Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ashes Cricket Comes to Cambridge

In case you were wondering about the barriers being erected on Parkers Piece at the moment...

Cambridge City Council is hosting the nPower Cricket in the Park event on Parker's Piece this weekend

The English Cricket Board and nPower are providing a free cricket carnival and big screen on Parkers Piece so that people can enjoy the excitement of watching Sky Sports' coverage of the third Ashes test between England and Australia live from Egbaston whilst enjoying cricket activities and a fun day out.

The Council’s Sports Development Service and Cambridgeshire Cricket Board will be working alongside the event to provide information and opportunities promoting cricket to people of all ages and abilities.

The event takes place on both Saturday and Sunday and doors are open from 10.00am to 8.30pm. Further information can be found at the ECB’s Cricket in the Park website:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tiverton House Planning Battle Hots up

The planners at the City Council must dread opening their inbox when they see an email from Coleridge Councillors at the moment, but there are similar concerns to those expressed in the Mill Road Tesco situation over at Tiverton House. In both cases the developers, large enterprises that should know what they are doing, are just going ahead with plans that they arguably don't have permission for.

To recap - the new owners of Tiverton house are carrying out extensive works on the building, for which they have not applied for a certificate of lawful use, nor received any planning permission (yet).

What they have done is to work from very early in the morning, sometimes until 9.30pm at night, put velux windows in the roof, installed huge steel girders, created vast amounts of additional bedroom space, and the only planning application is to convert the warden's flat into 2 flats, and to create cycle parking for about a dozen bikes - they think they can get away without planning permission for any of the other works.

The developers wanted the Council's opinion on the relevant planning issues, so the Council has written to them and placed their response on the planning file. Some extracts from the letter and my comments:

"I see from the drawings submitted that there are more external changes than were suggested when we met. For all that, the changes to openings within the walls and the introduction of some glazing to existing doors (albeit that they were previously fire doors), appears to me to be minor and not to, “materially affect the external appearance of the building”. Clearly however, this can be a personal view and not one necessarily shared by others."

On its own maybe, but not immaterial in the context of all the other changes.

"The alteration to the roof by the introduction of the velux rooflights is, again, a change, but the issue is whether it is one that, “materially affect(s) the external appearance of the building”. The legal test is whether the change will be visible from a number of normal vantage points and the materiality of the change must be assessed in relation to the building as a whole and not to a part of the building in isolation. Having had the advantage of seeing the rooflights in situ, which clearly can be seen from a number of normal vantage points, I am personally of the view that given the expanse of roof involved, and the angles at which much of the roof is seen, the rooflights do not materially affect the external appearance of the building taken as a whole. However, as I said when we met, that is a personal judgement only and may not be shared by others, including Members."

Indeed, this member of the Council does think there is a significant visual impact.

"As a general matter, it would appear that there are inconsistencies between your earlier drawings and what is happening on site and it would be useful to have a correct set of drawings with the planning application."

It would indeed be useful.

"As the planning application already addresses the matter of some cycle provision, I am of the opinion that those matters could be included within the current planning application and considered by Committee on 3 September, provided the information is forwarded shortly. In saying this I am conscious that the current application shows very different provision from that shown on the plans that accompanied your letter.

It is also my understanding that the provision being shown is considerably less than that being suggested by Environmental Health colleagues and I have some reservations about location relative to some of the accommodation. In visiting other accommodation (albeit occupied by students), I have been very conscious of how much space is required and how a site can rapidly deteriorate when the proper provision is not made at the outset."

It is going to be very difficult to get appropriate levels of cycle parking, car parking and refuse collection areas on such a small site considering the increase in bed spaces planned.

"What is also at issue, however, is whether the changes being undertaken are an intensification of the use of the site that constitutes a change of use requiring planning permission. As I have said before, it is a matter of fact and degree. On the surface, the increase in numbers of bedspaces from in the order of perhaps 40 to 96 bedspaces would appear to be significant and would constitute a change of use"

I couldn't agree more - 40 bedspaces of sheltered housing to 96 bedrooms likely to be occupied by students - surely this intensification constitutes a change of use that requires a planning application covering the whole scheme, so that residents and Councillors can get across the view that what is planned for the site it totally inappropriate and shouldn't be allowed.

