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A new dawn for combined authorities?

At a December event for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s development world, the directly-elected Mayor of the combined authority, James Palmer, said something that made the room sit up and listen.

Out of the blue, he talked of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) playing a leading role in bringing forward garden villages to meet development needs in his patch; one of the most unaffordable parts of the country.

He claimed to have local political support across the county’s component planning authorities despite different political leanings, and stated that he was in advanced funding talks with government.

Is this the first sign of some genuine definition to the combined authority’s role? Currently the CPCA has no statutory powers and its agenda and status has been opaque, to say the least. Is Mayor Palmer successfully carving a position as a genuine lynch-pin to unite Cambridgeshire's component councils and central government to enact genuine development change?

We should, of course, take a step back and look at the financial and administrative issues that the CPCA has suffered since being established in early 2017.  The fourth Chief Financial Officer in the CPCA’s short tenure unceremoniously left earlier in December 2018. The CPCA’s Chief Executive left “by mutual agreement” in August 2018. There are calls from CPCA board members to conduct an independent financial review of the authority in the wake of this upheaval.

Not all good news, but not helped by the authority having seemingly little direction and obvious purpose to date.

That is why Mayor Palmer’s speech to the county’s development community is a glimmer of hope for the CPCA, as well as other nascent combined authorities across the country. It shows ambition, it shows a route for combined authorities to travel, and most importantly it shows that the CPCA has some pragmatism about the scale of development need to be tackled.

Mayor Palmer said that Housing Minister Kit Malthouse had sat down with him and asked that Cambridgeshire delivers some 200,000 new homes. Maybe the purpose and drive is now there for the CPCA.

Turns out it’s not just about the Cambridgeshire Metro.

Krystian Groom

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