Nearly £30 million provided to help develop plans for Cambridgeshire metro
- Credit: Archant
Almost £30 million has been allocated as provisional funding to develop plans for the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro.
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority presented a “remodelled” budget to its board on June 3, which contained what one councillor described as a “huge amount of reallocation – just under £40 million” between projects.
For the time being, little has materially changed for each project allocated funds as large-scale expenditure will need to be agreed by committee and the provisional budget is working from cost estimates.
But mayor James Palmer said it shows “there is money there” for the next phase of the authority’s plans.
For the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM), the next major phase will be developing the outline business case.
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The mayor described a successful lobbying effort which he claimed led the Government to commit to providing funding for Cambridge South Station earlier this year.
Combined authority papers show that decision meant £15.8 million previously earmarked for developing the station in its own budget could be released to go towards the CAM.
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Speaking directly after the meeting, the mayor said it means “if there is board agreement then we will continue to drive forward” with the plans.
Mr Palmer said: “Once the Government allocated money in their budget for Cambridge South Station that freed up a significant amount of cash within our budget, we could reallocate it.
“What we have tried to do across the whole combined authority area is when we have reallocated funds, we have tried to make sure that spending is reallocated into the same areas.
“It makes perfect sense having allocated money, both revenue and capital, into Cambridge South Station, when our successful bid into Government to get it funded centrally was announced in the budget, that allows us freedom within ours.
“Rather than having to go to Government immediately for the next stage of funding for the CAM, which would have been the case, we are allowed to look at that from within our allocation.”
The mayor said work is ongoing to “continue to talk to investors and to Government” over the longer-term funding.
“The scheme that we are talking about here is a £5 billion transport scheme. You have to put significant planning into it,” he said.
“There is a lot to be considered when you are building 140 miles of transport network.”
An extra £6.9 million has been reallocated to developing the metro in the authority’s revenue budget, and an additional £20 million in the capital budget.
Money has been earmarked for a CAM “innovation company”, £15 million for the outline business case, and £ 3million “to prepare for the development of the full business case”.
It is unclear exactly how much each phase of the planning process will cost, or how far the provisional funding allocation will go before more funds are needed.
The CAM reallocations were part of a wider reshuffle of budget allocations.
“What we were asked to do by the board, which is exactly what we did, is to look at projects that were dormant, not necessarily going to happen, but that we had allocated funding to,” the mayor said.
“We were also asked to see if we could repurpose that to make sure we were in an advanced position to invest with a plan for a post-COVID Cambridgeshire.”
Combined authority documents say the figures in the “remodelled” medium term financial strategy “confirm that the current mayoral priorities are still affordable” and “that the refresh has refocused funds towards the immediate COVID-19 response and has enabled the release of some resources to support economic recovery”.
The allocations are provisional and are subject to board approval.
The document says: “The CAM has been identified as one of the key priorities of the combined authority which will contribute to post-COVID recovery.”
In addition to the CAM, an additional £5 million was provisionally reallocated to the authority’s market town fund, £3 million for work on a “garden village” including legal surveys and planning costs, and £8million for work on A141 capacity enhancements to fund the strategic and outline business case for work linked to the relief road north of Huntingdon.
In the revenue budget, money was reallocated for additional staffing costs of £400,000 a year, plus an extra £120,000 for six months for the “business and skills team”.
The combined authority said reallocations were made from projects that are “dormant”, where another funder has been found for the work and where there are underspends or savings can be made.
The combined authority papers say the “updated assumption” is that Cambridge South Station “will now be funded by Network Rail”, which releases £1.5million from the revenue budget and £15.8million in the capital budget.
The Huntingdon third river crossing is “to be merged with that of the A141” which will release £96,500 in the revenue budget, and the “unallocated balance” of £749,000 in the 2020/21 budget for a non-transport feasibility fund has been released.
A further £5.4 million is released by updated assumptions on reduced interest on borrowing. The updated assumption is that Highways England will fund the Combined Authority’s A47 scheme, releasing £1.7 million from the capital budget.
The leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, Steve Count, suggested some aspects of the current spending and reallocations should have been looked at by the authority’s committees.
“The main difficulties I have is the way that the monies were reallocated at this stage. There is a huge amount of reallocation – just under £40 million,” he said.
“I would have thought that they would go to a transport committee or the appropriate committee to see if they are underspending and if they are underspending what their recommendation is for the money.”
He said there is “a huge amount going into the CAM project, basically coming away from other areas”.
The mayor responded, arguing the decision had to be taken quickly in light of the pandemic, and saying the money was being directly invested in the county.
“This authority has to continue and run on a daily basis and sometimes decisions have to be made with the effect of the current situation and that’s exactly what this is,” he said.
“The reality is that the combined authority board asked us to come up with solutions to deal with an immediate issue, and this immediate issue is quite important.
“What we have been able to do is repurpose money from projects where, although there was allocation, those projects were sitting in a dormant position, and invest an enormous amount of money directly into the economy of Cambridgeshire.”
He referenced an additional £5 million for the market towns fund, which he said will be available as soon as this summer, and said “the fact is that in a very busy time for all authorities these decisions were required by this board”.
He said all future spending on the metro will need to be authorised by the board.
The leader of Cambridge City Council, Councillor Lewis Herbert, said the board would have to take a “hard look” at how much money needs to be allocated to the CAM project going forward.