Govt must act on Cambs homes and infrastructure deficit

THE Government must do something about housing and infrastructure in Cambridgeshire if one of the country’s most promising economic development areas is not to die on its feet, says a former Conservative Trade Minister.

In his final interview after seven years as chairman of the doomed Cambridgeshire Horizons quango, set up to help deliver thousands of new homes and their supporting infrastructure to the county, Sir David Trippier said the area’s powerhouse knowledge-based industries could not prosper without attracting and keeping good people.

“We have got to find people homes or they’ll leave the area,” he told The Hunts Post/Ely Standard/Cambs Times/Wisbech Standard/Royston Crow/Cambridge First.

“House building must continue, and they [the Government] will have to do improvements to the A14 and get the guided bus up and running.

Although plans to redevelop the Cambridge Airport site for housing had foundered, other sites in the city were still live, along with up to 5,000 new homes in east St Neots – many of them in an eco-quarter – a further 950 at Cambourne and a likely resumption of plans for a 9,000-home eco-town at Northstowe north-west of Cambridge, he said.

And. In spite of the recession, house-building was still well ahead of the level envisaged in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Structure Plan, which was the planning bible in force when he joined Horizons in 2004.

The not-for-profit company was set up by the country council and the five district councils to deliver the necessary infrastructure to support the new housing – to which the Government subsequently added targets for thousands more homes.

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The infrastructure deficit – from services needed for existing homes as well as those projected to be built – varied from �4billion to twice as much, though “anything above �4bn was a bit of an educated guess,” Sir David said. “More than half the deficit was transport-related.”

Horizons actually managed to attract nearly �100m of funding to the area – far more than the ‘local delivery vehicles’ set up in any other part of the country.

The result was a variety of projects funded or facilitated by Horizons, including A428 dualling between Hardwick and Caxton, major improvements to Huntingdon’s Olympic gym, development on the southern fringe of Cambridge and the former NAIB site, the recently-opened access road between the A1307 and Addenbrooke’s Hospital, eco status for Northstowe, the cycleway beside the yet-to-open guided busway, a major new link road about to be built in Huntingdon town centre, numerous green projects including the River Cam and elsewhere in and around Cambridge, Wicken Fen and the Great Fen.

The list also includes regeneration of Sapley Square in Huntingdon, eco-housing in Oxmoor, SmartLife homes in March, Cowley Road junction improvements and park-and-ride relocation in Cambridge, Cambourne churches’ community centre, masterplanning in Ely, Soham and Littleport, water-cycle strategy research and improvements to Grafham Water Centre at Perry.

So the former Minister will leave the flatlands of Cambridgeshire to return home to east Lancashire with the satisfaction of having achieved much in spite of the recession, the Government’s decision to ditch the A14 improvements and serious delays to the Northstowe project. “I shall leave with a clear conscience.”

But he will also leave with fond memories. “I shall miss people. Everyone has been so kind. We northerners think no one is as warm-hearted and generous as we are. It’s tosh.”

Sir David, who will soon be 65, is married to a barrister with chambers in Manchester. They have three grown-up sons.

“I shall do quite a bit of charity work and a lot of walking now that I shall have the time. We are both walkers, and anyway it’s something you can’t avoid when you have a springer spaniel,” he said.

What he will not miss, however, is the weekly commute. “I used to fly from Blackpool Airport to Stansted until Ryanair pulled the plug. Now I take train from Preston to Milton Keynes and come from there by road.

“I shall come back from time to time to see the good friends we’ve made here. But I shan’t miss getting up at 5.30am – that’s a killer.”