I hope there are some Lib Dem Councillors reading this - to understand how angry local residents are with their decision to flog off Tiverton House to the highest bidder with no regard for the use planned for the site, and see how the planning situation is now panning out, with local ward Councillors desperately fighting to ensure there is some form of meaningful input for local residents on the substantive plans for the site through the planning system.

Tesco Pressing Ahead

I am urgently trying to establish the planning department's view on how the planning condition relating to no deliveries from Mill Road can be enforced most effectively, Tesco meanwhile seem to be pressing on with opening plans regardless of any obstacles...

(Photo from Tesco's on the Leisure Park)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tesco Licensing Premises Application

The deadline for representations on Tesco's application for a premises licence to sell alcohol from their planned Mill Road store closes tomorrow. Many thanks for all those who have copied me in to their representations - for info, most but not all were opposing the application.

As part of this process, I've learnt a bit about the process for making representations - which it appears is much narrower than for planning applications - you must be an interested party (which for most people means local resident), and address concerns in specific categories relating to licensing objectives. Local Councillors have no special right to comment as a local representative - if asked I can represent a constituent, but only to help put across that constituents views (I haven't been asked!). I am however a local resident in my own right, so have made representations on this issue, pasted below, which outline my views on the issue.

Meanwhile, Tesco's seem to have got started with the store conversion - with or without a licence to sell alcohol, permission for air conditioning or a plan for how they are going to deliver to the store:

"I am writing as someone living in the vicinity of the premises concerning the licensing application by Tesco Stores Ltd, 163-167 Mill Road, Cambridge

The representations relate to the prevention of crime and disorder, the protection of children from harm and public safety.

I am writing as a local resident, although as a local Councillor I am also aware of many concerns raised by constituents in neighbouring Coleridge ward about the problems of alcohol related crime and disorder.

Many areas and recreation grounds in Coleridge suffer from late night underage drinking parties – the local area is a pilot area in Cambridge for the Community Alcohol Partnership between Trading Standards and the police that aims to tackle underage drinking in public places. This partnership has identified that as well as buying alchohol themselves, young people also obtain alcohol by persuading adults to buy it for them.

There are also well documented problems with alcohol related crime disorder and anti-social behaviour in Mill Road that led to the introduction of the cumulative impact zone.

It is fully possible that a new license to sell alcohol can be issued that doesn’t contribute to these problems, for example, a responsible alcohol vendor with very well controlled sales staff, that doesn’t specialise in selling alcohol at low prices in terms of cost per unit of alcohol. In these circumstances I would have no objections in principle to the issue of a new alcohol licence on Mill Road despite the cumulative impact zone. This is presumably why the assumption that new licences will not be granted in cumulative impact zones is rebuttable.

With regards to the specifics of the proposed Tesco site, there is the issue of how the store will be delivered. A re-run of the planning arguments against the opening of this store by Tesco is clearly not appropriate, but one aspect is clearly relevant to the licensing application.

I understand that there is a planning condition on the site that prohibits delivery from the store. Delivery from Mill Road will add considerably to the dangers to cyclists using the road, and therefore is an issue of public safety.

The question therefore is the extent to which Tesco can give assurances that it will act in a very responsible way when selling alcohol, and address these concerns.

I would be opposed to Tesco being granted a license to sell alcohol on Mill Road unless they can:

Demonstrate that it has robust procedures specifically appropriate to the Mill Road context to avoid sale of alcohol that would end up with people who are likely to cause crime and disorder on Mill Road, or underage people likely to drink in Coleridge ward, along with management undertakings that these procedures will be rigorously monitored and enforced.

Undertake not to engage in irresponsible alcohol promotions or the sale of very cheap alcohol (as it arguably does do in some of its stores) which is likely to encourage irresponsible drinking, or
likely to encourage other local retailers to respond with promotions of their own.

Undertake not to deliver supplies relating to the license from Mill Road, and to comply with all other planning regulations."

Government betrays Cambridgeshire over funds for growth

Yesterday's Cambridge News revealed that the Government will be cutting £6 million of funds that had been allocated to help Cambridgeshire deal with the housing growth being imposed centrally by the Government.

Cllr Ray Manning, the Conservative leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council put it perfectly when he said (my emphasis):

"Removing this crucial infrastructure funding will put us in a very difficult position and could put existing projects in jeopardy. I very much doubt, however, that the government will reduce housing targets accordingly.

