My Vision of Cambridge in 2020
For anyone considering what Cambridge will look like in a decade’s time the city’s fringes, currently designated as development sites, have to be prime consideration. We’ve seen development in the North at Arbury Park building on other sites round the city is getting ever closer; though the fate of the Airport site appears to still in the balance, and I think the airport, and Marshall shouldn’t be pushed out of the city. There are still key decisions related to if and how those developments take place which can be influenced by this year’s elections.
We mustn’t build poor quality sprawling housing around the edge of the city; we mustn’t repeat the mistakes of Arbury Park. Genuine mixed use extensions of the city are what I think is required and what I’d like to see well underway by 2020. We must not allow developers to cherry pick the profitable elements of developments; on Arbury park the proposed commercial units weren’t built, on the CB1 development we’re seeing developers attempt to make a quick buck from the highly profitable student accommodation avoiding making their due contributions to the city’s infrastructure. We shouldn’t allow the current economic conditions to push us into building poor quality housing, we should wait, until we can afford to expand the city in a way which does it justice. The way we plan our cities needs reform; planning needs to be an inclusive and democratic process. Strategic vision needs to have a greater place. That will require a change in the law.
When we build new homes they need to form part of the same market as the existing properties in the city. We need to tackle the underlying problems of property prices being too high as multiple of income. Providing so called “affordable housing” doesn’t address the supply and demand imbalance; and supply and demand is only one factor in making housing unaffordable. Excessive borrowing driving up prices is another. Simply building houses alone is not going to be enough to solve the city and country’s housing problems.
I’d like to see Cambridge send a representative to Parliament to argue that investment in transport infrastructure ought follow new housing. That isn’t happening at the moment. Members of all the main political parties have been involved in the attempt to impose a congestion charge experiment on Cambridge as a condition on us getting the investment in our transport infrastructure by national government which needs to accompany the new homes being built in the city.
Upgrading the A14 is critical for Cambridge; the opportunity for the nation to invest a significant sum; this will bring massive economic benefits to Cambridge as it will more effectively link us with the rest of the country. The current road is unsafe, costs lives, and journey times are unpredictable.
I would like to see less road freight on the A14; I think need to make sure we’re spending our hard earned foreign exchange wisely, and I think we could encourage more freight to be brought into other ports around the country, for example into Swansea and the Mersey ports, and the new port in Thurrock, so goods are landed closer to their destinations.
A key reason we need the new homes, and improved transport infrastructure in Cambridge is to assist the UK in trading its way out of the economic situation a decade of Labour recklessness has left us in. As a country we need a strategy focused on generating income abroad to pay back our domestic and overseas debts. Key parts of that will be tourism, higher education, and the high tech and knowledge based industries; all sectors where Cambridge has a significant national role to play.
I think Cambridge’s major contribution to the future of the planet, the national economy and in taking steps to reduce our dependence on largely imported oil and gas comes from the universities, and the high-tech industries in the region. We should focus on supporting those sectors, and not on making Cambridge a less practical place and more expensive place to live and do business as a result of misguided and relatively inconsequential attempts to save energy.
My vision for Cambridge in a decade’s time involves Cambridge University remaining a world class institution. I don’t think that’s a given. Access has to be on merit, to achieve that we have to get rid of tuition fees for UK students doing first degrees. We need to strengthen the university as an independent and democratic institution I think a key part of that is ensuring is a strong student union keeping standards high. I worry that the current situation where we in the UK can export our higher education won’t last if we don’t take steps to keep the quality high; the Chinese aren’t stupid, they’re not going to carry on paying over the odds for a second rate education.
A lot of crime and anti-social behaviour in Cambridge is down to younger people without enough to do; one thing I’d like to see is all those under eighteen given opportunities to be in full time education, work or training; too often those taking non-academic routes are only engaged for a few hours a week. Policing and civil liberties are areas where I’m personally very worried about where we could end up in a decade’s time; with ID cards, all police carrying TASERs, and more oppressive policing. I want to see everything possible done to retain policing by consent, appropriate and limited use of force. I am very concerned about the direction the county is currently taking. I want to see the policing strategy under firm democratic oversight at the local, regional and national level.
Lastly, while higher education is synonymous with this city it is education in early years which has the greatest potential to change lives and produce the kind of city and country I want to see – one which is meritocratic and all have as equal opportunities to succeed. Education is the most important tool to do that; it’s also the most important way of securing the future of the country in all other ways too from health through economy to the environment, we need a well educated population so that we make good decisions and so we’re in a position to compete internationally. The aim being to make Cambridge and the UK a place where we can enjoy happy worthwhile and healthy lives.
- My comments on East Cambridge / The Airport Site
- Cambridge Parliamentary Hustings Focusing on Growth – October 2009 (see the “My Views” section)
- Arbury Park North Edge Design Brief.
- My articles on policing, TASER, cycling, the A14 and other subjects available via the links.
- My views on university governance.