Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bureaucracy Gone Mad

Allowing cyclists on some of the streets off Mill Road to cycle both ways on roads that are one-way for drivers is a controversial issue. Personally, I think there is a huge benefit to cyclists in speeding up journeys like this with little or no increased risk or invconvenience to other road users, so I support the changes recently introduced to allow two way cycling. What is indefensible however is the way the Government Department of Transport insists on very specific forms of signage to allow this, which actually cause problems because they won't allow a simple arrangement that makes it very clear that the roads are only one-way for cars. The following is a good suggestion for how two-way cycling should be allowed:

But some bureaucrats sitting in an office in London don't like this, and according to the police, this is causing problems with some motorists ignoring the no motor vehicles signs (the "flying motorbike" sign) that have just replaced the no entry signs to implement the new policy of allowing two way cycling. I thought I would ask why...

To: Traffic Signs dept, Department for Transport
Dear Sir,
Here in Cambridge cycling is a significant form of local transport, that makes a huge contribution to reducing congestion and promoting sustainable travel, so as a local Councillor I am keen to promotecycling as much as possible.
One way of doing this is to permit cyclists to cycle both ways down a street that is one-way for other traffic. A very simple way of permitting this would be a form of signage that makes it clear that aroad is no entry for vehicles except cyclists, along with some simple road markings at the entrance to the road. (See attached picture).
However, I understand that due to Department for Transport rules, this form of signage is not permitted, and either a less clear form of signage or over-engineered street works are required to make such asimple change. (per
Contrary to the comment in the guidance ("At the sites monitored by TRL, compliance with this sign was found to be good."), I would like to provide feedback on how replacing no entry signs with no motor vehicles signs (per figure 2 on the guidance page linked above) is working in practice on several roads in Cambridge with signage recently changed. The police have reported to local Councillors that this has resulted in numerous car drivers believing that the roads inquestion are no longer no-entry for them, resulting in cars travelling in an unexpected direction on the roads in question, and requiring an additional police presence.
Therefore, could you please let me know:
Is the form of signage proposed in the attached diagram actually prohibited? (i.e. is the 'guidance' mandatory)
If it is not permitted, why is this?
Can this form of signage please be permitted?
If no, what form of legislation or edict from an elected person/minister etc would be required to make such signage permitted?

UPDATE: I should point out that Cambridge Cycling Campaign have been campaigning on this issue for a while, and have a much better explanation of the problem here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

New Cycle Route on the Agenda

One of my election pledges was to campaign for a new cycle route in Coleridge between Ashbury Close and Golding Road. This has now been put in progress, and I've had this back from the Council:

"This has now been put on the register for new schemes as part of the city's Environmental Improvements Programme which includes the budget for minor cycle schemes. Unfortunately there is a large backlog of work so it may be some time before any work is undertaken through this programme. It may be that we can progress minor schemes such as this sooner if (but hopefully when) new engineers are appointed as part of the Cycling Demonstration Town award."

There is still some way to go, and there needs to be local consultation nearer the time, but when I discussed this proposal with neighbouring residents during the local election campaing, the general response was very positive! I think this new route could be a real help for cyclists in Coleridge and from other parts of Cambridge.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Congestion Charge Rethink - Time for some Lib Dem honesty?

As has been reported in the Cambridge Evening News, the result of the Conservative County Councillors group meeting last Friday is a rethink on congestion charge plans. Whilst they have not ruled out congestion charging immediately (by far my preferred option!), they are going back to the drawing board and setting up a commission including the district Councils and various other interests in the local economy to look at what transport infrastructure Cambridgeshire needs going forwards - this commission will gather evidence and then advise the County Councillors, who will then take the final decisions. I understand this new policy will be debated and approved at the next County Council cabinet meeting/full Council meetings.

I hope this new approach can start by identifying the serious investment that is needed in all types of transport, and will result in the County asking the government for this investment without any strings attached. It will also give time for more public reaction to the Manchester congestion charge proposals, that have already seen one high supporter of congestion charging lose his Council seat, getting trounced into third place.