"We want to see new homes and communities that we will be proud of – not developments without the schools, health services and community facilities necessary to make them work."

Hot on the heals of other scandals such as the negative housing subsidy to Cambridge (sounds a bit like a 'zero percent rise', doesn't it?) and under-funded 'free' concessionary bus fares, it rather looks as if the Government doesn't care about Cambridge.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Transport Commission Report Published

The transport commission published its findings at 5.30pm today.

The key recommendations from the Executive Sumary were:

"1. Cambridgeshire County Council submit a full TIF bid to secure resources from Government to make improvements to cycling, walking and public transport, broadly in line with the proposals set out in Appendix 2 to our report.

2. Cambridgeshire County Council inform the Government that it has not ruled out the introduction of a congestion charging regime, but that it accepts the clear evidence that such a regime would be unacceptable without a programme of investment, including the TIF investment proposals, A14 widening and Chesterton Station and in any case no such scheme should be introduced without further public information and consultation, and not before 2017 at the earliest."

It is difficult to see how this moves things on much further. Congestion charging simply isn't acceptable to a large part of the electorate, as the full report (p48-49) acknowledges. Yes we will need the transport infrastructure improvements outlined in the recommendations - but if the government doesn't want to fund this without using Cambridge as a congestion charging guinea pig, then we should tell it we aren't going to co-operate with any of their plans to swamp the subregion with massive new housing developments - its as simple as that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Freedom of Information Victory

You could say that last Thursday's Full Council meeting was slightly less predictable than usual...

Motions to Full Council are usually just a way of setting out a party line - opposition Councillors put down a motion to try shifting the Council's opinion, the ruling Lib Dems then amend the motion by getting rid of it and replacing it with some meaningless guff about how wonderfully the Council is already responding to said problem. Occassionally the Lib Dems don't bother about waiting for the opposition motion, and go straight to the self-congratulation.

An example of the latter was the Lib Dems motion designed to set out how they are going to improve the availability of information to the public, particularly in the area of Freedom of Information requests and Councillor expenses.

Personally, I have long been calling for complete openness at the Council - the default should be that all information is publicly available (unless there is a good reason not to, such as publishing would put the Council at a commercially disadvantageous situation, or for classes of information like personal emails that would require so much editing for data protection, they should only be available through a specific Freedom of information request). But in the areas the motion dealt with specifically, I think the Council should certainly be publishing (almost) all Freedom of Information requests, and all of the Council's responses, as well as detailed information about all allowances, expenses and benefits to Councillors. Apart from the fact that allowances are generally too high in local government - we don't want to create a new class of professional or semi-professional politicians locally - I don't think the expenses claimed in Cambridge City would be a cause for great controversy, but we should publish everything and let the public decide.

You would have thought the Lib Dems would also be in favour of this, but a few of them were decidedly luke warm (I had one Lib Dem criticise me privately for supporting calls to publish Councillors usage of car park passes...), the original motion was far too woolly, and didn't commit the Council to enough action.

I did have an amendment prepared, but unfortunately you need a seconder, and there is only one of me. As Labour had a similar amendment, we combined the text and Labour presented it as their amendment. Remarkably, the Lib Dems agreed with the amendment, and then setout making minor changes to the amendment to allow it to go forward. Full Council doesn't pass motions requiring significant financial resources - they would need to be accompanied by budget amendments, so the output of motions is usually to get a report brough back to committee outlining how the principles can be implemented. In this case however, I think we may have gone much further than usual, and could have come up with something that genuinely changes the way the Council operates. As I see it, the amendment I helped draft in the final agreed motion commits the Council to:
  • Aspire to make information available online by default.
  • The Council will publish all Freedom of Information requests and responses online (unless there is reason not to like a request being libellous etc) (similar to
  • The Council will publish details of all Councillor's allowances, expenses, benefits in kind etc
I think when the officers sit down to work out how they are going to implement all this, they may have kittens, but overall I think last Thursday will go down as a good day for Freedom of Information at the City Council.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Parkside Police Station Open Day

Cambridge residents and visitors are being given a rare chance to find out more about some the most interesting areas of policing.

Parkside Police Station is hosting an open day to give people a taste of forensics, catching criminals and what it feels like to literally be a criminal. It will take place this Sunday, July 19 between noon and 4pm.

