Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two

dodger17:42 Wednesday 17th April 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]ETER SWANN: We spoke to John Bridge of Cambridgeshire’s Chamber of Commerce. He’s called for the Leader of Cambridge City Council to support plans for a widened A14, regardless of his political views. Mr Bridge says all local authorities must set aside politics to form a united front in order to convince the Government to improve that stretch of the road between Cambridge and Huntingdon. (TAPE)
JOHN BRIDGE: There’s little doubt that the A14 upgrade is the top of every business’s priorities, because they know and understand the detriment it can have on our economy, and clearly the real benefit we would derive from seeing the current problems dealt with, which is why we find it very difficult to understand that one of our local councils feels unable to support what we feel is absolutely necessary, and to my mind, has the full support of businesses and the majority of people, who desperately know and understand why it needs to be done. (LIVE)
PETER SWANN: It should just be mentioned that it was announced last week that work to widen a short stretch of the A14 between Histon and Girton will begin in 2014. But we’re talking about the larger project here. Councillor Tim Bick is the Leader at Cambridge City Council. He joins us on the show now. Evening Tim.
TIM BICK: Good evening Peter.
PETER SWANN: So first of all, just underline your position. You’ve heard what John Bridge has had to say. Are you against then any kind of redevelopment for the A14?
TIM BICK: No we’re not. The first thing I want to say is that I have a good deal of respect for John. He’s campaigned for a long time for improvements to the A14. I think he’s been very effective in that. But I think when he starts casting around, calling for people to resign from this that or the other, it’s descending into slapstick. I think the first point that needs to be put very clearly on the record is that Cambridge City Council has also argued for improvements to the A14 for a long time. We have argued for different sorts of improvements than John has. It seems that the Government has swung more his way in the type of improvements they’re prepared to support. We are not going to stand in their way. We are not going to try and persist in the arguments between different types of improvement. If this type of improvement the Government has on the stocks is what’s on the stocks, then that is something that is clearly going to happen, and we are not going to be opposing it.
PETER SWANN: So the situation then, as it is, is that John Bridge is obviously pushing as hard as he possibly can to get these improvements in place. You say they’re not ideally the sorts of improvements you would like. Just talk us through what the difference is here.
TIM BICK: Over the years, when the field was more open for different ways of tackling this problem, Cambridge City Council would have much preferred to see a significant capital investment going into East/West rail, to take more freight off the road system, than it would to accommodate it, purely accommodate it, on the road system. That is an argument that doesn’t appear to have been won. It’s very sad. But there are now some significant reasons which no-one can avoid why the A14 must be tackled. There are safety reasons. There are engineering reasons for the viaduct in Huntingdon. And there are also economic reasons. And to that extent I don’t think I’m really disagreeing with John.
PETER SWANN: So is the difference of opinion then purely on the funding issue? Because you’re being asked, aren’t you, to put money towards it, potentially. Is that where you differ?
TIM BICK: That is where we differ. And I would encourage John to go a little bit beneath this, to try and understand that part of the situation. Normally, pieces of national infrastructure like a major East?west road, would be financed from national taxation. This is a very unusual situation, in which the Government has decided to pass the hat around to local authorities to make contributions. Now county councils are transport authorities. There may be some reason to (UNCLEAR) normally include them. But district councils like the City Council are not transport authorities, and we are not funded for projects, huge projects, of this kind. One reason why it could be legitimate to expect contributions from local councils is where they are going to be beneficiaries of a financial gain themselves for development that can only happen because the road would be upgraded. So it was mentioned in John’s discussion with you that the road, and improvements to the road, are going to enable more housing to be provided, at Northstowe and other places, more economic industrial development and housing at Alconbury. Now these are developments that are really contingent on the road being improved. And those local councils there will gain a financial benefit from that happening. And they’re being asked to plough some of that back, in advance, to make a contribution to the A14 project. Cambridge City Council, very tight boundaries around the city. There are not any sites for future development which are contingent on the A14. So we do not get that income, out of which we can pay anything towards this project.
PETER SWANN: Just quickly, have you actually got the money? If you wanted to provide money could you do it? Or is it a case of, actually, like many other organisations, many other councils, you actually haven’t got the cash, even if you were minded to want to put some forward?
TIM BICK: We are as cash-strapped as all local authorities at the moment. And we have a track record of putting money into helping public transport, sustainable transport, inside the city boundary. It’s going to take us all the effort we can muster to keep that going. And that is equally important, because both things are necessary. We need to improve the A14, but we also need to avoid that that creates logjams and a clogging up of the city centre. And we do need people to be encouraged to move into the city and around the city on public transport and cycling and walking. And that is going to be set back a long way, if all we do is the A14. We need to do both things. And we’re going to try and help to do our bit on one of them.