£3.1billion promised for infrastructure investment

INFRASTRUCTURE investment of £3.1billion will be delivered in the Cambridge sub-region in the next nine years, the Government has promised – but not all of it will be funded by the taxpayer. In spite of the categorical guarantee that transport, health, ed

INFRASTRUCTURE investment of £3.1billion will be delivered in the Cambridge sub-region in the next nine years, the Government has promised - but not all of it will be funded by the taxpayer.

In spite of the categorical guarantee that transport, health, education, water, leisure and other facilities for the occupants of nearly 50,000 new homes would be in place by 2016, Local Government Minister Baroness Andrews admitted that Whitehall would not be signing all of the cheques.

Her comments came during the annual conference of Cambridgeshire Horizons, the company set up by Cambridgeshire County Council, the county's five district authorities and other public bodies to deliver the homes and supporting social infrastructure.

"The necessary infrastructure will be there to support and sustain the communities," she told The Hunts Post elliptically. "Part of the success of Cambridgeshire Horizons is tapping into that."

She was rushed away by her minders before she could elaborate on that, but she presumably meant a blind faith in profit-driven investment by private companies and planning gain payments from developers.

Horizons chief executive Stephen Catchpole told conference delegates that funding sources had been identified for £2.5billion of the infrastructure required, leaving a gap of £600million.

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Earlier, Lady Andrews had maintained that Government departments had started a process of macro-economic analysis that was shared across spending departments and the Treasury and would influence spending decisions - Treasury Ministers have bilateral discussions with cabinet colleagues each year about how much money departments should get and what it should be spent on.

Evidently, no one has told Cambridgeshire Horizons bosses, who have just engaged consultants Mott MacDonald to identify the macro-economic benefits of dualling the A428 from Caxton to the A1 at Black Cat - precisely because the current process takes no account of non-transport benefits of road-building. Horizons believes there are huge benefits to the economies of the East of England and the Midlands, not to mention to communities relieved of rat-running traffic, that are not captured by current cost-benefit analysis and that could justify an early start to the scheme.

Back in the real world of actually implementing the Government's expansion policies - which include at least 11,200 new homes in Huntingdonshire in the 20 years to 2021 - Horizons' chairman, Sir David Trippier (a former Tory housing Minister) said more than one-third of the new homes promised for 2016 had already been built. In the year to March 2006, 29 per cent had been "affordable", against a target of 40 per cent.

This is a key issue for most of Fenland, which is outside the sub-region, although the Chatteris area is within it.

Councillor Alan Melton made an impassioned plea at the conference for the rest of the district, particularly March and Wisbech, to be included - underpinning a planning requirement for 40 per cent affordable homes in major developments.

The Minister was sympathetic but non-committal. "Growth is not confined to the sub-region, and I'm sure Ministers will listen very closely. There's an absolute need to ensure rural areas are not excluded from the benefits of growth."

She may have to be quick. As a confirmed Blairite, she may find her future as a Minister limited when Gordon Brown succeeds as Prime Minister on June 27.

Although Lady Andrews's speech focused on Cambridge as the centre of the universe, she did acknowledge the contribution of the rest of the sub-region.

"I'm well aware that this is a diverse region," she said eventually. "Places such as Huntingdon, Chatteris and Ely all have a relationship with Cambridge, but they all exist in their own right."

And with that tilt at the rest of us it was back to her cruising theme: "We see Cambridge as a flagship and the region at the leading edge of what is possible."

Sir David takes a broader view. "The upgrading of the A14 remains the single most urgent project for the sub-region. Not a week goes by without extra pressure being put on the Highways Agency to keep to the timetable."

And he added: "It is abundantly clear to me that we would not be able to achieve our objectives without the support and the significant developments that have and will take place in Huntingdonshire, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire. These developments on the smaller sites and in the market towns are absolutely crucial."

Sir David said the whole sub-region was one of the most important in the UK, "regenerating itself, constantly raising its profile as a centre of learning excellence, research and technology transfer - a sub-region supremely well placed to benefit from the knowledge-based industries likely to create the greatest levels of wealth and employment in the first part of this century.