Friday, March 28, 2008

Wheelclampers on the prowl

Something that appears to be new in Coleridge in the couple of days I was away - there were wheelclampers in action this evening that have clamped a couple of cars parked on the Tim Brinton site in front of the pine furniture shop.

I know the City planners made a complete hash of parking arrangements for this area, and it is private land, but this does seem to be a bit of an over-reaction when the shop concerned isn't even open...

Yorkshire to the Chisholm Trail

I've just spent a couple of days out of the Coleridge campaign in Yorkshire visiting Graham Stuart, now MP for Beverley and Holderness - we served as Cambridge City Councillors together until 2004, and was good to see him doing so well in Yorkshire. There aren't any elections due in Beverley until the next General Election, but he really is working hard for his constituents all year round - we spent an afternoon talking to residents in Labour's strongest polling district in the constituency, where they polled 75% in the last general election. They certainly won't be doing that well next time - even in Labour heartlands, it is clear large numbers are now very fed up with the government and will be voting Conservative. I wouldn't want to be a Labour Councillor up for re-election on May 1st. I also heard depressingly familiar tales of residents plagued by anti-social behaviour, and police who seem totally unable to get to grips with the problems.

As the train came back in to Cambridge, I was reminded about just how much land is available alongside the railway. I have always thought this could be reconfigured, and the space used to improve public transport and cycling. In particular, I would love to see the Chisholm Trail opened. The idea, from Jim Chisholm of Cambridge Cycle Campaign is for a north-south supercycleway to be opened alongside the railway. The County Council are already delivering on this idea south of the railway, with an off road cycle route next to the Guided Busway, but it would make a huge difference to Coleridge to have a foot/cyclebridge from the LeisurePark to the station, and a cycle route north to the Science Park - in fact, I think this could have a much more beneficial effect on congestion in Cambridge than the planned congestion charge, as it will make many commutes more convenient by bike. A lot of people are in favour of this plan, I wonder what any of the Councils or Councillors have actually done about it - like writing to Network Rail and asking if they can open a cycle route for example...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hills Road Roadworks

There are going to be major roadworks needed to construct the new cycleway under Hills Road bridge as part of the Guided Bus project. I think this is going to be excellent news for cyclists and bus users from the South of the City when it is finished, but the thought of significant disruption during construction is worrying. I've checked with the guided bus team, and this is the latest on the plan for these works:

"The works at Hills Road bridge will be done with temporary traffic lights rather than a complete closure of the road. There will be at least one lane each way for motor traffic and also a footpath and cycleway each way (though this might be narrower than the existing footpath/cycleways).The exact plans for the traffic management are being finalised at the moment. Once we can confirm these details we will publicise them widely in the press, media, on our website and through direct mailing. We will also produce a separate leaflet for the works on Hills Road."

So not a complete closure, which is good news, but when these works are scheduled local Councillors will need to be on top of the plans to make sure they minimise disruption to local residents as much as possible.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Under starters orders!

The City Council has now officially ‘called’ the City Council elections for 1st May, and nominations have opened for candidates in all 14 wards. Nominations will close on 4th April, and shortly after that I’ll know who my opponents will be on May 1st. Previously all the usual suspects have put up candidates in Coleridge, but for the benefit of any Lib Dem activists reading, I know you’ll enjoy the next bit – its going to be a two horse race between the Conservatives and Labour in Coleridge!

But don’t let that discourage anyone from standing – its really quite straightforward! To stand you must generally either live or work in the City Council area, and get ten voters in your chosen ward to sign your nomination papers (who haven’t already signed someone else's!). Unlike parliamentary elections, there is no deposit to pay or lose.

If elected, as a minimum you must attend one official meeting of the Council every six months, but all Councillors of whatever party in Cambridge are committed to doing their best for local residents, and will be doing much more than that as they make or scrutinise decisions about City Council services including planning, the recycling, community facilities, leisure facilities, housing, grants to voluntary organisations etc etc. Councillors are also expected to be community leaders in their ward and campaign on behalf of residents on local issues.

