Chamber boss who challenged Mayor and questioned Wisbech rail to retire

At Huntingdon Olympic Gym, are (l-r) Chairman of Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce, John Bridge, an

At Huntingdon Olympic Gym, are (l-r) Chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce, John Bridge, and gymnast Louis Smith, chatting about the charity, Join In, which encourages members of the public to volunteer to help local sports. - Credit: Archant

By coincidence six days after chamber of commerce chief executive John Bridge retires, the politician he accused of having a ““fastidious approach to transparency and governance” is up for re-election as mayor.  

After 17 years, the Cambridgeshire Commerce chief executive retires on April 30 – on May 6 Mr Palmer is the Tory choice for a second stint as mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority ((CAPCA). 

It was in September 2018, that Mr Bridge led the call for a ‘full independent inquiry’ into the running of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. 

It followed intense criticism of Mayor Palmer in the wake of the resignation of the £150,000 combined authority chief executive Martin Whiteley. 

Mr Bridge said at the time: “In order to ensure compliance with Government guidelines and the receipt of the very necessary investment into our area it is imperative that a full inquiry is instigated without any delay.” 

Both men had previously clashed in 2017 over the re-opening of the Wisbech to March rail link that Mr Bridge claimed was a lame duck. 

Mr Bridge at the time was also a senior member of the Government funded Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and he felt that the project was economically unviable and not deliverable. 

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His comments – aired in a BBC interview– were immediately criticised by the then recently elected mayor. 

One of Mayor Palmer’s first actions on taking office was to fund the £3.2 million Grip 3 study needed to progress the rail opening – a project the LEP had declined pending more detailed information. 

Mr Bridge, the chamber’s chief executive since 2004 and formerly managing director of a haulage company and chairman of the Road Haulage Association, said: “Certainly we do not believe developing the railway line from Wisbech to March is going to have economic benefit nor is it deliverable.” 

NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay tweeted in 2017: “John Bridge, Cambs Chamber Commerce since 2004, LEP board member since 2012 and current chairman transport committee. What has he done for the Fens?” 

The chamber said in a statement that Mr Bridge’s decision to retire, comes as the region starts to prepare for a new post-pandemic era.  

“It is his belief that, having successfully navigated the challenges of the pandemic and laid the groundwork for our businesses to come together and build a different, more inclusive future for themselves - this is the right time to be handing the ‘baton’ on,” the statement said. 

 The chamber said “his defining legacy is undoubtedly the £1.5bn upgrade of the notorious A14 dual carriageway, for which John campaigned tirelessly and doggedly for over 22 years.” 

The chamber says he first raised the importance of the essential upgrade in an interview with BBC Look East back in 1994 when he was still regional chairman of the Road Haulage Association.  

“John never gave up – believing, rightly, that an upgrade would combat congestion, improve safety and quality of life, unlock growth and, most importantly, connect people,” said the statement.  

“And, some 22 years later, in November 2016, work finally started on the road’s treacherous Cambridge to Huntingdon stretch, and completed in 2020.” 

 In October 2014, Mr Bridge was appointed as a deputy lieutenant to the HM Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, now Mrs Julie Spence OBE QPM, the Queen’s representative for Cambridgeshire. 

Before that, from 2008, he was the chairman of Opportunity Peterborough, a role he performed for almost nine years, to support the economic vision and aspirations for the city. 

Mr Bridge said: “I’ve enjoyed a long and terrific run as chief executive, and I’ve had the privilege of working with the most fantastic people. 

“For me, it’s always been about team, collaboration and cooperation and I am immensely proud of all that we have achieved together over the last 17 years – from the vital A14 road upgrade through to simply elevating the region’s individual business voices.” 

 Former diplomat Vic Annells, currently executive director of Mansion House & the Central Criminal Court, will replace Mr Bridge.