Saturday, December 11, 2010

Community Right to Buy

Eric Pickles' long-awaited 'localism' bill is on its way. The Big Society is coming to a town hall near you!

One measure announced to day is the Community Right to Buy for vital community assets under threat, giving a window to allow a community bid to be put together.

Cambridge - and the rest of the country - has seen failing pub companies sell currently unprofitably pubs for housing, claiming that they are impossible to run profitably, just because they have failed to do so. New owners could in many case make a big difference but don't get an opportunity.

While Cambridge city is still well served for pubs, rural areas being much worse affected, it won't survive losses going on at the current rate. Recently we've had the Duke of Argyle and The Jubilee go and the Queen Edith and Portland Arms under threat. There are more.

It's not just pubs that could be saved by this new right - shops and community centres could be helped too. It's no panacea, planning changes are also needed - the Lib Dems in Cambridge must take responsibility for shaping our local planning rules badly - and communities will inevitably not always be able to get exactly what they want, but it is a welcome innovation.

By the end of this parliament could Eric Pickles shape up to be the best thing to have happened to local civic life in Britain since Joseph Chamberlain?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Conservation area for Romsey?

The city council is consulting on a possible 'conservation area' for Romsey Town or a link with the existing Mill Road and St Matthews Conservation Area to cover the whole of Mill Road.

There will be a public meeting and exhibition in St Philip's Church, Mill Road, at 7.30pm on Thursday 2 December including a talk by Allan Brigham. The exhibition will also be available between 10am and 4pm on Friday and Saturday.

The report on the scheme and response form are not yet online but should appear shortly. Call the City Council Historic Environment Team on 01223 457168 for more information.

A conservation area would extend existing planning restrictions to require permission for a range of demolition and alteration work and tree works that otherwise would not require it and requires full rather than outine applications to be made so that it will be possible to judge an application on the basis of whether they will fit into their surroundings.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Snow and Rustat Avenue collections

It was good to see that the city's refuse collectors managed to get out this morning. A couple of exceptions were Rustat Avenue and William Smith Close where the blue bins could not be collected due to ice. They will attempt collection tomorrow (Tuesday) instead.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mill Road Winter Fair

Mill Road Winter Fair is back on Saturday!

Mill Road will be closed to traffic from Tenison Road to Coleridge Road during the hours of the fair, 10.30am to 4.30pm, 4 December.

Personally I'm looking forward to my old favourite of one (or two) of Andrew Northrop's hot dogs. Let's hope it's a nice crisp day like today - blue skies and no wind!

If anyone would like to help the organisers, such as by stewarding, get in touch with them through their website.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Civic Affairs Committee

The fight for transparent local government was taken up yesterday evening at Cambridge City Council's Civic Affairs Committee.

I had sought and been granted permission to film the committee meeting. Thank you to the committee chairman, Cllr Boyce.

Cambridge City Council Civic Affairs 15 November 2010 from Andrew Bower on Vimeo.

The main business of the meeting was agreeing the calendar for the year's council meetings and the outcome of a review of polling district boundaries. Top psephologist Cllr Colin Rosenstiel was in his element at this point, although fortunately we were spared a treatise on the single transferrable vote. The polling district boundary review is important to ensure that it is convenient for everyone to vote and that excessive queueing leading to people not being able to cast their votes is avoided. Some changes were agreed.

There are also knock-on implications for candidates' tellers when overlapping sets of polling numbers are in use at the same building but the chief executive made it clear that she would only consider the impact on voters, even though tellers play an important role in increasing turnout at elections.

The interesting part of the meeting, however, was a public question from Cambridge resident Richard Taylor. Mr Taylor had been influential in getting a recording protocol put in place at the city council and sought to ask why he had been singled out in being banned from filming meetings while a complaint against the council was being investigated and to offer some insights into the restrictive nature of the agreed filming protocol and how that is likely to put off broadcasters and other journalists from participating.

I fully support Mr Taylor's campaign for openness and transparency in the way that the proceedings of meetings are recorded. As he points out, the minutes often omit key factors in deliberations such as which councillor said what.

