Lib Dem candidate shares vision to get Cambridgeshire 'back on course'
- Credit: Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrat candidate to be Cambridgeshire’s mayor has launched his manifesto, strongly criticising the incumbent and saying the mayoralty needs to get “back on course”.
Aidan Van de Weyer, deputy leader at Lib Dem-run South Cambridgeshire District Council and a former chair of the Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership, released his manifesto on April 14, claiming to have a vision for a “greener and fairer” county.
The ballot for the directly elected mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will be held on May 6, alongside other local elections.
The mayor will lead the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, with powers and significant funding affecting areas including education, economic strategy, affordable housing and a strong influence on transport.
In a statement launching the Liberal Democrat manifesto, Cllr Van de Weyer took aim at the current mayor, Conservative James Palmer, and alleged “cronyism”.
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He said: “I am setting out my vision to create a greener and fairer county.
“I will stand up for the most vulnerable, for young people hit by the pandemic, for people without a decent home.
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“This is our chance to end the cronyism and the wastefulness of James Palmer and the Conservatives.
“Palmer has achieved so little in four years, but his spending has spiralled; his office costs are over £5 million per year, not £850,000 as he promised.
“He has handed over £12 million to consultants for the imaginary tunnels of his CAM Metro project and he has given taxpayer-funded jobs to four former Tory councillors.
“And now James Palmer has lost £45 million of government housing funding from his own party, meaning hundreds of families from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough stand to lose the chance of a new home.
“We can’t let Palmer have another four years. We need to get the Combined Authority back on course.”
Cllr Van de Weyer says he would replace Mayor Palmer’s vision for a metro with a “realistic mass rapid transit system”.
The current CAM metro proposal has no agreed concept design, technology, or exact routes.
However, the current mayor has articulated a vision that would see a network that could extend across the county, including underground tunnels in Cambridge and rubber-tyre autonomous vehicles.
Cllr Van de Weyer has not proposed a specific alternative, and his manifesto says he will “work quickly to establish a new plan for a mass rapid transit and start implementing it”.
While he is critical of the progress made on the metro so far, he said it also means there is a chance to change strategy to focus away from “untested” technologies and a tunnelled-based approach to Cambridge city centre.
He said Mayor Palmer “has given us the opportunity to rethink this now, by his incompetence”, saying the project has effectively “started from scratch” in recent months.
Cllr Van de Weyer said his vision for mass rapid transport is for it to be a “surface-by-default” system, and will learn from transport systems in similar sized-areas elsewhere, but that he is “not against tunnelling as a possibility”.
He said: “I want to move away from having tunnels as an essential part of the plan.”
On affordable housing, another large policy area for the Combined Authority, Cllr Van de Weyer said he will prioritise secure rent over shared ownership, ensure minimum space standards are met, and end the current administration’s £100K Homes scheme.
The idea behind the scheme is to offer homes to buy for £100,000 by discounting the price, and for the discount to stay with the property through future sales.
Critics from Labour and the Liberal Democrats have questioned how effective it will be, as the area is widely accepted as being in need of more housing, and the £100K homes scheme has so far delivered eight homes.
Cllr Van De Weyer also aims to “re-establish the confidence that the Combined Authority, led by me, can deliver affordable houses on time and to budget” following criticism on its wider affordable housing programme and the withholding of nearly half the funds by government.
Other policy proposals in Cllr Van de Weyer’s manifesto include:
– Delivering an investment strategy for the transition to zero carbon
– Supporting the interim recommendations of the Combined Authority’s Independent Commission on Climate
– Supporting the Fen’s UNESCO Biosphere designation
– Working to progress plans for a Peterborough South station
– “Looking again” at the case for new stations north of Peterborough and Alconbury Weald
– Work with other organisations to assess options for reopening the Cambridge-Haverhill railway line
Cllr Van de Weyer also said he will install “better” and “safer” routes for cyclists, help small businesses through the pandemic and “boost” apprenticeships and post-16 education.
In response to Cllr Van de Weyer’s criticisms, Mayor Palmer said: “When politicians put forward a manifesto that has no ideas or policies whatsoever, they hide their weakness and failure by attacking others.
“In my first term I have invested into every community, creating new opportunities and jobs through direct investment and business support.”
He said the Combined Authority “has funded and delivered Peterborough University, the King’s Dyke crossing and Soham Station, projects long discussed and hoped for are now a reality.”
He said the £100K Homes policy “will deliver the homes people want”, and added he is proud of his achievements as mayor and “more than happy” to put those to the public to decide.