What's in the in-tray of the new mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough?

Mayor of two very different cities and a chunk in the middle, James Palmer will have to be a bridge over troubled water. Image: Steff

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain's cities.

So, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has a metro mayor to cover the newly-created combined metro area. 

Obviously, let's just start by saying this is ridiculous. The clue's in the last syllable of the first word. Cambridge-shire. Shire!

Anyway. Obviously, because the vast bulk of this 'metro' mayor's area is literally just fields and villages, they've gone and elected a Conservative mayor, James Palmer. 

But what will he have to tackle – other than working out how to travel most effectively from one village to the next? It's time to hunker down and take a look at the Centre for Cities' data, on their new-fangled 'Metro Mayor Dashboard', to see what's cooking. 

In all sorts of ways, things are very very good in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The proportion of the population with no qualifications is far lower than in the rest of the country. (In all these grapsh, Greater Cambridgeshire is in green, the national average is in grey.)

Click any of the following images to expand. All images: Centre for Cities.

School performance is quite a bit higher too, on average, as measured by the rather nebulous Progress 8 score, which tracks how well pupils perform versus expectations. 

The total number of jobs has increased much faster than it has in the rest of the country, too. 

And those are well-paying jobs. Average weekly earnings are markedly ahead of the national average. 

It makes sense, then, that the employment rate is also higher than the national average by quite a way. 

The youth employment rate, though skittish, is also higher than the national average, and has been consistently – even after some strange sudden dips. 

As a result of all this, the claimant count – the percentage of the population claiming state benefits – is lower than the national average. 

You'll really want to click to expand this one. Image: Centre for Cities.

The region's economic success is also apparent in other ways. Its goods exports – aka, the amount of stuff it ships off to other countries – is higher than the national average. 

And looking at the region as a whole, it's not even as though all this success has come back to bite the people in other ways. 

Housing is still slightly more affordable than the national average, though that gap has closed a little more recently. 

The total number of dwellings has risen faster than the national average, too, which is a good sign in terms of trying to keep that housing affordable. 

But given that the region is so vast, such figures cannot be entirely representative. 

Cambridge, for a start, has vastly inaffordable housing that is well beyond the reach of most people in the city – and has property prices constitently ballooning at wildly unsustainable rates. 

So while housing in Peterborough and the swathes of countryside encompassed by this region might still be relatively affordable, the key city of Cambridge is a different picture. 

And it's sadly not all good news for James Palmer, though his in-tray does look really remarkably light on the ground. 

For a start, good school performance isn't universal. 

Those on free school meals – aka, the poorest kids – are underperforming relative to the national average, and vastly underperforming relative to their more affluent local peers. The region's schools have a serious onus on them to do something about that. 

And though the population is very highly skilled, the region could still do with fostering more new apprenticeships – which currently sit well below the national average. 


Despite the good news of goods exports, services exports are lower than the national average, which definitely has room for improvement. 

On a more immediately practical level, bus journeys are tanking even faster than they are across the country.

Either the buses are rubbish, overpriced, unreliable, or all of the above – and something must be done about it.

And as more and more of us become aware of the negative effects of air pollution – and how severely some of our cities are affected by it – Cambridgeshire & Peterborough should be wary of the cleanliness of its air. 

At the moment, air pollution in the region is higher than the average, though there are some signs that it's falling faster than it is nationally. 

In essence, James Palmer has a pretty good deal. 

He gets the title of metro mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough – which is undoubtedly a promotion from his former role as leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council – but doesn't actually have all that many problems to deal with on a general level. 

That said, the region is so vast, disparate, and largely not very metro at all, that Palmer will have to proceed very carefully. 

Cambridge, for example, is a vibrant, economically successful, liberal, staunchly pro-EU, academically minded, high-wage city. It's home to a plethora of huge hi-tech scientific conglomerates, as well as the university – not to mention the thousands upon thousands of people who are desperate for day-to-day solutions to issues from how rubbish the busses are to how sky-high the rents are getting. 

Peterborough is a very different story. It's a eurosceptic city, with industry centred on logistics and retail – a place where out-of-town sprawling retail parks are much more likely than out-of-town sprawling laboratories. 

There's a very good piece on how different the two cities are here, from Jeremy Cliffe. Have a read. 

Then throw in an army of villages – and, more terrifyingly, villagers – and the whole thing's a mess. 

While James Palmer may nominally only have bad buses, a bit of pollution, and slightly low goods exports to deal with, he has a huge challenge on his hands. 

He must somehow find a way to serve the two extremes of his 'metro' region – and the rural interests stuck in the middle – which will often have needs and demands that are totally at odds. 

Rather you than me, Jim. 

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What is to be done? Some modest suggestions on solving the NIMBY problem

Lovely, lovely houses. Image: Getty.

The thing about NIMBYism, right, is that there’s no downside to it. If you already own a decent size house, then the fact a city isn’t building enough homes to go round is probably no skin off your nose. Quite the opposite, in fact: you’ll actively benefit from higher house prices.

So it’s little wonder that campaigning against property development is a popular leisure activity among those looking forward to a long retirement (don’t Google it, it’ll only depress you). It’s sociable, it’s profitable, it only takes a few hours a week, and, best of all, it makes you feel righteous, like you’re doing something good. In those circumstances, who wouldn’t be a NIMBY?

To fight the scourge of NIMBYism, then, what we need to do is to rebalance the risks and rewards that its participants face. By increasing the costs of opposing new housebuilding, we can make sure that people only do it when said development is genuinely a horror worth fighting – rather than, say, something less than perfect that pops up a Tuesday afternoon when they don’t have much else on.

Here are some reasonable and sensible ideas for policies to make that happen.

A NIMBY licence, priced at, say, £150 a month. Anyone found practicing NIMBYism without a licence faces a fine of £5,000. Excellent revenue raiser for the Treasury.

Prison sentences for NIMBYs. Not all of them, obviously – we’re not barbarians – but if the planning process concludes that a development will be good for the community, then those who tried to prevent it should be seen as anti-social elements and treated accordingly.

A NIMBY lottery. All homeowners wishing to oppose a new development must enter their details into an official government lottery scheme. If their number comes up, then their house gets CPOed and redeveloped as flats. Turns NIMBYism into a form of Russian roulette, but with compulsory purchase orders instead of bullets.

This one is actually a huge range of different policies depending on what you make the odds. At one end of the scale, losing your house is pretty unlikely: you’d think twice, but you’re probably fine. At the other, basically everyone who opposes a scheme will lose their entire worldly wealth the moment it gets planning approval, so you’d have to be very, very sure it was bad before you even thought about sticking your head above the parapet. So the question is: do you feel lucky?

NIMBY shaming. There are tribal cultures where, when a member does something terrible, they never see them again. Never talk to them, never look at them, never acknowledge them in any way. To the tribe, this person is dead.

I’m just saying, it’s an option.

A NIMBY-specific bedroom tax. Oppose new housing development to your heart’s content, but be prepared to pay for any space you don’t need. I can’t think of any jokes here, now I’ve written it down I think this one’s genuinely quite sensible.

Capital punishment for NIMBYs. This one’s a bit on the extreme side, so to keep things reasonable it would only apply to those NIMBYs who believe in capital punishment for other sorts of crime. Fair’s far.

Pushing snails through their letter boxes. This probably won’t stop them, but it’d make me feel better. The snails, not so much.

Reformed property taxes, which tax increases in house prices, so discourage homeowners from treating them as effectively free money.

Sorry, I’m just being silly now, aren’t I?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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