I also believe that members of the public who seek to influence public policy by addressing such meetings should be accountable for their contribution; if they wish to raise a confidential concern that can be done directly with their councillor but the determination of policy ought to be public. However, as with Mr Taylor, I was of course willing to take all direction given by the chairman of the meeting. In this case I was allowed to film public questions although Cllr Boyce kindly advised me not to for the sake of not being dragged through the courts by members of the public. As the only public speaker Mr Taylor indicated his willingness to be recorded, although having agreed a position for the camera in advance I didn't have an opportunity to pan to capture Mr Taylor's contribution visibly.

The Chief Executive's answers to Mr Taylor were not entirely satisfactory and the ruling Lib Dems had little to say on the matter although he was supported by helpful contributions from opposition councillors.

I hope that we will see more meetings recorded in future - turning up to long meetings to hear individual items is a time consuming occupation so we should find ways such as this to increase participation in local politics.

Also available: Higher bitrate Flash video download (Main - 449MB) (End - 49MB)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Local Planning Document Defective

In a rare case of them actually turning down a development Lib Dem councillors are crowing at how they appear to have 'saved' the Queen Edith pub from demolition at yesterday's South Area Committee.

Normally they hide behind the rigidness of the planning rules, the quasi-judicial planning process and their fear of the (exaggerated) cost of rejections going to appeal and being awarded to the appellant. However, in this case the Lib Dems seem to have rejected the application (10/0815/FUL).

Planning decisions currently can only be made with reference to national and local planning guidelines. The Lib Dems in Cambridge are responsibile for our own local plan but the plan is defective. It offers:
  • No protection for pubs.
  • Inadequate defence for Cambridge's distinct heritage and low skyline.
  • A crazy rule limiting the number of parking spaces permitted per new dwelling to less than one.
This last rule is building in huge transport problems for the future, when we've got enough parking problems as it is. The new development in the station area will introduce no new parking, causing even greater problems around Rustat Road while new developments across the city are making local parking problems worse and worse all the time.

This is just the start of the problems. With 'affordable housing' quotas limiting housing for those in the middle band Cambridge is quite simply a planning disaster zone. Conservatives have been battling the Lib Dems over planning for years, both centrally and in clashes in Lib Dem-held wards like Trumpington. We won't stop holding them to account.

Meanwhile we'll see if the Queen Edith really is saved or if a new application is forthcoming or an appeal is lodged. It is frustrating when large pub companies and breweries try to argue that planning permission for housing is justified on the basis that they haven't been able to run a good business - let a smaller business or independent publican have a go!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Realism and Denial at the Guildhall

I don't think much of the way the Lib Dems run Cambridge City Council; their approach to growth, planning and transport are wrecking the city and their fortnightly bin collections, relentlessly-increasing council tax and approach to 'affordable' housing are not helpful.

But the realistic attitude towards the need to rationalise public spending they have adopted since the formation of the coalition is commendable. It's certainly a refreshing change from the fantasy economics of just a penny on income tax to solve all ills that we are used to from the Liberal Democrats.

The mantle of denial about public finances is taken up by Cambridge Labour, whose budget amendments have often attracted Conservative approval in the past. Sadly today's debate on the Medium Term Strategy descended into national party political point scoring by Coleridge's new Labour councillor and other Labour councillors.

Labour councillors presented no alternatives and made no constructive suggestions for improvements to the strategy, except possibly on homelessness, but that sounded more like a scaremongering dig about changes to housing benefit.

We really do need better debate than this at the city council, and I urge Cambridge residents to support Conservative candidates at the next local elections to ensure a centre-right common sense voice on the council.

So I support the plans in the main, but would entreat the council to look afresh at all parts of spending, making sure we are only doing what benefits residents - start by dismantling apparatus focused on satisfying former government targets.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Drugs raid on Tiverton Estate

Yesterday police reported via E-cops a drugs bust on Trevone Place, off Tiverton Way:
A few weeks ago we received an email from a concerned resident saying that they thought drug dealing was going on as they had seen cars stopping and people using their phones. A few minutes later someone would turn up on a cycle and things were exchanged through the window. The resident was so concerned that they took a photo and emailed it through to me.

After showing the photo around the station we eventually identified the alleged dealer and kept an eye on them adding intelligence onto our system. Yesterday, a warrant was carried out at a house in the Trevone Place and four people were arrested for possession with intent to supply drugs. After a good search a large quantity of what we believe to be class A drugs were found and if this does turn out to be the case then the street value of the drugs runs into the thousands of pounds.