The custody suite, where suspects are kept following arrest, will be opened up to visitors and fingerprint experts will be on hand to ink little volunteers' fingers. Visitors can see up close a CCTV van, a police motorcycle, a police traffic car, an accident wreck and even the police helicopter.

Cambridgeshire Police Authority and a recruitment team will be present, along with a crime scene investigator, neighbourhood policing officers and drugs awareness advisers. A speed gun will be used as part of a children's speed trial and a police dog will put on a display. Residents will also be able to get crime prevention advice.

This is a fun, free family event and everyone is welcome!

Tins reopened

Following the recent works, I'm told that the Tins path between Burnside and Coldhams Lane has now reopened, with a new surface!

Nursing Home trying again to expand

Cherry Hinton Nursing Home on Cherry Hinton Road is again pursuing plans to expand. The previous plans were rejected at committee after local residents raised strong concerns about the further traffic impact, in light of problems already being experienced with deliveries.

The new plans, drafts of which have been circulated to neighbours, seek to move the entrance away from Kelvin Close to try to address the problem.

Local Conservative campaigner Andy Bower spoke to some Kelvin Close residents last night, and I have been in touch with the planning department, it appears that the scale of development proposed is not signficantly lower, and there remains opposition from residents.

The previous refusal is now a material consideration for any further application, but I share residents concerns that any significant expansion on this site will cause unacceptable traffic problems, particularly from delivery vehicles.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Station Guided Bus works to start next Monday

Confirmation that the station guided bus works will start next Monday:

"Construction of a new bus terminal to give guided bus passengers easy access to the rail network will begin on Monday (20 July).

The new bus terminal at Cambridge Railway Station will allow passengers to leave the train and get straight onto a guided bus. Using the purpose built guideway passengers can then glide smoothly to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in four minutes. It will also provide a direct link to and from St Ives, and the villages in between, to Cambridge Railway Station.

To build the new stop the short stay car parking at the station will be permanently moved to the opposite side of the entrance roundabout. The marking out of this parking area has already begun so station users will not be affected."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tiverton Planning Application

The planning application submitted for Tiverton House can now be seen on the public access through the Council website and should also be available through the planning portal. The reference number is 09/0595/FUL.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Birdwood Road meeting

There has been a good response from the City Council to my requests for action on the anti-social behaviour problems on Birdwood Road that flared up a few weeks ago.

The area near St Thomas Square is being covered temporarily by mobile CCTV, and the Council's antisocial behaviour team will be holding a residents surgery. This willl be held from 4-6pm on 14th July, at the Resources Room, St Bedes School. Local residents are urged to turn up and let the Council know exactly what problems have been occurring, and this can help to inform any solutions to problems.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Exclusive: Tesco set to open on Mill Road

Coleridge Conservatives understand that Tesco are pressing ahead with their plan to open on Mill Road, and are working to an opening date of 26th August. It is anticipated that work will start on site a few weeks before this date.

Its fair to say some very interesting questions about planning permission and how deliveries can comply with traffic regulations remain to be answered...

Guided Bus Update

This week there was a meeting of the Guided Bus Southern liaison forum, with a few topics of interest to Coleridge raised.

The mobile CCTV on the bridge was discussed. This was hard fought for, and a lack of communication between the Guided Bus team and the City Council nearly meant it didn't happen, but in the event turned out to be as good as useless. The cameras weren't appropriately positioned to monitor the types of problems we wanted to monitor, and the warning signs were all but invisible rendering it useless as a deterrent. I am still trying to get to the bottom of these issues. There was also an incident on the bridge at the start of June in which a young person was seriously injured - currently subject to a police investigation, but when that is concluded, there will be more questions to answer...

There was an estimate of the final date for the removal of the roadworks on Hills Road Bridge - mid September. It is obviously very disappointing that these works have overrun, but hopefully the end is now in sight. A more interesting question is how the bridge is re-instated. I made it clear that residents will be expecting a high quality finish to the road (some contractors seem to think it is acceptable to fill trenches with blobs of plastercine after they have been working on the road - I don't want this to happen here, although the Milton Road re-instatement does seem to be of high quality). More controversially, the County Council is considering trialling a scheme on the bridge to include only one lane going on to the bridge in each direction, widening to two lanes coming off the bridge, to allow space for a wider cycle lane. I think this idea has a lot of merit, (particularly to help cyclists who are currently very vulnerable on the bridge), but could be controversial. If the Council are going to trial this measure, the best time to start the trial is when the roadworks are finally removed, but I would be interested to know what any local residents think about these plans.

