Rapid expansion brings challenging issues for Cambridge City Council

17:08 Monday 19th January 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Cambridge is a tale of two cities, according to a new report. On the plus side, there is the lowest unemployment amongst UK cities, with a booming local economy helped by the best-educated workforce. On the negative side, rising house prices and rents along with falling real wages making life quite a struggle for many. So what can be done? Well earlier I challenged councillor Lewis Herbert, Leader of Cambridge City Council.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well it’s good news for Cambridge. It demonstrates that we’re up there in terms of prosperity. We’ve added 12,000 jobs in 10 years, and just about 12,000 homes. But it also shows that we’ve got a few challenges Chris. We’ve got great inequality, in the sense that we’ve got falling incomes for quite a lot of our people, and house prices have been really rising. So Cambridge is not without its challenges, but we’ve got a good future, provided we get on top of them.
CHRIS MANN: So it’s a tale of two cities. Who is suffering here, do you think? Who are the people who are losing out?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well it’s generational. We’ve got the issue that people who are over 40 in the city have got the benefit that they’ve got a house, often, or they’ve got somewhere to rent that’s at a reasonable rent. But it’s younger people. So that’s pretty important for prosperity, because we’ve got to find homes for them. And it’s also people who are not on decent wages. So it endorses the fact that we need to have the Living Wage in the city. So we’re going to be in dialogue with a lot of senior employers, particularly local firms but also national firms, so that we actually get across the fact that people have got to have a decent wage, a Living Wage, to be able to afford to live in Cambridge.
CHRIS MANN: But even the Living Wage wouldn’t be enough to get many people to the scale where they can afford to actually live in Cambridge. And it’s not just anecdotal. We all know people who have to live in dormitory towns, if you like, or on the outskirts, whether its Ely or Newmarket or Red Lodge or Cambourne, or some of the other villages around. So many people just can’t afford to live in Cambridge.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well that is a feature of growth. The city is only able to build 14,000 homes in the next 15 years, and 19,000 will be in South Cambridgeshire. And as you say, there’s housing being built in Ely and in St Neots and in other parts of Huntingdonshire, West Suffolk and so on. So it is the case that the growth of Cambridge means that we will need to have good transport links, so that people can live in places like Cambourne and Waterbeach. What we need to have is that transport investment. And yes, if for instance the City Council is looking to build homes with gardens at affordable rents, some of those will not be in Cambridge.
CHRIS MANN: And of course so many of the rentals in Cambridge itself are to students. Isn’t it time that the University stopped being a burden on the city, and actually built more houses for its students?
LEWIS HERBERT: Yes, the University does have an impact. And the fact that it’s building in North West Cambridge will significantly help. It’s going to build 3,000 homes, of which 1500 are going to be for post-docs and graduate students. So that will take quite a lot of pressure off the city. And whilst some voices in the city say they don’t like more of this purpose-built accommodation, the fact that it is being built reduces the pressure on the private rented sector. But there’s still pressure, and clearly we’ve got less homes in the city at the moment than there are people wanting to live here.
CHRIS MANN: So the councils, don’t you all .. I’m not just blaming the City Council .. don’t you all have to really get a move on here, and create a lot of new housing, collectively. And if it means that we have to lose some of the Green Belt, so be it. People have to live.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we don’t have to lose the Green Belt. The plan, which is still subject to this public inquiry which continues in February, and we’ll be looking at the Green Belt then, is only going to get passed if the Inspector says that we’ve got enough homes. 33,000 homes Chris is a lot. The Inspector will judge if it’s enough. Those homes will be built quicker if there is the demand for them, and three in ten, including a large number in the city, will be for rent at affordable rents. There will be a point where there are very few places left in the boundaries of Cambridge where we’ll be able to build. After this plan is completed, most of the development will be outside of Cambridge. And it is to Cambridge’s benefit that we’ve got a really mature and sensible partnership with South Cambridgeshire, so that it is seen as us working with them. And there’s a commitment to build 1,000 more affordable homes in addition to those 33,000 as part of the City Deal. So it isn’t an easy challenge, but the homes are being built, and we will be making and continue to make housing a central priority.
CHRIS MANN: And transport too also has to be a priority, doesn’t it, because if people are forced to live a bit further out, then they need decent public transport, or else the roads are going to continue to be clogged.
LEWIS HERBERT: Yes. We’ve got a City Deal meeting on 28th, a board meeting. And after discussions we’ll agree the priorities. And I’m expecting that one of the key priorities will be for instance that route to Cambourne. You called it a dormitory suburb. It needs far better public transport. And the only way to do that is to enable the buses to leap-frog down Madingley Road, so that people can actually get in and out of the city. At the moment, we’ve also got employment land in places like Cambourne, which hasn’t been picked up. And one of the big reasons is there’s not enough public transport. So those links, the A428 link, radial routes into the city, sorting out the city centre including being radical, because we have to reduce the number of cars in the city centre, those will all be essential as well as the housing. So it’s a double act. Get the transport right, get the housing right.
CHRIS MANN: Of course the Greens on Friday suggested as part of their manifesto that perhaps there needs to be a charge on people coming into the centre of Cambridge in their cars, a bit like there is in London. I had the Leader of the Greens on the programme to talk about it. Would you support that?
LEWIS HERBERT: We don’t support a blanket congestion charge, and we don’t think that’s what residents want. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to be looking at a range of challenging issues. At the moment the only way that we get the sensible balance of cycling, walking and buses in the city centre is using bollards. So we may have to look, we will have to look at extending those bollards, including on the road between the city centre and the station, and we will look at the ring road. We will probably need to look at parking. Another Labour city, Nottingham, has a parking levy. That’s certainly one of the schemes we’ll have a look at. But we don’t think a blanket congestion charge is right. We think it will cause quite a lot of economic damage, as well as be unfair to people on low incomes.
CHRIS MANN: Councillor Lewis Herbert there, Leader of Cambridge City Council. Leader of the Labour group as well of course.