Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blue Bins are arriving

Hopefully most residents will now be aware of the change to blue bins - delivery of the blue bins has already begun, and should be finished by Friday 20 November. You should receive your new bin some time between those dates.

These essentially will replace the black and blue boxes, and will allow all the materials that used to go in these boxes (e.g. paper, glass containers, plastic containers) plus some additional items like clean cartons to be put in the new blue bin together for recycling.

I welcome this initiative - the City Council is some way behind the better performing Conservative Councils on recycling, and this could help - making it easier to recycle, and allowing more types of waste to be recycled.

The Council has lots of information about the new blue bins on its website here. If you have any specific questions about your blue bin, then please call the Council on 01223 458628.

As a local Councillor, I am keen to scrutinise various aspects of the scheme, such as how much it costs to run, but also how the roll-out has gone, and what lessons the Council can learn for the future. If you have any feedback on the following, please let me know:

How well informed did you feel about this change? How did you find out about it - through 'Cambridge Matters' magazine? Notices on your black bin? Leaflet through your door? or was the first you knew when the new bin turned up...

A key problem for the scheme is bin storage, particularly in streets with terraced houses. Some streets won't be given a bin at all (resident can opt-in), others will be partially opt-in. Most if not all roads in Coleridge should have a blue bin delivered by default. However, on request, the Council says it will swap your bin for boxes if you don't have space, or swap your boxes for a bin if it turns out you do have space. How is this working for you?

Finally, some additional advice about the lids on the new bins. Due to the way the bins have to be stored some of the lids will not close completely straight away. This is normal, and the lids should gradually close themselves over the course of about 2 days. If there are any bins where the lids have not righted themselves by the time the main deliveries have been completed, (i.e. around November 20th) then let the Council know, but since the bins are for clean recycling and should not contain food waste, this should not cause any issues with flies.

St Margarets Square Yellow Lines

The long awaited double yellow lines will be installed in St. Margaret's Square, weather permitting, on Monday 7th December 2009.

The traffic regulation order will be in force on the same date.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Richard Normington supports Cambridge at growth hustings

Richard Normington, the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge, joined representatives of the other main parties in Cambridge for a hustings on The Politics of Cambridge's Growth organised by the Federation of Cambridge Residents' Associations on Friday night. FeCRA will be publishing a record of the meeting on their website in a number of weeks.

On the disposition of power between the government and local authorities

While Labour's candidate said the balance was "broadly right", the Green party candidate focused on getting global green targets and the leader of the city council went on about Local Income Tax, Richard said that the balance was way out in favour of the government and that the Conservatives would shift large amounts back, including giving local authorities a 'general power of competence'.

Regarding the complex arrangements for local government financing, where approximately 80% of funds come from the government, Richard say we should "start with easy steps", such as to "ease back on ring-fencing".

On growth in Cambridge

Richard Normington reaffirmed his support for the Conservative policy of scrapping the Regional Spatial Strategy and allowing local authorities to form their own judgement about housing need and provision.

To a question about housing targets the Labour spokesman said that they were "not plucked from thin air" and that they had been debated and agreed. From where I was sitting in the audience I don't think this impressed anyone!

Asked whether he could be sure, as he had stated, that "the need for growth will be accepted without being forced by the government", Richard Normington pointed out that one of the reasons that housing always seems to be unwanted is that the governments rules mean it inevitably turns out to be what isn't needed, citing numbers for the massively increased proportion of new-builds that are poky flats with no gardens.

Richard also added that the Conservatives would provide incentives for communities to agree to development by allowing them to keep the proceeds of new council tax arising from it and some other revenue streams.

Richard and the Labour candidate rejected development on the Marshall site, although the Labour candidate failed to understand that the consequence of the government's targets was that if the council doesn't get on with it the government threatens "we will set up a quango" to force it through.

The Lib Dem wanted to develop the Marshall site while the Green didn't know. (The Green city councillor appears to be in favour.)

On infrastructure

The Green Party wasn't keen on the sort of infrastructure that the other candidates were - roads and utilities - he wanted everything to be with 10 minutes' walking distance. (Nice little utopia you've got there!) Richard Normington ridiculed this sort of protectionism that starts global and ends at the village boundary.

