17:07 Thursday 5th December 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: A billion pound deal called the City Deal has been announced today for Cambridgeshire from the Government. It means more of the money made here will be invested here on housing and infrastructure, and it’s been negotiated by the City, the District, and the County Councils, and others. In a moment or two I’ll be talking to Tim Bick, the Liberal Democrat Leader of Cambridge City Council, who’s with me in the studio, but first of all, I spoke earlier to the Leader of the County Council, Martin Curtis.
MARTIN CURTIS: The most important announcement on the detail we’ve heard so far is a commitment from the Government to a City Deal for Cambridge, which is absolutely great news. It’s something that is a result of a lot of partnership working around the county, so great work between the City Council, the County Council, and South Cambridgeshire Council to pull a deal together, along with the University and our Enterprise Partnership, will really unlock the potential of the Cambridge city economy. It’s really powerful for the people of Cambridgeshire. There are still details to be worked out on it, but they’ve committed to a principle of gain share, which means that as the Government’s tax revenue as a result of the growth in Cambridgeshire, we get a share back. So it’s a very important principle, a very difficult thing for the Government to commit to, and is really important, not just for Cambridge, but for Cambridgeshire as a whole.
CHRIS MANN: I know that you’re having your Christmas lunch at the County Council today, so this is a early Christmas present. How much do you think it might be worth, and why has Cambridgeshire got it?
MARTIN CURTIS: There’s a couple of reasons. The Greater Cambridge economy is worth more per employee, what they call GVA, than the City of London. And what we’ve been able to demonstrate is the huge potential that is blocked effectively by poor infrastructure. So the deal is worth in total about a billion pounds. Some of that will be our money, but a lot of it will be Government money that comes back to us. And it’s about delivering the infrastructure on the routes into Cambridge city, but also to allow people getting around the city better, so that we can actually unlock some of the potential for economic growth that we’ve got, for business growth.
CHRIS MANN: What’s Cambridgeshire going to have to give in return for this?
MARTIN CURTIS: We will have to invest some of our own money. And we’ll have to set up a route to do this. So there will be some of our money going into this, and quite rightly, because we will benefit from it too. So it is gain share, and so we’re sharing the gain. But inside of that, there are some commitments on housing which pretty much fall in line with where we are now, not entirely. But essentially it’s a real win for Cambridgeshire people. It’s a recognition that we’ve got one of the most powerful economies in the country, and potentially in the world actually. And what it means is we will have a county and a Greater Cambridge economy that we can be proud of.
CHRIS MANN: Well that was the Conservative Leader of the County Council, Martin Curtis. And with me to add more to it is the Liberal Democrat Leader of Cambridge City Council, Tim Bick. Hi Tim.
TIM BICK: Hi.
CHRIS MANN: Now just explain this to people, how does it work, in nuts and bolts, and what does it mean.
TIM BICK: The nuts and bolts are that Cambridge right now has an economy that wants to grow. It’s got all the symptoms of an economy that wants to grow and is struggling to grow. And that’s what you see when we look at congestion, when we look at house prices. What we need is better infrastructure here, which will enable people to find places to live, enable people to move around the area better, and enable businesses to grow here and to stay here.
CHRIS MANN: By infrastructure you mean ..
TIM BICK: I mean transport, and I mean housing. What the Government has recognised is that the Cambridge economy has a potential strength that is significant for the whole of the UK economy. And it has that because we are competing on a national stage as a technology area, with Shanghai, with Silicon Valley, with Bangalore. And we are important enough to the UK economy for them to encourage this growth in Cambridge, to help us get through some of the bottlenecks that are in front of us.
CHRIS MANN: So, if there’s going to be more housing, are you going to surrender some of the Green Belt? Are South Cambs and East Cambs and other councils going to surrender some of the Green Belt?
TIM BICK: No more than is currently being considered and decided through our local plan process. So it’s not about that.
CHRIS MANN: It’s not about the community stadium and the houses that go with that for instance.
TIM BICK: It’s not about that. It’s about enabling the housing that is planned to happen, and happen to time, and to include affordable housing, the critical element of this, because of these very high house prices in the area that stop a lot of people getting here to live and to work,. We’re going to be able to change that situation.
CHRIS MANN: So can you explain why the community stadium and the houses that go with that have just been turned down by both of the councils, and yet you are saying to the Government let’s do a deal, and let’s put some houses on Green Belt. Why are the two things different?
TIM BICK: The two things are different because the one is about land use, and the issue about the stadium and the housing around the potential stadium is about land use. And there the local councils take decisions based on the character of the area, the capacity of the area to take housing, and to take other development. The City Deal is about the financial wherewithal to ensure that the housing that is planned in areas where it does fit can happen, can happen reasonably fast, and can include some affordable housing.
CHRIS MANN: We’re obviously talking about Northstowe, which is a new town that’s planned. Are you talking about things closer to Cambridge?
TIM BICK: We’re talking about Northstowe. We’re talking about Waterbeach. We’re talking about housing on the edge of Cambridge as well.
CHRIS MANN: OK. And affordable housing, which means that people can get on the ladder.
TIM BICK: What is really important is that those big new developments that are already planned do include a significant proportion of affordable housing.
CHRIS MANN: But you’ve not mentioned Cambridge City Council, the area itself, which is quite small actually, surrounded by South Cambs and East Cambs. So is there going to be any new housing in Cambridge city itself?
TIM BICK: No more than is on the cards at the moment again. The issue about the housing that’s on the cards already is that we have to make sure that it includes affordable housing, that strand within the total housing. And we also have to enable housing that is already on the cards, by providing access, by providing transport links between where people will live and where people will work, and around Cambridge, which is becoming increasingly congested.
CHRIS MANN: Well we know the list of things, don’t we? The roads need to be improved. The A14, the train service between Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich and Peterborough, Ely and so on. That needs to be improved. We need the broadband switched on, don’t we? We need the mobile phone coverage. All of those things are important and relevant.
TIM BICK: Of course they are. And I believe all of those are having that need met. But what still isn’t on the cards is proper ways of getting around the city, getting to the city and out of the city to other places on the compass around us, to the north, south, east and west. And what we hope to be able to do with City Deal is to enable those links to happen.
CHRIS MANN: Thank you for explaining it. How important a day is this then for Cambridge and Cambridgeshire? Put it in perspective Tim.
TIM BICK: It’s a really important milestone. We’ve been negotiating with the Government for a year to have the resources to be able to tackle this. What they have signalled today is that they’re willing to accept this unique and audacious gain sharing concept, which involves them giving back to the area the increases in national taxation that they will be able to collect from the growth of Cambridge. I only know one other example where this has happened, and it’s an extremely difficult thing to get acceptance from the Treasury form, and it’s a major victory.
CHRIS MANN: Is now the time for you to talk to South Cambs, East Cambs and the County Council about having one big council here to handle all this? Because you’re going to be crossing borders otherwise. Is a unitary authority ..
TIM BICK: This is not a unitary authority. I personally think that would make things a lot easier, but this is the next best thing. This is about ..
CHRIS MANN: Should it be on the agenda now do you think?
TIM BICK: I think it will become on the agenda, on everyone’s agenda, just as soon as we get the City Deal in place, and can see the added advantages that would give us. But this is already going to mean us working together in a combined authority for our transport strategy, and our housing strategy.
CHRIS MANN: So a big day for the county. Tim Bick, thank you so much for joining us. The Liberal Democrat Leader of Cambridge City Council. Before that you heard from Martin Curtis, the Conservative Leader of the County Council.