Tim Bick on the City Deal

city_future10:07 Thursday 3rd April 2014
BBC Radio Cambridge

[A]NDIE HARPER: Two weeks ago, during the Budget, it was announced that Cambridge would receive £500 million in a grant from the Government. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the City Deal would create more jobs for local people and improve transport links. He’s back in Cambridge today to meet workers and residents. But how will the money from the Deal actually achieve these targets? And is it good news for local people? Tim Bick is the Leader of Cambridge City Council and he joins me in the studio now. Tim, good morning to you.
TIM BICK: Good morning Andie.
ANDIE HARPER: So I suppose before we go any further, let’s just outline the money, what it is, how we’re going to get it, where it’s going to come from, because there has been already some discussion about the conditions and one thing and another. So in simple terms, what are we going to get and how?

TIM BICK: OK. So, there is a significant sum of money involved in the City Deal. It’s not all about money, and perhaps we can come back to the other elements of it later. But what the Government has offered us is access to £500 million, over a period of fifteen years. And they have said they will give us £100 million of that up front for the first five years, £20 million a year. And then there will be a review, to see how we’re doing. And then they will release a further £200 million for the next five years. And there will be another review. And there will be £200 million after that, following that review.
ANDIE HARPER: And what do the local councils have to come up with as well?
TIM BICK: Well, we have to come up with a number of things. We have to come up with some of our own money, to go with that, because the whole Deal has been said to be worth about £1 billion in total. So we will be bringing our resources into that as well, matching it. And we will also have to work very closely together, much more closely than we have done in the past.
ANDIE HARPER: And where is that money actually going to come from? This money that the councils have got to come up with, is that council tax money?
TIM BICK: No. Well some of the money will be money that we get in grants from Government again. (LAUGHS)
ANDIE HARPER: So they give you a grant, and then you ..
TIM BICK: And we put our grant to them. Yes indeed. It’s a complicated business. But we also get through the building, the house building, the new companies coming to the area, we also do receive some finance from them for infrastructure. What the Government is giving is, with this £500 million is money on top of that. So we’re putting all of that together. And that’s how it comes to a bigger sum.
ANDIE HARPER: And is it ringfenced? If we were to have a change of government at the next election, which is after all just over a year away, would this money that they’re going to pay you over the next few years, would it be guaranteed?
TIM BICK: Yes. We aim to sign up to a deal with the current Government which locks that in for the future. Obviously there are these reviews that have to go on to release the later stages of the money. But we want to get all of that specified, so that we know exactly what we’re trying to do, exactly what we have to do to succeed in getting the following stages of the money. We’d like to get that all sorted out with the current Government, so that it’s in place for future.
ANDIE HARPER: And what do the Government want from you?
TIM BICK: Well those reviews are about are we spending the money in a way which helps the local economy. So they will bring into play tests like are the houses that we plan to be built being built; are the schemes for improved transport delivering what they say on the can; and then later in the fifteen years, is the whole local economy growing as we would hope it to do. Because the reason the Government is spending this money in Cambridge and the Cambridge area is because we represent an astoundingly good investment to the UK. We have these growing companies. We have these exciting technologies. We already have very high output per head of population here. This is an excellent place to encourage the growth of new industries, where we’re a bit of a rallying point for technology worldwide. And we’re competing with Bangalore and San Francisco and Boston, rather than other parts of this country.
ANDIE HARPER: Have we, you, been beneficiaries of the fact that the Liberal Democrats are part of the Coalition? I mentioned Nick Clegg a couple of times there. It’s a Liberal Democrat council in Cambridge. Is this a reason that this money is come to Cambridge? Has it got a lot to do with the LibDems being in central government?
TIM BICK: Well I think it must have helped, musn’t it? Because the scheme, these City Deals, are a programme that has been launched by the Deputy Prime Minister, and we have been in the position of bidding within that programme. But we have been working, in fairness, with our neighbouring councils, who are equal partners with us in this bid of ours, with South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council. And they’re both Conservative controlled. What we’ve proven is that it’s possible to come together to really argue for what’s best for the area.
