What are the big issues in the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough mayoral race?

A generic stock pic of Cambridge. Image: Getty.

The Centre for Cities’ recent Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoral hustings showed that the city region’s new mayor will face a unique challenge when they take office: namely, addressing the diverse issues that Cambridge and Peterborough face in growing their economies.

The discussion at the event highlighted that, when it comes to areas such as housing, transport and skills, very different policies will be needed to ensure that both places – and the rural areas between them – can thrive in the coming years

Cambridge is one of the least affordable cities in the UK when it comes to housing, and so it was no surprise that this was one of the key issues in the hustings. Labour candidate Kevin Price made great play of the fact that as Deputy Leader of Cambridge City Council he’d been closely involved in negotiating the housing component of the city region’s devolution deal. In particular, he referred to the two deals the Combined Authority has done to boost affordable housing, including £100m for housing associations in the county beyond Cambridge.

Liberal Democrat candidate Rod Cantrill also focused on housing affordability, arguing that this discussion should not focus solely on houses for sale, with rental properties in high demand and just as unaffordable. He proposed a Local Living Rent set at no more than 33 per cent of the average local wage.

For independent candidate Peter Dawe, the key to addressing the city region’s housing needs is removing prohibitive planning restrictions and the intransigence of local councillors (including some of those sharing the platform with him). He proposed tearing up the planning system so that individual plots were put in the hands of potential buyers to expedite construction.

The need to get around planning restrictions was also highlighted by Conservative candidate James Palmer, who raised the example of the Community Land Trust in local villages Streatham and Wilburton, which enables local residents to neatly sidestep a planning system designed to protect the existing environment at the expense building new homes. However, to what extent this kind of initiative can be applied more widely is unclear.

Another big area of priority for Palmer in the debate was skills and education, which as our analysis shows is a particularly big issue in Peterborough. James Palmer argued for greater esteem and incentives for apprenticeships, and proposed that schools in the area should get league table points for getting young people into apprenticeships. He claimed that he could use his links to national government to make the city region a pilot area for the schools league table reform.

Peter Dawe echoed this idea by suggesting that schools had become factories for sending kids to university, in the process devaluing manual work. He recounted a recent conversation with civil engineers working on a local bypass who could not see the next generation coming through the ranks – put off by an education system biased against jobs in which your boots would get dirty.

A technology millionaire who made his fortune in the county, Dawe unsurprisingly saw technology as the solution to another of Cambridge’s big issues, traffic congestion. He proposed apps to facilitate greater use of taxis and buses in rural areas, and new single-seater pod-vehicles that would turn Cambridge City Centre’s roads into free-flowing four-line highways. In contrast, James Palmer promised to introduce a light rail for the county and an underground for city of Cambridge as one of his key election pledges

However, a cheaper way of reducing traffic and generating revenue to improve public transport across the city region would be to implement a congestion charge in Cambridge, as proposed in our recent briefing for the city region’s metro mayor.

James Palmer opposed this idea completely, in favour of digging tunnels and laying track. Kevin Price also rejected the idea outright, preferring greater investment in a Park and Ride facilities and a workplace-parking levy in the city centre, while Rod Cantrill seemed more open to the idea of a congestion charge without committing to it.

What the debate lacked, however, was a clear sense of the different needs of Peterborough and Cambridge when it comes to growing their economies. As has probably become clear, much of the discussion focused on issues which are particularly relevant to Cambridge, but less so in Peterborough – where neither housing shortages nor congestion are significant problems.

That is perhaps understandable given that the event was held in Cambridge. But whoever becomes metro mayor for the city region will have a mandate that stretches across these two separate and distinct urban areas, and the wide expanses of countryside, fenland and agricultural land that lie between them.

Setting out a policy platform which recognises the very different approaches needed in Cambridge and Peterborough, and which also offers a coherent narrative and vision for the whole city region, will be critical in making a success of the role.

Simon Jeffrey is a researcher and external affairs officer at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared.

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In New Zealand, climate change is driving an eco-nationalist revival

The green and pleasant land of the South Island. Image: Getty.

“Ten years ago I would have called them settler f*****g land squatters,” Mike Smith, Maori-dom’s most tenacious activist, said last November as he reflected on the agriculture industry’s central role in driving climate change. “Now I have to try and get these people on board.”

Smith is infamous for taking a chainsaw to Auckland’s most prominent tree on a damp October night in 1994 in protest of the “Pākehā” – or white European –dominated government’s fiscal envelope restraining treaty settlements. Now he’s turned his hand to another cause close-to-home for the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous population: the environment.

