Thursday, December 31, 2009

What's with the class war?


I found the above sticker on the inside of the Carter foot bridge this evening. It seems to be aligned with Gordon Brown's doomed 'class war' campaign plan for the next general election. It really isn't edifying and it would horrify most of the lefties I know - who tend to be intelligent.

Iain Dale recently blogged on this subject.

There seems to be a suggestion that the Baron Mandelson is trying to change Gordon's mind. I hope that he is successful for the sake of our civic life.

Anyway, when this train pulls into London I'll be off to celebrate the New Year, so a happy New Year to all our readers, whichever way your politics lean!

Andrew.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Climate Change starts at the Guildhall

I visited the Guildhall just before Christmas to check out a local planning application. My abiding memory of the visit however was that the whole building appeared to be stifflingly hot.

I wrote to the building manager, who explained it was down to problems with the heating controls adjusting after a power surge. I don't think this is good enough - it must be possible to avoid wasting energy in this way.

The Liberal democrats like to talk the talk on climate change, with all the fervour of a true believer. The Council employs at great expense a 'climate change officer', and has huge budgets it spends on telling us we are all doomed, and making people feel guilty about their own behaviour.

Meanwhile, on one of the coldest days of the year, the heating in the Guildhall was swelteringly hot, and staff were busy trying to open windows to cool down. As ever with Lib Dems, its more important to be seen to be doing something, than actually fixing problems.

I think we do need to take some serious steps to tackle the risk of global warming and energy security (which is somewhat different to signing up to every conceivable suggestions from the latest doomsday cult on the subject). Most likely solutions are going to involve major changes in the production, storage and transmission of energy, many requiring technological breakthroughs - very little of which Cambridge City Council can do anything about (short of fixing its planning policies so Cambridge can continue to be a world leader in technology development).

When it comes to what individuals (and local authorities) can do - I suggest the best approach is to highlight the costs of being profligate with energy - the only thing that will make sufficient people change behaviour is if reducing Co2 production is a significant money saver. Which brings me to the real sense of outrage about the Guildhall being swelteringly hot - it is Council tax payers paying for all that waste.

Conservative run Windsor and Maidenhead Council has not only installed smart metering in Council properties, but the usage is available online - allowing residents to check all the time if their Council is wasting energy, and encouraging them to keep bills low.

Why can't Cambridge City Council be more enlightened about climate change, and focus on saving money not on climate change ideology.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best Christmas Card

Coleridge Conservatives blog has a new feature - an online poll available top right! And the first topic - what is the best Conservative Christmas card this year?

Choices are - Eric Pickles MP, Conservative Party Chairman:



David Cameron MP, Leader of the Conservative Party:



Or Coleridge Conservatives, designed brilliantly by Andy Bower, some time before we had sight of the competition:



Seasons Greetings to all our readers!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nick Hillman hits the snow running

Last Saturday Cambridge residents selected Nick Hillman to stand for parliament for Cambridge at the next general election.

The campaign team in Coleridge agree that Nick is an excellent choice for Cambridge. You can read all about Nick on his website (www.nickhillman.co.uk) and keep up-to-date with his campaign on his regularly-updated blog.

Nick has previously lived in Cambridge while doing his teacher training and has taught at Hills Road Sixth Form College. Nick has had a varied career including teaching history, working in the pensions industry and currently as chief of staff to David Willetts MP, specialising in university policy. Nick has pledged to move back to Cambridge as soon as possible and before the new year.

During the short campaign between being shortlisted for the Cambridge open primary and being selected Nick worked hard at making contacts in the constituency and understanding the issues facing Cambridge, including visiting the city council's West/Central Area Committee.

Since selection Nick has already been to the East Area Committee, where the consequences of Ashwell going bust were discussed and today was out delivering Christmas cards to Coleridge residents.

We wish Nick well in his campaign to become Cambridge's MP. He will be building on the excellent work done by his predecessor, Richard Normington, over the last two years. Only a Conservative MP can help to kick Gordon Brown out and return a strong Conservative government to fix the broken economy and broken society!

Follow Nick on twitter or sign up to his campaign at myconservatives.com!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ashwell's discussed at East Area Committee

The topic of Ashwells and the station redevelopment was discussed at East Area committee last night - amidst the concerns I have already raised that the transport improvements forming part of the scheme are now at risk - in particular the issue of cycle parking. I thought it was quite a successful meeting, we agreed to summon the Director of planning to our next meeting so we can question what the transport situation is now, and to request that the section 106 agreement is reviewed in light of the administration of Ashwell's.

I wouldn't normally respond to posts on other partys' blogs but Lib Dem Cllr Nichola Harrison has taken my comments made last night and misrepresented them in such an amusingly ridiculous way I can't resist.

As much as I enjoy, on occassions like last night's East Area committee, hearing Cllr Harrison's explanations of 'how things really are' and how with her great knowledge she is able to 'correct' my misunderstandings, I see the situation rather differently.

She says on her blog: "Chris Howell’s diatribe last night was based on the strange reasoning that the system is a tax and is therefore unfair on developers."

Firstly on the question of what s106 payments are.

If something looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and waddles like a duck, I tend to call it a duck, even if other people insist on calling it something else.

In this case s106 agreements result in money or value that developers have to pay to the local authorities in order to get planning permission on a new development. Thats why I call it a developers tax.

To correct the biggest error in Cllr Harrison's blog post. No, I don't want to see this system completely abandoned with all developer payments stopped, just recognised for what it is, and for the Council to therefore act accordingly so we can start having the type of new developments people want and would welcome.

My argument is that if you accept the system is a tax, the Council will stop treating it like free money that no-one has to pay for (apart from developers of course who don't really count), and start considering both the economic effects of the Council's demands on developers and what this means for people who have to put up with the pokey overpriced rabbit hutches and inadequate transport infrastructure that results from our current broken planning system.

The suggestion that s106 agreements are purely there to mitigate the effects of a new development as Cllr Harrison claimed last night is laughable when you see what happens in practice - it is a system whereby the Councils' try to extract as much of the uplift in value from a developer being granted planning permission because they can, and don't seem to have any sense or scrutiny of whether the taxpayer gets good value for money from this huge tax burden. If these payments really are vital to mitigate the effects of development, why has the Council been busy renegotiating them over the last few months?

The fact is that new development has got into a vicious cycle, aided by local Councils, of which Lib Dem run Cambridge is a prime example - and it is going to take something dramatic to get us out of this.

  • People see how horrible many new developments are so seek to oppose them (it doesn't help that the history of new house building in the UK for decades has been littered with hideousness)
  • Planning permission is therefore hard to come by, so the uplift in value of the land when it is granted is significant (and the house prices in the free market are extortionate - yes Nichola, the other big error in your blog post, it is not big business, it is the ordinary people looking to buy market houses in and around Cambridge that are paying for all this nonsense)
  • The Council through the s106 system has the power to tax this uplift in value, sees it as free cash so tries to extract as much of this uplift as it can, to spend on all sorts of things - 40% so called 'affordable housing' being one of the biggest costs for developers.
  • Developers then need to extract as much value as possible from their open market housing, so don't allocate sufficient physical space for public open space and transport links, and build private sector housing to a low spec, with poor design and poor materials.
  • The Council meanwhile thinks that community facilities are only things that Council's run, like community centres and libraries, and don't even think about providing things like a local shop or a local pub - nor do they necessarily think about the ongoing revenue implications of the things they spend their one-off capital payments from developers on. (Orchard Park springs to mind)
  • The result is new developments that are hideous - and the cycle starts all over again.