For more information about being a candidate in local elections, see here. Most Councillors in Cambridge run under a party banner, which I think is generally a good thing. Try as I might, it is very difficult to personally speak or even communicate at all with all 6,000ish Coleridge residents, so the party banner may give people some idea of my likely approach to local issues, and the help of my many volunteers from the local party is crucial in the election campaign.

Quite shockingly, the Lib Dem County Councillor for Romsey ward has stepped down – so there will be a by-election for this vacancy on the same day there. The Lib Dems only won this area at County level for the first time in 2005, and this is the second Councillor to step down early – average time in post only 18 months. Whilst I don’t know the background of this resignation, if it is just another ‘career move’ that has caused the vacancy, I think the electorate of Romsey will be seriously questioning whether their support is being taken for granted with a series of Lib Dem candidates clearly lacking commitment to the area.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Congestion Charging Consultation

The closing date for the Congestion Charging Consultation is today (Mon 24th). I've just completed the survey that was available here. I think its fair to say some of the questions didn't provide an adequate opportunity to say what I really think, but this was the comments I made at the end:

We are being blackmailed by the Government to include congestion charging in the TIF bid and think it is outrageous we are being expected to absorb massive growth without no strings attached commitments to funding transport improvements.

I am strongly opposed to congestion charging - it will be expensive and bureaucratic to administer with most revenue taken by operators, will be intrusive as people are tracked round the city, and could potentially do great harm to the local economy (a matter not even touched on in this questionnaire), with the biggest losers being the least well off.

Congestion in Cambridge should be tackled by significant increases in capacity of all types of transport infrastructure - road (especially the A14 but also significant new roads to support new developments), off-road public transport (guided bus and/or rail), support for existing bus routes, and cycle facilities (e.g. dedicated and convenient off road routes, secure cycle parking in existing and new destinations).

If the government doesn't want to pay for this, agree to this or make it the priority obligation put on developers, we should totally oppose new developments of the scale being proposed. The current deal being offered to existing residents of massive development, wholly inadequate transport infrastructure, more congestion and then have congestion charging as well is totally unacceptable.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Coleridge Cycle Parking

The photo below was taking on a normal working day last week at the junction of Cherry Hinton Road and Hills Road:

Bikes are parked everywhere - its hard to make out but there are also huge numbers of bikes parked against the railings on the opposite side of the road, and slightly further out of town, the bikes are two deep outside Hills Road Sixth Form College. Cambridge Cycling Campaign are campaigning hard for more cycle parking in Cambridge, and with cycle theft a huge problem, the lack of convenient, secure cycle parking becomes a real barrier to increased cycling in the city - missing out on the environmental and health benefits that cycling brings.

How can we have got into this state? This area is surrounded by modern developments (and the picture is similar outside the new flats at the top end of Rustat Road) - our planners really should have insisted on adequate cycling parking.

The planning rules governing new developments are a combination of central government policy 'guidance', and locally determined planning policy as set out in the Cambridge local plan. Have a look at appendices C and D. The car parking standards (appendix C) specify a maximum - typically one space per house, and funnily enough, this aspect of the plan appears to be non-negotiable when the Council approves new developments. Result - many new developments have built in parking problems by design because developers aren't allowed to build enough parking spaces. Appendix D specifies minimum cycle parking standards for new developments - excellent, except this aspect of the local plan is one the Council always seems to have problems enforcing. There was much debate when the Leisure Park was approved as to why they weren't going to insist on their minimum standards, and there is another argument raging about why the cycle parking for the Grand Arcade is so behind schedule.

Allocating land use to transport and parking in existing, heavily developed areas is always going to be problematic. Failing to get cycle parking, car parking and transport infrastructure right in new developments is inexcusable. I don't believe we are planning responsibly for the future development of Cambridge, and we desperately need some real scrutiny of what is going on in City planning. But in the meantime, Coleridge desperately needs more secure cycle parking.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Action Now on the A14

I occassionally sign petitions on the Number 10 petitions website - not sure if it does any good, but at least it lets someone in Government know that I feel strongly about something, and get to hear their response.