It is also time for the Lib Dems to come clean about their plans for transport in Cambridge. Surprise, surprise, their first reaction to the news was to condemn the County Council's plans, but yet again they won't tell us what they would do instead. Its not surprising, because as a party the Liberal Democrats are actually in favour of a form of road pricing like congestion charging - and locally have said: "The Liberal Democrats recognise that a transport strategy which includes substantial improvements to public transport and some form of road pricing is essential". Yet you wouldn't think that from any of their literature distributed in the last local elections - when you will just have read about how opposed they were to the County Councils congestion charging plans. Nobody reading their literature would have guessed that the Lib Dems were only disagreeing with the detail of the congestion charging plans, and are actually in favour in principle. This is a disgraceful abuse of the electorate in Cambridge - as the debate continues, its time for the Lib Dems to come clean and be open about their support for road pricing in Cambridge.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Big Brother is generally well behaved

Many thanks to City Council officers for their prompt response to my query yesterday about the City Council's use of surveillance powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

In summary, the City Council has used its surveillance powers 15 times in the last 2 years, all using CCTV. 3 times City Centre CCTV was used to count the number of street beggars, in the remainder covert CCTV was used to monitor anti-social behaviour, criminal damage, fly-tipping and racial abuse.

The use of these powers is carefully controlled by a detailed policy, and must be approved by specific senior officers.

The powers were used on a limited (small) number of occasions, only involved CCTV, and targeted specific problems rather than more speculative 'fishing expeditions'. This all seems reasonable - indeed in the past it has been frustrating that the Council hasn't been able to use covert CCTV to catch those responsible when, for example, a particular wall has been repeatedly targeted by graffiti vandals.

To be fair to the Liberal Democrats, there appears to be a genuine commitment to ensure the many surveillance powers the Council has are not abused, and overall I think this response is encouraging.

Mill Road Tesco Moves Closer

Tesco are moving closer to opening a new store on Mill Road. They have submitted an application (ref 08/0794/FUL) for installing refrigeration and plant to the existing building, saying:

"Following refusal for the proposed small single storey rear extension, Tesco now propose to use the existing Class A1 floorspace at the site as their Express store format. To facilitate the efficient and effective use of the site it is necessary to install a small amount of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment"

Without wishing to prejudge the outcome of this application, I think it is fair to say they believe they have more chance of getting this minor application through planning than winning the battle for an extension with the planning inspector, and are looking to open a store as soon as possible even in the smaller existing building...

Monday, June 23, 2008

City should learn from County on Scrutiny

Conservative controlled Cambridgeshire County Council scrutiny process has been recognised as an example of best practice in a national awards scheme judged by an independent panel of judges. The award scheme – launched by The Centre for Public Scrutiny – celebrates the achievements of local authorities for the way they hold decision makers to account – Cambridgeshire picked up the top award in the financial scrutiny category.

County Councillors Lister Wilson, who chairs the Council’s Scrutiny Management Group and Councillor Michael Williamson, who chairs the authority’s Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee, travelled to London to be presented with the award.Councillor Wilson, said: “This award is a fitting recognition for the way scrutiny works in Cambridgeshire and how we involve members of all the political groups in monitoring and informing the decision making processes of the County Council.”

If only the City Council could take note. Decision making in local Councils changed dramatically after the Local Government Act 2000, with decision by committee being replaced with decision by Executive Councillor, with decisions scrutinised by scrutiny committees. In the County, this process is working well - opposition Councillors can chair the scrutiny committees which really can hold Executive Councillors to account. In the City, the scrutiny committees are chaired by the ruling Liberal Democrats, 'backbench' Lib Dems are apparantly told which way to vote in the committees regardless of whether or not they agree with a proposal, and the whole thing frequently appears to be a pointless rubber stamping exercise. Its no wonder the City scrutiny arrangements were derided by Lib Dems on the County - the City could be doing much better.

Is Big Brother Watching You?

I have previously raised my concerns about the abuse by Councils of the Regulation of Investigatory Power Act 2000, a legislation giving Councils surveillance powers designed for combating terrorism and serious crime, then using these powers to police minor infringements.

In view of a letter sent today to Councils from Sir Simon Milton of the Local Government Association urging that these powers aren't abused in future, I am keen to ensure the City Council is behaving responsibly and have written to the Council to ask:

How many times Cambridge City Council has used its surveillance powers under this act?

What form(s) of surveillance were undertaken?

For what purposes?

Who in the Council authorises such surveillance?

Does the Council have a policy on when officers may or may not use its powers under this act?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Comment Moderation Policy

As the blog is getting a few more comments, I thought I would let people know my comment moderation policy.

For the time being, comment moderation is switched on. By default, I will approve all comments, unless they are likely to cause significant unnecessary offense, contain personal abuse or are otherwise illegal etc. I'm more than happy to publish comments from people who merely disagree with me.