The whole system has been even more broken over the last few years, as property valuations have been based on what effectively was a pyramid scheme, bearing no relation to underlying value, rather values inflated by the prospect of someone else coming along willing to pay even more than you have just paid, thanks to a buy to let mortgage fraudulently obtained from a now bankrupt bank. But the Councils were still lapping it up, and ramping up the s106 shopping lists for schemes getting approval, such that now the inevitable crash has happened, developments like Northstowe are on hold, Ashwells has gone bust, and developers around the city are seeking to renegotiate what were previously claimed to be vital payments. In other words, we are still in a high demand area for housing, there are sites available ready to go, and the Council's demands are stopping development from happening - it is a tragic irony that Council demands for affordable housing are probably doing most to keep housing unaffordable for the vast majority of the local population.

The Conservatives have proposed a different way (see policy green papers 9 - Control Shift, returning power to local communities, and 10 Stong foundations, building homes and communities) - s106 type taxes clearly won't go completely, but there will be less interference from government over how developments occur, with control passed to local residents, and local incentives for new development. Hopefully developers will start to focus on what people want, rather than what Councils want, and we can see high quality new developments around Cambridge, with appropriate transport that are welcomed by local residents.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kelvin Close plans now at City Homes South

In case anyone would like to review the new planning application for Kelvin Close, I am told that these have now arrived at City Homes South, after an unscheduled journey to City Homes North!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Totally disgusting

I've just had to report to the council that there is excrement at the top of one of the slides on the play area at Coleridge Rec, after a tip off from a local resident. Hopefully it will be cleared up urgently.

It is just possible that someone let their dog into the play area (which they shouldn't have done) and then didn't realise what had happened, but it does seem unlikely - leaving the totally disgusting possibility that this has been allowed to happen intentionally - words fail me.

UPDATE: Had the following back from the Council -

"I am writing to update you on measures taken to remove fouling to the children's slide at Coleridge Recreation Ground play area reported on Monday 14th December. The background is that an incident was reported to the Customer Service Centre, logged at 12.11pm, outlining fouling within the play area. This report was passed to Streetscene electronically and our mobile cleaner/graffiti team attended the site within the hour.

The graffiti team member reported that fouling was present at the top of the children's slide. The operative also stated that this was most likely caused by accidental fouling from a younger child. He did not feel that the fouling was in any way deliberate and he has considerable experience of dealing with incidents of this nature.

The play area is inspected daily, however on Monday the 14th this inspection was not planned until after 2pm and I can confirm that the inspection was undertaken by which time the play area had been cleaned."

Perne Road Shops

Just had an on site visit to the Perne Rd/Radegund Rd shops with the owners, Luminus, and their manager for the site, to find out the latest plans, and to again impress on them the urgency of the situation in view of how long residents have already had to put up with the empty flats above the shops and the general mess of the site.

The story is pretty much the same as 12 months ago - encouraging noises, but they still don't know if they are going to extend and refurbish or completely redevelop, due to commercial negotiations. The current favourite looks to be extension and refurbishment, with some plans potentially going to consultation early in the new year. I've heard it all before - but will be asking the Council to look into its powers to take control of the property if owners fail to come up with some firm plans to bring residential units back in to use early in the year.

As an interesting aside, they suggested someone had contacted them interested in taking all three of the shop units - wonder who that might have been...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ashwell's Goes Bust - what now for the Station Area redevelopment

The Cambridge Evening News is reporting that Ashwells, developer for the CB1 station area redevelopment, has gone bust. It is as yet unclear what impact this will have on the development plans, but it seems inconceivable that it won't delay things, if not changing the plans more radically.

I commented at the time the application was approved on how much faith the Councils had put in this application from an early stage, and how much they had at stake in terms of meeting their transport infrastructure objectives - so this is yet another fiasco for the Lib Dems running the planning system in Cambridge.

Now it has failed, we need answers to how this transport infrastructure will be provided - not least the very urgent problem of cycle parking which is an absolute disgrace (bike finally released after 3 days - no thanks to the station authorities or the police).

I have just written to the Director of Planning at the City Council:

"Following the financial collapse of Ashwell's reported in the CEN, I would appreciate an urgent update on the Council's current assessment of the impact this will have on the transport infrastructure elements of the project, and in particular the multi-storey car park and increase in cycle spaces. I would describe the latter situation as a crisis, and one that reflects very poorly on Cambridge as a cycling city. Cambridge Cycle Campaign are due to hold a meeting this week to discuss this problem and it really now needs urgent action."

UPDATE: Not sure what Council officers are doing answering emails from Councillors late on Sunday evening, but I've had a reply back already indicating that the latest news isn't expected to be a problem "I believe the announcement last week actually brings the prospect of the scheme forward rather than making it less likely." Have to say I'm a little sceptical at that suggestion...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Grrrr....



There is something very wrong with this picture. On the right is my bike (the battle bike). Amazingly when I got to the station at 5pm on wednesday, there was a spare rack for me to lock it to. When I returned at midnight, the bike on the left had appeared, locked to the rack through my frame, leaving my bike 'kebabed', unable to be moved.

Thursday morning, offending bike still there - and I get a rare insight into the world of bus travel in Cambridge. Thursday afternoon - offending bike still there. Even more remarkable - a British Transport police office was on hand to ask what I could do.

His manner gave every impression of someone who has been asked this a number of times before, I wasn't going to like the answer, and he didn't particular like the answer he was giving either.

Basically, the rules have recently changed, and neither the police nor station staff will help remove the offending bike, for fear it could be deemed 'criminal damage'. He suggested I ask the station supervisor, and put in a complaint - he also suggested I point out the bike to him so he could let his colleagues know 'what is going on'.

Inside, the supervisor confirmed a rule change, and insisted there was nothing they could do, and I should just wait for the offending bike to move.



This situation if frankly ridiculous. The sign clearly indicates that there are powers to remove bikes causing problems, I suspect they just couldn't be bothered coming up with a proper procedure that will involve storing the removed bikes. If they really are worried, they could change the sign to say something even more obvious like 'permission to park your bike here is conditional on you not locking other peoples bikes - if you lock your bike in these racks such that other bikes are disabled, we reserve the right to remove your bike to storage at the owners cost' or something similar that their lawyers will like.

The whole situation with station cycle parking makes Cambridge look like a joke when it comes to supporting cyclists - the root cause of the problem is the woeful lack of spaces. With the CB1 redevelopment some way away (if ever with the current economic mess), they need to take urgent measures to increase cycle parking.

A letter of complaint will be on its way, and if I can't get my bike back today, I will be along with some boltcutters later (unless anyone has any better ideas...)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Police Surgery next week

The Coleridge neighbourhood policing team are holding one of their regular surgeries next week.

It will be held on Thursday 17/12/09 between 19:00 and 20:00, at the Lichfield Road Community Hall.

Residents are welcome to come along and have a chat with our local police community support officers Mark Mitcham and Mick Stribling, to give them any feedback or raise any local policing issues that you would like to see action on.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Last chance to sign up for the open primary!

Registration for Cambridge Conservatives' open primary to select our prospective parliamentary candidate closes at midnight tonight. Register NOW!

However you normally vote, it is in the best interests of our city for all parties to present the strongest candidate possible so if you are a city elector and you are available on Saturday morning then this is your chance to make a difference!

Can't developers leave Kelvin Close alone

Shortly after the blow of plans being approved for expansion of the Nursing Home that will see two semis demolished, and a traffic problem on the close made seriously worse, another planning application has been submitted that could result in another pair of semis for the chop.

