Saturday, November 29, 2008

VAT change notice 'wholly inadequate'

Following the pre-budget report and local government settlement, the City Council has been looking into the effects of the changes announced by Chancellor last week. On the VAT change, the City Council has commented:

"VAT – the standard level of VAT will be reduced from 17.5% to 15% for a 13-month period from 1 December 2008 to 1 January 2010. The Council is able to reclaim VAT, and so there is no impact on it’s spending. Whilst it is not clear what effect, if any, this will have on the Council’s income, the period of notice to implement the changes (4 working days) is wholly inadequate to effectively deal with the practical issues involved; and costs of making the associated changes are being reviewed."

So despite being leaked the weekend before to the papers (for which no government minister yet seems to have been raided by counter-terrorism police) the short notice of this panic measure by the Government is going to cause problems to the City Council, as it will doubtless to many small businesses up and down the Country as they struggle to change systems in time. I wonder if any retailers have seen lower sales this last week as people wait until monday before spending again in the expectation of lower prices, and if they can expect to make up for such lost sales later.

But if the measures proposed last week to try boosting the economy such as the VAT cut are causing problems, they are nothing to the problems that will be caused when we have to start paying back all the money Labour has borrowed on our behalf, and taxes rise.

Shadow Chancellor George summed up where we are best in his pre-budget statement response: "It is confirmation of the time- old truth that in the end all Labour chancellors run out of money and all Labour governments bring this country to the verge of bankruptcy. Stability has gone out of the window, prudence is dead, Labour has done it again. Massive borrowing, rising unemployment, tax giveaways for Christmas paid by tax rises for life, giving with one hand, taking with the other - everything we have come to expect from this prime minister."

By expanding public sector spending at unsustainable levels over a number of years, despite a growing economy, we have had both rocketing taxes (many by stealth) and increasing borrowing. Because they have failed to reform how many of the public services are run, much of the increased investment has been wasted, with little to show for it - but we do have an army of nannying public servants, dedicated to telling us what to do in every area of our lives, like how to play with tiddles.

As when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, getting the public finances back into a sensible shape will be the key priority of incoming Conservative government. This will again be painful, but the alternative, Gordon Brown's approach of trying to borrow his way out of a debt crisis could destroy the UK's economy for a generation. Already the market is rating defaults on UK government debt as more likely than some company debt, and as the government tries to borrow more, the market will be less and less willing to lend, and will demand higher and higher interest rates. Confidence in our currency could collapse. Gordon Brown's incompetence has got this country's economy into a terrible mess, and they are now showing every sign of making the situation worse.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Tesco have submitted three planning applications related to their proposed new store on the Cambridge Leisure Park site.

08/1533/ADV - Illuminated Tesco Signs
08/1532/FUL - Formation of covered service yard and associated plant works including the erection of a 2m fence
08/1531/FUL - Shop front alterations and installation of ATM machine

Closing date for comments is 3rd Dec (Standard consultations), 9th Dec (neighbour consultations)

Tesco's plans for Mill Road are problematic due to the problems of coping with Tesco delivery lorries in narrow streets, and the threat to the diversity of shops on Mill Road. It is far from clear to me that these arguments apply to this latest store - and competition is usually good for consumers. I've already had one resident contact me to express support for this store, but if there is significant opposition, then the decisions should be made by Councillors rather than delegated to the officers. If you have strong views one way or the other, please comment on the planning applications and let us know.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Whippet Bus 114

I've been looking into the arrangements for Whippet bus service 114 - which always causes a large number of complaints when I speak to residents on Lichfield Rd. No-one can understand why such large, noisy buses are run down a small residential road - particularly as they don't appear to be very well used.

It appears the situation is complicated to say the least - Whippet run the basic service (hourly) on a commercial basis. The County Council contributes to run a tendered service hourly during the week, and the City Council contributes some funds to allow the route to operate half hourly on Saturdays. On the figures I've been told, the average subsidy per passenger on the tendered service is about £3 - although I don't know how this works out, as presumably if there was no tendered service at all, some of the passengers using the half hourly service would just use the hourly service that is run on a commercial basis.

The good news is that the County Council is retendering the service in April, and I have requested that they also ask for tender offers to operate the service in smaller, quieter buses that have low level access that would be better appreciated by some Lichfield Road residents - although these tender offers are expected to be higher. When the offers come in, we can see what the best solution is for taxpayers and Lichfield Road residents.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Objections raised to Coleridge Planning Applications

As ward Councillor I raised objections to two Coleridge planning applications considered at this evening’s East Area committee.

In the first application, an extension for the care home on Cherry Hinton Road at the junction with Kelvin Close was turned down by the committee, citing the reasons given by objectors, including myself. There are existing problems with delivery lorries blocking narrow Kelvin Close, which would be exacerbated by the larger premises, and the increased distance from the new car parking to the main entrance. The plans also called for the demolition of two family houses on Kelvin Close, and local residents who turned up to the meeting in numbers were clearly delighted.

