The publication of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) is significant. It draws together a number of uncomfortable truths and commitments around growth that politicians have made on our behalf.
The most significant of those commitments is the undertaking to deliver an 80% increase in economic output (£22bn to £40bn) over the next 25 years. That will require a huge increase in both the size and productivity of the workforce. That in turn has huge implications for demand for housing and transport.
The rate of house building committed to in local plans in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is 4,850 per year, or 155,000 new homes by 2050. Local authorities have so far identified sites for about 70,000 of those.
It’s unclear how many of the “million new homes by 2050” to be “unlocked” by infrastructure investment in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc will fall within Cambridgeshire, but Mayor Palmer has mentioned a figure of 100,000, comprising up to eight new towns and villages on sites yet to be revealed. At the very least it’s additional to the 70,000 already committed to, which would mean 170,000 new homes in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough by 2050.
That’s 50% more than we have now – equivalent to building three new Cambridges in the region. 50% more homes means 50% more people and 50% more demand for transport, schools, health and social care, energy, water, supermarkets, recreational spaces, and so on.
The CPIER places a welcome emphasis on place-making and quality of life and makes mention of the challenges of climate change and Brexit. It rightly focuses on the need to improve ‘last mile’ connections and bravely recommends bus franchising to improve bus services. But the called-for “package of transport and other infrastructure projects” lacks strategic coherence. It may be a reasonable response to current challenges, but not with 50% growth added on top.
How did our local politicians allow us to be steamrollered into accepting this scale of growth without informed public debate, before there exists a credible plan, and with a dog’s dinner of a local government structure to deliver it?
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 26 September 2018.