Application 09/1106/FUL calls for the demolition of 22 and 23 Kelvin Close at the far end of the road, to be replaced by 8 houses. There is only 10 parking spaces specified, adding to parking problems on the road, but my biggest complaint is on the effect of the streetscape. Why do we have to pull down two good family semis with gardens to be replaced by 8 rabbit hutches. Can't developers just leave Kelvin Close alone...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Welcome to Coleridge's newest resident

Congratulations to Richard and Stacey Normington on the birth of their baby girl, Catherine Elizabeth, this morning!

I look forward to seeing the upgraded 'battle pram'...

Thanks to both of you for all your help in setting up the new Coleridge branch and making sure it has got off to such a flying start!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Coleridge Betrayed

The letter from Chris Howell in today's Cambridge News (but not online) reminds us how Coleridge residents were badly let down when their newly-elected Labour county councillor voted for congestion charging in October.
I WELCOME Richard Normington's letter warning that we may now be heading for congestion charging in Cambridge, without further approval from councillors. The damage was done when a bid to the Transport Innovation Fund was agreed, which included the charge, and council officers have already drafted a report presenting options in detail for how the charge would work.

I would however go further. The problem is that councillors, sadly including the Labour county councillor for Coleridge, have already voted to approve this bid, including the charge. This was despite clear assurances given during the recent county council elections that he was opposed to congestion charging in Cambridge. The only solution is that we should hold a public referendum, free from all the spin of those obsessed with introducing the charge, and let the people decide.
I stood at the recent county council elections on a pledge to oppose congestion charging (Bower's Blueprint, no. 2), so I was really disappointed when I discovered that my Labour opponent, who had spent the whole campaign trying to imply that I would support congestion charging, went and voted for it himself.

While a Labour councillor suggested that pursuing my pledges would have led to me losing the whip if elected, it turns out that only Conservative members and the member for Ramsey voted against the TIF bid that included the government's congestion charging blackmail. Those Conservatives still take the whip. The Labour members for Coleridge and Cherry Hinton could have decided to vote against but they did not.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

One week to the open primary

Cambridge Conservatives are holding an 'open primary' (caucus) to select a replacement prospective parliamentary candidate on Saturday 12 December. All registered voters in the city constituency are eligible to attend and vote but you need to sign up first.

The short list does not seem to have been published yet, so I do not know who will be in the race, but the place to be to find out the latest news seems to be Richard Normington's blog, where he is running a commentary on the process - one hopeful seems to have declared so far.

Thank you to everyone who applied to be our PPC - may the best candidate win!

UPDATE (Sunday): I have just found out that registration for the open primary closes at midnight on Wednesday. Sign up quickly!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Cracking Read

Richard Normington, formerly prospective parliamentary candidate, has continued his award-winning political blog over at blog.richardnormington.com.

Everything is covered, from the Cambridge School Classics Project to the Rump Parliament, and from horseracing to employer relations.

Richard's blog is the place to go for erudite and amusing commentary on politics in Cambridge from an experienced Conservative campaigner. I make sure I read it daily and I commend it to anyone interested in politics in Cambridge.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mill Road shut on Saturday

The Mill Road winter festival is taking place on Saturday 5th December, with the opening at Ditchburn place at 10.30am and will be going on until around 16.30 hours.

Just a quick word of warning however, the road from Tenison Road over to Sedgewick Street will be closed to all traffic from the times as above.

Access to Tenison Road and Sedgewick Street will remain available and the roads off Mill road will remain open but there will be no access by vehicles from the part of Mill road that is closed.

One development being launched during the Fair is a new scheme called Millycard, that will be available from outside Hilarys the Greengrocers. The website isn't up and running yet, but for a fee of £2, I'm told the card will entitle holders to all sorts of discounts and offers from participating local traders.

Your Conservative team will be watching with interest how this scheme develops, and hope it can provide support for the diverse range of independent traders on Mill Road.

Latest Rosenstiel Rage Incident Hits CEN

The latest Rosenstiel Rage incident has hit the CEN.

Someone calling themselves Colin Rosenstiel has posted in the comments to this article:

"There was a time when your newspaper would support its readers who find themselves in conflict with unreasoning abuse of authority by minor public officials. Regrettably you have chosen to further a political attack"

If this a genuine comment from Cllr Rosenstiel then it is a total disgrace - completely unrepentant for his actions that resulted in delays to the journey of many people, and showing a complete lack of respect for the British Transport Police - whose judgement with regard to what might be reasonable in ensuring public safety on the railways I would trust rather more than Cllr Rosenstiel's.

I wonder if Cambridge Liberal Democrats will demonstrate equally poor judgement and carry on as ever supporting Cllr Rosenstiel.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blog Exclusive: What's all this then



I've been sent the following picture, taken on a train I believe at Kings Cross earlier today. It appears to show a certain Cambridge City Councillor, and a police officer. I wonder if anyone can provide a narrative?

Coleridge Conservatives Blog goes from Strength to Strength

Coleridge Conservatives blog goes from strength to strength - in the three months to the end of Nov 2009, unique visitors increased 64% on the same period last year.

Over on the 'Coleridge Labour Update' blog, the latest update is, err, that there is no update. 3 Labour councillors in the ward, but not a single blog posting in the last three months. This speaks for itself as to who is working hardest for local residents in the ward.

Your Coleridge Conservative team - working and blogging all year round, not just at election time!

Cyclist vs Driver

Last nights local Inside Out program had a section on the long running debate between cyclists and car drivers in Cambridge - available here on iPlayer for about a week, from about 1 minute in.

It uses cameras to compare the view of a cyclist, in this case Jim Chisholm, liaison officer of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, and a delivery driver. There is lots of footage of cycling around Cambridge, and there are a fair few clips of other cyclists and drivers that that leave you feeling scared for the participants (mostly for the cyclists).

Overall the report seemed fair on both sides, but if anything I would say it exaggerates the extent to which there are problems - it is a small percentage of cyclists and drivers that give each side a bad name, and the extent of problems can be overstated.

But that doesn't mean there aren't problems. I have the advantage of being both a cyclist and a driver - I drive around 4,000 miles a year, and probably cycle around 1,500 miles. This gives a good insight into both points of view in Cambridge.

Car drivers, in theory at least, need to be formally trained and their costs are significantly higher - this can lead some drivers to assume they have a greater right to use the roads in Cambridge than cyclists. They don't, and sometimes (e.g. following a cyclist who is taking a perfectly reasonable position in the middle of a road), they need to just relax. But sitting inside a comfortable vehicle, many drivers simply fail to appreciate the risks that they are exposing more vulnerable road users to - in how much room they give cyclists when following them or overtaking, how fast they travel or when manoeuvring at junctions. A mindset change from a small number of drivers would solve a lot of problems.

Cyclists on the other hand can just get on a bike and ride off - no training, no insurance, no tax (and quite right too!) - but they also run a much greater risk of being injured in any collision with a car. And in this context, there is clearly a problem with a significant minority of cyclists. There are simple steps that all cyclists could take to be safer - assuming that they must stop at red lights, always using bike lights at night, not cycling whilst on the phone or whilst drunk. But to significantly improve cyclist safety, I think it would take some less obvious solutions. I am frequently in a hurry as a cyclist, and end up taking manoeuvres that if not outright dangerous, with hindsight could be called aggressive - in the same way there is a concept of defensive driving, there are definitely times when my safety would benefit from 'defensive cycling'.

