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Billions for transport and chance to keep its stamp duty

Tue 01 Mar 2016

The 'tri-county' devolution proposals could include major new powers over transport, housing and taxation.

A flood of new powers including a Transport for London-style regional transport board, retaining stamp duty and a 'development corporation' are among the ideas in the melting pot for the 'tri-county' devolution deal.

The raft of extra powers for local authorities in the proposed 'Eastern Powerhouse' have been revealed in a draft document leaked to the Norfolk-based Eastern Daily Press (EDP).

But the promise of extra powers continues to do little to satisfy local politicians and businesses.

City MP Daniel Zeichner came out yesterday with his strongest condemnation yet of the proposals, with fellow Labour politician Cllr Ashley Walsh said Cambridge does not need "Boris Johnson with a pitchfork".

The EDP reports that the draft document outlines proposals in the areas of planning, housing, transport and tax raising.

Local authorities would reportedly be able to keep half the stamp duty raised in their area; impose 'tourism taxes' or room levies, and keep 100 per cent of their business rates.

Chancellor George Osborne has previously announced a plan that would see local authorities keep all their business rates by 2020.

On transport, the leaked document proposes a 'Transport for the East' transport board covering Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk; control of investment in roads and railway, with new abilities to raise funds for infrastructure through things like issuing bonds; Oyster-card style ticketing, and extra responsibility for managing and maintaining roads, including traffic signals.

The document also reportedly talks of new transport links to major new housing growth at Mildenhall and Wisbech.

The Government has recently unveiled plans for 10,000 new homes in a 'garden town' at Wisbech, to take the pressure off Cambridge, while RAF Mildenhall is likely to see significant housing growth once the US air force moves out in the coming years.

Other powers include a new 'development corporation' to assemble land for major new development, and with planning powers to grant planning permission.

There is talk of an extra £1 billion for the region over the next two years, a 30-year multi-billion pound "Investment Fund for the East", and the creation of a new construction college.

Mr Zeichner told the News he would be at a meeting with MPs and council leaders at Westminster this morning o discuss the deal, adding: "My view is that the key elements asked for in the Case for Cambridge must remain the focus for any changes.

"This feels like a very rushed political fix, rather than a properly thought-through way forward, which is what we actually need."

Some 23 councils from across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire are involved in the potential deal, with efforts by Essex to join in having been rebuffed by the Government.

Ministers are said to have set a deadline of Friday by which to get it over the line.

City council leader Cllr Lewis Herbert, meanwhile, said he has found similar disquiet among potential devolution deals around the country given this short timescale imposed by Whitehall.

"The potential for effective devolution and agreement is proving non-deliverable in most - but not all - cases in too short timescale, and joint working has often suffered under that timing strain rather than prospered," he said.

Cambridgeshire County Council deputy leader, Cllr Mac McGuire, added: "There has been some useful and positive meetings between us, partners and Government representatives. We will continue talking.

"Our main priority is what is best for the communities that we serve."

Written by Cambridge News, 01/03/2016, www.cambridge-news.co.uk

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