Eastern devolution – the wooing begins

cake10:24 Wednesday 27th April 2016
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Is your neighbourhood getting a rough deal from the rest of Cambridgeshire? That’s our question, after the Leader of East Cambs. District Council launched a scathing attack on fellow-council leaders across Cambridgeshire. James Palmer said they were too Cambridge focused. Areas like East Cambs have been forgotten about. One of his quotes: “I’m afraid some councillors who represent the city of Cambridge have no idea what exists within two or three miles of them. They think East Cambridgeshire is off the edge of some cliff, Fenland is at the bottom of it.” He’s happy to go it alone without Cambridgeshire, and forge a union down the Yellow Brick Road of Norfolk and Suffolk. Well let’s speak to the head honcho, Lewis Herbert, Labour Leader of Cambridge City Council. Morning Lewis.
LEWIS HERBERT: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Have you forgotten about some parts of Cambridgeshire, forsaking all others unto Cambridge?
LEWIS HERBERT: Not at all. I think that we start with the reality, the economic reality is businesses want to locate in or next to Cambridge. But we should be talking about sharing the benefits across the county. So I think East Cambridgeshire is best as part of Cambridgeshire. I don’t think it has big links with Norfolk, with Norwich or Ipswich.
PAUL STAINTON: James palmer completely disagrees. Thinks you’ve just forgotten about them. They’re the runt of the litter. They can see the prize of joining up with Norfolk and Suffolk.
LEWIS HERBERT: I can see some of his point, and I can see the point of a number of your callers, and the message you got from Dean. The prosperity that Cambridge enjoys needs to be shared way out, and it requires rail infrastructure. So we could, subject to whatever people in East Cambridgeshire want to decide, have more housing in Soham, we could have links out to RAF Mildenhall where there’ll be housing in the future, we could have a garden town in Wisbech. But at the moment, we cannot even persuade businesses to relocate to Cambourne, which is ten miles away. So I think people .. some people are hopeful rather than reality focused in thinking that Wisbech will suddenly attract some of the IT companies that are desperate to be in Cambridge.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. If Cambourne can’t attract them, Wisbech has got no chance is what you’re saying. Everybody wants to be in Cambridge.
LEWIS HERBERT: But it has real potential, and James Palmer along with all of the Cambridgeshire Leaders until three months ago was fighting for a Cambridgeshire and Peterborough deal. We had a meeting of 70 people including people from East Cambridgeshire. We were working together. What’s happened is the Government’s caused division by saying there’s only one deal, we need a mayor, it might be Andrew Lansley, for the three counties. And that isn’t going to allow I don’t think East Cambridgeshire to have any real voice. They’ll be one of twenty three councils. I think they’ve got a better voice I think in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, because Peterborough’s economy needs to be considered as well as Gamlingay and all of the places around the edge of Cambridgeshire are going to be best served with seven councils, and a focus on our needs.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. James Palmer though, he’s prepared to go it alone. He’s prepared to strike out. He’s frustrated with the slowness of stuff in Cambridgeshire. Never get anything done in East Cambs. You don’t get the Ely bypass. You don’t get the Soham railway. There’s money there. Go and get it is what he’s saying.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well the Ely bypass is there. We all want ..
PAUL STAINTON: It’s taken forever though hasn’t it, to happen.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well. But a lot of it had to be funded locally, so it has taken a while. It has taken too long. If Government would assist us invest in rail and road infrastructure Paul, in Peterborough and in Cambridgeshire, they would get the benefit in tax receipts. We would get the benefit in homes that we badly need. We’re desperately short of affordable homes for rent. So it would work if there’s a proper plan. And yes, there hasn’t been enough joining up. But that isn’t any reason to think that working with Yarmouth or Cromer or Norwich is going to be any better.
LEWIS HERBERT: So what we’ve put together in the last week is a parallel proposal to Government which says not three counties but two deals. One for Norfolk and Suffolk, one for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Yes we want devolution, but we can’t actually see anybody in Cambridgeshire getting a good deal out of a regional mayor. It’s an extra tier of government. We don’t need an extra tier of government.