The debate between cyclists and drivers in Cambridge has been going on for decades, and doubtless will go on for decades more. But as someone who does both, I don't think the importance of cycling to Cambridge can be overstated - and both cyclists and car drivers should welcome ever greater take up of cycling. If every cyclist in Cambridge gave up cycling, the results would be disastrous - Cambridge would grind to a halt and cease to function as a City. I don't think cycling is going to be that crucial in saving the planet from climate change, but if every car driver was to take up cycling in Cambridge, if only for some journeys, the roads would be less congested, people would be fitter and healthier, and journeys would be faster and safer for everyone. Which is why I usually, if not always, err on the side of the cyclist in these debates.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Coleridge Conservative branch launched

Bit late with this launch post but here goes...

On November 2nd the Coleridge Branch of the Cambridge Conservatives was relaunched amid much fanfare. We have a cracking calendar of events in place already which can be seen on the new Coleridge Conservatives' website; bookmark it - this will be useful. We are kicking off a packed programme with our inaugural dinner on Wednesday 2nd of December, with Graham Stuart MP very kindly agreeing to be our speaker. This will be a fantastic evening: those who know Graham from his time as councillor for Cherry Hinton or as PPC for Cambridge will testify that he is a most amusing speaker. We hope to make these dinners bi-monthly; get your diaries out as the next dinner will be a Burns' night extravaganza on the 25th of January, with a speaker to be confirmed.

Aside from the dinners we will be having other more low key events. On Tuesday 15th December we will be having a Mince Pies and Mulled Wine evening to get you into the Christmas spirits (sic.) and the one I am most looking forward to, the American Chilli Night cooked by our very own American Secretary, Stacey Normington; good luck with the baby (due in the next few weeks)! Whatever your views, if you have an interest in politics in Coleridge, do come.

Now to the more serious business, setting up the branch is not just about enjoying ourselves. All of our events should make a small profit helping us to fund our ambitious campaign plan for the forthcoming local elections. We were so close last time, less than a hundred votes in it, our candidates deserve all the support they can get. We also hope to use the branch as a networking tool to get as many like-minded conservatives together. So if you're feeling a bit blue get in touch!

Watch out for breaking news on our twitter feed: ColeridgeCon.

Tim Haire
(Membership Deputy Chairman - Coleridge Conservatives)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Action meeting on The Forum

On Thursday night I attended a meeting held by the Tiverton Estate Residents' Action Group. The meeting of minds was called to try to get to grips with problems associated with The Forum, the ARU student accommodation block converted from the old Tiverton House residential home.

Coleridge Conservatives were represented by me on the panel, in place of Cllr Howell (who was representing the Conservatives in a public debate on student funding by prior arrangement) and also by Tim Haire, who has been working on this issue.

The panel included three city council officers, community beat sergeant Sgt Mark Kathro and a PCSO - I was impressed to see their commitment to the situation, which after all must be occupying a significant amount of their weekly work.

Sadly Anglia Ruskin University had refused to send someone to contribute to the meeting. We are of the view that proper engagement by the university with residents is essential to solving the problems at the site. ARU had already refused a request by Coleridge Conservatives for a meeting. It did transpire that ARU had met with council officers, but while this news was welcome, they need to be prepared to talk with residents and councillors.

Mr Ellis Hall of the Tiverton Estate Resident's Action Group outlined problems facing the community around Tiverton Way, divided into:
  • road congestion
  • litter and refuse
  • lack of student facilities
  • lack of guidelines & information for students
  • lack of student supervision
  • noise and sleep disturbance
It is crystal clear to anyone who was at this meeting, or prior meetings concerning the planning situation prior to conversion, that the residents around Tiverton Way welcome the students at The Forum and wish to have good community relations. No-one can accuse residents of scapegoating students; there is no 'fuddy duddy' reaction going on, it is just that a minority of students seem to be behaving without regard to their fellow students and residents.

To me it seems that the solution must involve annual briefings for students, the presence of senior students (non-first year, preferrably postgraduate, students who oversee their peers) in the building and the presence of a couple of student representatives on a consultative committee with other local residents.

We hope that ARU will start to engage with councillors and residents to solve this problem. Well done to the action group for their thorough work and for taking a balanced and non-confrontational approach.

Friday, November 27, 2009

More Railways

In my previous post about Guided Bus vs Rail a commentator suggested I had carefully selected my rail case study. Actually, I had just picked one of the claimed successes at random.

If I really wanted to make the point that the problem with rail is that you have to find someone to fund the ongoing operating costs, the Cairngorm Funicular Railway would be a strong contender - from p30 of this week's Private Eye...

The funicular railway was finally taken into public ownership by HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise) last year to save it from going bust. "Although HIE hopes to find a new operator... that might prove difficult in the current economic climate" auditor-general Robert Black told the committee, warning members: "If HIE cannot establish a viable business model for the funicular, and it ceases to operate, HIE might have to reinstate the land, repay the EU's money and meet any other costs

Yes I know, there aren't that many hills between Cambridge and St Ives...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ending the culture of secrecy at the City Council

I was at a meeting to discuss 'constitutional reform' at the Council this week. This was nothing more glamorous than discussing possible changes to the rules on how the Council runs itself, but I did have one suggestion that didn't seem to find much favour with the other parties.

Currently, the official minutes of Council meetings don't indicate which way individual Councillors have voted on the issues discussed. I think this should change - people should have the right to know which way Councillors have voted on individual issues.

Websites like They work for you and the Public Whip have done wonders for the accountability of MPs, by making information about how they have voted on particular issues much more readily available - the same information should be available for local Councillors. I understand Councillors can request that how they voted is recorded in the minutes - perhaps it is time for me to exercise this right on a regular basis.

There was also some discussion about recording and filming Council meetings - I agreed permission should be granted where requested, but I think we should go one better and make webcasts available of meetings.

I have argued in the past for much better transparency and openness in all aspects of how the Council runs itself and how it spends taxpayers money - but despite a significant motion being passed by the Council, we are still waiting for any suggestion of action to deliver the changes required - in all these cases, the culture of secrecy at the City Council needs to end.

Hills Road Bridge Consultation


I visited the County Council's consultation exhibition on the plans for Hills Road bridge last night.

Whilst the trial I think has generally been popular - it is worth pointing out that the plans currently being considered are different to the current trial layout in a number of ways:

Firstly, a new pedestrian crossing is planned for the north part of the bridge, to avoid the problems with pedestrians crossing outside the Earl of Derby pub - this will also provide access for cyclists to the Guided Bus route towards Addenbrokes and Trumpington, so will help to take some traffic off Hills Road completely.

Secondly, the plans are being considered in conjunction with the 'Cambridge Gateway' plans, where funding has been obtained for a new bus and cycle route from the station to Hills Rd joining opposite Brooklands avenue.

But the final change from the trial layout is a proposal to create a wide central cycle lane coming off the bridge towards the City Centre, and guide all cyclists going straight on into this lane (double click on the plans above to see details). This removes the need for the 'straight on' cycle lane at the lights, that many cyclists ignore anyway as it is usually quicker to move into the straight on road lane. There are a number of advantages to this layout (not least it will allow more room for cyclists/cars heading southbound near the Earl of Derby), but I have a couple of potential concerns - firstly in terms of whether less confident cyclists will be happy cycling in a cycle lane in the middle of the road (even if it is a wide cycle lane), and also that it increases the number of crossovers between cars turning left and cyclists going straight ahead.

None of these changes affect the general principles of the scheme, that seem to be working well, but if you are a regular user of the bridge, I would recommend the final County Council consultation exhibition to be held as follows: Mon 30th Nov 5.00 – 7.30pm, Science Lecture Room, Hills Road Sixth Form College, or visit the County Council's website.