In the second application, a bar on the Cambridge Leisure site was asking for permission for late night opening (to 2am) seven nights a week. There have been concerns for some time about alcohol related anti-social behaviour originating from the site, and the cumulative effect of bars is a concern. Having heard considerable complaints from residents in neighbouring roads about late night anti-social behaviour, often some distance from the site, but which are likely to have been caused by users of the Leisure Park site, I don't think this application is in the interests of residents and objected to it. Fortunately the committee also agreed, and the application was turned down.

As ever, I didn't take part in actually making the decisions which I think are better made at a central planning committee, so that I was free to stand up for local residents in these cases. The final decision was made after 11pm, surely not in the interests of good decision making - when are the Liberal Democrats going to listen to complaints about how crazy their Area Committee arrangements are for deciding planning applications.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lichfield Road Set for Protective Planting

Some Lichfield Road residents have been suffering from damaged cars after people using the footpath through to Perne Road then used resident's car parks as an inappropriate cut-through. I raised this as an issue with the Council some time ago.

Following a consultation with affected local residents, and securing a small grant from the Councils 'Safer Stronger City' funding pot, the Council will now be taking some action. An order has been placed for new planting to be provided at the end of the garage block and for a temporary fence to be put up to protect the planting until it is established. This work should be completed by the end of January.

Not a huge issue in the grand scheme of things, but this type of action can be controversial so it is good to see resident involvement and some action that hopefully will go a long way to fixing the problem. Many thanks to the City Homes staff involved.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fire at new mosque site

There has been a serious fire at the old John Lewis warehouse on Mill Road. The site has been purchased by the Muslim Academic Trust with the intention of building a new mosque, so the building was due for demolition anyway, but the fire has caused Mill Road to shut between Perne Road and Coleridge Road, and this is likely to remain the case for a couple of days.

As our pictures show, damage is extensive, and the building is likely to be demolished on safety grounds. Police are treating the area as a crime scene, and forensic science experts were still working there this morning.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Taking a Punt

I like punting, and indeed take it very seriously as this picture demonstrates:

I've been looking into various issues related to punting, which plays an important role in tourism in the City, but has its problems. The Council is faced with nuisance issues from punt touts, and health and safety issues such as the serious incident recently reported in the CEN.

Independent punters claim these problems come about because the Council is making it hard for them to operate safely - see There are some complex issues involved, but generally speaking I think we need to have some sensible and well regulated competition in the Cambridge punting market. The City Council certainly seems to have it in for independent punters - and there was controversy at the last Strategy and Resources committee over the Council's use of CCTV cameras to monitor their activities on Jesus Green, where the City Council has banned them from operating. Despite partially concealed (if signposted) cameras, and the fact that the Council was aware of the identities of at least some of the people it was spying on, it maintains that the cameras weren't covert, and were directed at stopping unlawful activities not spying on individuals, so didn't need authorisation under the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Dubious in my opinion, and certainly enough for me to conclude that a precautionary approach to compliance with RIPA was not followed in this case - I take back all I said about big brother is generally well behaved.
The issues surrounding punting in Cambridge aren't about to go away any time soon, and I'm not sure the behaviour of the Council is helping things.

Cherry Hinton Hall Improvements

Cambridge City Council have recruited a consultant to explore possible improvements to Cherry Hinton Hall park, including the reintegration or re-use of the former propagation area which is now vacant land.

The consultant will be working with some members of the general public, selected at random in the locality, and also with stakeholder bodies such as the police, folk festival, schools and so on. This work is scheduled to take place early in December and will take the form of group discussions.

They are also asking for comments from local Councillors, so if anyone has strong views on what should happen in this area and isn't likely to be part of the planned consultations, please be in touch and I can make sure your views are aired at the appropriate time

Hills Road Bridge updates

Courtesy of Trumpington e-cops (bizarrely I don't think it has made it to Coleridge e-cops UPDATE: Has now been sent out on Coleridge e-cops as well), the police are finally taking action on the Hills Road Bridge situation:

"On the 12th & 13th of November 2008 we will be enforcing traffic regulations at the Hills Road / Cherry Hinton Road junction, between the hours of 17:00 -21:30. This is due to concerns from members of the public that motorists are ignoring the NO RIGHT TURN onto Cherry Hinton Road and carrying out inappropriate manoeuvres through the road works on Hills Road Bridge.
There are also concerns for cyclists who are cycling on the pavement and cycling without lights during the hours of darkness (sunset is around 4.10pm. You will need your bike lights on from then).
Our ultimate aim is to ensure the safety of motorists and cyclists and to ensure they are driving and cycling to the correct traffic regulations."

