Mayor Blog overview of the year 2020

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Mayor Blog overview of the year 2020

Few will be sad to see the back of 2020, but I want to finish this year by highlighting those things of which I am so proud. Covid-19 has had a hideous impact on so many lives, but what the team at the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority has achieved this year has been incredible.

It has been a year of delivery, innovation, courage and commitment. Like everyone we have faced challenges, but we are seeing the impact of our work and showing communities the difference we make across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.  This year we have led on and supported the delivery of big projects which will improve lives.

Skills are key to growth, prosperity and wellbeing and a few weeks ago I helped put the spade in the ground to start the build of the first university for Peterborough. In addition, we have further developed the streamlined delivery of Adult Education whilst encouraging more businesses to take on apprentices.

2020 brought a significant breakthrough on affordable housing. It was only at the start of the year we launched the groundbreaking £100K Homes scheme and have now delivered the first properties in Fordham before Christmas. This is just the start and a good pipeline of truly affordable home ownership will spread further throughout the region in 2021. Our wider affordable homes programme currently has 323 homes under construction with approximately 80 homes completed, with another strong pipeline ready for next year.

People are central to everything we do. Covid-19 has meant we have had to be flexible and innovative, engaging differently this year, pivoting our committee meetings online and retaining our essential engagement with the public digitally, exemplified by our virtual public exhibition for the A10 improvements. This enforced change has actually led to people engaging more easily and making their voice heard in projects which impact on them. This is what grassroots democracy and the Combined Authority is all about.

Our economic recovery must have a green thread running through it. The establishment this year of an Independent Climate Change Commission chaired and led by experts in their field is part of our commitment to that goal. Online consultations and call for evidence this year will feed into its recommendations, due to be published in February 2021.

Early in the year we finalised our Local Transport Plan which for the first time detailed how we would deliver a world-class transport network for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, focussed on sustainable growth and opportunity for all. I was delighted to launch the E-scooter pilot in Cambridge alongside our partner Voi, encouraging an alternative to car travel and helping reduce congestion and carbon emissions, with the potential for this to roll out further. The new year will see the launch of E-bikes in Peterborough and Cambridge.  On public transport, I have lobbied for and received financial support for our bus networks and we have trialled new schemes and funded new bus routes connecting Cambourne to Addenbrookes and connecting St Neots and Cambourne to Cambridge Science Park.

Then there is the huge progression with the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro, including  setting up the delivery company ‘One CAM Limited’, to give the project the dedicated focus and expertise needed for delivery. We have attracted some outstanding talent to its board, including appointing one of the world’s most eminent civil engineers, Lord Robert Mair CBE, as Chair. The Board’s combined knowledge and experience will be transformational for the scheme. We also launched a challenge to the brightest and best engineers and designers to develop conceptual designs for how the CAM should operate, including what the vehicles should be used.  We will be revealing those designs early in the spring.

Better local rail is vital if we want to reduce car use, and we have worked with Network Rail to accelerate the delivery of Soham Station, delivered improvements to March Station, advanced the long awaited rail link to Wisbech and moved forward the essential Ely North Junction improvements. And Government announced in its March budget that Cambridge South, one of our priority rail projects, would be funded for delivery.

On wider matters, and as I write, I am hopeful of positive news regarding a Brexit deal. We have been helping businesses prepare throughout the year by providing business support, running awareness campaigns to cascade Central Government announcements and signposting businesses across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to national resources including sector-specific checklists, guidance on new regulations and free webinars.

Through our Business Board we have fully allocated Local Growth Fund funding with 16 projects completed so far, unlocking 892 new jobs.

And finally I wanted to talk about the Combined Authority’s response to Covid-19. Here we have really shown how we can adapt and dig deep to support people, the local economy and its businesses by targeting the support they need as well as working closely with our regional partners to share public health messaging and signpost to support.

I have worked with local MPs and Government, calling for support for the local economy and business. We set up an Economic Recovery Strategy Group out of which came our Local Economic Recovery Strategy – our ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Combined Authority announced a number of COVID-19 grants back in April and we have now supported 132 businesses and awarded £5.5 million in grants, deployed £1.5 million funding towards the safe reopening of Cambridge and Peterborough city centres as well as offering emergency Market Town support grants.  I have spent the last four months visiting these business and hearing about the difference we have made. Last week I was at Cambridge Dial-a-Ride which provides transport for those who have difficulty accessing public transport, and Lakeside Golf Club which wants to become more of a community hub. The resilience and ingenuity of our business community is strong.

We know Christmas and New Year celebrations can’t be the same this year. But however you celebrate this holiday period, the one thing I will do is pause and reflect on the collective effort and resilience of everyone across this region and come back in the New Year rested and renewed. I will start next year determined to continue this forward momentum, to engage, listen and show how, even in the most trying circumstances, we can continue to make this region an even better place to live, learn and work.

My family and I wish you and your loved ones the very best for 2021.

Mayor James Palmer.

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