Very little democracy in Greater Cambridge Partnership, says Metro Mayor Palmer

Combined Authority Metro Mayor James Palmer.

Combined Authority Metro Mayor, James Palmer, has stated that he feels there is very little democracy in the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP). - Credit: SUPPLIED

Combined Authority Metro Mayor, James Palmer, has stated that he feels there is very little democracy in the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP).
His comments came as part of a discussion at an online meeting (December 14) of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
Mayor Palmer, speaking in response to a question about the GCP’s Cambourne to Cambridge (C2C) proposed route, said: “We know that if we have to change the proposed route in the future, the costs are going to be massive.
“My concerns are that this could arise because the situation hasn’t been properly looked at.
“There is no easy solution to it – when you build public transport, somebody’s always going to be impacted.
“What we have to say is: ‘okay, what are the benefits to residents, as opposed to the impacts? rather than just looking at a map and drawing a straight line, and just going for it, forgetting that resident’s views matter.
“I think that’s inconceivably bad politics, and inconceivably bad ambition – and I don’t understand why that should be the case.
“I was in the meeting with the GCP – I’m now a non-voting member – and I was asked how I would vote.
“I told them that I wouldn’t vote for the current C2C route, and I was shocked – absolutely shocked – that in the five or six years that the GCP has been in place, I was the first person ever to vote against a recommendation from the officers.
“That doesn’t seem to be democracy to me, by any stretch of the imagination.
“It seems to me that there is very little democracy at the Greater Cambridge Partnership, and that the public’s views are completely and utterly ignored.”
Cllr Peter Fane (LibDem, South Cambs District Council), said: “Just this week the GCP are closing their consultation process on two other routes.
"And, as you’ve mentioned the level of consultation – or rather the lack of it – between the Combined Authority and the GCP, I was wondering if these latest two routes are ‘CAM-compliant’, or if they’ve given you any assurances that they will be in future?
“Certainly, the GCP have ignored a number of different proposals that have been put forward by a very concerned public, simply disregarding or even snubbing them.”
Mayor Palmer replied: “We’re trying very hard to work with the CGP, but at the last Transport Committee meeting they did at least turn up and present their consultation – which is their car-park route to Addenbrookes.
“My concern with C2C, and with these other areas, is the difference between what I want to deliver, which is a public transport solution for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and what they want which is ‘Park and Ride’.
"What we’re seeing from the GCP are only Park and Ride solutions.
“My concerns are that the mistakes made with C2C will be repeated in other areas, and my job is to put pressure on the GCP not to make the same mistakes over and over again.
"But I find that I’m talking to them from a public transport position and they’re talking to me from a Park and Ride position.”
Cllr Marcus Gehring (LibDem, Cambridge City Council), added: “It’s really hard for me to conceive of my agreeing with Mayor Palmer on anything.
"But in this case, especially on the northern route (Cambridge to Waterbeach), you’ve put your finger on something that is probably right on C2C.
“You suggest we should simply put 8-car trains in at Kings Lynn and Cambridge to double the capacity, so I find it completely bizarre that the GCP are suggesting we throw in a bus route at the same time.
“The issue is, haven’t you gone about it the wrong way? Because two and a half years ago, you commissioned a flimsy four-page ‘expert’ report, which confirmed the southern route as the best one.
“That came out of your Combined Authority, before the Transport Plan and before the ‘Cambs-up Strategy’ to the Transport Plan.
"But in a way you’re responsible for the GCP now running down a rabbit-hole that they can’t get out of.
“So, wouldn’t it have been better – rather than presenting a half-baked, officer desk-study at the transport committee which could easily be picked apart, to be hitting the ‘pause’ button and say: ‘look, as a transport authority, I don’t think you’re going about this the right way?
"You could’ve said: ‘Let’s sit together and re-think the C2C interface, especially now that we know East-West Rail is going to come, ie, we’re building infrastructure for £150m, that might be superfluous in a couple of years’ time.
“Isn’t the onus now on you to defend your views, rather than voting against it at the board, saying: ‘look, as a transport authority I don’t think this is the right approach’?”
Mayor Palmer replied: “I think I have said that, and I feel very clearly; but look – this has frustrated the hell out of me, this situation with the GCP.
“I feel that it [the GCP] doesn’t recognise the Combined Authority as the transport authority, despite my trying every single way of working alongside them, it seems that they don’t really want that to happen.
"So, I’ll be honest with you – yes, it’s very, very challenging.
“I don’t understand what’s in it for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough as a whole to have two conflicting organisations, and I don’t understand for the life of me why government is comfortable with the waste of money and the waste of resource and the double-thinking – it doesn’t make any sense to me.
“As far as I am aware, I don’t think anybody has ever stood for election on the basis of the projects that the GCP are putting forward; if they have, I haven’t seen it.
“So, we have an organisation that is completely controlled by the civil service, that is driving through projects that – in my opinion – are without proper consultation with the public.
"And, as you say Cllr Gehring, is prepared to spend well over £150m on a scheme that will probably have to be completely re-designed in four or five years.
“It is rare that we agree Cllr Gehring, and I appreciate that you are blaming me entirely for this problem – and I thank you for that blame.
"But I can assure that I have tried every single way, internally and externally, to try and sort this problem out.
“And believe me when I say that this is a problem that needs to be sorted out, because it’s wasting tax-payers money, its wasting energy of mine and my team, all when we could be concentrating on significantly greater transport solutions than the eight miles between Cambridge and Cambourne.
“We’ve got schemes all across this county that need to be delivered, railway stations, roads, universities, £100k homes.
"And yet, an enormous amount of my time is spent dealing with, what is quite frankly, an anomaly in one part of the county, and is very frustrating.”