If it wasn't for the resident contacting us we wouldn't have known it was going. This is another really good example of how using e-cops can help to solve crime and keep us safe. If you have any information please either ring in on 0345 456 456 4 or contact us through e-cops.
Good work. Now will they start to act on other known hotspots?

By-Election result: Lab gain

The result of yesterday's by-election was:

George Owers, Labour, 900 (44%)
Andrew Bower, Conservative, 734 (36%)
Sarah Barnes, Lib Dem, 223 (11%)
Valerie Hopkins, Green Party, 137 (7%)
Albert Watts, UKIP, 53 (3%)

(or as seen from the city council's fancy new online election result reporting page).

Well done to George for winning the election and best wishes to the other candidates. I'm sure Cllr Owers will have his work cut out for him for a while - there's plenty that needs doing around the ward.

We will be back. The lack of a centre right voice on the city council is bad news for the city and Conservatives will keep working to regain representation.

Thank you to everyone who helped in this campaign, particularly my long-suffering agent, Tim Haire.

Special thanks to Chris Howell for all the work he did as a councillor and his support in my election campaigns. Chris was an excellent example of what a good Conservative councillor can achieve - he will be a hard act to follow for his successor on the council.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Vote Bower this Thursday!

It feels like an age since I resigned from the Council - I've only had a very limited role in the by-election planning, but know the huge amount of effort being put in by the Conservatives, as I currently share a house with the Conservative candidate! I would like to share my thoughts on the campaign.

There are only two serious parties contesting this election - the Conservatives and Labour.

The Green party leaflet I read made me amused and cross in equal measure - amused at the (frankly actionable) libel that I had abandoned my belief in small government, and had resigned because I opposed coalition attempts to bring the budget deficit under control. Angered at the suggestion they alone were fighting on issues like protection of grass verges, and the implication that they somehow support police enforcement of speed limits. At East Area committee, the Green party leader fought all the way to _stop_ the police enforcing speed limits, describing it as a scandalous waste of resources.

Local Conservatives disagree with the Greens on that issue - but you would never guess the Greens position from their leaflet in this campaign. For the record, I have never seen any evidence of actual Green party campaigning on the ground in Coleridge on any local issue.

When it comes to the Lib Dems, Coleridge residents really need to know what policies they stand for in Cambridge - the more you learn about them, the less reason people in Coleridge would have to vote for them. They support development on the airport, which would result in massive increases in traffic in Coleridge, that they would like to see mitigated by the introduction of a punitive congestion charge designed to force Coleridge residents out of their cars, regardless of the suitability of any alternatives.

As if that wasn't enough, they oppose the upgrade to the A14 as well - which could have been a key reason why the government couldn't support the plans - thanks a lot Mr Huppert... As the people responsible for local planning in Cambridge at the Guildhall, it is their policies that result in poor quality new buildings, garden grabbing, lack of open space on new developments, lack of car parking and poor local transport networks. Finally, they made the disastrous decision to sell Tiverton House to the highest bidder, despite our warnings appeals beforehand of the chaos that would follow.

The Lib Dems normally pop up in by-elections, bring in resources from miles around and claim that a candidate you never heard of before the campaign is the hardest working local campaigner ever. They really don't deserve residents support in Coleridge.

UKIP will likely again be pulling up the rear - appealing to Conservative voters, who like the Conservative candidate hate the waste, corruption and lack of accountability of the EU, but as in previous elections, UKIP's only possible contribution in this election will be to help Labour get elected to the City Council (where, trust me, very few of the decisions at all have an EU aspect...)

And so to Labour...

Labour got the public finances into a mess, planned for huge cuts before the general election without telling us where the axe would fall, and now they still have no plan, whilst claiming to oppose pretty much every attempt to reduce the deficit. This is nationally, but parties do matter in local government - it gives you some idea how your Councillor is going to represent you, particularly when the Labour candidate appears to be a Labour activist first and foremost. When the difficult decisions are being made at our local Councils, they need proper scrutiny from Councillors who are working from the basis that cuts to public spending are necessary, and it is about making difficult choices. I fear the approach of another Labour councillor, if elected on Thursday, will be to oppose every measure to reduce spending to make political capital, and avoid real Councillor scrutiny of decisions when it is most needed.