Labour's Transport Innovation Fund congestion charging blackmail was widely derided.

All the other candidates agreed that infrastructure needed to come first or at the same time as development; the current system of post-development levies was considered inadequate.

Richard Normington was scathing of the competence of the Lib Dem city councillors, citing their failure to understand their own system with respect to section 106 agreements at a recent area committee he had attended. One of the interlocutors reported that a Lib Dem had told him "we don't know where to spend it because we don't have any open space to put it!"

It was also pointed out that the developers of the Tim Brinton site in Coleridge have tried to reduce their s.106 contributions from £1.5m to £500k.

On two practical policies for green spaces, while the Green candidate put all his hope in his controversial Wicken Fen project, Richard said that he supports local "food producers not mosquito farmers" and that verges should either be "for trees and grass or cars but not both".

Friday, October 23, 2009

Council Agrees "Save Election Night"

Cambridge City Council last night agreed to support the Conservative campaign to save election night in Cambridge. The following motion was agreed unanimously:

"This Council believes that the interests of democracy and the country are best served if the result of a general election is confirmed as soon as possible after the close of polls.

It therefore strongly supports general election counts being conducted on election night immediately following the close of polls, and requests that the returning officer takes note of this opinion."

As the only Conservative on the Council, it was very pleasing to have unanimous support for my motion - certainly the first Conservative motion to be passed at the City Council for a large number of years!

In the debate, it was pointed out that at the last general election Cambridge did not declare until 5am, and felt that in order to reduce the long hours, much more could be done to improve organisation and get the result earlier.

I will again be writing to the returning officer, the Chief Executive of the City Council, to ask if we can confirm a Thursday night count - if so, it will be interesting to see if we can be declaring at a more sensible time - I would suggest 2am at the latest...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Brackyn Corrie Fencing to be fixed

Its taken a long, long time, but the Council has finally agreed to make funding available by approving a Safer City grant to pay for the broken fencing around the Davy Road flats, and to improve the lighting on the footpath between Brackyn Road and Corrie Road.

This is really great news - I've been working on this since before I was elected in 2008, and it has been a team effort involving local residents and other ward Councillors. Hopefully we can get the work arranged ASAP...

Filming on the Rec!

In case you are on Coleridge rec on Monday, I've been sent the following...

...a local film group working on behalf of the University Press plan to carry out a short filming session on Coleridge Recreation Ground on Monday 26th October for two hours between 10.30 and 12.30. The video is for educational use only.

No major Hollywood stars are expected!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Central Library has reopened

After a lengthy closure for redevelopment, the Central Library reopened about 3 weeks ago. I had a chance to look round today, and I think it has been worth the wait - the County Council has done a really good job. The layout seems very clear and welcoming, and as might be expected as well as the books, there has been a significant investment in IT with computer terminals and free wi-fi access to help those who want to use the library for studying. Judging by today, it already seemed to be very popular.

More details available from the library's website or visit yourself - the entrance is from the first floor of the Grand Arcade, and the library is now open seven days a week.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A14 proposals on display

Proposals have been published for the long-awaited A14 upgrade, and there will be a public exhibition of the proposals at the University Arms hotel at the following times:

Thursday 15 October 2009 (10 - 8)
Friday 16 October 2009 (10 - 8)
Saturday 17 October 2009 (10 - 8)
Sunday 18 October 2009 (10 - 6)

Members of the Highways Agency Project Team will be available to answer questions on the proposals.

Action at last on Ruth Bagnall Court Parking

An issue that I have been moaning to the County Council about for ages looks like it might finally be heading for a solution.

Despite a perfectly adequate underground car park, there is always a row of cars parked on Coleridge Road outside Ruth Bagnall Court, causing problems for road users near the Mill Road junction, and resulting in numerous previous complaints. I've now received this from the County Council:

"For some considerable time the County Council has had limited funding for minor traffic management measures, which would include the introduction of short lengths of new parking or waiting restrictions such as double yellow lines in Coleridge Road adjacent to Ruth Bagnall Court. However, funding is now available to progress a small number of schemes including this one.

As you are probably aware, there is a statutory legal process we are required follow to introduce traffic regulation orders (TROs) prior to implementing any parking or waiting restrictions on street. To commence the statutory process any proposals must be advertised to allow people an opportunity to object.

