Daniel Zeichner – making the case for Cambridge

csp17:20 Friday 9th October 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Cambridge is at a crossroads, poised for the next wave of growth, but being held back by its infrastructure. That is the view of Cambridge Ahead, a group of business leaders and academics committed to growing Cambridge into the top small city in the world. Today they launched A Case for Cambridge, their plea to central government to invest more in our region and benefit the whole country. The Chairman is Ian Mather. He said Cambridge can’t rely on its history to thrive in the future.
IAN MATHER: People come to Cambridge. They stick here; I did over thirty years ago. And they love the place, but it does need to develop to attract some of the best industries in the world. But doing that at the same time as keeping it a special place. And it’s a difficult act to do, but I believe it can be done.
CHRIS MANN: Ian Mather of Mills and Reeve. Antony Mattessich is the Managing Director of Mundipharma International, one of the many pharmaceutical companies that chose to base themselves in the city over the last decade. He said Cambridge is competing with cities like San Francisco and Boston, and it’s vital that we continue to be an appealing option to the talented people that he wants to recruit.
ANTONY MATTESSICH: When they have children where are the kids going to go to school? Is there a place in the schools? What is my commute going to be like? What is my house going to be like? Where do I have to live? I would also mention that we have people who .. they’re not quite ready to settle down in a place like Cambridge. They want to live in London. If they want to live in London, the questions are what’s the commute going to be like coming from London.
CHRIS MANN: Today’s launch featured a discussion with the area’s MPs, asking how we influence central government. But Rupert Read who stood for the Green Party in Cambridge in the last General Election, unsuccessfully, thinks we should also be asking the question whether we want the city to continue to expand.
RUPERT READ: What we’re saying in the Greens is, this growth can’t go on for ever. There’s a serious danger now we’re going to lose forever the very special character that Cambridge has, if we carry on recklessly growing it and sprawling it out into the countryside.
CHRIS MANN: The Cambridge case may be about academics and decision-makers, but the Leader of Cambridge City Council Lewis Herbert insists they’re taking everyone’s opinions into account.
LEWIS HERBERT: In some bits of the world you’ve either got governments or you’ve got business, who just don’t care about what people think. It really does matter what people think in Cambridge, and if we cannot answer the needs of the people on low incomes as well as those that need to be attracted as international brains, then it will fail.
CHRIS MANN: That’s councillor Lewis Herbert. Well Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner, the newly appointed Shadow Transport Minister, was part of this morning’s panel, and he joined me in the studio later to discuss how it had gone.

DANIEL ZEICHNER: It is important, because the case for Cambridge has got to be made to Government now, and it’s got to be made strongly, because if we don’t get the kind of infrastructure improvements that we’ve been asking for, Cambridge businesses are competing on a global scale, and what I’m hearing and what we heard at the presentation this morning from one of the business leaders was that the choice isn’t whether jobs come to Cambridge or another part of the UK, jobs could go to other parts of the world. So it’s really important, and that’s why I was very pleased to be part of the launch today.
CHRIS MANN: You’re now on the Shadow Transport team. You’ve got a voice, so you can tell people about the sort of infrastructure problems, the A14 issues, that we have here.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Absolutely. And I think it’s really important that all of our local MPs speak with one voice. And I was very pleased that it’s a cross-party consensus. Obviously it’s a Conservative Government, so I look to my Conservative colleagues particularly to find ways of getting the case across. I’m not convinced at the moment that the Government quite realises how urgent it is that we sort these things out.
CHRIS MANN: They’ve got a long list of things to do of course. Not least is the housing problem, and other parts of the country aren’t as wealthy as Cambridge, or as well-to-do as Cambridgeshire is at the moment. But equally that success brings with it the problems that with even more houses for people at all levels of our society.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well sadly I’m afraid this is where we’re not going to have one voice, because I think the Government’s got its housing policies completely wrong. Making housing associations sell off their homes, making the councils sell off homes to pay for those, forcing people out of their council homes if they’re doing well, all of this is the wrong way to be going. And I despair at the Government on that front, but as I say, in terms of getting our infrastructure right, we’ve got to keep making the plea. But it’s not just about transport. It is about getting housing right. It’s also about getting our local skills right, and I’m afraid there are problems there too. So I’m an Opposition politician. I’m going to criticise loudly. But I hope that we can work together to get the best that we can from Government.
CHRIS MANN: You’re in Opposition in Westminster, but of course Labour is in power in Cambridge city. It’s not in the county, but it is in the city. And it seems there’s a lot of councils around this area. The actual area of Cambridge city is very small. You get just past the football ground for instance and you’re out there aren’t you? You’re in South Cambs.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well this is part of the problem,and when you look at the big devolution deals around the country at the moment, they’re largely going to big metropolitan areas with one council in each area. Now they are being forced to work together, and that’s what we’ve got to do here, bringing the councils together into what are called combined authorities. What’s encouraging is that the political leadership, regardless of their political allegiance, are working well together. And that’s our big offer, alongside the fact that Cambridge is unique in having our fantastic universities and our hi-tech sector and our life sciences sector. If we can get that across to Government, and there are people in Government who do understand this, then I am hopeful that we will get the kind of result that we need. But we cannot go on much longer like this, seeing Cambridge brought to gridlock, otherwise the kind of investors who are thinking of coming here will turn away.
CHRIS MANN: How would you divide up this county? Obviously there’s a unitary authority in Peterborough, then there’s the county council, then there’s all these small district councils. What should Cambridge put itself with?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well that’s one of the big and difficult debates, but what we’re seeing is the councils across Cambridgeshire are coming together. We’re seeing the County Council for instance possibly sharing a Chief Executive with Peterborough. We’re seeing the Local Enterprise Partnership working together. Essentially the Cambridge area is what should be in my view what’s called the ‘travel to work’ area. It’s quite a lot bigger than Cambridge city. But that’s complicated in terms of the politics, but in terms of the economy, most people understand that.
CHRIS MANN: Daniel Zeichner, the MP for Cambridge and the new Shadow Transport Minister talking to me a little earlier.