Monday, September 29, 2008
The City Council's website will be updated with this information as soon as possible.
I was at a briefing meeting for Conservative Councillors earlier today with the shadow ministers responsible for all areas of local government. It sounds like there is a real commitment to giving power back to local people, and there will be more exciting announcements over the next days and weeks. The next general election must be held by June 2010 - it can't come soon enough.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
If a week is a long time in politics, what a difference a year makes. This time last year, Labour were miles ahead in the polls, and many commentators suggested the best David Cameron could hope for was to put off an early election. I never really agreed with that assessment - I had seen through Gordon Brown and New Labour spin a long time ago, and could scarcely believe it when Labour MPs allowed him to become leader without a challenge. Any sort of scrutiny of his record as chancellor during an election would see not just a deeply flawed individual, but an economy that was built on totally reckless borrowing - by both government and individuals, used to fund the expansion of a nanny state that has steadily trapped ever more people into dependence on means tested benefits, and that seeks to control ever more of our lives. Cameron is no novice, but it feels like anything would be better than a proven incompetent who doesn't even realise how and why his policies have contributed to the mess the economy is in at the moment. But after much nail biting indecision, the election was bottled and the rest is history. The next election is far from won for the Conservatives, but it certainly now looks possible that the Labour nightmare will soon be over.
For mere local delegates like myself, party conferences are more about networking and meeting friends than listening to big speeches. With possible Conservative government no more than about 18 months away, I am keen to know the shadow cabinet thinking on the key issues that affect local authorities, and the residents of Coleridge, and press the case for policies that will help here in Cambridge. Current local Councils are run for the most part as branch offices for national government, considering the financial meddling and target setting that governs almost everything Councils do. Personally I would like to see wholescale reform, abolishing all nationally set targets and obligations, replacing them with genuine local control to respond to local problems. Top of my hit list is Labour's attempts to blackmail Cambridgeshire into introducing congestion charging, and their central housing targets that would see thousands of homes dumped on East Cambridge regardless of local objections and the lack of transport infrastructure. There is also the scandalous £1.3m 'Cambridge Tax' that is the concessionary bus fare scheme and the way much of the rent from Cambridge Council tenants is shipped out to other parts of the Country under Labour's finance formulas. If I can get some of these messages across to the decision makers, I will have had a good conference...
Saturday, September 27, 2008
We need to be better at recycling, or to be more precise, we need to reduce the amount of waste we landfill. But the right way to do that is to make recycling easier and more convenient, and to work with manufacturers and companies to reduce the waste material produced in the first place.
Under Labour, there has been a different approach - extreme nannying by making it very difficult for Councils to retaining weekly collections to 'force' people into recycling, with a whole load of more sinister bullying like micro-chipped bins and new stealth taxes and fines planned so big brother can really try to control personally what people put into bins.
For people involved in local government, in a world of bureaucracy, strategies, plans, grants, partnerships, meetings, and services frequently directed at or used by small parts of the population, it is easy to forget that for large number of people the most readily identifiable service provided by local authorities is the collection of household refuse. And many people feel that by abolishing weekly collections the service levels they experience from their local Council have halved. I welcome the Conservatives latest announcement.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The result for Team Tory was mid-table mediocrity, but a good time was had by all. Many congratulations also to the team from Cantabrigensis Hash House Harriers. Despite winning the mixed team event for the second year running, their podium picture somehow failed to make the Cambridge Evening News (despite the presence of the Mayor, Cllr Mike Dixon in the centre). I can't imagine why...
This particular call for volunteers involves helping with the council-sponsored cold weather provision for rough sleepers - they would like to develop a pool of volunteers to work on a rota basis to help rough sleepers come in from the cold, that is expected to operate on freezing nights approximately 25-40 nights a year.
If you are interested, there is an open event at 3pm next Monday, 29th September, at Overstream House, Victoria Avenue, or contact them via details on their website.
Friday, September 19, 2008
So on Wednesday I met up with the Head of Streetscene at the City Council and one of our three Labour Councillors to discuss the problem, accompanied at various times by curious local residents. It was agreed the road cleaning is not currently adequate, and the Councillors will try to work together with the local residents association to get people to move their cars on a chosen Saturday afternoon to give it a proper clean, starting at the Cherry Hinton Road end. Lets hope the spirit of co-operation can continue!
Gutter cleaning is now done on a reactive basis to avoid problem roads going too long between cleaning sessions, so if there are any other roads in the ward that need gutter cleaning more regularly, please be in touch.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
This poll is very bad news for the Lib Dems, who most commentators expect to make significant losses at the next election. Its not surprising - I've had the misfortune of spending some time watching the Lib Dem conference and I really couldn't begin to guess what they stand for at the moment - are they high tax or low tax, big Government interference or trust the people small Government, pro-Euro or anti-Euro - you just have no idea listening to them this week.