One petition I signed because I feel very strongly is the call for urgent action to upgrade the A14 - and Number 10 has just published their response:

"The Government fully recognises the need for improvement of the A14 in Cambridgeshire.
The Government is aware of concern that the scheme should be delivered as quickly as possible and of the level of support for it. The Government intends to progress the scheme as rapidly as practicable. However, the time taken to design the scheme and complete the statutory procedures required to authorise its construction cannot be reduced. It is important that the people who may be affected by the scheme, or have other interests in it, are given the opportunity to comment on the proposals.
Funding approval for the scheme to proceed to the next stage in its development, the publication of draft Orders and Environmental Statement, has been given. It is only when construction work is ready to start that funds for major trunk road improvements are finally committed.
Traffic modelling has been undertaken and will be updated to include the latest planning assumptions to ensure that up to the design year, (15 years after opening of the scheme) sufficient capacity is included in the design of the scheme."

So interesting stuff - there is no problem with funding etc, its just taking time to go through the process. I think it is now time for out local elected representatives to look very closely at the timetable and see what can be speeded up - its hard to believe the plans are progressing as quickly as they could be...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Post Office vote result

Sadly it looks like the Conservative attempts to stop the Post Office closure program in Parliament has been defeated, but by only 20 votes as Labours majority collapsed in the House of Commons. As Conservative Shadow Business Secretary Alan Duncan said afterwards:

"The hunt will now be on for all those Labour MPs who have pretended to support their local Post Office and then done a runner when they had a chance to make a real difference."

The fight to save local post offices goes on on the ground...

Save our Post Offices

The Conservatives are today leading the charge against the Government's plans to close 2,500 post offices across the Country - they are using an opposition day debate to try reversing the closure program. Labour MPs (including Ministers) up and down the country have been caught out promising to try saving their local Post Offices, despite it being their Government's policy that is causing the closures. Lets hope these MPs can remember what they have been promising locally and support the Conservatives today.

It is expected that closures in Cambridgeshire will be announced on July 8th, and I will be campaigning hard to save Coleridge's two post offices from Labour's planned cuts.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Council Tax

I received my Council Tax bill through the post this morning for the year ending April 2009. I've know for a while what was coming - again Cambridgeshire has been stuffed by an inadequate government grant, and the total bill has risen 4.9% - it shows just how out of touch Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling are when they say they will hit their 2% inflation target.

The County Council have raised Council tax by the maximum 5%, and the City Council by 4.5% (although the latter has more discretionary spending, and it looks like they have again been eating into reserves, although it is very difficult to tell from the accompanying booklet - I'm only an accountant, local government finance is still a black art of inpenetrable grant funding and fantasy accounting like the housing revenue account where the numbers can bear little relation to the economic reality)

The number at the bottom of the bill is now eye-watering. and incredibly even more money comes in from central government grants, under a formula which local politicians have no say over, so the total spending is huge. The trouble is, the governent continually underfunds Cambridgeshire (e.g. not adequately taking into account population growth when calculating grants), and then wants to try controlling how the money is spent, with a stream of directives and targets.

But Councillors can make a difference to bills locally. I know from experience as a Cambridge City Councillor in 2000-2004, a lot of time is spent in local government writing strategy documents and the like to tick boxes and meet government targets. I also know that Labour and Lib Dem Councillors will spend almost all their time considering service users. We need to focus back some attention on the Council tax payers, many of which are going to be struggling to pay the latest bills sent out. As a Councillor, I will fight for the Council tax payer - Consevative Councils have a track record of better quality services at lower costs, and they do it by continually looking for innovative solutions to problems (Like plans from Conservative controlled Essex County Council to run local post offices), or like Hammesmith and Fulham Council in London when the Conservatives took over after years of Labour mismanagement, just finding the waste that allows Council Tax to be reduced. Cambridge City Council desperately needs a Conservative voice to start standing up for the local Council Tax payers.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

European Betrayal: David Howarth’s ‘Anne Campbell’ Moment

It seems like an eternity ago, but until 2005 Cambridge used to have a Labour MP, Anne Campbell. No small part of her downfall was her stance on tuition fees. Having promised the electorate she would say no to tuition fees, she then decided to do the party loyalist thing and vote for them. No amount of weasel words from her that she had meant to be talking about top up fees could persuade the electorate she hadn’t promised one thing before an election, and as MP, had voted a different way.