This TRO will be advertised on 20th November 2009 in the Cambridge Evening News and notices erected on street indicating that objections must be received by 14th December 2009. Any objections will then be considered by the Cambridge Traffic Management Area Joint Committee (CAJC) at its meeting on 25th January 2010.

If no objections are received or if objections are not upheld and the scheme is approved by the CAJC we can then complete the legal processes to enable the order to come into operation and arrange for the installation of any necessary road marking /signing on-street."

Guildhall Project Makes Progress

The project to revamp and make better use of the ground floor of the Guildhall continues apace. The new tourist information centre has been opened for a while, and the new coffee shop - run by the Green Coffee Company which is based in the new Tourist Information Centre, opened its doors for business on Friday 9th October.

Councillors had a tour of the new facilities in September, and the work in progress elsewhere on the project. The old tourist information centre is now a building site - I think this will become part of Jamie Olivers new restaurant.

The old court room is due to become a visitor attraction of some type.

I've long called for the Council to make better use of its property assets - I think the Guildhall redevelopment could make a very positive contribution to Cambridge and benefit Council taxpayers.

Councillor Interests now online

They are still annoyingly difficult to find, but the City Council has put Councillors' 'Register of Interests' declarations online - you have to access them via the Councillors details page - i.e. click here.

In case you are interested, my declaration is here.

There is still a long way to go before the Council complies with the detail or principles around making information available as agreed at the last full Council meeting, but this is at least a start...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Save General Election Night

The returning officer (i.e. the chief executive of the City Council) has not yet decided whether to hold the General Election count in Cambridge overnight on Thursday, or during the day on Friday (whenever the general election is called - May 6th is the date all the main parties are working towards).

To help the decision, I have proposed the following motion for Council to consider at its meeting on 22nd October:

"This Council believes that the interests of democracy and the country are best served if the result of a general election is confirmed as soon as possible after the close of polls.

It therefore strongly supports general election counts being conducted on election night immediately following the close of polls, and requests that the returning officer takes note of this opinion."

I don't have anyone to second the motion yet, but hope this is a topic where there will be some cross party support...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bicycle lights on Mill Road

Coleridge Conservatives surveyed cycles going over Mill Road bridge after pub closing time on a Sunday and Monday evening and found that only 50% of the front and back positions where there should have been lights had lights on either full or flashing. (We noticed that far more people had front lights than rear lights.)

This is one of the problems that we feel should be tackled before almost half a million pounds are spent annoying all vehicular users of the road and cyclists with 'vertical displacement' features.

The Mill Road safety scheme will be up for consideration at the next Cambridge Traffic Management Area Joint Committee at Shire Hall and the initial report on Mill Road is included in the agenda. I argue that the proposal should score badly on all three of the scoring categories mentioned in section 2.1 but I am not holding my breath that officers will agree.

Our survey was unscientific and small scale, but I suspect the result will surprise no-one...

UPDATE: Martin in the comments asked for the actual numbers corresponding to the above figures so here are the results from observing 89 cycles. You may notice a slight error.

fullflashinglow batnoneobscured
Out of townFront2983301
Into townFront82061


Should the City Council try to 'ban' Foie Gras?

A short while ago, Councillors were written to requesting that they "ban Foie gras from council property, and further to discourage the sale of Foie Gras in Cambridge." - the campaign group behind this call seems to have stepped up a gear, and a petition will be discussed at strategy and resources committee later today.

I suspect the authors of this request have a slightly fanciful impression of the catering arrangements at the Guildhall (we tend to prefer champagne and caviar for sustenance when making really important decisions), but for such a controversial subject a fact finding mission seemed in order. So the week before last, I had an early morning trip to a foie gras farm in the Dordogne region of France.

Like most foie gras farms, this one farms ducks rather than geese - the latter being more aggressive, as well as requiring more handling. The farm receives ducklings aged 1 day old, that live in a barn until they are old enough to go outside. At this point, the female ducks are separated out and are used for roast duck - they are apparantly noisier and don't grow as much!

Whilst outside, they roam in large fields - and conditions seem much better, than for example throughout the life of a battery chicken.