They do however make ludicrous claims that they can make 9 out of 10 tax payers better off by taking more money from the other 10% (clue to any Lib Dems reading, this has been tried before in the 1960s/70s, it doesn't work, you end up with less tax revenue and some very nasty knock on effects on the rest of the economy - its all about Laffer Curves).
In view of the contradictory evidence, I'm guessing they are still the big nannying state party, who want to see ever more tax collectected, ever more powers transferred to an unelected European Union, and still support a range of barking criminal justice measures like legalising various hard drugs and not jailing serious criminals. This week has however proved they are prepared to say anything to try avoiding losing seats like Cambridge to the Conservatives next election.
Conservative support has been rising in the City for some time in local elections. Many Conservatives tactically voted Lib Dem in Cambridge last time to get rid of Labour - we don't blame them. But this new poll shows that nobody in Cambridge will need to vote tactically next time, and indeed the only way to make sure Gordon Brown doesn't cling on to power in a hung parliament is to make sure it is the Conservatives elected in places like Cambridge.
One poll of course doesn't mean victory is in the bag, or even make it highly likely that the Conservatives will win, but it nails once and for all the lie (and I use that word very hesitantly) put about by the Lib Dems in Cambridge that the Conservatives cannot win in the City next time. They have form for this - a tactic which effectively boils down to trying to con people into voting for them rather than the party they really want to support based on a gross misrepresentation of the electoral situation. (see this Cambridge example where the Lib Dems claimed they were 'the only local resident who could beat Labour', and actually came 4th!).
The Conservatives have an excellent local candidate and rising support. The Lib Dems have an MP elected on heavy tactical voting, who broke his promise to hold a referendum on the European Constitution, changes public meetings at the City Council for his own convenience, and refuses to give full support to A14 improvements. There is a real chance of a change next time.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
The main concerns expressed by respondents during the local public consultation regarding our proposal to close this branch related to the potential impact on the local community of the proposed closure, as respondents said that the branch serves a large residential area and several schools and colleges. Respondents also expressed concern for elderly customers, who it was said would face a long walk to the alternative branches or would have to pay for transport to travel to those branches.
Respondents also stated that there are a number of planned developments in the area, including residential housing and student accommodation. A petition was also submitted during the local public consultation, opposing the proposed closure. Post Office Limited has considered all responses received during the public consultation period and a review of this proposal has been undertaken.
There are four branches within one mile of Post Office® St Johns branch - the nearest alternative branch, Post Office® Cherry Hinton Road branch is just over half a mile away. Although there is no direct bus service between Post Office® Cherry Hinton Road branch and Post Office® St Johns branch, parking is available near that branch.
The second nearest alternative branch, Post Office® Hills Road branch, is located within a convenience store, has level access to assist customers and there is a regular bus service that runs between the this branch and Post Office® St Johns branch. Most buses have disabled access and there is free off-peak local bus travel for people over 60 or disabled passengers. There is also metered parking available opposite Post Office® Hills Road branch.
Post Office Limited has reviewed the capacity of both of the two nearest alternative branches to absorb the expected increase in customer numbers from the proposed closure of Post Office® St Johns branch and from planned developments and is satisfied that good service levels can be maintained.
I can't recall this specific property, but this sounds like a good decision. I think there is a problem in this part of Coleridge ward with overdevelopment of sites, and consequently too many properties becoming shared use houses. The result is problems like those causing this application being turned down, plus the continual pressure on parking spaces leading to problems with verge parking etc.
By my estimates, well over 10% of the population of Coleridge live in shared houses. Whilst at one level this reflects the huge demand for housing as a whole maximising use of living space, the balance of properties is now leaving many groups seriously disadvantaged, mainly families with children on low or even average incomes needing to rent in the private sector. In Coleridge, as I found to my cost when looking earlier in the Summer, if you want a small room in a densely packed shared house, or an expensive yuppie flat, you have some choice. Finding a family type house with reasonable living areas is an entirely different matter.
Current housing and planning policies involve massive levels of central state control through strategic planning, housing targets and planning policy guidance. Despite a decade long housing boom, these policies have failed spectacularly to provide the types of housing people desperately need and actually want to live in. The problem is that Government thinks it can (literally) bulldoze through housing targets without the consent of local people, so funnily enough the plans that emerge leave neighbouring local residents aghast. The challenge is how to change these policies to work in the much more challenging market conditions we are in now.