“We’re super vulnerable, like we are to anything,” Smith says. “When it comes to climate change it’s like the poorest people in the world are going to be hit the hardest first, and that’s a lot of us.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appears, at least rhetorically, the most sympathetic leader to his cause in a decade. In her campaign launch speech late last year, she made the future government’s position clear: “Climate change is my generation’s nuclear free moment.”

This message should resonate with followers of her Labour party: the NZ left has long nurtured an environment-orientated “culture-of-protest”. So Ardern’s call to arms was bound to gain her loyal support among children of the 1960s and ‘70s, who led the march against nuclear ship visits, spurring on the government of the time to wriggle out from the US nuclear umbrella, and place a ban on foreign nuclear ship visits.

Now, it is to the tycoons of deep sea oil exploration they aim to close NZ’s ports.

In this, Smith is not short of support locally, with marches run by grassroots organisations and international animal welfare funds beginning to gain traction with every day New Zealanders. In this, Ardern’s prediction is correct: the Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA), is reminiscent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), an earlier cluster of left-wing pacifists and nature lovers who drove the creation of the nuclear free zone.  

In December, 15,000 passionate protesters marched through the capital. And with the government’s recent ban of offshore oil exploration projects, Jeanette Fitzsimons, former Green party co-leader and the head of CANA, is optimistic about similar change to the energy and farming sectors.

The Labour-NZ First-Green party coalition seems focused on setting a new global precedent, weaning NZ away from a United States which has jettisoned the Paris Agreement. The move replicates another 20 years ago, when New Zealand’s anti-nuclear movement was central to an upsurge in New Zealand nationalism. Now, the same sense of going it alone on foreign policy is apparent both locally and in Parliament.

Dr. Gradon Diprose, a senior lecturer at Massey University, argues that this echoes an older expression of colonial nationalism, that saw “New Zealand as a land of natural abundance”. This: “eco-nationalism” is centered on “protecting certain visions of picturesque landscapes and unspoiled natural beauty”. The slogan “Clean, green New Zealand” is prevalent in popular culture and tourism marketing. The public seems to have latched onto it too, and ranked keeping NZ’s waterways “clean and green” top of a recent survey of of kiwis’ top concerns.

Three decades ago, it was the 10 July 1985 sinking of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior that thrust local activists’ fears into the public eye, resulting in an almost nation-wide expression of climate-protectionism.

The bombing, a French intelligence operation sparked by Greenpeace’s calls for an end to foreign nuclear testing in the Pacific, galvanised a great deal of change to New Zealand’s overseas defence policies. A lack of censure from New Zealand’s Western allies drove Wellington to distance itself from the United States, while the shock of seeing a friendly nation violate NZ’s sovereignty left many at home seething.

Thirty years on, the foreign policy split throughout the Anglosphere, regarding Russian-Western relations, globalism, and the old international rules-based order, is becoming wider. Climate change is just the tip of the iceberg.

Most Kiwis you talk to will shake their heads in disapproval at US president Donald Trump’s scandalous outing last year in Helsinki. But US defiance of internationally brokered climate resolutions is something they can see clearly reflected in rural communities across the country.

The country saw records broken at both ends of the extreme weather spectrum last year. As 2018 kicked off, Kiwis sweltered through the hottest summer on record, while in Golden Bay, a small inlet near the northern tip of the South Island, residents endured the largest flood in 150 years. So, when President Trump tweets “So much for Global Warming”, the majority of New Zealanders look back fondly on NZ’s 1985 decision to boycott the “ANZUS” treaty, putting New Zealand at odds with its war-time ally America on defence legislation.

Public calls to take the same track on environmental regulation have become louder in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, received a frosty “unwelcome” while on a flyby to the capital in 2017, with the New York Times’ Washington correspondent, Gardiner Harris remarking: “I’ve never seen so many people flip the bird at an American motorcade as I saw today”. Protests against President Trump’s stance on climate change are beginning to gain greater traction further still, with the hundred-strong “march for science” setting the tone for the new government later that year.

New Zealand certainly isn’t afraid of radicalism, and its activists are persistent. It’s already banned single use plastics in supermarkets. Plenty more is to come, Smith says.

And yes, reform is going to inhibit sometimes vital industries: “It doesn’t matter which way you spin the dice on this, whatever’s being done is going to hurt. People who are looking for a painless way of mitigating climate change, [but] I don’t think there is one.”

But among Smith’s troupe of climate agitators, the feeling is that, without drastic change, “the land”, the heart of the Maori ethos, is going to be hurt far more.

Back in Auckland, NZ’s financial hub, an electric scooter craze is gripping the city. This, too, has gained the support of local environmentalists. In New Zealand, a national sense of pride is always coupled with a certain eccentricity. In a country this size, change always starts small.