Prior to the last election, the Lib Dems promised Cambridge residents a referendum on the European Constitution. By betraying this promise and abstaining on the Conservative’s demands for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Cambridge Lib Dem MP David Howarth may well have just had his ‘Anne Campbell moment’ – and the Cambridge electorate know they can never trust him again to keep his promises.

It’s no good weaselling that the Lisbon Treaty isn’t the European Constitution – as Mark Littlewood, former Lib Dem Head of Media said:

‘There are differences but they are differences of nuance, and I think you need to go through some pretty perverse constitutional contortions to be able to go back and explain to the electorate why that promise for a referendum doesn't hold'

As for the Lib Dems fake outrage and walkout of parliament because they couldn’t ask for a referendum on EU membership itself - why should this be relevant to a discussion on the Lisbon Treaty? Personally, I certainly don’t want Britain to leave the EU as it currently is, for example, they do important work to make free trade and the common market happen, and they have important work to do on cross-border environmental issues.
But I do think the EU is far too bureaucratic, and far too far from democratic control by the people of Europe – a point reinforced by the way politicians have brought back the Constitution almost unchanged as the Lisbon Treaty, ignored previous referendums rejecting the plans and breaking promises to hold new referendums. So no, the question is not whether we should remain in the EU, but how to give people a real say on whether further powers should be transferred to Europe as this Treaty implies.

Don’t take my word for how badly Lib Dem MPs behaviour has gone down – ask some Lib Dem activists like this and this.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Budget Postscript

Seems like some slightly more independent voices share my views on the budget:

'The inescapable fact appears to be that we are spending more than we are earning even in the good times, and something will have to give if the economic outlook deteriorates. With growth forecasts downgraded, the housing market in the doldrums and a looming credit crunch, the options to withstand any major economic shocks look limited, a surprising situation given the long period of steady growth. If the economic situation does deteriorate, then the Chancellor will be forced to cut spending, increase borrowing and/or raise taxes. None of these options look particularly attractive. '

- from the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales Tax faculty budget briefing

'The Budget is implausibly optimistic about the economic and fiscal prospects'

- from The Economist, 14/3/08

Congestion Charging

Last night I went to an internal party meeting to discuss congestion charging – it wasn’t a decision making meeting, just a chance for City Conservatives to talk to our County Council Colleagues.

I think our Conservative County Councillors do a great job running the County Council. They are continually dealt a bad funding hand by the Government and deal with it in a way that tries to protect Council Tax payers now and in the future. (In the disasterous period of Lib/Lab control of the County in the 90s, some of the budgets set we’re clearly not designed to think about who would be picking up the mess again a few years later…). With the Guided Bus, they are delivering on a multi-million pound transport scheme that will bring real benefits to the County, when many critics would have sabotaged these plans without any way of delivering an alternative.

But when it comes to the tentative plans for Congestion Charging, I have to admit to considerable disagreement with my County Colleagues. Don’t get me wrong – I drive very little, cycle to work, and would like to see serious action against climate change. But the proposition being put to residents in areas like Coleridge is not one I can sell on the doorstep – here, have a high density housing estate parked on your doorstep, with transport in Perne Road and Newmarket Road predicted to be chaos even under best case scenarios, and we’ll tackle this by charging you for driving to work in the morning.

