Mayor makes first speech at the Future Fens Taskforce

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Mayor makes first speech at the Future Fens Taskforce

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson made his first speech at the Future Fens Taskforce yesterday (19th May 2021)

Hello everyone. I’m Dr Nik Johnson. People know me as Dr Nik and since May 10 the Mayor of the Combined Authority. I’m delighted to be able to join you at this Future Fens event, the first formal event I have been able to attend as Mayor. I wanted to make time in my diary for this as I very much support the ambitions of the Future Fens programme and the benefits, I believe, it can bring for the environment, for the communities across the fens, and for the local, regional and national economy.

It really is music – perhaps I should say water music – to my ears to hear about the planned holistic approach towards managing water resources across the Fens. And that is why I am so grateful to be given the chance to speak to you all today and discover a little bit about the Future Fens project. At the heart of my campaign for the Mayoralty was my commitment to the 3 Cs of cooperation, community and compassion. I also spoke a lot about what could be a fourth “C” is Climate, where there is now near-universal acceptance of the urgent need to make changes to the way we live and work to both adapt to the realities of climate change and mitigate further harm.

And one of the reasons I am so excited about this project is that I see its potential to open up huge potential to make progress on all 4 of these Cs. In what is at its very heart a project of collaboration – water companies, the Environment Agency, Water Resources East with all of its partners, with support from local authorities, local MPs and from the Mayor and Combined Authority.

It was the 17th Century writer, vicar – and Cambridge University graduate – Thomas Fuller who memorably wrote that: “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” Some 400 years after he penned those words of wisdom we now find that Cambridgeshire is at a new watery tipping point. There is a huge irony that whilst the visual impact of riverside communities blighted by widespread Christmas flooding after a 140% more rainfall than usual has prompted a call for collaborative action across agencies and local councils, the converse problem of Cambridgeshire’s worsening “water stressed” status has not had the recognition it deserves.

Be it too much or be it too little, the importance of water management resources has never been so important as it is today.

From the revolutionary design of Hobson’s Conduit to Vermuyden’s wide scale draining of our Fens, the health and economic fortunes of our communities have been directly linked to an understanding of how to  manage the aquatic resource it is far too easy to take for granted. I believe The Mayor with the Combined Authority Executive has an important role to play in recognising that challenge. This work brings together the A47 and flood management that the Combined Authority is working on. It is ongoing to find solutions for water supply to Greater Cambridge. And the Fenland Peat Committee set up by the Independent Climate Commission recommendations is now established to take a look at this issue.

At the heart of the solution, I believe, is a willingness to collaborate and embrace change in local district and county council development policy, coupled with a readiness to work alongside the statutory bodies, such as the Environment agency and privately owned water companies.

With the economic benefits of growth in residential, industrial and business developments comes the primary responsibility to protect our local environment.

I grew up in rural Northumberland and although the topography and soil, the farming and the countryside are very different here in the East, I am at heart still the young boy, a young ornithologist and and would be David Bellamy, who recognises the beauty and importance of the natural world around us.

I want my 3 children to group up in a world where we recognise the economic and spiritual value of the environment. Short term economic growth counts for nothing if the longer term damage leads to a greater cost for all. I believe the Combined Authority should lead by example and set a target for our region to become the number one “water saving” area in the country. At the same time individual responsibility has to be encouraged through wide spread advice and education on using water efficiently and economically.

I believe that with cooperation across the board we can find the solutions to these problems in the growing “water scarcity” crisis facing our modern day communities. In the same way that Cambridgeshire was able to navigate a solution to these problems in the past, I believe that with cooperation across we can find the solutions once more for our modern day communities but only with the constant reminder of the wisdom of Thomas Fuller.

I want to see thriving communities across our region, and I think this project can unlock the wonderful potential of the Fens, enabling:

  • Better economic prospects for all
  • Greater aspiration levels among young people
  • Much needed enhanced transport links to and from the Fens, and more sustainable and affordable housing

I am no expert in water management but as a St Neots resident I am no stranger to the problems that flooding can bring to our communities, as we have seen this winter. And I know it needs many agencies to work better together reduce those risk for the future – and to do so as a matter of urgency. The collaborative approach being shown today is something I want to support as a means of ending the  misery of those affected by floods.

So, in finishing, can I say again how pleased I am to be able to be here to make my own contribution to this effort, to join with Steve Barclay in signalling my and the Combined Authority’s support for this inspiring programme of work, and to hear now from the real experts!

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