However I am likely to reject comments with links to other websites that I may not wish to be seen to be supporting, even if they don't fit the above criteria, so if you would like me to include a link to somewhere else, probably best to email me.

Further rules may be made up on the spot!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Station Area Redevelopment

Further to my previous post on planning issues, there is an important meeting next Wednesday, 25th June to discuss Ashwell's mega planning application for the Station Area redevelopment - a Development Control Forum, agenda here. Some key links:

See details of the application by searching here for application number 08/0266/OUT

The planners ideas for the area are in the Station Area Development Framework

The developers website is

If anyone has any strong views about this application, please let me know!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Those Yellow Lines again

You thought watching paint dry was dull. You should try watching out for the lorry carrying the paint to reinstate the yellow lines at the Corrie/Davy junction. I had confidently predicted that this would be fixed shortly, but apparently the agreement with the Council's contractors gives them 13 weeks!!! to get these lines repainted. We are already some way through this, and I'm told we may not have too much longer to wait, so I'm not jumping up and down yet to demand the people who erroneously failed to put the yellow lines back in the first place come and fix the problem immediately, but lets just say I'm less than happy with this response time...

New Mosque for Cambridge – More details and Public Meeting

Last night I met with Tim Winter, Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Cambridge University, and chair of the Muslim Academic Trust, the charity behind plans to move the Cambridge mosque to a new site on Mill Road, to get an update on their latest plans.

We talked a bit about reasons for wanting to build a new mosque, which are pretty clear. There is a large muslim community in Cambridge, and unlike some other parts of the UK, it is very diverse, reflecting the cosmopolitan makeup of the City, and the ability of the University to attract talent (and money) from all over the world. Oxford has 3 purpose built mosques, Cambridge has a mosque that has developed over time from residential properties, and is now full to bursting.

The latest situation is that the Muslim Academic Trust, using donations from a number of individuals, has purchased the site of the former John Lewis warehouse on Mill Road, but it yet to submit a planning application to the Council. This is not the whole of the currently vacant site – the larger part, the former Priory Motors part of the site is now owned by the Co-operative Group, and they recently submitted an application for residential development on the site – (search here for application reference 08/0663/FUL). Some planning issues will need to be resolved with this application before a mosque application can be progressed (such as the planners sensible requirement that there is only one shared access road to both parts of the site from Mill Road), but overall the Council’s planning brief for the site is for a mix of residential and community use (which would include use as a mosque), so in principle the proposals for the site sound like they could be acceptable.

For the part of the site owned by the Muslim Academic Trust, the plan is to build a mosque on the site (with adequate car parking), but this would not occupy the whole site – there may also be some local shops fronting Mill Road, some residential properties, open spaces and a cafĂ©. As such, there will be access to site for all local residents – a real community facility. The design or layout of the site has not yet been decided, the plan is to hold an architectural design competition, with the intention of building a new mosque with high quality and design standards – the exact style will be determined by the entrants to the competition, but it has been made clear that there will ne no ‘call to prayer’ broadcast, and therefore no minaret.

The draft timetable (which like every planning timetable will doubtless slip…) is as follows:

Architects invited to enter the design competition – ASAP
A design brief to be prepared by August
Design competition winner to be selected around November
Planning application (probably only a single application for detailed permission) towards the end of the year. It is not clear yet if the decision will be made by the main planning committee or the East Area committee.
Building dates will depend on when (or if) permission is granted.

So what do I think of the plans? My main concerns with our planning system are around design quality and transport. I am encouraged by the proposal to use a design competition, and there does seem to be a commitment to high quality. If there is sufficient car and cycle parking on site, this should avoid problems in the local area, and the location is close to many in the City’s muslim community, which should avoid the need for too much car travel anyway.

Finally, I am keen to see this project used to build closer links between the muslim community and the wider community in Cambridge. Again the signs are encouraging – Romsey Action and EMRAG (East Mill Road Action Group) are facilitating a public meeting to be held next Tuesday (June 24th) at 7.30pm at Ross Street Community Centre to discuss the plans, and a representative from the Muslim Action Trust will be there to answer questions – all are welcome. There is a commitment to involve all of the Mill Road community throughout the process.

Overall, I think this project is really exciting - it will enhance this part of Mill Road, and deserves public support.

UPDATE: Finally managed to track down the link to the planners development brief for the whole site which is here.