The case is made that Congestion Charging is the only way to make other transport improvements work in Cambridge i.e. people would prefer to sit in their cars on congested roads rather than use viable public transport/cycling alternatives, unless you setup some hugely bureaucratic system to track cars every move throughout the City and charge them £3-£5 for the privilege - in addition to the car tax, fuel tax, VAT, insurance, depreciation, parking charges etc etc already being paid, when miraculously the drivers will get out of their cars and do something else. I don’t buy this argument – mainly because I think the argument has been constructed around the fact that the County is being blackmailed by the Government. They have said, please make a so called ‘TIF bid’ for millions of pounds to spend on transport improvements, but only if you ask for congestion charging as part of the bid.

Cambridge is too important for Gordon Browns bankrupt government to treat in this shoddy way. Residents are being fleeced for all the new taxes introduced to fund feckless Labour areas elsewhere. We are being forced to accept thousands of new houses when existing residents are very concerned about the effects of this rapid development, and the government is saying we can’t have sufficient funds for the transport infrastructure unless we take part in one of their pet social engineering schemes. This stinks.

My alternative plan – tell Gordon Brown we must have the funds needed for transport improvements desperately needed now, for the A14, buses, cycle routes etc, or we’re not even going to think about building the 60,000+ houses you want to us to build in the Cambridge sub-region. Only after this happens, local residents should decide if they think it would then be a good idea to introduce congestion charging as well.

I again let County Councillors know my views. I am encouraged that they are clearly going to listen to the public consultation (that now closes on 24th March – please make your views known here). I hope the plans will be quietly (or even noisily) dropped after that!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fix My Street!

Councillors often claim to have fixed things in their ward. For the Lib Dems, it frequently forms the main part of their case for electing them (One Councillor I can think of claims to be very active in fixing street lights – I have a vaguely amusing mental picture of the person in question in overalls, climbing ladders with their toolkit).

Of course they don’t mean that – they have merely asked the Council to fix something, and usually it is fixed. Councillors clearly should help getting things fixed in this way, and we will be talking about things fixed in the Coleridge thanks to our chasing up of the Council (and those where the Council is still letting Coleridge down!)

But Councillors should really only need to get involved in these issues when local residents have tried and failed to get action from the Council. Help, however, is at hand. There is a really great website ( that allows anyone to report a problem on a map, upload a photo if necessary, and an email is automatically sent to the relevant Council to fix the problem.

The best bit is that others can then see that a problem has been reported and the Council notified, or if not, notify the problem themselves. If you spot any local problems – defective paving, graffiti, litter/rubbish, streetlighting faults etc etc, I suggest first using this website, then get in touch if the Council isn’t helping fast enough.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Budget Thoughts

Just had the misfortune to watch Alastair Darling’s first budget. Apparantly tractor production is at record levels, and we should all be very happy.

Trouble is, no-one (myself included) believes it any more. The forecasts are dodgy (be it growth or public borrowing requirements), historic data and statistics have definitions changed beyond the point of absurdity to allow the ever more incredulous claims to be made. Missing your target to not borrow over the economic cycle – no problem, just change the definition of economic cycle. Worried about putting Northern Rock debt on the Government’s books – no problem, just claim it doesn’t count.

And of course, we now have to wait for the real budget measures that only appear in the small print long after the fawning BBC coverage has ended, and show how we are going to be taxed even more this year.

Cut through the spin, and it is clear that over the last decade we have been taxed like never before in ways that will do damage for years to come, like the £5 billion+ being taken from pension funds every year. The rules and red tape associated with taxation have exploded into a mess of special cases, gimmicks and means tested benefits that enslave ever more into state dependence. Nobody can seem to tell where the enormous sums raised have gone (like the NHS perhaps – except average waiting times have actually increased), or why despite high tax revenues the country is still borrowing at extraordinary levels.

Love or hate Tory Chancellors, at least you could listen to a budget speech and get a reasonable idea about what had happened and what they were going to do.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Trip to Parkside Police Station

Fortunately my trip wasn’t in handcuffs, with transport provided. I went to visit Simon Cross, the Sergeant in charge of policing in Coleridge, to find out about anti-social behaviour and other crime issues in Coleridge Ward, and what support the police need from our Councillors.