Community radio station needs support

The charitable community radio station 209radio is appealing for help to survive beyond the year.

209radio provides a valuable amenity for the community. Earlier this year both Chris Howell and I were impressed by the professionalism of the station and their work to cover important community issues when we were interviewed by the station on congestion charging and as a candidate for the county council elections respectively.

The station is proud of the work that it does for community groups such as the elderly, the homeless and those with mental health issues.

If you can help then please see their website for more information.

We wish them well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Housing Targets Consultation Deadline

A consultation on the latest phase of the Government's plan to dump thousands of houses on the East of England closes today. This is Labour's regional planning process that is driving the pressure to force Marshall's off the airport, as Councils are forced to find locations for housing even if they aren't suitable, or local residents object.

The Conservatives have pledge to stop all this nonsense if they win the election next year, but in the mean time I have responded to the consultation. If you would like to respond as well, you can try the link from here - but I was struggling to get the online system working so just emailed.

Anyway, my response:

I oppose all 4 scenarios outlined in the consultation which will all result in high levels of housing growth being forced on the East of England, and indeed oppose the principle of centrally setting housing targets for local authority areas to deliver, for the following reasons:

Setting targets centrally, along with the highly prescriptive centrally planning policies effectively excludes local people from the choice of whether or not there will be significant new housing development in their area, and to a large extent what types of housing are built. An inevitable consequence of central government setting housing numbers by diktat is that the planning system doesn't feel it is necessary to respond to the reasons why local people are so averse to new housing, such as the poor quality and design of the buildings, the lack of supporting infrastructure for all modes of transport (especially for personal transportation such as cars and cycles), and the mix of housing that results, which is far too heavily weighted towards flats. The RSS/targets approach to housing does nothing for hard working families looking for reasonably priced family homes in the private sector, with gardens and car parking - in fact it makes it almost impossible for normal market mechanisms to respond to this demand and produce what is required, due to the extraordinary impositions made on the developers who could deliver this housing, and the central demands to deliver a certain number of 'housing units'.

I don't believe we have to force development on people for two reasons. Firstly I think we can trust people to support new housing, as long as the schemes proposed are high quality, sustainable in every sense of the word, and clearly in the interests of local residents - for example, if local authorities were able to retain the benefit locally of more Council tax payers.

Secondly, I challenge the assumptions that are behind the RSS that result in the supposed need to build so many more houses. Specifically, I do not accept that population growth of the levels predicted should be a given - it is not desirable or sustainable on environmental grounds. We should be adopting policies that do not suggest significant increases in population nationally, in particular looking at immigration policy, whose role in population growth can no longer be ignored.

Secondly, the continued fall in average household size is testament to a generation of failed social policies - if more encouragement was given to supporting family units, for example through the benefits system and in housing allocation policies, there would be less need for more housing.

Finally, the Conservatives could be in power nationally in under 6 months, and have pledged to abolish many regional bodies and the whole regional planning process, and hand democratic control back to local authorities that will result in local residents being genuinely empowered in decision making in this area. Any time, effort and public funds spend on the regional planning process now could well be wasted, and all activity in this area should be stopped pending the General Election.

I hope these comments will be taken into account in deciding how (or indeed if) to move this plan forward,

City Centre set for 20mph limit

The County Council is planning to introduce a 20mph speed limit across the historic centre of Cambridge on a trial basis, following a review of the Council’s policy on 20 mph speed limits.

The central area of Cambridge has particularly high levels of cycling and significant pedestrian activity, and following various 'core scheme' changes, there is now very little through traffic in the City Centre, so a 20mph limit seems wholly more appropriate than on, for example, Mill Road.

The plan below shows the area covered by the new limit. Note - as it’s environment is very different to the rest of the Core area, Victoria Avenue has not been included.

The public notice advising of the proposal was placed in the Cambridge Evening News on Friday, November 20th. If you wish to object or comment on the proposed 20mph limit please contact the County Council by December 14th 2009.

Once the trial is running, monitoring will be undertaken to assess the impact on speeds, casualty levels and user attitudes, as well as gauging public perception of the trial and assess whether vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists have benefited from it. There will be an on-line “before” and “after” surveys to assess how people feel about conditions on street before and during the trial, which will be conducted over a 12 month period.

I think it will be particularly interesting to know if the 20mph limit actually reduces the number of vehicles driving at high speeds likely to cause serious injuries to pedestrians and cyclists in a collision, or if various road users still carry on driving much as before.

Further information on the trial can be found at www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/transport/20mph

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cycle facilities going in the right direction

There has been action on some of Coleridge Conservatives long running campaigns to improve facilities for cyclists in the ward.

Firstly, signage has now been put up to guide people through Corrie Road and Brackyn Close - this looks useful without being too obtrusive:

And following my complaints about lack of cycle parking at East Area committee venues, I am told that there will be more cycle parking installed at Lichfield Hall, and City Homes have been asked if some cycle racks can be put on their land opposite the Cherry Trees centre in Petersfield.

Many thanks to the City Council's cycling officer for making these improvements happen.

Still waiting for some more progress on other cycle related issues that I hope can be tackled soon with funding from the Council's environmental improvements scheme: completing the footpath near Carter Bridge to avoid pedestrians having to walk in the cycle lane, and opening an official cycle route between Ashbury Close and Golding Road...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Reviewing the case for the Guided Bus


I have always supported the County Council’s decision to build the Guided Bus – by applying some very simple principles. The Guided Bus is conceptually much simpler than rail, therefore it has always seemed clear to me that it would cost significantly less to build than rail, and will require significantly less ongoing operating subsidy (in fact, it is expected to make a surplus), whilst being more flexible as buses could use both the Guideway and normal roads. All the huffing and puffing from CAST IRON never really came up with a reason why this high level assessment of the options was fundamentally wrong.

CAST IRON supporters are currently letting off steam on Richard Normington’s blog (for some reason, I think the suggestion that they are akin to a flat earth society might have riled). But one commentator said the following:

“so, beware the people of Ebbw Vale, Bathgate and all the other non-successful rail reopening schemes that have otherwise exceeded expectations. You'll be closed down soon, no doubt. But, hang on a moment, none of these succesful schemes are in England. Is that the problem?”

Yes the fact we are in England probably is a factor against rail - Wales and Scotland do get more taxpayers cash lavished on them, often in the name of economic regeneration, and therefore they are more likely to be able to afford the extra costs of rail. That said, I thought I would take a look into one of these schemes, the Airdrie to Bathgate link in Scotland, to see how the numbers stack up against the Cambridgeshire Guided Bus (CGB). Both seem to involve about the same length of new, two-way running track (23km reopened rail line vs 25km new Guideway).

First point is - I’m not sure how this can be described as a ‘rail reopening scheme that has otherwise exceeded expectations’ - the new railway in Bathgate isn’t open yet (due the end of 2010, subject to all the same risks of late opening as the Guided Bus…) - you get used to this kind of 'economy with the actualit√©' from rail supporters. But lets do a comparison on the basic figures:

Time taken to build
CGB: Construction started: March 2007
Almost complete – say opening mid-2010, it will have taken just over 3 years from start of construction to opening.

Airdrie-Bathgate Rail line: Start of construction: June 2007 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airdrie-Bathgate_Rail_Link)
End of construction: ‘End of 2010’ (http://www.airdriebathgateraillink.co.uk/)

Total time 3.5 years, but remember that like the CGB, there is significant political pressure not to reveal any delays or cost overruns and always present the most optimistic picture (see press report - including tales of woe of Scottish railway cost overruns)

So the initial estimate for the railway is that it will take longer to build than the likely actual time for Guided Bus construction.