Introducing your next MP for Cambridge

Richard Normington the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Cambridge (pictured above campaigning with David Willetts MP in Coleridge) has just launched his new campaign website,

I've known Richard for a number of years, and think he is going to make an excellent Member of Parliament for Cambridge - he grew up in Cambridgeshire, and has lived in Romsey ward in the City for some time. Despite the risk of unpopularity with some Conservative colleagues he has been energetically leading the campaign against congestion charging in the City, which gives me high hopes that as MP he will be a much more effective campaigner on issues like A14 improvements than the current incumbent.

The Conservative vote share in local elections in Cambridge has been rising rapidly over the last few years, as both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have fallen back, so we are looking forward to Richard being elected, which I think will be excellent news for Cambridge!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Skyscraper Approved for Coleridge

I understand that this detailed planning application concerning the Tim Brinton site at the corner of Hills Road and Cherry Hinton Road was approved by the planning committee today. The officer recommendation was for approval, and the Councillors just didn't have any valid planning reasons to object. Permission has therefore been granted for the construction of a 10-storey tower block in Coleridge.

This part of Cambridge is looking more and more like a corner of London suburbia - lets hope the design and quality are going to be reasonable. One thing is for sure, the car parking proposed for the site, is totally inadequate - residents parking on surrounding roads looks almost inevitable at some point...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Saving the planet - or just costing the taxpayer?

At last nights Strategy Scrutiny committee that I am a member of, the great City Council property sale continued. It was agreed to sell the former Yasume club premises on Auckland road on the open market, which will mean the substantial proceeds will be spent on other capital projects around the City, which is fair enough.

It was also agreed to dispose of 1-36 Simons House, and 18-25 Rackhams Close, Cambridge to Flagship Housing Group, on a long lease. The terms are confidential due to the negotiations required with the other parties involved, (not to mention pretty incomprehensible to work out the precise economic effect on each party, having read the confidential report) but the proposal does involve demolishing existing buildings including bungalows, and incurring significant construction costs on new buildings with very high energy efficiency ratings.

Great - I'm all for taking steps to reduce total carbon dioxide production, the problem is that it was impossible for Councillors to work out exactly how much carbon dioxide would be saved - or indeed if any at all would be saved, as there is no analysis of the carbon dioxide cost of refurbishment compared to rebuilding, or of the annual carbon dioxide savings. As such, we have no way of knowing if we are getting good value for the huge additional costs of creating a zero-carbon or near zero-carbon buildings (whatever that means), or indeed if there are any carbon dioxide reductions at all in the short term.

It is far from clear that the information given to Councillors when making these disposal decisions is sufficient to ensure we can scrutinise that Council tax payers are getting the best deal. I have an action plan that I will be trying to get the Council to adopt to protect the Council tax payer better:

When the Council disposes of a property at below its open market value in order to meet other policy objectives, any reduction in value should be scrutinised as would any other council spending, the cost of meeting each policy objective should be separately considered, to determine if we could get better value in a different way.

To be specific, when we are spending any money on 'climate change agenda' projects, especially meeting low carbon building standards, the proposals should be accompanied by an estimate of the carbon dioxide saved, over what timescales and at what cost. All carbon dioxide production is the same in terms of climate change damage, it is pointless spending a fortune on high profile projects so we can claim to be saving the planet, if much more effect could be achieved on less glamorous measures like insulating existing properties.

Finally, I think the Council should prepare a list of property it owns, along with most recent estimated market value, rents received and carbon dioxide usage per square metre, for annual review by Councillors on the strategy committee. We could then scrutinise that the Council is obtaining the best rents possible, or if accepting lower rents, we are happy with the reasons why. Such a list may also prompt suggestions for more innovative redevelopments of underused sites, and finally, we can make sure spending on climate change is directed at the most inefficient buildings in the most cost effective way.

As a footnote, the third disposal decision was pulled at the last minute as it became clear there had been insufficient consultation with both ward Councillors and Community services about the effect of losing community use of the buildings. There does seem to be a gulf between the Council's aspiration to engage interested parties when making decisions, and the reality. The Lib Dem Executive Councillor made a revealing comment when discussing another agenda item: 'The Council is seen as authoritarian entity... [by businesses, colleges etc] ...that doesn’t necessarily listen to what people are saying.' You don't say!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Planning the Future of Cambridge

One of my key election pledges was to fight to put quality of design and transport infrastructure at the heart of our planning system. The test I am proposing is to ask ourselves if future generations will look back on the new development being planned and built now and say 'yes, that was a good way to expand the City', and not to say, 'what on earth were they thinking when they built that'. We should trust local people, existing residents, much more over decisions like if and how new developments are allowed, because I think we are much more likely to get things right if we do.