After several months of 'normal' (if somewhat high calorie) lifestyle, the ducks are moved to cages for the most controversial part of the process.

For the final 10 days, they are kept in cages and subjected to 'gavage', the force feeding twice daily of maize mixture, totalling 1kg a day. This causes the liver of the ducks - the prized ingredient of foie gras - to swell up to significantly more than normal size.

After 10 days, the ducks are stunned and killed, and almost all the duck, including feathers is used.

Having seen the whole process, it is hard to draw definitive conclusions as to how cruel it is - the ducks being force fed did not appear to be unduly distressed - the storage of food in the gullet, and the laying down of fat in the liver are also to some extent natural processes.

I am not a vegetarian - and even if meat eaters chose not to think about it very much, this does involve keeping animals that will eventually be killed for human consumption - many of those who object to foie gras are opposed to all animal rearing for human consumption. The question is what harm or distress is being caused, how does this relate to other alarm or distress caused by animal production for human consumption? Objective evidence of this (of a more scientific variety than one trip to a farm is likely to reveal) is hard to come by. It is right that animals kept for food should not be subject to unreasonable distress, however I remain to be convinced that foie gras production is necessarily unacceptable.

It would certainly be outrageous if Council Tax payers money was spent on foie gras (or champagne and caviar for that matter!), but if, for example, a well know chef was to open a restaurant in the Guildhall, should a condition of the lease be that no foie gras is served? (There's no suggestion this is part of Jamie Oliver's plans!)

But I don't think the Council should interfere even if it was, let alone try to influence consumption elsewhere in the city - I think it should be down to activists to peacefully persuade and consumers to make their own decision.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Conservative 'localism' promises renewed

A brief note from Manchester: I was pleased this morning to hear Theresa Villiers confirm again that the Conservatives do not support the government blackmail through TIF of tying road pricing to the vital infrastructure improvements that are needed in growth areas, while Grant Shapps confirmed that Conservatives would abolish regional spatial strategies.

Now rather than having housing targets forced upon them, the councils will be able to rewrite their plans, but rather than NIMBYism taking hold, will be able to build the sort of housing that is currently lacking, and will be incentivised to do so by being able to keep the extra council tax proceeds and more to enable adequate infrastructure provision.

Pictured: Richard Normington, Cambridge's Prospective Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for the general election and Coleridge Conservatives' Andy Bower in the conference foyer.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Manchester calling

I shall shortly be heading to Manchester for this year's Conservative Party Conference.

No doubt the internal machinations of a political party are of little interest to most people, and certainly the main part of the conference is more of a rally than anything else, but there are interesting debates to be found at the fringe and we are promised more delegate participation than usual this year.

Coleridge Conservatives will be reporting back on any developments of relevance to Cambridge.

Last year we had a bumper crop of good news for Cambridge, such as:
  • Eric Pickles saying no to bin cuts, bin taxes, bin spying and bin fines, meaning weekly bin collections can return.
  • Eric again promising that regional spatial strategies will be scrapped and local authorities given the chance to rewrite their statutory structure plans.
  • Grant Shapps pointing out that so many more homes were built in EVERY year under the last Conservative government than in ANY year under this Labour government, giving the lie to the claim that top-down housing targets are needed to stimulate housing growth. (This also applies to social housing.)
  • George Osborne promising to match any authority that manages to keep its council tax increase down to 2.5% with funding to bring it down to no change (or a 0% increase in Gordon Brown terminology).
  • Theresa Villiers confirmed to us the policy of dropping the requirement to be guinea pigs for congestion charging to qualify TIF funds.
Interestingly, Manchester also currently has one Conservative councillor, up from zero when Cllr Faraz Bhatti defected rom the Lib Dems in 2008.

However, when I arrive tonight there won't be any time for politics but rather:

TIF bid split into two

The county council's cabinet met at the end of September to decide how to act on the transport commission's recent report on congestion in Cambridge.

They have decided to put a bid in now for the proposed new station at Chesterton, with the hope of it being built in 2012, three years earlier than planned. A second stage bid could then be made at the end of 2010.

