On Sunday the 15th of November I joined a group of over fifty people who walked around Marshall Airport in Cambridge to show support for the company carrying on flying from the airport. It was a fabulously warm and sunny day despite it being mid-November.
Marshall is a fantastic company, which I think is clearly a huge asset to both Cambridge and the UK. I find it absolutely shocking that many of our current elected representatives are pushing for the airport site to be taken over by homes, and that councils are considering things such as a congestion charge and a business rate supplement which will be damaging to this valuable organisation. I think the city needs to be working together with all businesses to make Cambridge an attractive and prosperous place.
Locally the main proponents of building homes on the airport site are the city’s Liberal Democrats, particularly Sian Reid their Executive Councillor for Climate Change and Growth (who also spearheads the City Lib Dem’s campaign against upgrading the A14). The Local Labour Party organised the walk around; they are strong supporters of the Marshall business and those who work there. All three main parties have had some role to play in bringing the current situation about, with the Labour Government’s housing policy as embraced by the Conservative County Council being a major factor in the process.
It is Liberal Democrat policy to build new homes on the outskirts of the city in developments like Arbury Park, and they appear happy to push Marshall out. The Liberal Democrat position, as expressed at the October City Council Full Council Meeting, and at a recent parliamentary hustings is that “No one is forcing Marshall to move” and that “Marshall are in the driving seat with respect to the future plans”. Marshall have in turn stated that they will act in their own interests and will not be pushed. However by including the airport site in the Local Plan the Liberal Democrats have increased the value of the land, at the recent parliamentary hustings Ian Nimmo-Smith stated that the airport site is now worth £1.5 billion. It is the opportunity to realise this potential value from the land which could result in Marshall making a commercial decision to move out of the city. Despite a century of close connections with the city the company may also decide it doesn’t want to base its operations somewhere where, judging by the actions those who residents have elected to represent them, they appear not to be wanted.
Letters between Marshall and Cambridgeshire Horizons reveal that Marshall has been conducting a UK wide search into possible sites for relocating its business.
I spotted Daniel Zeichner towards the end of the walk. Having listened to him speak at the recent hustings event I concluded he was largely in support of the current government policy on housing targets (though he has opposed, quite rightly in my view, the introduction of private companies to provide social housing). I agree with his comments on Cambridge East in that transport infrastructure needs to be at the heart of proposals for new housing developments, and that hasn’t been the case with respect to the airport site.
Cambridge East Delivery Board
A secretive organisation called the Cambridge East Delivery Board has been set up to manage the “project” of building houses on the airport site. This organisation does not meet in public, it doesn’t publish the details of its meetings and is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. As Cambridge City Council is represented on the board I used mySociety’s freedom of information site WhatDoTheyKnow.com to ask the council for details of the board’s meetings. As a result papers (agenda, minutes, reports) for all meetings of the Cambridge East Delivery Board since its inauguration in June 2008 have now been made available online. The project appears to have been going slowly as only three meetings have been held despite a more rapid pace being intended.
One item revealed in the latter papers is a proposal for an Arts and Cultural centre comparable with the Bournemouth International Centre to be included in the plans. This may have been introduced in response to the Conservative party’s policy, as expressed by local ex-Candidate Richard Normington, to bribe areas to accept housing development in return for such “facilities”. The cultural centre could be intended as an attempt to keep the plans to build on the airport alive if the Conservatives enter government and enact their policies.
Marshall Debate at the City Council
Introducing a motion at the October Full Council meeting Cllr Dryden highlighted some facts about the Marshall workforce:
- Twenty Five families have given the company a combined service of more than 100 years; with one family clocking up a combined 210 years
- A quarter of the workforce is under 30, and 600 are under 25
Cllr Dryden also praised the quality of the training Marshall gives its staff and the work the company does in the city, for example in schools.
The whole council, including rather cynically the Liberal Democrats, unanimously agreed with the part of the motion which stated:
The Council congratulates Marshall of Cambridge on their centenary on 1st October 2009 and resolves to write to Mr Michael Marshall to thank the Marshall Group for their continued contributions to the city including operating successful Cambridge engineering businesses, providing much needed local jobs and apprenticeships, and also to pass on our best wishes for their next century as a major Cambridge employer.
During the debate at the full council meeting Cllr Ward (Arbury, Liberal Democrat), who flies private planes from the airport as a hobby, stated that should Marshall leave the airport site the elements of their operation which do not depend on the airport, will remain in the city. I wrote to him to ask:
Do you have any basis for making those comments? What fraction of jobs at Marshall do you expect to remain in the city if your party’s policies come to fruition and houses are built on the airport?
He replied :
I have heard no suggestion that Marshall intend to move either the car businesses or the aerospace design business (which consists largely of people sitting in offices doing things with computers). (Just because there’s a line drawn round an area for planning purposes does *not* mean that everything pre-existing inside the line will be demolished.)
They have already moved the specialist vehicle businesses, as I understand it, and there is a proposal to move those businesses that rely on having a runway.
There are no doubt other parts of the Marshall empire with which I am not familiar.
During the walk the airport was swarming with police checking and sealing the drains. This activity is due to the fact the Queen will be flying into Marshall Airport on Thursday the 19th of
October November to visit Cambridge University. The Queen is visiting the university as part of the 800th Anniversary Celebrations, and she will upgrade the “Professorship of Botany” to the “Regius Professorship of Botany” while she is in the city. The effect of that will be that appointments to the post will no longer be made independently within the university but will be subject to approval by the monarch. (I think the university ought be a democratic, self-governing, institution and this is a step, albeit a ceremonial step, in the wrong direction.)
Building poor quality homes on the outskirts of the city does not make housing more affordable across the city. Property at Arbury Park is currently sitting unsold but the few properties in the rest of the city which do come on the market sell rapidly, this shows the new homes at Arbury Park have not effectivly increased the supply of property in the city; two different parallel markets are in operation. Subsidising housing, as much of the property at Orchard/Arbury is has effect of artificially raising underlying property prices and making housing less accessible and affordable overall. We need to focus reducing house prices as a multiple of income. One way to do that is through education and changing individuals attitude to debt and reducing people’s willingness to take on large mortgages.
I would like to see:
- Higher quality housing being built. There’s a need to build homes which are attractive and practical places to live and are economically and energy efficient.
- Better financial education, aimed at changing national attitudes to debt.
- In term of Cambridge I think high density development closer to the City Centre; say on the industrial and retail sites off Coldhams Lane (the Beehive centre) would be preferable to building on the airport.
- Housing growth should be focused where there is an economic need for it, and ought be accompanied by central Government transport infrastructure investment.
- Marshall of Cambridge – A Centenary Celebration
- Cambridge Parliamentary Hustings for Growth – this includes more detail on my general views about housing growth in and around the city.
- Joint Cambridgeshire Regional Spatial Strategy Review Panel April 2009
- Coleridge Conservatives – Labour’s Regional Airport would wreck Coleridge
- The Red Arrows Visit Cambridge