So this week, I have attended several planning related meetings to get up to speed on the issues.

On Monday, I met with officers and other Councillors to discuss plans for an area of land owned by the City Council that is now part of the Clay Farm/Showground area earmarked for development. The Council is considering selling its land for below its full market value in return for conditions to be imposed on the buyer such as increasing the level of so-called 'affordable' housing from the planners usual 40% to 50%, and to built exemplar environmentally friendly housing. Its fair to say I have some concerns about the Council's plans here, not least in relation to my other election pledge to stand up for the interests of the general council taxpayer, who could end up paying a heavy price out of all proportion to the policy benefits from a lower sale price.

On Wednesday I sat through (the first three hours!) of a joint City/South Cambs/County development control committee. For the large applications spanning the City boundary, a joint committee has been setup to approve planning applications under a common policy framework, to avoid two applications being required for the same site, possibly under different local planning policies. I suspect under the surface there are likely to be significant disagreements in principle between the prevailing political groups on the City and South Cambs, I hope to meet some of my South Cambs colleagues to find out how these have been resolved to make this committee work.

And last night I met the head of environment and planning at the City Council to discuss the main areas of development, and where we are in the decision making process. In total, these are expected to increase the size of Cambridge by over 40% between now and about 2020.

The main areas are as follows:

Southern Fringe: Mostly in Trumpington and Queen Ediths wards, about 4-5,000 new homes are planned. After Wednesday's meeting, outline applications have now been agreed for just about all the sites, giving permission for the general layout of the sites, including planning conditions on the developments. After negotiation of so-called section 106 agreements (where the Council tries to get as much cash or benefit as possible out of the developers to fund various projects notionally related to the developments), there will follow individual applications with detailed design and then the building can begin. So the Southern fringe is full steam ahead - unless as I strongly suspect will happen, the developers take fright at the current chaos in the housing market. But the Addenbrokes southern relief road and guided bus are already well under construction!

North West Area: Mostly University owned land in Castle ward, around Huntingdon Road. This timetable is somewhat behind the Southern fringe - the Council is currently consulting on an Area Action Plan.

Northern Fringe East: This covers the Chesterton sidings area. Only 900 homes were earmarked for here, along with a railway station in Chesterton (which would be a good thing!), and plans are currently up in the air after proposals to move the sewage works were rejected.

East Cambridge - the airport: This is the big one, and the most controversial - over 10,000 new homes earmarked in a major urban extension. Obviously Marshall's need to find a new home, but the biggest problem is the transport situation - the Cambridge East Transport study presents a picture that is both fantasy and horror story in equal measure for Coleridge residents. The fantasy is that in a development 3 miles from the City Centre, over 60% of journeys will be non-car, a level not achieved anywhere in the UK outside central London, with its massive tube, train and bus network. The horror story is the assumption that we will have congestion charging forced on existing residents, the use of Coldhams Common for a new Guided Bus route, and complete chaos on local roads, with the duelling of Perne Road, buses down Davy Road, and significant new congestion. I think development on Cambridge East may be made to work to existing residents satisfaction, but we will need massive investment in public transport (like tunnels under Cambridge perhaps), and a huge new outer ring road for cars, probably linking the A14 to the M11 via the site. On the site itself, we will need to build fewer dwellings at lower density. More of the dwellings would need to be family houses, more free-market housing available to all, built to high quality, and we would need to build a real East Cambridge community, which isn't based around a supermarket car park or an 'estate pub', but does include significant private enterprise and private employment. Can the Council deliver this - I doubt it, I don't think it has the right planning policies to make this happen, and in the meantime I am resolutely opposed to what is planned for East Cambridge.

There are a few other big developments to consider. The government is trying to force even more housing on the Cambridge sub-region, which needs to be resisted at all costs. And Ashwells have resubmitted a planning application for the Station Area after their first attempt was rejected by planners by a Cambridge record 23 reasons. This will be a massive application requiring careful scrutiny of the plans for potential over development and transport considerations - its not clear when it will go to the planning committee yet, but residents and interested parties need to get their comments back to the planners as soon as possible.

