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.