I very much enjoyed working with the Labour Councillors in Coleridge - some you saw more than others in the ward, and we obviously disagreed at a policy level at the Council on many an occasion (like when they voted in favour of introducing congestion charging!). But they were clearly committed to local, community politics, and being good local representatives. It may well have been a democratic choice (albeit new Labour style democracy), but I can't help feeling the some in the Coleridge Labour team may be disappointed with the candidate they ended up with. A contoversial student politician, studying in Cambridge on a relatively short term course, and living in the City Centre, who seems to see politics as a tribal battle of ideas, and not the role that local Councillors are most involved in - that is standing up for local residents in the ward you represent, and trying to get the Councils of whatever political persuasion to get action on the local issues.

One of the reasons why I decided to resign mid year, rather than wait until the local elections next May is that I think it is really important that residents have active Councillors looking out for their interests - I simply couldn't have remained in office knowing I wasn't giving my best.

Andy Bower is by far the best candidate at this election to make sure this work continues, and Coleridge residents concerns are put to the top of the pile at both the City Council and the County Council. It made an immense difference to the vigour with with Coleridge interests were represented having Councillors from two different parties elected for the ward.

Andy has played a very active role in Conservative campaigning in Coleridge over the last three years - he knows the issues, and has been persuasive in moving them forward, with myself, and at the County Council.

Cambridge City needs a Conservative voice - to stand up for lower taxes, smaller, better run government, development of Cambridge with the consent of local residents - that makes sure we have enough transport of all types, and preserves and enhances the quality of the City - in short it needs someone like Andy Bower.

He is the only candidate in this election with a track record of action in Coleridge - I would urge residents of all partys and none to support Andy this Thursday.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bike recovered

I now have my bicycle back after it was stolen a month ago!

On Saturday afternoon afternoon I spotted my stolen bicycle being ridden along Coleridge Road and followed it to Cherry Hinton Road, where the rider stopped outside Wilco. After I indicated a string of identifying features the person was keen to hand my bike back to me. I have given details to the police.

The bike has suffered a lot of wear in the month and will need some attention but it is great to have it back!

Thank you to Labour's George and Dan for looking out for it - I guess it can't have been very far away all along. Now having had two recovered from six stolen I wonder how common a 33% return rate is?

The photograph has been edited to protect the guilty.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Spending review and the city council

Next Monday there will be a special full meeting of the city council to agree the council's annual revision of its four-year rolling medium term (financial) strategy.

Normally the MTS would be approved at a normal meeting of the council but the meeting on the 21st October was presumably deemed to be too soon (one day) after the HM Treasury's spending review. Also given how many politicking motions were introduced at that meeting it's probably a good thing that this important consideration wasn't dwarfed.

The council operated on cautious assumptions when devising the strategy so overall there are, fortunately, no nasty surprises for the city.

One notable assumption was that there would be no compensation for the council tax freeze, but as I expected, the original promise is being kept and the funding will be to match what would have been a 2.5% council tax increase. It would therefore be scandalous for the city council not to take advantage of that multiplier; it does seem that the Lib Dems have at last listened to sense on this one.

The budget for next year won't be set until the spring; I hope councillors can be relied upon to follow through on the council tax freeze. Of course I hope they go further and fund a reduction through councillor allowances.

On the debit side it seems that 'front-loading' of reductions to the formula grant will create a corresponding vaccuum at the beginning of the spending review period, which in the case of an indebted government and a debt-free council is probably the right way round.

Overall this review is undoubtedly the right thing for the country. If we stayed in denial of the need to eliminate the structural deficit we would just be adding more and more to the final cost of fixing the public finances. Some things will be difficult but in the long term welfare reform will be good for our society and a slimmed-down public sector will help the private sector grow.

In Cambridge I urge the ruling group to concentrate on providing good value for money. We are being freed from swathes of government targets and ring-fenced budgets and should be able to afford high quality basic services if we take a good look at what we should and shouldn't be doing. It's time for zero-based budgeting!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Making Coleridge Brighter

Coleridge Conservatives have long planned to do a cycle survey of streetlights in the ward so this evening I set off on my bicycle (a different one) and filed reports of 31 broken streetlights on 19 streets.

