End to £100k homes - but pledge to find a better way to deliver affordable homes as new mayor takes office
Just days after his surprise victory over former Mayor, James Palmer, the Combined Authority’s new Mayor Dr Nik Johnson has enjoyed his first day in office.
Speaking from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s Mayoral Office in Ely, Mayor Johnson announced how his schedule will be initially divided: “There were no little notes of advice from outgoing Mayor Palmer, no hidden stash of toffees under the desk, just his words of congratulations from the weekend after what was a very closely fought race.
“I have to say on Saturday evening I was so exhausted by it all, the large celebrations we’d planned were scaled-down somewhat and I enjoyed a lovely evening with my wife – who I had to apologise to for not phoning when I’d won – my children, family and close friends.
“On Sunday, when I got up, I was treated to a round of applause from my neighbours which was unexpected and very kind.
“I then had a text from Sir Keir Starmer congratulating me on the campaign and wishing me all the best in my new role.
“I have to admit that at first I thought it was a spoof message from one of my medical colleagues, so I wrote back saying ‘I hope this isn’t a joke and really from the Leader of the Labour Party’.
“It was real; and Sir Keir acknowledged again my win, saying that he was looking forward to working with me and that we should meet and talk very soon.
“And to be honest that is how I want to work – in cooperation with everybody to get this job done. Nobody knows more than I do the challenges that lay ahead; but for me that it precisely why I took up this role in the first place, not because it will be easy, but because it’s a challenge that I genuinely feel I can commit to and do something for the people of Cambridgeshire.
“I’ve already made contact with the members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to see what a member of local government can do to help, perhaps going somewhere no other Mayor has been able to in the past.
“In balancing the work that I do now, and what I need to do in the future, will be, as I’ve already mentioned, very challenging; but at least in that I’m not unique.
“Just look at Dr Caroline Johnson, Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham. Not only do we share the same surname, but Dr Johnson is also a Paediatrician and a public servant.
“She manages to balance the roles of being a busy medical officer and member of Parliament, so why shouldn’t I?
“Initially, I intend to spend half a morning each week taking care of my responsibilities as a Paediatrician at North West Anglian NHS Foundation Trust (NWAFT), where my duties cover three enormous hospitals at Peterborough City, Addenbrookes and Hinchingbrooke.
“That’ll give me the remaining six and a half days in the week to commit to my role as Mayor of the Combined Authority.
“Obviously, NWAFT are very excited about having the Metro Mayor as part of their team, but equally they understand that my life will now change rapidly from the position that I have undertaken with them in the past.
“While it’s vital that I keep my medical hand on the pulse – pardon the pun – I also have a new responsibility to look after the needs of the people of Cambridgeshire who have put their trust in me through this election process.”
The new Mayor, who says he would like to be addressed as ‘Mayor Dr Nik Johnson’, of the Labour and Cooperative Party, talked more of his first day in office:
“It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind really, but the very competent staff here at the Combined Authority in Ely have made me feel very welcome indeed, and I met with all of them both together as a group, and individually today.
“I have to say that they’ve made me feel as if I am part of the family already, and I feel more cared for than in any new position I’ve taken up before.
“I’m also delighted that they have all genuinely taken on-board my belief in the three ‘c’s – Compassion, Cooperation and Community for all and will be working with me to deliver them.”
Turning to the task of the Combined Authority, Mayor Dr Johnson already has plans that he intends to implement straight away:
“I will be scrapping the £100k homes project with almost immediate effect. I’ve always struggled to understand the model, and now not only with funding from central government waning, we have calls of concern from members within Westminster.
“I will look at how we can move forward with the existing parts of the project that are beyond recall, and look to deliver those houses that exist in one form or another; but I want to curtail the process quickly so that I can look at other ways to deliver socially affordable housing.
“It’s also my intention to do away with the CAM-Metro scheme. In all honesty, I’ve never seen it as a sustainable transport system and it’s not going to be a part of our long-term plans here anymore.
“Obviously, I don’t want all the work done up to this stage to go to waste, and so one of my transport teams’ priorities will be to look at what parts are salvageable and what parts can be transferred as information to tackle wider transport problems.
“But giving Cambridge a bespoke, extraordinarily expensive metro transportation system that simply cannot function or be funded in the future is gone.
“I know that policy will disappoint some. The vision of a linked-transport network some sunny day far off in the future that would potentially bring together some of the outer-laying villages and towns as far as the new Alconbury development and perhaps even as far as Peterborough, is nothing more than that – a vision. It can’t and won’t be funded further.
“But I do believe that Peterborough especially has transport needs different to Cambridge, and they must be addressed.
“I have already put on record to the people of Peterborough that I am 100 per cent behind the transport issues of that city as it grows.
“However, while it is far too early to put ideas into concrete plans for transportation throughout the region, let me say this – I do recognise that particular challenge for Peterborough, just as I recognise it for Cambridge and the Market Towns.
“That’s why I will be working with the very best transportation specialists to bring an affordable and sustainable transportation system that can deliver on the expectations of the people of Cambridgeshire, and moreover work for them on a sustainable basis.
“I want to build a transportation infrastructure based on innovative pricing, using digital technology to bring the bus and train systems up to date, dovetailing with time-table apps that suit the users, not the providers, and at the same time giving 18–25-year-olds a tempting pricing system that will bring them back to public transport.
“We need to use our buses more, we need to encourage all public transport systems, green transport systems, so that the peoples of the villages and hamlets are served properly and can reach the cities to fulfil their need to get to and from work, education, healthcare – and with prices even somebody on Universal Credit can afford.
“Over the past year and a half, and very much driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Combined Authority has moved from having multiple homes – meetings in each of the district and city council’s offices, to a home in Alconbury that was too expensive and so remote nobody wanted to go there, to a position now where we’re effectively homeless.
“The costs of that exercise cannot be underestimated, and for the time being at least we will continue to meet online until it is safe for us to conduct our meetings face-to-face again.
“But as I sit here in my new office in Ely today, looking out on the splendour of this beautiful city, my initial impressions are that we do have a home… and it’s right here.
“While I won’t be driven to make change for changes sake, and I appreciate perhaps more than most that we’re in a transitional state at the moment with the challenges of Covid-19 not over yet, I will of course be considering the permanent home for the Combined Authority.
“As far as Combined Authority meetings in the future go they will far more transparent, the public and media will be welcomed to all meetings including the Business Board who, in the past, have conducted their affairs in private, leading to calls from both quarters as to what was so secret it needed to be hidden from gaze.
“From now on, with the exception of sensitive matters that do not need to be made public, all meetings will be open.
“I also want to build a bridge back to the members of the Greater Cambridge Partnership which has had its connections to the Combined Authority tested to breaking-point over the past few years.
“We need to work together. It’s as simple as that. But at the same time, we need to be transparent with one another if we’re going to deliver on the expectations of the people of Cambridge and, on a wider scale, the people of Cambridgeshire.
“Everybody who has listened to me during my campaign knows that I have a vision of a ‘Greater Cambridgeshire’, and this, along with my commitment to the three ‘c’s of Compassion, Cooperation and Community for all is at the core of my plans, going forward.
“I want this Greater Cambridgeshire to be the County of Culture, I want Peterborough to deliver on the Environmental Capital of the Country.
“There’s a great deal of work to be done, and now I need to be getting on with it.”