Approximate Construction costs
CGB – approx £120m

Rail approximately twice as expensive to build as Guided Bus – as expected. The Bathgate project costs, again just the initial estimate liable to increases later in the project, are broadly similar to what the real experts thought it would cost for CAST IRON's rail proposals on the Cambridge-St Ives line.

Cost benefits ratio
Initial estimates in both cases to compare like with like – higher the better.

Guided Bus – 2.26

Bathgate Railway – 1.62 to 1.92 depending on options used.

Bear in mind that the Bathgate Railway is in an area with considerably more economic deprivation to start with, so it is much easier to build a case around the number of extra jobs created, but Guided Bus still gives a better ratio, thanks to its lower costs.

Operating costs
Guided Bus – “operating costs are estimated as £2.2 million in 2006, increasing to £3.1 million in 2016” – however these are just the costs – “on the basis of the forecast patronage and expected operational costs, operations are estimated to move into surplus at an operating level after the first few years of operation.”
(Reference as above).
I.e. the Guided Bus is designed to not require an ongoing operating subsidy.

Airdrie-Bathgate railway – net costs of £9m per annum

And this is the real killer to the rail argument - they will need to find a taxpayer funded public body prepared to stump up huge amounts of cash every year in ongoing operating subsidy - the same problem that caused small branch lines to close in the first place. There was no body prepared to stump up that cash, and therefore no-one prepared to fund the capital costs - so the real choice faced by decision makers was not Guided Bus or Rail, it was Guided Bus or nothing.

I would love to have seen a better case made for rail on the St Ives line - that encompasses the widely held view that rail is qualitatively better than a Guided Bus. Unfortunately the great weakness of CAST IRON is that almost every claim they make is literally incredible – starting with their suggestion that a railway could be reopened for £2m by a few volunteers with pick axes, but at every point their story changed, the message to decision makers was that their analysis was all wrong, CAST IRON was right, and only a fool could believe otherwise - not very helpful.

The delays in opening the Guided Bus have been regrettable – but the case behind the decision still stacks up far better than rail. The County Council should be congratulated for having the courage to make this scheme happen – it will bring long term benefits to Cambridgeshire.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Forum Trolleys Multiplying


The supermarkets cleared up the trolleys I reported round one side of The Forum, but it seems that round the other side there's another set, which I have reported to Sainsbury's today. I don't know whether it's the same set I reported yesterday at the same location, but residents have reported that this is a regular problem. I have suggested that the supermarket investigates, which I am sure they will if we make sure we keep reporting them, along the lines of the importunate widow - they are sure to tire of daily reports...

In other news, rats reported around refuse at The Forum, which apparently wasn't a problem when Tiverton House was a sheltered home. It's clearly time for ARU to exercise some authority over its students at this site.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Police respond to unlit cyclists on Mill Road

It was good to see a police officer checking for cyclists without lights on Mill Road tonight. An earlier survey by Coleridge Conservatives, that hit the front page of Cambridge News, showed that 50% of lights that should have been present and on were either absent, dim or obscured. We don't know exactly how many people were therefore not properly lit (as we were checking light positions independently, not cycles as a whole) but it would obviously have had to have been at least half.

The officer I spoke to tonight reckoned 80% of people he'd seen weren't lit properly. That's a damning statistic, but I'm glad that they haven't just done a symbolic annual check on Sidney Street but seem to be taking the problem seriously.

Hills Road Bridge Trial

With Guided Bus roadworks finally finishing on Hills Road Bridge, the County Council has been trialling a new road arrangement to help improve the road for cyclists and pedestrians.

Each direction now has a dedicated cycle lane up the bridge, with two lanes for all traffic going down the bridge. This appears to be popular with most road users without hindering car drivers too much, but local Conservatives and the County Council are keen to know your views, and there are consultation events planned as follows:

Tue 24th Nov 5.00 – 7.30pm
The College Hall, Hills Road Sixth Form College

Mon 30th Nov 5.00 – 7.30pm
Science Lecture Room, Hills Road Sixth Form College,

Please let the County Council know you views with their online questionnaire at:
www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/transport/cambridgegateway
Or for further information contact the County Council on 01223 699906

And please let you local Conservative team know your views as well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mill Road Winter Fair

I'm happy to pass on the following message from the organisers of Mill Road Winter Fair:

"With a month to go to Mill Road Winter Fair we thought you might like access to the on-line programme, with details of what will be happening, when and where, from Donkey Green by the swimming pool through to Romsey Mill and the Labour Club near Coleridge Road. You can find this at http://www.mill-road.com/winterfair_timetable.aspx

More details can be found at http://millroad09.wordpress.com/

It would be great if you could download the poster from http://www.mill-road.com/millroad_community.aspx and put it in your window. We don't want people to miss the opportunity of coming to the Fair.

If you could give up a couple of hours on the day of the Fair to be a steward, please let us know. Or if you could help us to put up and take down signs and banners in the neighbourhood in the days before and after the Fair, act as a runner on Friday 4th, or give us any other help, again, just reply to this e-mail and I will forward it to the appropriate person.

Finally, don't miss the first ever Mill Road Christmas Switch On! From 4:00 pm on 14th November at Cutlacks and the Deaf Centre there will be free children's activities, hot food from Urban Larder, a brass band and a raffle, The winner switches on the lights. ALL WELCOME!

Joining the debate

This week I spent a lunchtime at Long Road Sixth Form College, having been invited to debate the question "This House believes that the next Government should raise taxes rather than cut spending".

Although I speak quite often in the Council Chamber (rather too often some others Councillors would probably suggest...), I was never involved in student politics, and only really got involved some time after I left University, so I had never actually taken part in this type of debate before - it was good fun!

I was leading opposition to the motion, with the Labour parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner, speaking for it, with support each from a Long Road student.

I actually think in the short term we will need tax rises as well as cuts in public spending - but for my part the debate focussed on the terrible state of public finances under Labour, and the huge expansion of the state into areas where it really has been very incompetent.

One area is the way whole departments like the Ministry of Defence and the National Health Service have seen an explosion in the numbers of non-frontline staff. Its hard to know what the extra bureacrats are doing, at a rough guess mostly doing unhelpful things like poor MoD procurement, or monitoring government targets to ensure they are distorting clinical priorities in the health service in line with Ministers press releases.

The other area was the money wasted on government IT projects. Three of the four speakers agreed ID cards and the national identity register database should be scrapped - sadly despite my goading, we still couldn't get Daniel off-message - a few more months left to persuade him that ID cards really are a bad idea...

Daniel's case seemed to be that Labour had nothing to do with the debt crisis in government, it was all the wicked bankers, isn't really that serious, and can be solved by taxing a few rich people. The result - it was close, but I managed to end up on the losing team! I don't think people have quite grasped the historic scale of the debt problem that Gordon Brown has put the country in yet - this year the increase in public debt - the amount by which government spending is exceeding government income - is expected to be £200 billion pounds - which I calculate as more than £3,000 for every person in the county - imagine that added to your credit card bill at the end of the year, without any clear idea where the money has gone!

Many thanks to Tom Woodcock at Long Road for organising the debate, and all those who took part.


"Everything you say will be taken down and used in evidence..."

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Forum Trolley Park

I found four supermarket trolleys outside The Forum yesterday. These have now been reported and will hopefully be removed soon. Please let us know if you live in the Tiverton Way area and are experiencing any other issues relating to this student accommodation formerly known as Tiverton House.

