transport schemes can be signed off a series of consultations must take place. Although town planner David Shaw says this isn’t unique to the City Deal.
DAVID SHAW: Consultation is now an essential ingredient in any very big scheme. Years and years ago you could work your way round it. You had consultations, but you just didn’t have the sense of engagement which you do now.
HANNAH OLSSON: As well as the consultations there have been plenty of meetings. There’s an Assembly which offers advice and scrutiny, and an Executive Board which actually makes the decisions. With three councils involved, it all takes time, but Lewis Herbert, who is the Chair of the Executive Board, says it’s a necessary part of the City Deal process.
LEWIS HERBERT: Some of the road schemes involve an awful lot of thought. If we’re going to make buses easier to get in and out of the city, and if cycling and walking is going to be easier we’ve got to get those roads right And that takes a lot of design, and we need to know what the residents think about everything.
HANNAH OLSSON: Although grateful for the money they’ve got, Lewis says it could all have been much simpler.
LEWIS HERBERT: We’d have much preferred if we’d had a 10-year programme. That would have given us much more flexibility to do it all in a more obviously joined-up way.
HANNAH OLSSON: Cyclists will be the first to benefit from the City Deal. The Chisholm Trail providing a cycle path from the north to the south of the city should start being built towards the end of next year.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Hannah Olsson with that special report on the City Deal, two years on.