My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, for securing this short debate on an important topic. I declare my interest as a resident of Cambridge.
I draw the Minister’s attention, and that of the House, to an important proposal developed by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and its leader, James Palmer, for the Cam Metro, and ask the Minister to support this innovative and ambitious plan. I am told that there are more jobs than people in Cambridge, and I know from experience that the university, Cambridge colleges and the science parks that ring the city are finding it increasingly difficult to attract bright young researchers to Cambridge because of the cost of housing in the city and the poor transport infrastructure. Researchers with young families are being forced to live further and further out of Cambridge in order to afford appropriate homes, and face long commutes, increasingly beyond reasonable cycling distance, by car and bus.
This is not healthy for the city, which is surrounded by blocked roads each morning and vehicles contributing to poor air quality and climate change. It is not healthy for families, when commuting steals so much family time, and it is not healthy for the colleges and the accidental exchanges that can lead to new ideas when young academics no longer participate in college life. The traffic in Cambridge is also making it a less appealing destination for tourists, who make an important contribution to the local and national economy.
The combined authority is developing plans for the Cam Metro: a 160-mile route including six miles of tunnels under Cambridge. It is expected to create 100,000 jobs and support the building of a further 60,000 homes in the area, while taking 44% of cars and 18% of buses off the roads in and around the city. It will link the university, science parks, including Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the Royal Papworth Hospital and the biomedical campus, with railway stations and villages out to St Neots and developments at Mildenhall and Haverhill.
The Cam Metro will be innovative. My noble friend Lord Mair, a world-leading civil engineer whose research covers tunnels and stability, has been involved in developing plans for the tunnels, which would showcase sensors and techniques developed by his research centre. The metro would be a fully autonomous, clean, battery electric-powered wheeled tram system running on a dedicated tarmac route, so avoiding the major costs of conventional tram and train infrastructure. The cost of the scheme is estimated to be about £4 billion—far cheaper than any other road or light or heavy rail solutions. It would unlock the important further growth of the region and be linked to east-west rail to support the London, Stansted and Cambridge innovation corridor.
I ask the Minister to offer the Government’s support for this exciting and innovative plan, which would help to ensure that the region can continue to attract the best and brightest young researchers and their families to contribute to innovation and economic growth in the UK.