Hearing regular sirens I did wonder if I was about to receive an "'ello 'ello, 'ello, what do we 'ave 'ere? Suspicious cycling with intermittent use of pen and paper? Ever 'eard of 92 days' detention?"

In my experience the county council has always reacted promptly to reports of broken streetlights.

Brackyn Road
Corrie Road
Rustat Road - opposite a candidate's place of residence
Coleridge Road
Suez Road
Hobart Road
Taunton Close
Birdwood Road
Chalmers Road
Langham Road
Gisborne Road
Kelvin Close
Derwent Close
Sycamore Close
Bullen Close footpaths
Missleton Court
Cherry Hinton Road
St Thomas's Square
Lichfield Road

Our earlier reported streetlight failure on Brackyn Road has been fixed.

The tally of public reports so far this campaign:

Tories: 32 reports
Labour: 0 reports
Others: 1 report

Friday, October 22, 2010

Forecourt improvements to go ahead

Last week's East Area Committee brought good news for the Cherry Hinton Road shop forecourts. Plans for improvements to the parking spaces and good demarcation with the pavement will make the area safer for all and be welcome support for local traders.

After the popular plans were agreed by the relevant businesses the council committee decided enough consulting had been done and the improvements should start. The £70,000 had already been committed at an earlier meeting.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Grilling East Area Committee: The Forum

With no Conservative councillor to fight the corner for common sense at Last Thursday's East Area Committee I went armed with questions.

First off was The Forum on Tiverton Way.

There are a number of local issues on which local Conservatives and Labour ward members agree and this is one of them; we warned the city council of the issues early on but were ignored by the Lib Dems.

The previous committee's papers indicated that Anglia Ruskin University had at last agreed to have a meeting about issues with the student accommodation, which is sited amidst bungalows predominantly occupied by older residents. My own request for a meeting with ARU a while ago was refused. Knowing that a meeting was held a long time ago with council officers but without councillors I was keen to make sure that there was democratic accountability and so suggested that ward members should be invited (if they weren't already).

At this committee I asked what the outcome of that meeting was. It seems progress is going to be slow but with continued pressure on the owner and the former polytechnic small positive changes do get made, such as the night porter, who is still not up all night but it's a start.

In the context of low to nil reporting of problems last term with the council, not surprisingly resulting in the council claiming there were no problems, I asked if reporting had increased this term (knowing that residents have reported problems). The exact answer wasn't known at the time although the chairman did refer to a specific major recent incident - I would like to find out from the new officer handling such complaints. I hope that reporting reflects the incidents so that the council has no excuses not to be involved.

As a postscript it's worth reminding ourselves not to scapegoat all the student residents of the premises - as this comment on the earlier Cambridge News story confirms. Other blocks like Sedley Court seem to run a tighter ship and students benefit.
Alana, 19/09/2010

I have been at The Forum for a week and i just want people to know that not all students are like these despicable ones mentioned above. My friends and i were discussing only last night that some of the people make us feel unsafe. I was aware this used to be an elderly home and as my nan lives in one i am used to knowing to keep the noise down. I hope that i dont cause any disturbance to anyone as i would feel really bad. I try to keep my music or tv down after about 10pm and i would just like to say to all the residents that we arent all bad guys, all the people i have met so far have been lovely and quiet and kind but there are rumours of a "select few" which are causing a disturbance. It sickens me as i am fed up of getting a bad name for a being a teen/student when i dont drink or party i dont do drugs etc, so please people if you are angry about the noise just remember we are too and we are living with it and its horrible. I hope it will die down now as lessons start monday so i hope they will go to bed!!

Disappointing news on A14

Yesterday's Comprehensive Spending Review deserves a thorough analysis in its own right and I certainly think that overall George Osborne did a good job with the dire hand which Gordon Brown's spendthrift government bequeathed him.

But the big disappointment for Cambridge is the absence of the A14 in the list of infrastructure projects to go ahead.

I blame four people: Cambridge's MP Julian Huppert, former MP David Howarth, city council leader Cllr Sian Reid and former city council leader Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith. All four campaigned vigorously against the vital proposed enhancement to the A14 and they can now toast their success in holding back local, regional and national economic development.

Their opposition to the scheme was ideological and slightly batty (apparently the new 'superhighway' would have engulfed Cambridge with new visitors).