The BBC showed a light entertainment style program last night Cheap Homes for Sale that covered a number of serious housing issues, where current policy is desperately failing. But the bit that made my blood boil was the sections on the Pathfinder program in Liverpool. I was aware of this before the program, but essentially this is an appalling social engineering experiment, that will cover several cities in the north of England, and will see thousands of beautiful Victorian houses needlessly demolished. The results will doubtless be every bit as disastrous as previous government housing mistakes involving constructing huge concrete tower blocks in the 60s. I would have many criticisms of New Labour over the last 10 years - it is going to be a long and painful process to fix their disastrous mismanagement of the economy - but their destruction of these houses is in the much smaller list of things they have done or want to do that are totally unforgivable.
I've digressed quite a long way now - full details of the planning inspectors decision on Chalmers Road can be found here.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
And as if by magic, the DfT has just announced a major review - see also http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7613458.stm. Lets hope this will lead to a sensible resolution of the problems...
Friday, September 12, 2008
Due to technical issues with the works it isn't yet clear when this final period of single lane working will occur, it was originally scheduled for the start of October, but is likley to be delayed.
The problems of the roadworks have been widely reported to Councillors, the Police, the Guided Bus team and other organisations such as Cambridge Cycle campaign, and include:
- Aggressive following and dangerous overtaking of cyclists on the bridge - which I think is the main risk.
- Illegal turning manoeuvres, particularly relating to right turns banned during the works.
- Obstruction and box marking violations at the Cherry Hinton Road junction.
- Cycling on the pavement.
- Inappropriate speed and poor control driving through junctions.
I'm hoping CCTV can highlight the nature and scope of problems to the police and the Guided bus team allowing measures to be taken and resources allocated to target specific problems, and with some publicity deter some of the more extreme dangerous actions.
I've already had support from other Councillors in Coleridge and Queen Ediths, so hopefully the Council will look favourably on the request.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
I am a Cambridge City Councillor representing Coleridge Ward. I rang the Cambridge store to report 2 abandoned Asda shopping trolleys on Monday morning - they are still there this afternoon - one near the junction of Hobart Rd and Suez Road, the other on Brackyn Road near the junction with Coleridge Rd.
Can these please be removed as soon as possible and let me know when they have been removed - if this is not done within a couple of days I will be taking it up with the Council,
Many thanks, Chris
Except it doesn't really work like that, as the Liberal Democrat's have a clear majority, decide everything in their group meeting beforehand, and most of their backbenchers just sit there and stick their hand up at the right time to pass their group policies. I can't remember last time I heard any element of scrutiny or dissent from the Lib Dems in one of these meetings - if a Lib Dem disagrees with the ruling executive Councillors, it tends to end up with them leaving the Council (like former City Cllrs Schofield, Adigun-Harris, Griffiths and of course there is also former Lib Dem Cllr Hipkin, now an independent).
Whilst this can make the meeting a bit of a pantomime, it does allow opposition groups to participate in debate on key issues facing the Council. Topics for discussion tonight include:
The Council's medium term (financial) strategy - including the impact of Gordon Brown's £1.3m 'Cambridge Tax', and how the Lib Dems plan to put up Council Tax by 4.5% each year regardless of the effect on hard pressed household budgets.
The Council's Climate change strategy and action plan
A discussion of how much allowances Councillors are going to pay themselves.
A request by Labour for a review of scrutiny arrangements (or rather the lack of scrutiny arrangements) at the City Council.
An attack by the Lib Dems on my stance on planning decisions at area committees.
The full agenda for tonights meeting is here - members of the public are welcome to turn up at the Guildhall and see their elected representatives in action, the meeting starts at 6pm, and will go on for hours...
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
And so on an unusually dry morning last week I met with the highways officer responsible for road maintenance in the South of the City and a representative from Cambridge Cycle Campaign for a cycle tour. The main aim was to look at some of the worst surfaces and any other issues we came across, find out which ones can be tackled from within the very limited road maintenance budgets and get them on to the Council's radar. It was very useful for me as a local Councillor - I think I ended up with more issues on my list to look into. It turned into 2 hours of 'potholing' - the most interesting thing I learnt was that Hills Road is built over concrete slabs - due to the use of the road for transporting tanks in the war (I wonder if anyone can remember this?). Unfortunately it is the concrete slabs moving as plates that have caused the damage to the surface near the Catholic Church, and make it hard to effect permanent repairs. This post wouldn't be complete without a picture of the type of issue we were looking at!
There were various potholes that have been added to the list of areas needing repair. The main issues covered were as follows:
Repair of road surface following work by utility companies: some of the reinstatements are terrible, with the tarmac being squeezed out immediately creating a ski-jump effect. I requested that the Council gets much tougher with contractors who don't re-instate the road well after roadworks - a particular example is Hills Rd outside Purbeck Road. The EDF works on Cherry Hinton Road are an example of good reinstatement - I won't name the company that appears to be responsible for some of the worst resurfacing, but we know who they are!
