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One year on from the election of a Cambridge and Peterborough Mayor, an influential commission is asking some thought provoking questions about this area’s future economic development and prosperity.  Ben Green, who heads up the Barker Storey Matthews agency team in its Cambridge office, puts his property thinking-cap on.

This month has seen the publication of the Cambridge & Peterborough Independent Economic Commission’s (CPIEC) interim report.  Mercifully reduced to acronyms, the CPIEC’s interim report in shorthand is known as the CPIER.

The dense, 31-page report is as wide ranging as it is deep thinking in its consideration of some of the key questions this contrasting, some might say contrary, county of Cambridgeshire needs to ask itself if it is to remain as economically dynamic.

CPIEC’s Commissioners are, undoubtedly, big hitters in civic, academic and commercial life.  Such big hitters are not afraid to tackle difficult issues. 

They offer evidence-based comment and extensive data in asking direct questions about population demographics, education provision and attainment, social capital, electricity supply, flooding, productivity as well as the old chestnuts of housing, infrastructure improvements and land supply.

With Barker Storey Matthews offices serving the regional corridor under the CPIEC’s consideration in Cambridge, Huntingdon and Peterborough - and, in looking at the CPIEC diagram of commuter flows to work in the region - Bury St Edmunds, there was one particular question which piqued our interest.

How much is a lack of available premises hindering business growth? Similarly, is access to finance a significant problem?

To answer the second question first and simply: It is not a problem presently because there are few investment options, other than propert, offering steady returns.  Whether this will remain the scenario when the current interest rate regime changes is the moot point.

The answer to the first point is a qualifed yes. 

Speaking from a macro Cambridge city view, the office and laboratory development pipeline has almost dried up.  There is little built and available to meet the demand.  Those buildings with consent for development are mainly pre-let already.  But appetite remains to locate here or, from indigenous companies, to remain and grow here.

For the future, agents are looking to the CB4 area development around Cambridge North Station and redevelopment of the nearby sewage treatment works.  However there are constraints to development here and timing for delivery is unclear.

There are pockets of industrial strength, we have referenced before.  We wait to see what comes through in the new settlements of Northstowe and Waterbeach where housing will take first priority.  Large industrial occupiers in the region, naturally, look to Huntingdon and Peterborough to provide.

In the CPIER, we have a document that is asking some uncomfortable but necessary questions.  These need to be answered sooner rather than later if this region is to support the target of almost doubling its current economic output in 25 years from now.

Sages have commented that Cambridge has been at a crossroads for a good number of years now.  Perhaps the final CPIEC report will give us the blueprint to power policies to propel the Cambridge and Peterborough region forward as an amalgamated entity.

From a commercial property point of view, the most outstanding questions, when boiled down, are: Is the region destined to become an homogenised Cambridge conurbation serving the needs of the one city and characterised only by its growth and that of its sub South-Cambridgshire district?  Or do areas such as Huntingdon, Peterborough, Fenland and even West Suffolk have something different but equally as valuable to contribute in shoring up and sharing out this region’s prosperity in the coming decades?