All the surrounding Conservative MPs supported the plan. If we had presented a united front perhaps we would have got the upgrade, but divided it was obviously a prime candidate to be dropped when there were other schemes with better support.

I hope that the scheme can be considered again in the future.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Green verging on the ridiculous

Thanks to the Green Party for adding some entertainment to the Coleridge by-election campaign with their recent newsletter.

Outgoing councillor, Chris Howell, has provided us with his fisking of their newsletter:
Their stuff on the East Area committee ranges from confused to grossly misleading.
On speeding
The vote at East Area committee was only won on a recount, after fierce opposition from Green party Councillor Margaret Wright who described the use of police resources to enforce residential speed limits as a scandalous waste of resources. You wouldn't guess that from the Greens' newsletter.
On verges
The Greens claim they wanted to make verge repairs the number one priority at East Area committee, and this "did not get any support from Coleridge's currently elected Councillors". This point is utterly misleading - it's debatable if it is even factually accurate, as the vote that Adam Pogonowski forced was a nonsense amendment proposed for the purpose of political points scoring and I think I made that point at the meeting, whilst confirming that I agreed it should be top priority.

The committee had over many meetings narrowed down the projects to be funded by the Council's environmental improvements budget. At the last meeting, there was enough money left to implement all the remaining projects under consideration except one, so we picked a project that in the unlikely event all the projects proved to be technically feasible and supported in public consultation would be dropped on lack of budget grounds. That was not grass verges, which had therefore been allocated funding.

Adam then put forward an amendment seeking to set a priority for funding amongst the projects that we had just agreed full funding for - as there was no further contention for funds between these projects as they were all fully funded, this didn't actually result in any additional priority - all funded projects were to be moved forward as quickly as possible.
On the reason for the by-election
"Conservative Councillor Chris Howell ... Perhaps ashamed of the savage cuts the coalition government is undertaking, he resigned."

This is a completely false accusation designed to imply to the electorate that I resigned because of a disagreement with the coalition government's policies on the deficit - for the record, overall I am delighted with the direction of the coalition, both because of their firm but considered approach to tackling the budget deficit, and in the related area of how they are seeking to roll back the patronising, expensive, bullying top down government that is blighting so many local services and local communities.

Specifically, on the budget, my view is that if you borrow beyond your means and give every impression that you aren't that interested in repaying the debt at any point - which appears to be this week's policy from both Labour and the Greens - investors will only lend you money if you offer very high interest payments, and eventually they will stop lending altogether, as the risk of the government failing to repay the debt becomes too high. The firm action of the coalition has already ensured that the immediate crisis has been averted, and interest payments on UK government debt are already lower than they would have been under a Labour (or Green) government.

I certainly don't support the argument that the risks to the economy are lowered by delaying action on the deficit, rather if the coalition government hadn't taken the steps it has, it really would have had a devastating effect on the government's ability to provide essential services in future, and would have left our children with a horrible mess to fix.

If my blog post wasn't enough for them, and they wanted to confirm my position, they could have asked and I would have made it clear what they wrote was false.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

East Area Committee today

This evening at 7pm is the city council's East Area Committee meeting at the Cherry Trees Day Centre, St Matthew's Street.

There are no planning applications for Coleridge this time.

Richard Preston from the county council will be present to talk about highways, with a Q & A session which should be fun.

Environmental improvements are on the agenda as usual, as are community grants.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Council meetings are public. Full stop.

I wrote this letter to the Cambridge News in response to a strange outburst objecting to private recordings of public council meetings.
Dear Sir,

The letter from Lil Speed, 7 October, misses the point about council area committees. They are public meetings on the public record to determine public policy, not police surgeries. It is questionable whether the city council even has a right to restrict recording; it certainly should not.

Any confidential matters should be taken up directly with the police.

It is a shame that the Liberal Democrats (whom Mrs Speed endorsed at the recent by-election in East Chesterton) are so cagey about the recording of public meetings. It would be better if they lived up to their party name and encouraged this enhancement to local democracy.

Yours faithfully,

Andrew Bower
Argyle Street
I fully support the right of anyone to record council meetings, which are public. I am glad that the city council relented in allowing any recording to happen at all and welcome the fact that they are considering doing it routinely. If it can be afforded then it would be a very welcome enhancement to local democracy.

