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8 February, 2016 - 00:04

Keeping Cambridge moving

Alex Plant

Greater Cambridge hosts a remarkable set of interconnected hi-tech clusters which have generated huge net additional growth for the UK economy over recent decades, writes Alex Plant, Programme Director Market Reform and Head of Policy & Regulatory Strategy, Anglian Water.

Cambridge is one of the UK’s few genuinely global business brands. Businesses that are created here, grow here, and are among the most innovative in the world. 

Our ability to continue this growth depends on our employers being able to continue to win the global war for talent. And that depends – critically – on the perception of Cambridge as being a great place to live and work. Which in turn rests on the effectiveness of our transport systems, and the availability and affordability of high quality housing within striking distance of the main employment hubs. 

Cambridge Ahead research shows that perceptions of the difficulties of moving around and finding affordable housing pose real threats for the future growth of the city region.

The aim of the transport project is to work with the local authorities and central Government to try to address these threats. It focuses on a mixture of short-term interventions – such as the new shuttle bus linking Trumpington Park & Ride to Cambridge railway station – to medium-term projects like the creation of a new railway station at Addenbrooke’s to serve the growing Biomedical Campus, and longer-term strategies to address congestion and deliver new, locally-controlled funding streams to build on the City Deal and provide the basis for future infrastructure solutions.
Cambridge Ahead is focused on the transport solutions a much larger city-region will need and be able to support in 25 years’ time. 

Most pressingly, our work in this area has focussed on how we can address the growing problem of congestion, and how to develop a mix of policy instruments that can both constrain demand and deliver funding for much-needed improvements to public transport infrastructure.

We have called on the City Deal board to be bold and consider all possible solutions, including congestion charging, to develop a reliable and attractive public transport system that would meet the needs of a rapidly growing city. We are also conducting research into the future economic role of Cambridge, in particular how the eastern side of the city can grow in the most sustainable way, and what are the optimum transport solutions to achieve these aims.

Our work has also encompassed assessing how transport interventions can be part of the solution to current labour market constraints. For example, our support for the proposed March-Wisbech rail link, which would bring thousands of homes in Fenland within commuting distance of Cambridge. 

We have also worked with others to think more widely about how we can better link the biotech and hi-tech clusters in Greater Cambridge with each other, and along the rail and road corridors into London. There are under-realised links along this corridor, with the international businesses that dominate it wanting to be able to see it as a broader hi-tech cluster. But this is currently undermined by weak infrastructure connections. 

There is huge potential here to make even more of the brand that is Cambridge, and to provide viable lifelong career opportunities along this corridor for the brightest and best minds in the worlds without having to move house. 

Achieving our goals on transport depends on an ambitious devolution deal being realised between Government and Greater Cambridge. This must include genuine fiscal devolution and enable unified and empowered local government to work in partnership with business.

If these building blocks can be put in place, it becomes possible to deliver a future transport system which can address congestion, support sustainable economic growth, improve labour market flexibility, and maintain Greater Cambridge’s reputation as a great place to live and work. 
This is critical not only for the local area but also for the UK as a whole. It is the central issue we must all focus on.

We have the insight, the analysis and the plan for transport solutions to support growth, but currently the tax revenues flowing from our economic growth sit in HM Treasury, not locally, so we cannot fund our plan. This is why fiscal devolution is critical.

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