The Tins path (Coldhams Lane to Mill Road): There will be some immediate repairs where there are dangerous (i.e. deep) ruts, but a more substantial resurfacing is due later with money from the Cycling demonstration towns award Cambridge. I requested the Council looks into purchasing a strip of land to widen the path as it is currently narrow as well as uneven (I understand this may already be under consideration). Snakey path could do with some support under the path next to the stream, but it is going to be difficult to make this significantly better.
Love Lane, Cherry Hinton: Surface maintenance works planned - scope and timetable to be confirmed.
Cherry Hinton Road outside CH Hall - remove temporary folk festival tarmac 'ramps'.
Add reflector/fluorescent markings to central bollard on southern approach to Carter cycle bridge. I am already trying to get the pedestrian path on Rustat Rd extended to the bridge.
Devonshire Rd cycle lane off carter bridge: Agreed not 'dangerous' so won't get maintenance work. This illustrates the limitation of maintenance budgets. In view of its importance as a cycle lane, I've requested that this is considered for resurfacing as part of the capital program of repairs, or as part of a planning agreement for the potential station area redevelopment.
Hole opposite Mills and Reeve/outside Centennial Hotel on Hills Road to be patched - I think this may already have been done.
The block work on Bateman Street at the junction of Hills Road is very loose and uneven - this is already planned for relaying, hopefully in the near future.
My main area of concern is the road surface around the Hills Road/Lensfield Road junction, with the potholes on the approach that can't be avoided due to the lines of traffic, the sunken drain in the middle of the junction, and bizarre ridge on southbound approach. I hope there will be some maintenance here, but as mentioned above, the concrete base for supporting tanks make it very difficult to make a long term repair...
Many thanks to the County Council for their help!
Monday, September 8, 2008
I've reported these to Asda (01223 531600) and Sainsbury (01223 246183), so hopefully they can be picked up soon. Supermarkets have a duty to ensure their shopping trolleys don't litter the streets, hopefully this isn't a sign of things to come...
Thursday, September 4, 2008
The construction works are being planned by the County Council to minimise disruption where possible - the parapet work on the bridge to Addenbrokes is happening during a rail closure the weekend of 13th/14th September, planned so that work can be done on both new rail bridges (including the Addenbrokes Southern Access road) at the same time.
The barrier work required on Long Road will hopefully happen at night, to avoid inconveniencing motorists as much as possible.
The station area works include construction of an unguided section of roadway for buses, pedestrians and cyclists, now due to start in January 09. This will involve moving the short stay car parking to an area in the current season ticket car park, but otherwise the disruption should be minimal - certainly trivial compared to the disruption that would occur during Ashwells construction of CB1 if they are granted permission next month.
The main area of concern that remains is the Hills Road bridge works, and related traffic management. A date has now been set next week to meet with the police to try finding out why they have been so useless with regard to stopping dangerous actions from car drivers. Unfortunately the complex engineering work being carried out on the bridge has not been problem free, and works are currently 4 weeks behind schedule. This may delay the final period of single lane working, scheduled to last 2 weeks from end of Sept/early Oct - if the dates of this change as seems likely, people really do need to know in advance so alternative arrangements can be made. I am also going to request that the City Council's mobile CCTV is deployed to the area so the powers that be can monitor any problems being caused.
Finally, the meeting heard from one of the four artists commissioned by the Council to create some public art for the Guided Busway. He is planning some art that is influenced by interesting features near the guideway that people may not be aware of, and is keen to hear any suggestions from local people!
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Presumably due to public interest in the case, the appeal will slightly unusually be heard at a Public Inquiry to be held in The Council Chamber at The Guildhall. The Inquiry will commence at 10:00 am on Tuesday 30th September 2008 and is currently scheduled to last 3 days.
An Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will determine the procedure at the Inquiry and will decide the appeal.
All original comments on the application have been sent to the Planning Inspectorate, however members of the public may attend the Inquiry, and at the discretion of the inspector, express their views. You will need to let the Planning Inspectorate know that you wish to appear and you should tell the Inspector if you wish to speak when they open the Inquiry.
So the No to Mill Road Tesco campaigners will get another chance to explain their case - which against the extension proposals to my mind has some very valid transport and delivery related concerns.
Interestingly, I don't think Tesco have yet appealed against refusal for the refrigeration plant needed to open a smaller store - you would have thought they might have done this as an insurance policy in case they lose the appeal for permission for the extension...