PAUL STAINTON: So Cambridgeshire and Peterborough would come together as one council or as two separate entities in this deal?
LEWIS HERBERT: As one combined operation called a combined authority, which would enable us to actually work together and have the decisions that we need to take. We would be in a position to say to Government, where do we want the rail infrastructure? Do we want the Wisbech line or do we want Ely North sorted out? Which roads are causing the big problems, including the investment that is needed so that East Cambridgeshire is far better connected to this miracle Cambridge economy, which is growing at 7% a year?
PAUL STAINTON: You can excuse a few people in Peterborough for starting to worry now that we’re going to have one unitary authority for Cambridgeshire effectively again, when Peterborough didn’t do very well out of that last time around. That’s why they went on their own.
LEWIS HERBERT: No, and I respect that. And I think Peterborough has got a clear identity. But we’ve got to have the voice of Peterborough and the voice for Cambridgeshire. We’re not talking about one council, but what we are talking about is all the infrastructure decisions, all the planning for housing and growth being done in a combined way.
PAUL STAINTON: So two councils but sharing services, sharing of vision, sharing Leaders, sharing decision making.
LEWIS HERBERT: Yes. So the Leader of Peterborough City Council does want to do it on the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire area. Cambridgeshire County Council, which James Palmer as Leader of East Cambs is also a member of, have said quite clearly they want to do it on Cambridgeshire and Peterbroough area. And that would actually enable us to make sound decisions. It would enable residents, whether in Gamlingay or Wisbech or Ely, to have a say. We don’t think they’ll get a say on this massive zone.
PAUL STAINTON: Wouldn’t Cambridgeshire suck all the money out of that deal though? Wouldn’t you just such all the money out of Peterborough and Wisbech and everywhere else?
LEWIS HERBERT: The Government is talking Paul about allowing Cambridgeshire and Peterborough control of business rates. We generate £100 million in Cambridge. We don’t expect to get much of a share of that. Currently we get £5 million out of the £100 million in business rates. We would want that invested to tackle inequality, and to tackle infrastructure, so that the houses could be built further away from Cambridge, as well as close to Cambridge. So we have got no agenda to try and dominate this. We have got a City Deal which gives us opportunities to tackle transport issues, because we’ve got a major congestion problem. But beyond that, we would want Paul the money to be shared across the county. We realise that North Cambridge .. there are bits of North Cambridge our own city that have got deprivation,. but that is nothing compared to the deprivation that parts of Wisbech have got. Sio we are not an island. We are a council that wants to work right across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. And some of your listeners will recognise that we do need to work together, so that we can actually share the benefits of Cambridge, and we can actually avoid Cambridge just being the hothouse of growth that it is.
PAUL STAINTON: When I asked James Palmer if he was going for this deal with Norfolk and Suffolk because Tory-led councils were just being leant on by the Government he accused me of being absolutely ridiculous. Is he protesting too much perhaps Mr Lewis.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well I respect .. he’s got to make what he thinks is the best decision and I .. there are integral links between Ely and Mildenhall and Lakenheath and Newmarket. I can see the links between Suffolk and East Cambridgeshire. But yes, he is accusing me of being political sometimes, but it’s just the nature of this process. It is divisive when Government tries to push through a process in three weeks, which is what it tried to do. It’s going to take thirty years to sort out some of the issues in Cambridgeshire. And we want to work with East Cambridgeshire as we already do. And we want to work much more closely with them, rather than them going off and joining a different county.
PAUL STAINTON: Lewis, thank you for coming on this morning at short notice. Appreciate that. Lewis Herbert, Leader of Labour-led Cambridge City Council, saying he wants to work together. They’re putting an alternative proposal to Government, where Norfolk and Suffolk have their own deal, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough come together, not quite as a unitary authority, but they come together to share all their expertise. Two separate councils, but effectively coming together on every other aspect of decision making and sharing the wealth across Cambridgeshire.