Clegg Moots Cash Boost For Northstowe

17:08 Thursday 22nd November 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: The Government today put the Cambridgeshire new town of Northstowe firmly at the top of its building priorities, as it looks to solve the nation’s housing crisis. It’s to share in a £250 million injection of cash to unblock delays and get work on the first of a planned 10,000 new homes started by the Spring of 2014. The announcement was made today by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and afterwards he told me more. (TAPE)
NICK CLEGG: A number of sites around the country including Northstowe which have have got blocked for various reasons, and you’ll know as well as I do that there’s been a bit of stopping and starting on the Northstowe project for some time now, and basically .. and there are several other sites like Northstowe around the country, in other parts of the country, where if we can only unblock them, all at the same time, we’d be able to build close to 50,000 new homes across the country pretty quickly, including of course up to 10,000 homes in Northstowe. And I’ve announced today that we’re putting up, as far as central government is concerned, £225 million to be made available to those sites, so that we can finally get building. And I very much hope that that’s the final bit in the jigsaw puzzle if you like, which is required to give the green light to Northstowe becoming a reality, and not just a dream on a planner’s map.
CHRIS MANN: So how much of that £225 million will be spent on Northstowe? And what exactly will it be for?
NICK CLEGG: The manner in which .. how that £225 million cake will be divided up isn’t something of course that .. something decided at the same time. We’ve just made sure that pot is available. And it can be used for all sorts of different measures, in order to take the financial risk out of the project, perhaps help with some infrastructure, to make sure that obviously now that we’re going to go ahead with the A14 and all the right transport connections are made. So several million pounds, tens of millions of pounds, will be available to ensure that Northstowe actually goes ahead.
CHRIS MANN: And as you’ve said in your speech today, that Northstowe has hit a wall, what did you mean by that?
NICK CLEGG: I think we meant that Northstowe, unlike other sites, has been in the pipeline for a long period of time. The first planning application that was put in for a Northstowe site was, what, was about five years ago now. At a time when there are so many families that want homes to live in, schools for their children to go to, businesses where they can work, I think it is very exciting that something like Northstowe does all of those things. Because this isn’t just a conventional housing development. This is proper planning for a town centre , with shops and community facilities, key employment areas where businesses can be set up, a secondary school, seven primary schools, four sports hubs. This is in my view exactly the kind of community based planning that we need, so that we don’t just build a little house here or there, everywhere, but actually create new places that people want to live and settle in for generations ahead. And that’s why I was very keen to unblock this, and use this additional money from Government to do so.
CHRIS MANN: So there’ll be no more excuses from either the County Council or the District Council for any delays. Do you think it will bring the building closer?
NICK CLEGG: I very much hope there are no major barriers now left, which have stood in the way of Northstowe actually being built. I doubt that you’re going to see diggers on the ground tomorrow. I should think it will take some time. But I very much hope, by the Spring of the year after next, that there is a start on site, with this Government investment money that I’ve announced today.
CHRIS MANN: One of the big concerns, and you’ll know this as an ex-Cambridge man yourself, one of the big concerns here of course is getting around the problems with the motorway system, and the A14 and so on. Might some of this money go to the A14? Or is that something separate?
NICK CLEGG: It’s something separate, but we’ve already said, back in November of last year, so exactly a year ago, that we will make a commitment now to increase capacity on the A14. And you’re right. Without that increased capacity on the A14, only a small number of houses in Northstowe could be built. So the two things very much go hand in hand. And it’s certainly a point that Julian Huppert has been making to me for a long period of time, which is that when you plan for new homes and new construction in an area as beautiful as Cambridge and the outlying areas, north Cambridge, you’ve got to do so in a way which is properly supported by adequate transport infrastructure. And that’s exactly what we’ve sought to do with our support for the A14 expansion. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg talking to me earlier today. Well let’s get reaction to that news now from Ray Manning, who is Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council. Ray, hello to you.
RAY MANNING: Hello there.
CHRIS MANN: A share of £250 million. Well, what’s your reaction?
RAY MANNING: Well you never turn people away when they’re coming towards you with money do they? It’s really good news. We have obviously given outline permission already for the town of Northwstowe. But there are significant problems. There are infrastructure problems. I notice again the commitment to the A14, which is the biggest single one of the lot. But I was really pleased that this money is not linked to that. Because if it was, then quite honestly it would all disappear like a drop in the ocean.
CHRIS MANN: That was one of the questions, the key questions I asked him of course. Because we all know that the A14 will take a lot more money than that. But he’s talking about holdups, and fixing the block. Is it a quick fix, and what does the money need to be spent on if so Ray?
RAY MANNING: Well there’s so many things, because we’re determined for a start that it’s going to be a quality development. And they keep using the much-maligned word, “exemplar.” But it has got to be a quality development. It’s got to be really really good. And that doesn’t come cheap. And the other thing is that we’re determined to put the infrastructure in at a very early stage, which again is easy if you’ve sold thousands of houses and made a profit, then you’ve got the money. If you’re asking people to start putting infrastructure in at an early stage, well that means companies have either got to borrow it, or they’ve got to try and cut corners.
CHRIS MANN: You’re talking shops and roads and creating the community, the hub, at the beginning.
CHRIS MANN: Because so often the complaint about new towns is the houses are there first, and it takes a while for even the basic amenities to arrive.
RAY MANNING: We’re talking about the primary school. We’re talking about sports hubs. We’re talking about playing fields, things like that. Shops we’re not quite so sure about. Because although we might be making provision, obviously you’ve got to have a big enough base to make it worthwhile somebody standing there to sell their goods.
CHRIS MANN: Personally I would have thought that was essential, but anyway, we’ll leave that to you. He’s talking about the …
RAY MANNING: Well no I’m saying you perhaps can’t do it in the very early stages. I’m saying you must make provision for them, but you can’t guarantee they’re going to open when there’s only twenty houses there.
CHRIS MANN: OK. He gave the date of Spring 2014. Realistic as far as you’re concerned?
RAY MANNING: Well I think so. The sooner the better. We’ve got a crisis housing shortage in this area. We’ve got affordable housing as part of the mix, which again we’re very short of. I think the biggest thing to me is that the Government actually has been listening to us.
CHRIS MANN: You sound shocked. (THEY LAUGH)
RAY MANNING: I sound shocked. Yes. Well you often wonder whether you’ve done any good sometimes. And yet I begin to think perhaps we have. Because Councillor Nick Clarke and I talked to Eric Pickles last week. We’ve talked to .. we were both at Number Ten and talked to the Prime Minister. And he kept saying yes, we agree. Northstowe is critical to the country.
CHRIS MANN: Well, they’ve obviously listened, and it is now a priority. And so there’s no excuses. You need to get on with it.
RAY MANNING: No excuses. I’ll get out there with my shovel.
CHRIS MANN: Ray Manning, thank you. Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, responding there to the news from the Government today that Northstowe is to get a share of £250 million of cash that they’re going to inject into several housing developments around the country, to try and solve the housing crisis.