I have many comments and concerns about these plans to be raised over the next few months. One thing is for sure, if even a small part of this happens, Cambridge will be a very different place.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

David Davis resigns

It was amazing to read the news today that Conservative Shadow Home secretary David Davis has resigned as an MP. (Ignoring for a minute the fact that he can't just resign)

What does it mean for David Davis? In many ways his decision is heroic and courageous. I have recently blogged my concerns about civil liberties, and cannot help but admire his resignation speech - these things need saying and explaining again and again. His stock will clearly have risen amongst those concerned with civil liberties, and the general public will be pleased to be reminded that MPs do have strongly held principles and are prepared to make sacrifices to support them. But you can't help feeling that this highly unusual course of action is slightly self-indulgent, and not the best way to go about things.

For the Conservatives, its difficult to believe David Cameron woke up this morning and thought, 'excellent, my shadow home secretary is about to resign'. It is also clear that today's events wouldn't have happened if everyone in the shadow cabinet felt as strongly as David Davis. But it would be wrong to overplay the idea of a split - all political parties are coalitions of like minded people, who agree on a common line across a broad range of policies, but all hold slightly different positions. And the Conservative party, to its credit, is taking a line that may be politically unpopular in the short term but which is vital for the long term protection of our civil liberties, and fully consistent with David Davis' concerns. As a bonus for the Conservatives, there is a chance to remind the electorate of the sheer strength in depth of the shadow cabinet team, with promotion of the very capable Dominic Grieve.

Gordon Brown may be breathing a sigh of relief that the heat is off. Last night he nearly lost a vote in parliament, despite a huge parliamentary majority, after some nasty bullying and alleged bribery of the DUP. But like his honeymoon period last year, the relief may be short lived, as there will now undoubtedly be more attention focused on this dreadful policy (already the most extreme in the free world) and the other assaults on civil liberty we have seen over the last 10 years. And for the Conservatives, it is hard to believe finishing off Gordon Brown now (as may well have been the case if he had lost yesterday) is in the best interests of those who desperately want a change of Government at the next election - lets let the great clucking liability hobble on causing more damage to Labour.

All in all, it is going to take a while for the political fallout from today to settle and we will know who the winners and losers are. But if the end result is closer scrutiny of Labour's record on civil liberties, their unnecessary and dangerous legislation and the disgusting xenophobic campaigns they have fought recently along the lines of 'ID cards for Johnny foreigner', then today may indeed go down in political history.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Perne Road Roundabout Shops

I've finally managed to track down the new owner and agent for the shops/flats at Perne Road roundabout (the City Council didn't know who owned the building now!), and have let the agent know my concerns, namely:

- not wanting to lose local shops in any redevelopment,

- the run-down look to the site at the moment,

- security concerns about empty buildings (even if this aspect is better than it was),

- and the need to bring the flats back into use as soon as possible.

Hopefully the developers will agree to my request for a meeting which should clarify their hopes and aspirations for the site, and I can impress on them the urgency of the situation.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Policing Priorities for Coleridge

In many respects the East Area Committee last week was as flawed as predicted. Despite publicity from the police and Council, there were only about 15 members of the public in attendance from around 25,000 residents in the relevant area. Members of the public were outnumbered by the 13 Councillors, 3 police officers, and several Council Officers. Several Councillors, including myself, refused to take part in the planning applications part of the meeting, which started at the late hour of 10pm. Continuing these meetings in their present form at great expense is another example of the way 'politicians are just shockingly casual about public money and how it's spent.' - they urgently need to be either scrapped or reconstituted.

An area of interest at these meetings however is reports from the neighbourhood policing team, and the setting of local policing priorities. I would like to see all the local police priorities and performance under the direct control of locally elected people - as David Cameron has promised:

"[local politicians] would be empowered to set strategic objectives for the police and ensure that those objectives are met, with the ultimate sanction of being able to hire and fire the Chief Constable. The essential principle is that voters should have a direct relationship with the person or body who appoints the Chief Constable, matched by a direct and transparent funding arrangement so that they can judge the effectiveness of the policing they're paying for,"

I am still slightly unclear as to the extent that Area Committees are able to direct police resources to the key priorities of local residents. Four priorities were agreed, namely tackling:

Streetlife Anti-social behaviour across the Neighbourhood
Drug Dealing in the Barnwell area
Underage drinking on green spaces across the Neighbourhood
Anti-social behaviour in Thorpe Way estate

I agree with all these, but my big concern is that by setting priorities we are also setting by ommission areas where the police are now free to ignore local concerns.

