Councillors reject plan for devolution as Huntingdonshire member brands deal as ‘terrible’

Shire Hall, Chambridge.

Shire Hall, Chambridge. - Credit: Archant

A devolution deal for East Anglia has been branded “A Level politics” and a plan “written on the back of a cigarette packet” as Cambridgeshire councillors rejected the agreement that was announced by Chancellor George Osborne last week.

At a meeting of the full council yesterday (Tuesday) members were in an almost unanimous agreement, with only one councillor abstaining, to throw out the deal in its current form and ordering for it to be reworked.

The agreement was announced as a part of Mr Osborne’s budget saying he had struck a deal worth “almost £1billion” in return for an elected mayor for Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.

The chancellor said: “We have agreed a single powerful East Anglia Combined Authority headed up by an elected mayor and almost a billion pounds of new investment.”

However this was put into turmoil with the council’s decision following days of opposition to the deal from business leaders and councillors across Huntingdonshire.

County Councillor for St Ives Paul Bullen said: “This deal is like an A-level politics student piece written for an exam that they have failed. It is a terrible deal for Cambridgeshire; it is a terrible deal for Norfolk and Suffolk.

“I am sure Norfolk and Suffolk would like to deal with Cambridgeshire, who could blame them. It was them that wanted a devolution deal so why at the eleventh hour has Cambridgeshire been dragged into it?”

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The pace at which the deal has been implemented was also criticised by labour Councillor Ashley Wash who labelled it a “suggestion written on the back of a cigarette packet”.

Others expressed an interest in a deal solely for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and many were opposed to an elected mayor for the whole area.

The motion was moved by independent member Councillor John Hipkin, at the full council meeting, in which he said that the deal “in its current form is not acceptable to this council”.

The motion requested that the chief executive of the county council, Gillian Beasley, write to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

Council leader Steve Count was among a group of Conservative councillors who spoke in favour of the deal.

He said: “I think it would be great to be able to able to have access to more money and this deal allows this.

“My plan was to put it out to the public and business for consultation.

“It is tragic the way that people have gone out to misinform members of the public about this deal.”

The proposal

George Osborne announced in his budget last week a raft of new powers for East Anglia which could generate billions of pounds for housing and transport and create an ‘Eastern Powerhouse’.

The deal was offered on the condition that a mayor was agreed upon and elected to represent Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk as part of a combined authority.

The deal was set to offer the region a guaranteed £1.2billion of new money over the next 30 years – with pledges to use the funds to generate potentially billions more for investment.

The new combined authority was to feature 22 councils (not including Cambridge City), who would help manage a single pot of money to be used to invest in economic growth.

Neil Darwin

Plans for an East Anglia Combined Authority has been branded as “rushed” and “too quick” by the chief executive of the LEP, who have openly opposed the deal.

It was announced in last week’s budget by chancellor George Osbourne that he had struck a deal worth “almost £1billion” in return for an elected mayor with 22 out of 23 Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire councils.

The chancellor said: “We have agreed a single powerful East Anglia Combined Authority headed up by an elected mayor and almost a billion pounds of new investment.”

But in the wake of the revelation chief executive of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (GCGP) Neil Darwin has told The Hunts Post that the deal has been implemented and approved by government too quickly.

He said: “It has been far too rushed binding together three sizable counties in three weeks and those are three monumental counties are far too rushed.”

Concerns were also raised about the amount of funds that would be given to the area after it was revealed that £30million would be given each year for the next 30 years to invest on infrastructure.

“The amount of money from government doesn’t touch the sides. £30million each year for the next 30 years is not enough. Jason Ablewhite is talking about 50 miles of road infrastructures and others are talking about bigger projects.

“When there is a deficit of £2.1billion around Cambridge – the £30million will not tackle the issue. The area between Cambridgeshire and Norfolk and Suffolk is far too large. “

As for a mayor covering the three different counties, Mr Darwin insisted that there should be an appointed by mayor Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and then another for Norfolk and Suffolk “as you then won’t have a mayor that will be covering from St Ives to Lowestoft.

“We feel we have more in common with Bedford and Hertfordshire but the business community feels that a better period of time is needed to properly talk about the deal.

Greg Clarke

Huntingdonshire is an area that is successful and should be invested in by central government.

That was the message from the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark during a visit to Huntingdon on Thursday (March 17).

Mr Clark was shown the site of Linden Homes Saxon Gardens housing development, to talk about the East Anglia devolution deal.

Speaking to The Hunts Post, Mr Clark said: “The whole of the East Anglian area, which is involved in the deal, is one of the most successful areas in the country and we as the government should be investing in success.

“The government wants an area that could reinforce itself and I think this region can do that. I think this is a great deal for the area.”

Conservative Mr Clark said pledged that as a part of the deal there will £175 million set aside for housing that will be invested throughout the regions involved.

“There is a great demand for housing, as most people living in Huntingdonshire have grown up locally and want to stay in the area. We accept there are challenges in order to do this,” he said.

There was a specific mention of the reinforcement of infrastructure needed in the area including that around the proposed 3,750 home development on RAF Wyton.

“We need to invest in the congested road to stop the congestion from getting worse. Councils and those councillors under Jason Ablewhite have always said if we are going to have more investment in this area then we should invest infrastructure as well including roads and a river crossing at Hartford – there will be money to do that,” said Mr Clark.