ANDIE HARPER: My guest in the studio for the next few minutes is Tim Bick, the Leader of Cambridge City council, and we’re talking about the City Deal. Now Tim, whilst most people have given it a guarded welcome, not everybody has gone overboard. For instance John Bridge from the Chambers of Commerce has his reservations, because he says this is £100 million, and then there’s no cast iron guarantees. Can you understand John’s concerns?
TIM BICK: Well I’ve been a bit surprised by his reaction. The businesses that we have worked with in negotiating with the Government have been cheering us on in this process. It has been a negotiation. You don’t get everything that you want. And we’re obviously bidding for a lot of money in an environment where public finances are not strong. To have come away with access to £500 million is, to most people, an enviable outcome. And when you compare it with the City Deals that have been negotiated elsewhere in the Eastern Region, we’re talking about £4 million or £5 million in those cases. So I think it’s a rather strange reaction to see this is some kind of disappointment.
ANDIE HARPER: Now John’s concerns obviously are infrastructure, particularly roads, and that’s what we’ve talked to him about many many times over the years. But it seems to me that the bulk of this money, anyway initially, is going to be spent on getting about the city. How are you going to spend, let’s say, the first £100 million? Where are you going to target?
TIM BICK: Well we first get access to the money in the financial year after this coming one. So that’s 2015/16. We’re going to be spending the next year deciding on our scheme selection. And we need to choose schemes at this stage which are pretty close to being up and running and ready to go. Because we don’t want to miss the money that comes in. But those decisions have not been made yet, and that is our job for the next few months, to work that out. But the general aim for this money is to improve transport infrastructure. So John is absolutely right about that, and that is what the Government is giving us the money for. The reason why we want to spend this money on transport infrastructure is because that is the thing the absence of which is going to prevent us building all the new homes that we badly need in the area, many of which are clustered in communities outside Cambridge, and are going to be very very difficult to start developing, unless there is much better access. And so the areas where we’re going to be looking for schemes are in the transport corridors that radiate out from Cambridge; the A10 in the North and the South; the A1307 to the South; A428 going to the West. We’re going to be looking at travel round the city, from the North to the South, and we’re going to be looking at travel within the city.
ANDIE HARPER: And what aspects of travel, what aspects of getting about are you going to concentrate on? Because speaking as a car driver who lives just in North Herts, just over the border, I have to drive into the city. I have to drive to work here. I have no option really. I would like to see the concentration on making life easier for people such as me. But I have a feeling that’s not where the emphasis is going to be.
TIM BICK: The outcome of this is likely to be a blend, because if the solution was just more and bigger roads, then we would end up gradually destroying the environment that we live in round here. But there will be some, there will be obviously some of that. But there will also be an emphasis on improvements that enable public transport to do what it says on the tin. For example we would like to get people moving more by buses and public transport. And that’s simply held up by the fact that those buses are in the same queues as the cars at the moment. So we are likely to see schemes which give more priority for buses. And we are likely to see, especially in the city, more infrastructure for cycling.
ANDIE HARPER: But how do you encourage the use of public transport, when the main bus operator, bus operators in general, are privately owned. You can have all the right ideas in the world, but the companies running the buses have to be making a profit, don’t they? There are people who live in villages just outside this city who don’t have a bus service. They constantly tell me that. Well just making it easier for a bus to get into the city isn’t going to encourage more buses.
TIM BICK: Yes. And that’s why the answer is going to have to be a blend in the end, isn’t it? But we include in the sort of things we’re looking at improvements to park and ride schemes, which are going to help people, where it has to be by car, get to the edge of the city, but go into the city using public transport. But one of the things that I think you’ll find holds public transport back in a lot of cases is this simple unreliability of a bus over a car, when they’re both sitting in the same queue. And we have to do something about that.