Coleridge Conservatives are delighted that congestion charging has been kicked into the long grass, as if we have a Conservative government after the general election they have pledged to remove the link between TIF (that could provide the vital infrastructure that the Cambridge area needs as it grows) and unpopular congestion charging.

Whatever happens, Conservatives in Cambridge will keep pressing for the unwanted tax to be ruled out completely.

The full county council meeting on 13 October will ratify the cabinet's decision on the bid.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mill Road safety scheme consultation closed

The consultation period for a proposed £400,000 safety scheme for Mill Road is now over. Coleridge Conservatives participated in the consultation and now await the report that will be drawn up for the Area Joint Committee (joint transport committee of city and county councils) to consider in January.

As we noted previously, systematic speed analysis on this road suggests that speeds are already kept low. Accident records obtained by Coleridge Conservatives also seem to confirm anecdotal evidence that the real dangers on the road are at junctions.

It is not clear how any of the measures in the proposed scheme would reduce incidents of cars pulling into Mill Road without noticing cyclists already on the road. Yet the costs of the plan are high at £400,000 and humps in the road are really going to annoy not just car drivers, but also cyclists; they will no doubt also encourage cyclists to hug the kerb instead of cycling in a safer defensive position into the carriageway, while car drivers may be tempted to drive in the middle of the road between the humps. (And it would be a terrible shame for the lovely new road surface to be ruined in this way - it is now a pleasure to cycle along!)

We really need a more thorough analysis of what the actual problems are if we are to come up with an economical solution that we can have confidence will actually make a positive difference, and preferrably without annoying all classes of road user simultaneously.

When I attended the exhibition at St Barnabas Church in September I noticed that the sign-in form had columns to tick for Romsey, Petersfield and 'other' residents. This suggests that the consultation, including official flyers to notify people of the consultation, was aimed predominantly at Romsey and Petersfield residents and not other city residents, such as in Coleridge, who have a big interest in this important road. (Although we of course publicised the consultation in our August newsletter.) I think we should therefore expect conclusions to be skewed heavily towards the views of the residents around the road itself, who are less likely to own or need a car themselves. We shall be making this point to the relevant people.

Here are some of the ideas that Coleridge Conservatives think should be considered:

1. Do a proper analysis of why accidents are happening and work out what could be done to fix the situation. (Rather than dogmatically assuming that speed is the cause and annoying drivers the answer.)

2. Proper police enforcement of cyclists being unlit at night (currently no effective enforcement at all undertaken and huge numbers of cyclists are unlit),

3. Driver education relating to junctions, along with analysis of why cyclists are so hard to spot.

4. Look at delivery arrangements e.g. whether side streets can be used to cut down on the amount of delivery from the road.

5. Ban overtaking anywhere on the railway bridge.

6. Consider marking advisory cycle lanes in the middle of the two lanes so that cyclists are encouraged to ride in a position that makes them prominent and discourages unsafe overtaking, such as in the tunnel at Heathrow airport.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Labour's quango culture threatens Cambridge

Cambridgeshire is consulting again on how it should respond to the East of England Regional Assembly's latest proposed plan for enforcing massive housing growth on our area. Please do take part in the consultation if you get the chance - it ends on 31 October 2009.

This is really the wrong way to do things. We have an unaccountable body in EERA telling our local authorities what to do and then we have another one in Cambridgeshire Horizons trying to do the government's dirty work for us around Cambridge.

It is time for these quangos to go. Conservatives have pledged to abolish top-down housing targets. Of course we do need more houses, but we want to decide locally on what we need, and we need it to happen organically, with infrastructure so that we are not developing ghettos for the future. And if we want to see more houses of the kind we are lacking here (e.g. more than 2 bedrooms) then we need to get rid of the government's targets for density and hefty development taxes (AKA 'affordable' homes subsidised by buyers of 'unaffordable' homes).

Oh, and it would also help if the government stopped demanding maximum parking levels, tightened even further by local Liberal Democrats, resulting in every new development having inadequate parking right from the start.

Conservatives warned 11 years ago that Labour's housing plans (thank Prescott) would result in unsuitable sites being chosen for development, such as Marshall's Cambridge Airport, but were accused of scaremongering by Labour. With the Lib Dems cheerleading for the development, there's only one way to save Marshall - vote Conservative!