Chancellor’s budget announcement of £1.2billion for Eastern Powerhouse is ‘most exciting’ opportunity to shake up local government in a generation says East Cambs District council leader

Cllr James Palmer

Cllr James Palmer - Credit: Archant

A new Eastern Powerhouse with a £1.2billion package of government funding could kick-start projects such as Ely North junction, Soham station and the A142/A14 junction.

Councillor James Palmer, leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, described today’s budget announcement of an Eastern Powerhouse as the “most exciting and best opportunity” to shake up local government in a generation. He said the proposals, which are still in the very early stages, will provide one ‘cohesive’ voice for the East giving it a greater sway in central government. It will see Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk come together with an elected mayor heading up a board of representatives from across the three counties.

The mayor could be in place as early as next May. Power would then be devolved down to a more local level, which Cllr Palmer says will bring decision making closer to the people.

However, opposition councillors fear the move will take power further away with leaders more remote.

Councillor Lorna Dupre leader for Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Norfolk and Suffolk, Liberal Democrat group was unhappy with the lack of consultation with only council leaders involved so far.

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She said: “I believe decision making should brought down to a more local level but this is doing exactly the opposite. People already feel the police commissioner is remote and that role covers just one county. This new mayor will cover three. Cambridge City Council has refused to sign up and that is a real concern.

“This is supposed to unify three counties but how it can do that without Cambridge as a part of it I’m not sure,” she said.

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However, Cllr Palmer described Cambridge City Council’s decision not to sign up to the deal as ‘short sighted and insular’, and emphasised the great opportunity the region was being given to take control of its destiny.

“I would not be signing up to anything that would increase bureaucracy. This will bring power closer to the people. You can’t suggest the current system has really served the people well,” he said.

There will be £900million for infra-structure, £200million for projects in Ipswich and Norwich and £175 million for housing mainly in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire initially for the Eastern Powerhouse.

Cllr Palmer concluded: “I am genuinely excited by the proposal. At the moment we have 23 councils speaking with as many voices, this will provide one voice for our area. We are already successful, but with this new scheme we can be even more successful.

“East Cambridgeshire is in a very strong position, close to the centre where things need to happen to allow other schemes to go forward in Norfolk and Suffolk.”

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