Azara Blog: London commuters are a problem for Cambridge

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Date published: 2006/11/01

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Commuters who live in Cambridge and work in London have been blamed for a housing crisis in the region.

Housing experts and campaigners joined members of the public to discuss the housing needs of Cambridgeshire and neighbouring counties, and the Government's plans for half a million new homes in the region.

In a heated debate at Cambridge Guildhall, organised by housing charity Shelter, experts were united in insisting more homes were needed in the region, but divided about how many should be built and who should benefit.

John Reynolds, chairman of the regional planning panel, and deputy leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said commuters who lived in Cambridge but worked elsewhere were sapping the local economy.

He said: "Many people still live very long distances from where they work, which is an issue of real concern in Cambridge.

People who live in the city but work in London are taking huge sums of money out of our region's economy, which is something we have to try to tackle.

"The Cambridge area has been identified by the Government as a major driver of the UK economy, and if we are having 478,000 new homes built in our region we have to ensure those homes go to people who work here too."

Mary Edwards, from Cambridge Friends of the Earth, said commuters were also damaging the environment, and claimed targets for 478,000 new homes were being driven by the need to house London workers rather than those in need in Cambridgeshire.

London commuters do push up house prices in Cambridge, as everywhere else anywhere near London. In Cambridge it often happens that one partner works in Cambridge and the other in London, and that is a mitigating circumstance.

Reynolds is wrong to say these commuters are "sapping the local economy", since they are probably spending more of their income in Cambridge than in London. (Indeed, how well would Waitrose and other posh stores be doing without all the rich London commuters shopping there.) So the biggest decrement is for London itself, as in all other big cities of the world where commuters flee to the suburbs after work.

And Friends of the Earth has got some cheek. The so-called environmentalists spend most of their time saying that car drivers should be screwed and that public transport passengers (which most London commuters from Cambridge are) should be subsidised to the Nth degree. This is the root of the problem. London commuters are not paying the true cost of their transport, so are living further from London than otherwise would be the case. The more you subsidise trains, the further commuters move from London and the bigger the problem becomes. So FoE should campaign for all public transport subsidies to stop.

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