ANDIE HARPER: A couple of emails from listeners, both on transport issues. First of all David, “If the pot is so big, why is it not being spent on an underground system, which would solve most of Cambridge’s problems in one go?“. And Steve has been in touch to say, “I looked at the City Council website, and I was amazed to find there is no mention at all about bus or train services. The only reference to public transport is hidden in the depths. Nothing about buses or accessing the city. And the most prominent subject on the whole site is parking and car parks. What does that say about priorities?” Well that is not the perception I have, but what does that say, according to Steve, about your priorities?
TIM BICK: So taking that one first, the City Council is currently not the transport authority for the area. We do provide car parks, and that’s why you see car parks mentioned on our website. And what we’re doing with this City Deal is pooling decision making between the City Council, the County Council, South Cambridgeshire, into one, so that we do have combined decision making. And clearly there will have to be a public facing point of contact with that concept, and probably a website will follow. But we’re really in the very early stages at the moment. The other question was about an underground. Yes. I didn’t forget that one. Of course this is an idea which excites many people, and I can’t say that excludes me. I think the money associated with that is really very high. I think there are issues with that which don’t immediately strike one, like the huge areas you’d need for people to enter and get out of an underground system, which I’m not sure we have. But my view is that this City Deal process, these councils working together, is going to have to address – is there anything in those ideas, like a massive thing like an underground system, what is the answer to that? Is that something we could make sense of? Or is that something that is just so far outside what we could manage that we have to move on with things that we can?
ANDIE HARPER: Just to come back to the money, if you’re going to be concentrating on money as your contribution to the City Deal, does this mean that there will be no money from the city for the A14 development?
TIM BICK: Well the City Council has said that we will set aside some money to help manage the fact that the A14 will be a much bigger road, under the current plans. And this is a separate spending from the Government. We’ve set aside some money to help with the fact that a hugely bigger road coming past the Girton Interchange is going to result, if left on its own, with more private cars coming into the city, and more congestion. We have set aside some money to help manage that situation, and that is the kind of money that maybe we’re spending through the City Deal, as our part of the contribution.
ANDIE HARPER: Can I talk about the people who will actually benefit from this. It’s all very well to have people saying what a great city Cambridge is, and everybody wants to come to Cambridge, and all the scientifically based industries want to be in the city. And I can perfectly understand why. It’s a glorious city, and it’s a lovely place to live. But what does it mean for ordinary people who have lived in this city for generations, who live in some of the less wealthy areas of the city? Is it going to have any effect on them at all? It’s wonderful to see these huge companies wanting to come to the city, but to the ordinary man in the street that means absolutely nothing.
TIM BICK: Well there’s an answer to that on a number of different levels Andie. More prosperity in the city is something that I think is of benefit in general to everyone living in the city. It means more money spent in the shops, it means more jobs, if not in those companies themselves, in the other organisations and businesses that support them. So I think it means more jobs in general. But this City Deal and the money that it enables us to spend on transport, which helps the delivery of new homes, is very specifically destined to help people who have difficulty living in the same city as their parents did, because property prices have gone sky-high. There is a big shortage of homes. I suspect that the people who have been born and grown up here suffer from that more than most. And so helping these new homes to happen seems to me something that is absolutely what local people will be welcoming.
ANDIE HARPER: But how do you decide who gets them? because we have seen developments around this city, huge numbers of houses built, and we know that they are expensive, because people are buying them who don’t necessarily come from the city in the first place. How can you guarantee that the people who’ve been here for generations are going to get these homes, and that they’re not going to be bought by speculators? With the average price of a house in Cambridge being £400,000 that keeps so many people off the rungs of the ladder. I work with young people here who haven’t got a hope in hell of getting a place.
TIM BICK: Me too. I work with those young people as well. And one thing I can tell you is that the wrong way to behave is to stop providing homes. It has to be the case that we’re looking at a shortage, and that the response that’s appropriate to help people is to deliver new homes. I cannot believe that that is the wrong answer. But to ensure that those homes are homes that include provision for people who need them locally, I think that we need to ensure that enough of them are affordable homes. And the City Council for example stipulates that in all developments that come along, 40% of those homes need to be in the affordable category, which then allows much more easy access to them for local people. And South Cambridgeshire have similar policies as well. That I think is the hope that we can offer, that by providing more, and by ensuring that a big wedge of those houses are affordable, that we are actually providing something that will become available to ordinary people.
