The race for mayor of the combined Cambridgeshire & Peterborough region is hotting up, with Liberal Democrat candidate Rod Cantrill stating that “Ladbrokes currently have the race between the Conservative candidate and me, with others some way behind”.
The election, which will be held on May 4, has focused on issues including housing, the economy and transport in the region.
However more than 100 people from Cambridgeshire’s property and construction industry who attended the first of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayoral Hustings recently, had a different view.
Hosted by Carter Jonas, the national property consultancy, eastern region developer, Turnstone Estates and communications and PR firm, Belgrave Communications and taking place at Cambridge Rugby Club, the breakfast event included opening remarks from the front-running candidates, as well as a discussion and Q&A session before inviting the audience to cast their vote. Participating were Cllr Rod Cantrill (Liberal Democrats), Peter Dawe (Independent), Cllr James Palmer (Conservative), Cllr Kevin Price (Labour) and Cllr Paul Bullen (UKIP).
At the event’s conclusion, the audience cast their votes for favourite candidate using the slightly more official method of voting papers and ballot boxes and Conservative candidate James Palmer emerged as clear favourite with 59 per cent of the vote.
However Cantrill believes that the difficulties the Brexit negotiations – and Cambridge’s status in particular – will help swing the wider public.
“As mayor I will be a strong voice for people regionally and nationally,” Cantrill told Eastern Echo, “particularly in relation to protecting the area from the impact of the Brexit journey we have now departed on.”
Conservative candidate James Palmer told the Echo that “my solution to the Cambridge traffic conundrum is to provide an underground for the city and a light rail to the market towns across Cambridgeshire”.
On the skills shortage the facing the UK he said: “I will work alongside businesses and schools to provide high quality apprenticeships that will give industry the workforce of the future and young people vast opportunities.”
Meanwhile independent candidate Peter Dawe, the internet entrepreneur, has come up with innovative ways of solving the region’s issues by incorporating smart technology. His position on the election has been that “the other candidates come from local government and local government is broken”, which certainly chimes with a certain anti-politician sentiment currently in vogue.
What has emerged from the election so far is that housing is a key issue – Cambridgeshire’s population is due to increase from 627,000 in 2012 to 800,000 in 2036. Candidates addressed the population swell and detailed how they would relieve spatial planning issues affecting the region. On spatial planning initiatives only 15 per cent of those in the room thought that dispersing some of the growth that would naturally involve wanting to be in Cambridge or in close proximity to it: to the north and east of the county was seen as an option worth pursuing.
In a straw poll of the audience taken on the day, when asked which public transport initiatives were the best to follow, the audience did not seem to support bus initiatives with an overwhelming majority voting in favour of heavy rail initiatives. Light rail received some support.
Colin Brown, partner at Carter Jonas – pictured with the candidates – said: “Whilst, as you would expect, the discussion highlighted key differences between the candidates, affordable housing, housing delivery and transport were concerns high on everyone’s agenda. Indeed most of the candidates appealed for greater collaboration between local authorities, developers and planners, with the aim of alleviating some of the concerns surrounding these issues. Whilst the newly elected mayor will not have full authority over planning, a number of candidates thought that they would be in a unique position to encourage joined-up thinking.”
Chris Goldsmith, managing director, Turnstone Estates, said: “The big issue of the times is getting the balance and timing right between growth and infrastructure. As a conduit between the local authorities and central government, the mayor will clearly have a pivotal role in ensuring an effective and co-ordinated solution is found.”
Future hustings include an event at Ely Cathedral on April 6. Details at www.elycathedralbusinessgroup.org.