A huge issue in the ward is speeding cars, rat-running along roads such as Coleridge Road, Birdwood Road and to avoid lights, along Lichfield Rd and Suez/Hobart. The occasional motorist, usually living locally, is prepared to speed at up to 70 miles an hour along some of these roads. There was a serious road accident on Birdwood Road in May that resulted in injury to one occupant, and several vehicles being written off - with a local resident's livelihood put at risk. And tragically a similar situation in Abbey ward last week resulted in serious injuries to a young person.

Having sought assurances that the police would still devote some resources to the problem of speeding, I remain unconvinced they are prepared to stage even occasional speed checks, e.g. with advice issued to the unthinking motorists without making speeding a local priority, so I proposed this should be added as a priority. The chair only permitted this if I first voted against the current proposal, which i did - and this shouldn't be misrepresented as a vote against the priorities agreed. Sadly I only had support from one other Councillor - both our Coleridge Labour City Councillors rejected my plea to add speeding as a priority. Going forwards I will be looking at ways local residents can start taking ownership of this problem - for example, in other areas have piloted schemes where residents monitor speeds and report frequent offenders to the police, but it remains a significant concern.

But to reiterate, I do fully support the focus on anti-social behaviour, particularly problems with underage drinking. I met with the local Police Community Support Officers on friday, and am looking in to ways that we can ensure all local problems with anti-social behaviour are recorded, so we can have a zero tolerance approach to the problems caused.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Britten Place Pavement Improvements

Its taken a while (I first reported the problem to the Council on 2nd April), but there is now some progress. The housing officer and engineer have inspected the pavements in this area and it looks likely that this can be fixed in this year's works program - not before time, some of these pavements are in very poor condition...

Friday, June 6, 2008

Hanley Grange

As part of our stalinist top-down planning system, the Government has been busy looking for sites to dump more houses in the Cambridge area as ludicrously named 'Eco-towns', despite our Councils' planning departments already being rushed off their feet looking at sites previously forced on us for housing like Northstowe and Cambridge Airport.

All the local Councils, Cambridge City, South Cambridgeshire District and Cambridgeshire County have united in opposition to the plans for Hanley Grange. Despite the fine words on the developers website, this has all the makings of another Cambourne, i.e. a dormitary town, built around a supermarket car park, and completely reliant on car usage.

You can let the relevant government department know what you think about Hanley Grange by writing to:
Eco-towns Team
Housing and Growth Programmes
Department for Communities and Local Government
2/H9 Eland House
Bressenden Place

or email:

I've just signed the petition at

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Strawberry Fair – This Saturday

This Saturday (7th June) the annual Strawberry Fair is being held on Midsummer Common. Its not everyone’s cup of tea, but personally I think it is a good thing. The volunteer organisers work hard to ensure the Common is restored after the event, and it allows lots of people from Cambridge and beyond to enjoy the music and entertainment.

I will be at the Fair on Saturday, helping out on the Cambridge No2ID stall. Over the last 10 years we have moved significantly closer to a big brother society, with more laws, less freedom and a style of ‘database law enforcement’ that affects those who are generally socially responsible, whilst failing to tackle the serious criminal and threats to society.

If you forget to renew you car tax, the fine is in the post automatically from the database. Buy a car with cash from a man down the pub, put on some stolen plates, don’t register with the DVLA, pay no tax or insurance, and more often than not the police couldn’t be bothered, so by the time you are caught the punishment will be trivial compared to the illicit gain.

Literally millions of people have been prosecuted for speeding (not including me I might add!) because this is a simple job for cameras and databases, doing all sorts of damage to the public’s relationship with our law enforcers, as no discretion is applied at all. But at the same time there are fewer traffic police tackling the real cause of most accidents, namely intrinsically bad driving, so despite massive rises in fines and cameras, the trend for reductions in road deaths has almost ground to a halt.

There are problems with anti-social behaviour, so we don’t target those who behave irresponsibly and ensure they are punished and rehabilitated, we stop all new licenced premises, and cover ever more of our streets with CCTV. We are the most spied on Country in the so-called free world.

There have been literally (apologies for using this word again but it is true!) thousands of new criminal offences created, banning things we used to be able to do, like protesting to Government in Parliament Square when they do bad things, yet fewer than ever have confidence in our police to fix the things we really care about like stopping burglars and drug dealers. New laws to spy on terrorists, have been used to spy on those who just want to send their children to the best possible school.