Another Lib Dem leaves Cambridge!

Lib Dem City Councillor Jennifer Liddle has a new address.

Her term isn't due to end until 2012, but she will now be serving her East Chesterton constituents from Woodditton near Newmarket.

I wonder if the next local elections will yet again see sanctimonious Lib Dems criticising opposition candidates who may live only a couple of hundred metres outside a ward boundary as being completely inappropriate based on the fact they don't live in the ward they seek to represent...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tribute paid to departing city MP

The city's Lib Dem MP, David Howarth, has announced that he is standing down at the next election.

Richard Normington has paid tribute to the city's MP on his blog.

Many people we speak to on the doorstep say they are impressed at the work that he does for his constituents and admire his integrity, even though they might not agree with Liberal Democrat policies.

It is now clear that there is everything to play for in Cambridge at the next general election.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blue Bins are arriving


Hopefully most residents will now be aware of the change to blue bins - delivery of the blue bins has already begun, and should be finished by Friday 20 November. You should receive your new bin some time between those dates.

These essentially will replace the black and blue boxes, and will allow all the materials that used to go in these boxes (e.g. paper, glass containers, plastic containers) plus some additional items like clean cartons to be put in the new blue bin together for recycling.

I welcome this initiative - the City Council is some way behind the better performing Conservative Councils on recycling, and this could help - making it easier to recycle, and allowing more types of waste to be recycled.

The Council has lots of information about the new blue bins on its website here. If you have any specific questions about your blue bin, then please call the Council on 01223 458628.

As a local Councillor, I am keen to scrutinise various aspects of the scheme, such as how much it costs to run, but also how the roll-out has gone, and what lessons the Council can learn for the future. If you have any feedback on the following, please let me know:

How well informed did you feel about this change? How did you find out about it - through 'Cambridge Matters' magazine? Notices on your black bin? Leaflet through your door? or was the first you knew when the new bin turned up...

A key problem for the scheme is bin storage, particularly in streets with terraced houses. Some streets won't be given a bin at all (resident can opt-in), others will be partially opt-in. Most if not all roads in Coleridge should have a blue bin delivered by default. However, on request, the Council says it will swap your bin for boxes if you don't have space, or swap your boxes for a bin if it turns out you do have space. How is this working for you?

Finally, some additional advice about the lids on the new bins. Due to the way the bins have to be stored some of the lids will not close completely straight away. This is normal, and the lids should gradually close themselves over the course of about 2 days. If there are any bins where the lids have not righted themselves by the time the main deliveries have been completed, (i.e. around November 20th) then let the Council know, but since the bins are for clean recycling and should not contain food waste, this should not cause any issues with flies.



St Margarets Square Yellow Lines

The long awaited double yellow lines will be installed in St. Margaret's Square, weather permitting, on Monday 7th December 2009.

The traffic regulation order will be in force on the same date.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Richard Normington supports Cambridge at growth hustings


Richard Normington, the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge, joined representatives of the other main parties in Cambridge for a hustings on The Politics of Cambridge's Growth organised by the Federation of Cambridge Residents' Associations on Friday night. FeCRA will be publishing a record of the meeting on their website in a number of weeks.

On the disposition of power between the government and local authorities

While Labour's candidate said the balance was "broadly right", the Green party candidate focused on getting global green targets and the leader of the city council went on about Local Income Tax, Richard said that the balance was way out in favour of the government and that the Conservatives would shift large amounts back, including giving local authorities a 'general power of competence'.

Regarding the complex arrangements for local government financing, where approximately 80% of funds come from the government, Richard say we should "start with easy steps", such as to "ease back on ring-fencing".

On growth in Cambridge

Richard Normington reaffirmed his support for the Conservative policy of scrapping the Regional Spatial Strategy and allowing local authorities to form their own judgement about housing need and provision.

To a question about housing targets the Labour spokesman said that they were "not plucked from thin air" and that they had been debated and agreed. From where I was sitting in the audience I don't think this impressed anyone!

Asked whether he could be sure, as he had stated, that "the need for growth will be accepted without being forced by the government", Richard Normington pointed out that one of the reasons that housing always seems to be unwanted is that the governments rules mean it inevitably turns out to be what isn't needed, citing numbers for the massively increased proportion of new-builds that are poky flats with no gardens.

Richard also added that the Conservatives would provide incentives for communities to agree to development by allowing them to keep the proceeds of new council tax arising from it and some other revenue streams.

Richard and the Labour candidate rejected development on the Marshall site, although the Labour candidate failed to understand that the consequence of the government's targets was that if the council doesn't get on with it the government threatens "we will set up a quango" to force it through.

The Lib Dem wanted to develop the Marshall site while the Green didn't know. (The Green city councillor appears to be in favour.)

On infrastructure

The Green Party wasn't keen on the sort of infrastructure that the other candidates were - roads and utilities - he wanted everything to be with 10 minutes' walking distance. (Nice little utopia you've got there!) Richard Normington ridiculed this sort of protectionism that starts global and ends at the village boundary.

Labour's Transport Innovation Fund congestion charging blackmail was widely derided.

All the other candidates agreed that infrastructure needed to come first or at the same time as development; the current system of post-development levies was considered inadequate.

Richard Normington was scathing of the competence of the Lib Dem city councillors, citing their failure to understand their own system with respect to section 106 agreements at a recent area committee he had attended. One of the interlocutors reported that a Lib Dem had told him "we don't know where to spend it because we don't have any open space to put it!"

It was also pointed out that the developers of the Tim Brinton site in Coleridge have tried to reduce their s.106 contributions from £1.5m to £500k.

On two practical policies for green spaces, while the Green candidate put all his hope in his controversial Wicken Fen project, Richard said that he supports local "food producers not mosquito farmers" and that verges should either be "for trees and grass or cars but not both".

Friday, October 23, 2009

Council Agrees "Save Election Night"

Cambridge City Council last night agreed to support the Conservative campaign to save election night in Cambridge. The following motion was agreed unanimously:

"This Council believes that the interests of democracy and the country are best served if the result of a general election is confirmed as soon as possible after the close of polls.

It therefore strongly supports general election counts being conducted on election night immediately following the close of polls, and requests that the returning officer takes note of this opinion."

As the only Conservative on the Council, it was very pleasing to have unanimous support for my motion - certainly the first Conservative motion to be passed at the City Council for a large number of years!

In the debate, it was pointed out that at the last general election Cambridge did not declare until 5am, and felt that in order to reduce the long hours, much more could be done to improve organisation and get the result earlier.

I will again be writing to the returning officer, the Chief Executive of the City Council, to ask if we can confirm a Thursday night count - if so, it will be interesting to see if we can be declaring at a more sensible time - I would suggest 2am at the latest...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Brackyn Corrie Fencing to be fixed

Its taken a long, long time, but the Council has finally agreed to make funding available by approving a Safer City grant to pay for the broken fencing around the Davy Road flats, and to improve the lighting on the footpath between Brackyn Road and Corrie Road.

This is really great news - I've been working on this since before I was elected in 2008, and it has been a team effort involving local residents and other ward Councillors. Hopefully we can get the work arranged ASAP...

Filming on the Rec!

In case you are on Coleridge rec on Monday, I've been sent the following...

...a local film group working on behalf of the University Press plan to carry out a short filming session on Coleridge Recreation Ground on Monday 26th October for two hours between 10.30 and 12.30. The video is for educational use only.