Finally, there are some major changes about to happen outside the station to allow the Guided Bus works up to the station to be carried out. The short stay car park will close on 20th July, and move to a new short stay car park. Works for the guideway in the signal box area have commenced, and road construction is underway.

No word yet on final opening date for the southern section - it sounds like there are still major engineering challenges in the Trumpington cutting, where a high pressure gas main under the route needs to be protected by shielding it with concrete, before putting the guideway on top, so full opening will be next year. There is however a good chance of buses running from the station to Addenbrokes earlier, in which case I will be pressing for as much of the cycle route as possible to be open as soon as it is ready.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tiverton House Planning Application Received

Some stop press news - a planning application was received by the City Council late last week for work on Tiverton House, but it is only for very limited works - the conversion of the former warden's flat into two flats, and the provision of 12 new cycle parking spaces in the existing garden. (I think there may be a couple of formalities before it is accepted as a valid application, so can't find it on the planning portal yet)

Having read through the application this morning, it looks to me like the new owner of Tiverton House is not thinking of making any further planning applications, and is intending to re-open the whole of Tiverton House for 'private sector rental' if this application is allowed.

I am urgently seeking clarification with the planning department of what advice has been issued to the applicants about what will be permissible with and without planning permission - significant works have already been undertaken and we want an on site meeting to check every detail not covered by the new application is permissible - there was some correspondence during the election period that the officers couldn't discuss due to election rules.

We believe that this application should really be considered as a change of use of the whole building (all the plans accompanying the planning application are for the whole site), and the application judged accordingly.

We will be working with other ward Councillors to try and maximise the input allowed from local residents - I would like a follow up public meeting to get into the details of what is permissible under planning law, and will be requesting the application is determined by Councillors rather than officers - likely to be at a future area committee.

More details when we have them.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Area committee makes way for Harriet Harman

The city council's East Area Committee is coming to Coleridge this week, beginning 7pm at Lichfield Hall on Wednesday.

This is a day earlier than was planned and therefore at a different location. The meeting was moved for the convenience of the committee's Labour councillors, who sheepishly admitted that it was so they could attend a social with Harriet Harman. This no doubt avoids a tricky dilemma between the charms of the Minister for Women and Equality and attending the council meeting!

There is no neighbourhood policing item on the agenda this time so aside from the open forum (intended for members of the public to ask questions) the main item of interest to Coleridge is likely to be a planning application for the old Cambridge Building Society building on Cherry Hinton Road: "Change of use from A2 (financial and professional services) to A3 (restaurants and cafes)."

Friday, July 3, 2009

New licensing applications

The City Council has received two applications from shops for premises licences to sell alcohol:

Tesco Stores Ltd, 163-167 Mill Road

M & S Simply Food, Unit 8, Beehive Centre,
Coldhams Lane

Can't help feeling one is going to be more controversial than the other...

Tins path set to be closed for maintenance

From the County Council:

"As part of the Cycling Town programme we are planning to widen The Tins to make it more suitable for combined use by cyclists and pedestrians. Improving it should encourage more people to commute into Cambridge by bicycle from Cherry Hinton, and will provide a safer more pleasant alternative to Coldhams Lane

This is just a note to inform you that The Tins path will be closed from 7th July for up to 10 days so that initial works can be undertaken to improve the surface of the existing path which is particularly poor, and the subject of many complaints from the public.

An alternative route will be signed taking cyclists and pedestrians along Snakey Path (Burnside, Romsey to Sydney Farm Road, Cherry Hinton)."

However, it appears that these aren't the works to widen the path - negotiations are still ongoing to obtain the land, and it is hoped that the main scheme will be implemented next year. I'll be on their case to make sure this path does get widened as promised...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Save City Homes South!

Plans are advancing for the services of City Homes South, which has a public office on Cherry Hinton Road, to be transferred to Cambridge City Council's Customer Service Centre at Mandela House on Regent Street. The latest step was confirmed on 16 June at a meeting of the council's Housing Management board.

While Coleridge Conservatives are pleased that the council is finding ways to save taxpayers' money, we do think that the access point that the City Homes South office provides for local residents is valuable. We would therefore like to see options considered to allow the office to be used in future as a general outpost for access to services provided by the Customer Service Centre.