A key issue is the Cambridge Leisure Park site. Following an objection from the police, Wetherspoon’s was refused permission to open a huge pub under the Travelodge, despite initial approval from the Council. With the inclusion of the site in a designated ‘cumulative impact zone’, it will now be very difficult for another pub to be opened and the premises are still vacant. Personally I have some concerns about this decision – I expect the police to hold the few troublemakers responsible for their actions, and not penalise those who do act responsibly (whether it is as trivial as stopping a new pub, or as serious as forcing innocent people to carry ID cards or hand over their DNA to the state, but I digress…)

As is often the case, the issue turns out to be quite complex. The development isn’t just a design eyesore, it has appalling transport integration (no footbridge to the station, no taxi ranks on site, lack of secure bike parking, a car park with a reputation of being expensive etc), so late night revellers are left milling around on the harsh stone concourse after a night out. In neighbouring new developments, student digs are next door to posh yuppie flats. Put this all together, and its no wonder trouble happens. I shudder to think how the Council let this through planning! We must get transport right, not just on the Leisure site, but on all new developments such as the Station Redevelopment and East Cambridge. The police are clearly worried about a pub potentially encouraging antisocial drinking and throwing out punters at the same time as a nightclub, whilst simultaneously trying to police the City Centre – the solutions to this problem are clearly going to require a whole set of people working together, not least to educate young people, foster social responsibility from and early age and stop the troublesome few giving all young people a bad name.

The other anti-social problem mentioned was young people from local schools drinking on Coleridge Rec. Hopefully police action has already made a difference on this issue, but there remains a lack of youth facilities in the ward.

I raised some other policing issues that have been mentioned on the doorstep – like speeding cars on Coleridge Road. It was disillusioning to get a flavour of just how much the Government’s target agenda and rules are limiting the scope of the police to respond to issues like this. If something isn’t a designated priority or pet project, it is very difficult to find resources. It would help if the Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) who are increasing visible presence on the streets were able to issue tickets for minor offences, like cyclists without lights. Speaking of cycling - it turns out we are both keen cyclists, and agreed that more (secure) cycle parking would definitely help in the ward!

Finally I asked how local residents could help the police to stop crime and anti-social behaviour.

The e-cops scheme (sign up at allows the police to stay in touch about any issues affecting local residents, and helps communication between residents and the police.

There will also be more efforts to encourage neighbourhood watch schemes, lead by the local PCSOs. Residents are encourage to be in touch if they are interested in helping.

Our Community police officers for Coleridge can be contacted as – Police Community Support Officer – Neighbourhood Policing Constable – Neighbourhood Policing Sergeant

Monday, March 10, 2008

In it for the long run

As you may have read in my last In Touch newsletter, I have just run in the Barcelona Marathon. I am really pleased with my time 3 hours, 1 min and 8 seconds, but I can't help thinking is there anything else I could have done to get under the magic 3 hour mark that I was aiming for - similar thoughts to when I lost in Coleridge last year by only 18 votes! The answer of course is that even when you have worked for something for a long time, there is always more that could be done, and if you keep trying you will usually get there in the end. (Not that I'm thinking of running another marathon - oh no).

On the plus side, I hope to have raised several hundred pounds for the Myasthenia Gravis Association, a medical research and support charity. My mother was seriously ill with this neurological condition 3 years ago, but thanks to some powerful drugs and the NHS is now making good progress. The sponsorship page is still open at

Meanwhile, I'm still off newsletter delivery duty until my legs recover!

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Welcome to the first post on my new blog. I am again standing for election again in Coleridge ward, Cambridge, having been 19 votes short of victory here last year!

I've been campaigning on a number of issues in and around the ward over the last year, and I'm hoping to use this blog to let anyone who is interested know what I will be standing for, the types of issues I am interested in, and what I hope to achieve for local residents if elected as one of the City Councillors for Coleridge ward on May 1st. If you want to keep up to date with the campaign, please keep checking this blog!