No news yet on when the final phase of single lane working will happen - except that it won't be before Christmas!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Strawberry Fair - Yes, but fix the problems

This Thursday, the Community Services Scrutiny committee will be considering a report on the future of Strawberry Fair - specifically whether or not the Council should grant permission for the Fair to happen in 2009. I am not a member of the scrutiny committee, but have been involved in various discussions with interested parties.

After some consideration, I believe the fair should be given permission to go ahead next year in a similar format to previous years. Personally I enjoy visiting the fair, and believe it provides entertainment, particularly music, that is appreciated by many local residents. The demographic who do enjoy Strawberry Fair is wide, and encompasses groups of people who may not appreciate many of the other arts and entertainment events held in the City that help to make it a great place to live. As a volunteer helping on the No2ID stall the last couple of years, it has also seen many younger people engage in political issues, perhaps for the first time, in times when it is widely accepted that young people are completely apathetic or disinterested in key issues that will shape society going forwards.

This is not to say there haven't been problems - some inevitable in an event of this size, others more intrinsically related to Strawberry Fair, which have caused unacceptable nuisance to local residents. So my support is with a big caveat - these issues really do need to be stamped on, and the Council, Police and organisers must work together to fix this. If we accept this is an event that is valued in large parts of the community, all three parties need to accept responsibility for ensuring it does not cause problems.

The mitigation measures proposed in the officers report are a good start, but there is limited comment on drugs. It is far from the case that in the past drug use has been tolerated, but the police and organisers need to make it absolutely clear that illegal drugs are completely unacceptable at the Fair, and that people flauting the law will be identified and will not be allowed to enjoy a day out at the Fair. Similarly on alcohol usage - it needs to be clear that those under 18 and those recklessly drunk will not be allowed to drink (more) at the event or be served in any neighbouring establishments. These aspirations need to be backed up with action from the authorities on the day and beforehand.

But with these provisos, I think the problems can be mitigated to the extent that the Fair should still go ahead next year.

There is a more general issue over usage of the main central commons and parks - Jesus Green, Midsummer Common and Parkers Piece. The current Council policies essentially just talk about the need to conserve these areas. With the nature and increased frequency of events now happening, the Council needs a policy that balances the wear and tear on these areas and the nuisance to local residents with the benefits and enjoyment the events bring. A new policy is needed that restricts the number of events of each category, and allows appraisal of events depending on the numbers of local residents that enjoy them, any financial benefits or costs to the council, and the nuisance to local residents in order to decide what is allowed. I understand plans are afoot to review these policies in the near future, but its not before time.

Members of the public are welcome to attend this Thursday's meeting, and even address the committee - in which case you would need to get in touch with the committee manager beforehand - details on the agenda.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Environmental Improvements: City Council must get its act together

I'm pressing the Council for action on a couple of projects that can loosely be described as environmental improvements. One is my election pledge to try opening an official cycle route between Ashbury Close and Golding Road, the other to fix the 'missing footpath' problem on Rustat Road near the cycle bridge.

The City Council has an official 'environmental improvements' budget that the area committees decide how to spend, and the same staff can be involved in projects to spend s106 funds from developers. Trouble is, the City Council does not have enough of the designers/engineers required to implement these projects, so progress has practically ground to a halt. The result is that Council budgets, and more crucially money received from developers that may have to be paid back if it isn't spent is sitting unused. Area Committee meetings come and go, with little progress to show in this area. The Council has know about this problem for months, and failed to fix it. I am calling on them to get their act together so we can have some progress on these much needed schemes, as it is beginning to look shambolic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cycling Demonstration Town Improvements Announced

The county council has announced the improvements that it plans to put in place with the money from its successful bid for Cambridge to become a 'Cycling Demonstration Town'.

There seem to be some genuinely good improvements here that will add value for cyclists; it will not just be a case of splashing some white paint around.

Some of the plans for outside Cambridge should also help people in surrounding villages to be able to leave their cars at home when coming into the city, thereby potentially easing congestion in the city.

We'd be keen to know of any potential problems with these proposals but overall it looks as if the county council should be congratulated for this work. We'll be hoping to get more information on some of these schemes.

Some of the major features of the plan that I've picked out as being especially helpful for Cambridge are:
  • Cycle training for children and adults
  • Speed reviews in residential areas and links
  • Chisholm Trail feasibility study
  • Cycle Parking: review and new facilities
  • Interactive and additional signing
  • Refreshing and improving existing facilities
  • Rapid response crew; dedicated works team to implement small-scale minor work
For residents in and around Coleridge these specific schemes will be relevant:
  • Improvements to Hills Road and bridge
  • Widening of the Tins Path between Burnside and Cherry Hinton
  • Review of facilities on Cherry Hinton Road between Hills Road and Cherry Hinton High Street
Coleridge Conservatives are in touch with the county council cabinet on these plans so please let us know what you think.