No major Hollywood stars are expected!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Central Library has reopened


After a lengthy closure for redevelopment, the Central Library reopened about 3 weeks ago. I had a chance to look round today, and I think it has been worth the wait - the County Council has done a really good job. The layout seems very clear and welcoming, and as might be expected as well as the books, there has been a significant investment in IT with computer terminals and free wi-fi access to help those who want to use the library for studying. Judging by today, it already seemed to be very popular.

More details available from the library's website http://hipweb.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/central/ or visit yourself - the entrance is from the first floor of the Grand Arcade, and the library is now open seven days a week.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A14 proposals on display

Proposals have been published for the long-awaited A14 upgrade, and there will be a public exhibition of the proposals at the University Arms hotel at the following times:

Thursday 15 October 2009 (10 - 8)
Friday 16 October 2009 (10 - 8)
Saturday 17 October 2009 (10 - 8)
Sunday 18 October 2009 (10 - 6)

Members of the Highways Agency Project Team will be available to answer questions on the proposals.

Action at last on Ruth Bagnall Court Parking

An issue that I have been moaning to the County Council about for ages looks like it might finally be heading for a solution.

Despite a perfectly adequate underground car park, there is always a row of cars parked on Coleridge Road outside Ruth Bagnall Court, causing problems for road users near the Mill Road junction, and resulting in numerous previous complaints. I've now received this from the County Council:

"For some considerable time the County Council has had limited funding for minor traffic management measures, which would include the introduction of short lengths of new parking or waiting restrictions such as double yellow lines in Coleridge Road adjacent to Ruth Bagnall Court. However, funding is now available to progress a small number of schemes including this one.

As you are probably aware, there is a statutory legal process we are required follow to introduce traffic regulation orders (TROs) prior to implementing any parking or waiting restrictions on street. To commence the statutory process any proposals must be advertised to allow people an opportunity to object.

This TRO will be advertised on 20th November 2009 in the Cambridge Evening News and notices erected on street indicating that objections must be received by 14th December 2009. Any objections will then be considered by the Cambridge Traffic Management Area Joint Committee (CAJC) at its meeting on 25th January 2010.

If no objections are received or if objections are not upheld and the scheme is approved by the CAJC we can then complete the legal processes to enable the order to come into operation and arrange for the installation of any necessary road marking /signing on-street."

Guildhall Project Makes Progress

The project to revamp and make better use of the ground floor of the Guildhall continues apace. The new tourist information centre has been opened for a while, and the new coffee shop - run by the Green Coffee Company which is based in the new Tourist Information Centre, opened its doors for business on Friday 9th October.

Councillors had a tour of the new facilities in September, and the work in progress elsewhere on the project. The old tourist information centre is now a building site - I think this will become part of Jamie Olivers new restaurant.


The old court room is due to become a visitor attraction of some type.

I've long called for the Council to make better use of its property assets - I think the Guildhall redevelopment could make a very positive contribution to Cambridge and benefit Council taxpayers.

Councillor Interests now online

They are still annoyingly difficult to find, but the City Council has put Councillors' 'Register of Interests' declarations online - you have to access them via the Councillors details page - i.e. click here.

In case you are interested, my declaration is here.

There is still a long way to go before the Council complies with the detail or principles around making information available as agreed at the last full Council meeting, but this is at least a start...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Save General Election Night


The returning officer (i.e. the chief executive of the City Council) has not yet decided whether to hold the General Election count in Cambridge overnight on Thursday, or during the day on Friday (whenever the general election is called - May 6th is the date all the main parties are working towards).

To help the decision, I have proposed the following motion for Council to consider at its meeting on 22nd October:

"This Council believes that the interests of democracy and the country are best served if the result of a general election is confirmed as soon as possible after the close of polls.

It therefore strongly supports general election counts being conducted on election night immediately following the close of polls, and requests that the returning officer takes note of this opinion."

I don't have anyone to second the motion yet, but hope this is a topic where there will be some cross party support...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bicycle lights on Mill Road

Coleridge Conservatives surveyed cycles going over Mill Road bridge after pub closing time on a Sunday and Monday evening and found that only 50% of the front and back positions where there should have been lights had lights on either full or flashing. (We noticed that far more people had front lights than rear lights.)

This is one of the problems that we feel should be tackled before almost half a million pounds are spent annoying all vehicular users of the road and cyclists with 'vertical displacement' features.

The Mill Road safety scheme will be up for consideration at the next Cambridge Traffic Management Area Joint Committee at Shire Hall and the initial report on Mill Road is included in the agenda. I argue that the proposal should score badly on all three of the scoring categories mentioned in section 2.1 but I am not holding my breath that officers will agree.


Our survey was unscientific and small scale, but I suspect the result will surprise no-one...

UPDATE: Martin in the comments asked for the actual numbers corresponding to the above figures so here are the results from observing 89 cycles. You may notice a slight error.



fullflashinglow batnoneobscured
Out of townFront2983301
Rear14194333
Into townFront82061
Rear63080


57327745

Should the City Council try to 'ban' Foie Gras?

A short while ago, Councillors were written to requesting that they "ban Foie gras from council property, and further to discourage the sale of Foie Gras in Cambridge." - the campaign group behind this call seems to have stepped up a gear, and a petition will be discussed at strategy and resources committee later today.

I suspect the authors of this request have a slightly fanciful impression of the catering arrangements at the Guildhall (we tend to prefer champagne and caviar for sustenance when making really important decisions), but for such a controversial subject a fact finding mission seemed in order. So the week before last, I had an early morning trip to a foie gras farm in the Dordogne region of France.


Like most foie gras farms, this one farms ducks rather than geese - the latter being more aggressive, as well as requiring more handling. The farm receives ducklings aged 1 day old, that live in a barn until they are old enough to go outside. At this point, the female ducks are separated out and are used for roast duck - they are apparantly noisier and don't grow as much!


Whilst outside, they roam in large fields - and conditions seem much better, than for example throughout the life of a battery chicken.


After several months of 'normal' (if somewhat high calorie) lifestyle, the ducks are moved to cages for the most controversial part of the process.

For the final 10 days, they are kept in cages and subjected to 'gavage', the force feeding twice daily of maize mixture, totalling 1kg a day. This causes the liver of the ducks - the prized ingredient of foie gras - to swell up to significantly more than normal size.

After 10 days, the ducks are stunned and killed, and almost all the duck, including feathers is used.

Having seen the whole process, it is hard to draw definitive conclusions as to how cruel it is - the ducks being force fed did not appear to be unduly distressed - the storage of food in the gullet, and the laying down of fat in the liver are also to some extent natural processes.

I am not a vegetarian - and even if meat eaters chose not to think about it very much, this does involve keeping animals that will eventually be killed for human consumption - many of those who object to foie gras are opposed to all animal rearing for human consumption. The question is what harm or distress is being caused, how does this relate to other alarm or distress caused by animal production for human consumption? Objective evidence of this (of a more scientific variety than one trip to a farm is likely to reveal) is hard to come by. It is right that animals kept for food should not be subject to unreasonable distress, however I remain to be convinced that foie gras production is necessarily unacceptable.

It would certainly be outrageous if Council Tax payers money was spent on foie gras (or champagne and caviar for that matter!), but if, for example, a well know chef was to open a restaurant in the Guildhall, should a condition of the lease be that no foie gras is served? (There's no suggestion this is part of Jamie Oliver's plans!)

But I don't think the Council should interfere even if it was, let alone try to influence consumption elsewhere in the city - I think it should be down to activists to peacefully persuade and consumers to make their own decision.