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9 May, 2018 - 09:29 By Tony Quested

It needn’t be boom or bust for Cambridge hinterland

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority area has been growing faster than the wider East of England region and the whole of the UK with rising productivity, turnover and jobs, according to a specially commissioned report released today.

Jobs growth alone is one per cent higher than official government figures. And an additional 400,000 jobs and 10 new $billion unicorn businesses could be created in the area in the next 18 years if the Government helps the region solve housing, transport, skills and general infrastructure headaches.

The growing international reach of Stansted Airport is also cited as a potential catalyst for a carefully managed business boom.

While the GVA (Gross Value Added) of the East of England grew 70 per cent between 2001 and 2016 and that of the UK at 72.7 per cent, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area’s GVA grew by 84.6 per cent.

Not only are businesses seeing productivity and turnover increase, but jobs growth across the area is also higher than official figures at 3.3 per cent a year between 2010 and 2016 – one per cent higher than the official ONS figure.

But rather than boom or bust, a new report that has mined these figures and identified key drivers of economic growth suggests that good strategic planning backed by commensurate infrastructure spend offers the opportunity for sustained and sustainable expansion for the area.

Dig deep, however, and there is a clear caveat: Companies in Cambridge, especially, say that if they could not grow here they would prefer to be based abroad – in Europe, North America or South-east Asia – rather than elsewhere in the region or the UK.

That is the challenge for the region and the nation – a challenge that could be made significantly harder by Brexit, the interim Cambridge & Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER)suggests.

The CPIER interim study, unveiled today, is based on significant feedback from individuals, businesses, public bodies and organisations involved in social sectors and is now open to additional contributions to help sculpt a full and final report.

James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, welcomed the review’s findings and called for united action to deliver on the potential of the jewel in the UK economy’s crown rather than let it be tarnished through inaction. He wants to see the area’s economy doubled in size by 2036.

He said: “Today’s interim report shows that Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s economic success story is even more pronounced and widespread than government figures have suggested.

“These findings are hugely encouraging and back up my long-held belief that this area is a real economic powerhouse, vibrant and dynamic, and whose contribution to the UK economy has so far been underplayed.

“Not only are businesses seeing productivity and turnover increase, but job growth across the area is also higher than official figures at 3.3 per cent per year between 2010 and 2016 – one per cent higher than the official ONS figure.

“But the interim report also supports my view that we can waste no time in tackling key issues that could limit the fantastic economic opportunities we have in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

“My first term is all about grappling with the housing, transport infrastructure and skills investment required to help hit our target of doubling the size of the economy by 2036.

“The policies I back as Mayor need to not only support the upward trajectory of our economy, but also spread that prosperity to more people, no matter where they live in the Combined Authority area. The report has also picked up on this as a key challenge.

“Like the report, I recognise that different parts of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have different strengths and specialisms as well as unique challenges that need particular solutions.

“In Peterborough, the report highlights that the city is the largest population centre in the UK without a university. The Combined Authority has already approved £9.5 million of funding to establish a new university and the report agrees that its proposed technical and skills focus will really help Peterborough’s high-tech manufacturing and engineering sectors. 

“The report also highlights that the city is facing a skills shortage among those not going down traditional A-level and university routes. I am a big champion for apprenticeships and other learning schemes which can help people into higher skilled and better paid work while at the same time satisfying the labour needs of local businesses.

“The Fens is an agricultural powerhouse of national importance, where the famously fertile soils comprise 50 per cent of the UK’s Grade 1 arable farmland. The CPIER report says job growth here has been stronger than previously thought while its market towns are also important centres in their own right, both economically and as social hubs, connecting people to essential services.

“The report so far supports my view that transport infrastructure is holding the Fens back. It is currently far too difficult for people living in the Fens to get around, both on road and rail. 

“That’s why I’m pushing for the A10 between Ely and Cambridge to be dualled and why I want to see the whole of the A47 dualled from Peterborough to Wisbech to really open up the Fens to opportunities in the whole Combined Authority area. The longer-term goal of extending the M11 north from Cambridge to the A47 would, in my view, be transformational for north-south connectivity.

“On rail, since election I have campaigned for the March to Wisbech rail link to be re-established, for other Fenland rail stations to be enhanced and for Soham Station to be re-opened, all with a view of bringing the Combined Authority area closer together.

“The report also notes our market towns strategy and our attempts to enhance their economic prosperity through our Masterplans for Growth programme which has been successful in St Neots and is being rolled out to other towns.

“The Greater Cambridge economy is well known for strong growth and the report suggests this is even higher than official figures reflect. This area is a great place to live, work and do business, but the report supports my view that continued improvement is not sustainable without investment.

“It is well documented that the housing crisis is particularly acute in Greater Cambridge, where a two-bedroom home can cost £500,000 in the city and where demand vastly outstrips supply of affordable housing. 

“The Combined Authority already has a ring-fenced £70 million to deliver 500 council homes for Cambridge city. That is coupled with initiatives like campaigning for £193m of central Government funding for developing Cambridge’s Northern Fringe East site, which would deliver 7,600 new homes and 7,000 new jobs.

“I am also backing fresh thinking in delivering truly affordable homes in communities through schemes like Community Land Trusts (CLTs), which offer rents at rates cheaper than traditional housing associations and are managed by local people for local people who live and work in the area.

“Schemes like these have already been successful in villages like Stretham and there is scope for more. The Combined Authority has approved a £6.5m commercial loan for a 54-home CLT scheme at Haddenham as well as the preparation of a business case for a £40m commercial loan for a further 1,850 homes on a series of other sites.

“But housing growth cannot be sustained without good infrastructure, as the CPIER report rightly notes. Greater Cambridge’s transport system needs a complete overhaul and that’s why I have begun the process of exploring an underground Metro solution for Cambridge centre and extending out to the wider area.

“I have also been vocal about the proposed Cambridge South Station and the need for a speedier interim station solution by 2021 to facilitate the growing life sciences sector at Cambridge Biomedical Campus, which is already among the world’s best.

“Overall, the report so far paints a picture of a vibrant economy across the whole of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough while noting the significant challenges in making that growth sustainable and inclusive for all.

“The report also backs my view that there is no time to waste in addressing those challenges through the delivery of key housing, transport infrastructure and skills projects.

“The Combined Authority must power this economy forward and allow more people to share in its prosperity, both now, and in the future. I am pushing every day to ensure we do just that.”

More than 50 per cent of respondents in the review consultancy process to date acknowledged proximity to local premises, local labour supply and the quality of the local environment as “important”, “very important” or “critically important.” 

“Therefore, it will be necessary to think about what makes the economy of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough unique within the UK and how this unique character can be maintained so that the significant contributions to national growth can continue,” says the review.

One of the challenges is to harness the best of three distinct economies within the combined authority area – Cambridge, Peterborough and The Fens. 
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area is special in that it contains significantly higher concentrations of particular industries than other areas of the UK, says the review. 

CPIER also notes that a sizeable part of growth in the area as a whole is indigenous – growth organically driven by native companies – even though Cambridge itself is benefiting from investment locally by a host of US, Chinese and Japanese giants including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, SoftBank, Samsung, Oracle, Brother Industries, Illumina and many more.

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority

No pain no gain: Time for Cambridge to go for the burn

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