ANDIE HARPER: You see a lot of people who buy properties in Cambridge probably don’t even work here. I know that the railway lines are struggling to cope, that more and more people are travelling down to London on both lines. And therefore creating houses for people who don’t live here doesn’t seem to be the answer. Something’s got to be done to make sure that it’s not just the people who have to drive into the city that are driving the economy. It’s people like me who are driving the economy in Cambridge, because I’m, driving into the city. I am driving into the city to spend my money, but I can’t afford to live here.
ANDIE HARPER: Yes, but short of turning Cambridge into a gated community, it’s very difficult to see what your tools to achieve that are, beyond what we’re already doing. I don’t know the way of providing houses into the market which are only available for certain categories of people, unless they’re affordable houses or social homes.And we are as a city council building more council homes which are probably the most secure method of helping really local people. And those are scheduled to be built as part of the big increase in houses over the next thirty years. That’s after a period in which there have been no council houses built, and many sold off. I think the other thing that I would put to you is that a lot of people do get very excited about new homes getting sold to people from outside the area, companies or foreigners or whatever ..
ANDIE HARPER: Outside the country, let alone outside the area.
TIM BICK: Indeed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s who lives in them. A lot of those are purchased for investment, and for letting into a market of local people. So it doesn’t necessarily follow that who buys is who lives in.
ANDIE HARPER: You mention creating a jobs market, and undoubtedly when companies move to the city a job market is created. But do you as a City Council encourage a broad range of businesses? Because the perception is that it’s high tech, and those sort of industries that move to Cambridge. And then of course that excludes a lot of people and also it necessitates people to move here with these companies. What is your policy on creating jobs, in terms of the sort of companies that set up here?
TIM BICK: The policy in planning terms of the City Council has been to encourage research based businesses into the city. And that of course is part of the reason it’s been such a successful city, because by the clustering of similar types of companies, we are able to reinforce their success. And that’s why we have so many of these home grown success stories that now play the international stage. That policy has been relaxed a bit more recently, but in reality Cambridge isn’t the ideal place. There isn’t actually the space for large scale manufacturing. But there is within the county as a whole of Cambridgeshire, where we’ve got for example the new Enterprise Zone at Alconbury, which is specifically to take some of the ideas that come from Cambridge, research and development, and move them into manufacture. Within the county still, but perhaps not within Cambridge, just by virtue of space now.
ANDIE HARPER: So let’s just go back to where we started. The first £100 million will come to you in 2015. How do you start spending it? Where do you actually say this is what we’re going to do first?
TIM BICK: There is a transport strategy that was consulted upon over the last couple of years by the County Council. It throws up a series of schemes, which are alongside our Local Plans for house building and jobs and so on are deemed to be the schemes that are going to have the whole jigsaw fit together. And those schemes will be the menu that we go to. And we’ll be looking at what’s going to deliver fastest, what’s going to deliver most effectively, and what’s going to fit into the budget that we start to form from this £20 million a year that comes into us. And that’s where we’ll start and so we can start delivering results, and make sure we get access to the following £200 million tranche, and the following one after that.
ANDIE HARPER: Finally, I know we live in a democracy, and therefore we elect people to represent us. But how much consultation is going to take place, and how much notice are you going to take of people who live and work in the city, and their views?
TIM BICK: Well we’re always listening to that, and the schemes, this menu that I described to you, is one that has been through a consultation period in the last year or so. So that’s where we’ll start, and I’m sure that we’ll (UNCLEAR) is a democratic process, the three councils will be working together. There’s going to be a new assembly of councillors to scrutinise what they’re doing. And we’re going to be transparent and open in the way we make our decisions. And we’ll continue listening.
ANDIE HARPER: It’s been really good to talk to you. Thanks for coming in. That’s Tim Bick, the Leader of Cambridge City Council.