But the biggest, baddest scheme of all is the plans for ID cards. Vast amounts of personal information, collected by the state at truly vast cost on a big database, and used to track our every move inside the country and internationally. Paid for by ourselves through increased charges and taxes, it can only make life worse for the generally law abiding, and could be really dangerous if part of the government decides it doesn’t like you for some reason. But by putting all our security eggs in one basket, it makes it much more likely the serious criminal or terrorist will be able to get away with it – as experts like Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University have pointed out. No system is foolproof, but when we have been told the ID database is, its identity checks will be trusted even when the data is wrong, and a little common sense would tell you there was a problem. So I will be promoting Cambridge No2ID from 2-4pm at the stall between the Fort St George and Victoria Avenue bridge if anyone would like to say hello, or even help!

I have digressed from Strawberry Fair, but not very far – the spirit of the event is about people behaving responsibly and enjoying themselves, without constant nannying and control from a Government desperate to intefere in ever greater parts of our lives – now lets hope no-one does cause any trouble!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hurrah for the County Council part 2

The new footbridge across the Cam at Riverside is due to open to the public from midday on Thursday, 5 June.

The landmark £3 million bridge for cyclists and pedestrians will be the first new river crossing in Cambridge since the Elizabeth Way Bridge was opened in 1971, and will provide a much-needed cycling and walking link into and out of the City Centre. The bridge design was the winner in a competition voted for by the public and a panel of experts.

The spectacular new bridge spans the River Cam and provides a link from St Andrew's Road in Chesterton across to Riverside. It includes features such as a low level walkway, a separate cycleway, and seating areas for people to relax and enjoy views of the river. The bridge is made up of a 70-tonne arched steel frame, with approach ramps either side.

Cambridgeshire County Councillor Matt Bradney, Cabinet Member for Growth and Infrastructure, said: "The new bridge will bring major long term benefits for pedestrians and cyclists in the area and will help to build fantastic links between the communities in the East Chesterton and Abbey areas of Cambridge. As well as this, the striking modern design of the bridge gets the right balance of respecting the existing surroundings whilst providing a high quality, innovative and attractive structure."

The bridge is to be opened on Thursday by John Grimshaw, Chief Executive of the sustainable transport charity Sustrans, who says, "This bridge is a fantastic addition to the National Cycle Network in Cambridge and its high quality design will provide a fast, seamless and attractive route for cyclists and pedestrians alike. I'm delighted to play a part in the opening of the bridge and I look forward to seeing people use it for the first time. "

Delivery of the new bridge was managed from inception to completion by Cambridgeshire County Council. It was designed and engineered by a multi-disciplinary team from architects Ramboll Whitbybird, with the seating areas designed by the artist Gerry Judah. Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering built the bridge, and the supervising consultants were Atkins.

Works to build the bridge have been underway since April of 2007 and it was funded by Central Government's Growth Area Fund and by developers working in the area.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hurrah for the County Council

Many thanks to the County Council for responding to many requests from cyclists and getting some appropriate signage put up on the Hills Road bridge. Hopefully this will significantly reduce the risk of an accident on the bridge during the roadworks.

Tunnels Under Cambridge

Yesterday Councillors and Senior Officials were given a presentation by some members of the University Engineering department who have been investigating the possibility of using tunnels under Cambridge to help solve our transport problems.

Apparantly there is favourable geology in Cambridge for building tunnels - the Clay underneath us is easy to tunnel through, and there is new technology in tunnelling involving boring machines (which may be dull or interesting depending on your point of view) and spray concrete to line tunnel walls.

The basic idea is to build bus tunnels from the top of Castle Hill to Drummer Street, with possible extensions to the Station and potential development in East Cambridge, with underground bus stations at Park Street, Drummer Street and the Grafton Centre. A similar scheme was built in Seattle around 1987-1990.

It sounded like there was potential to solve some but clearly not all of Cambridge's transport problems - removing some buses from congested routes like Bridge Street and Drummer Street. As part of a package of measures, it could also go a small way to reducing my concerns about the current plans for East Cambridge - if existing Cambridge residents can see significant improvements in transport links, and high quality development, housing on the airport becomes more acceptable.

The estimated cost of the tunnels - more than the new Guided Busway, but significantly less than a new A14... If you have any thoughts, let me know!