Meanwhile I do not buy their justifications for making it difficult to record the meetings - the recording of meetings makes it much easier to hold representatives to account than is currently possible based solely on the necessarily-terse official minutes.

The future of Mill Road

Three organisations, The Mill Road Society, No Mill Road Tesco Campaign Committee and Milly Card Scheme have come together to hold a public meeting about the future of Mill Road on Thursday, 14 October at 7.30pm at Ross Street Community Centre.

Unfortunately, as the meeting clashes with the city council's East Area Committee there are unlikely to be many local councillors present.

This is the message from the organisations:

Dear Mill Road Supporter,

As you’ve probably seen, Cambridge recently topped the list of Britain’s clone towns. There are still areas of the city where independent shops survive, but they are under pressure. We’d like to get together to discuss ideas about how the Mill Road area can be promoted and improved for local residents, and to support and encourage independent traders.

At present the Grand Arcade and the Grafton Centre get most of the attention/money/support from the City Council and there is a real need to get the council to focus attention on the Mill Road area as well. There are things that the council could do which would make a great improvement.

We’ve been talking to some of the local traders to get their views but we want to get as many ideas and as much support as possible. We will be meeting with local councillors to talk about what the council can do to help the area, and we’d like to know what you think. We care about our area and together we can improve it.

A meeting has been arranged at Ross Street Community Centre [map] at 7.30pm on the 14th October. If you want to protect independent trading in Mill Road and the unique area and community that we have, please come along and give us your views and ideas. We’ll also be giving an update on what the Milly Card Scheme and the No Mill Road Tesco campaign have been up to over the past year.

We hope to see you on the 14th.

The Mill Road Society
No Mill Road Tesco Campaign Committee
Milly Card Scheme

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Conference round-up: making work pay

On Tuesday I sneaked away to Birmingham for one day of the Conservative party conference and made a beeline for Iain Duncan Smith's speech on reforming welfare.

If the Conservative party has any point in existing it is to fix the broken society, in particular the problems emanating from a welfare trap with marginal tax rates that stop work from paying. And if there's any doubt about the party's seriousness in fixing the problems which government after government have ducked then just look at the warmth of reception that Duncan Smith gets whenever he addresses our conference.

Tony Blair's labour party was elected in 1997 to reform welfare but ducked the challenge, and his successors in Ed Miliband's union dinosaur-dependent Labour party are in denial about the problem.

The financial cost of welfare is clearly a problem but the social cost is higher. As ever, the Conservative solution revolves around 'more for less', but that dividend will only come in the long term. With a brave commitment from the chancellor to fund higher short term welfare costs we can break out of this local minimum and make work pay.

The 'universal credit' will make sure that it always pays to work, will simplify benefits and in the long term reduce the cost of welfare. It is being introduced by extending benefits as people get work to eliminate those massive marginal tax rates - that is an extra cost initially to the treasury.

Iain Duncan Smith has launched three 'contracts' (abridged):
A contract with those out of work - who should be in work.
I am delighted to announce the introduction of the Universal Credit, which will, I believe, restore fairness and simplicity to a complex, outdated and wildly expensive benefits system. A real time system which will also help cut the cost of fraud and error

Today we are going to go further... I can announce that I will set up the New Enterprise Allowance... If you have been unemployed for 6 months and want to start your own business we want to support you. We will provide business mentoring and a financial package worth up to £2000 to get your business up and running.

A contract with Britain's most vulnerable people.
I say to those watching today and who are genuinely sick, disabled or are retired. You have nothing to fear. For pensioners it is this government that has moved quickly to re-link the basic state pension with earnings - something we should all here be enormously proud of.

And a contract with the taxpayer.
I want to look every taxpayer in the eye and be able to say that their money is either going to people who are on the path back to independence or their money is going to people who, without question, deserve society's care.
As Duncan Smith said in 2007, "They want power to destroy us. We must want power to rebuild Britain and to care for British people," so it is for Labour in Coleridge - are they, as their by-election candidate is, just here to "smash the Tories"? If they think that Coleridge's working population has no aspirations and buys into Labour's narrative that where we are now is just down to the banks and not Labour's borrow-and-spend largesse towards what it perceived as its client groups then they clearly haven't been listening enough on the doorstep...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Parkside Federation's academy application

Well done to the Parkside Federation, including Coleridge Community College, for voting to apply for academy status. I hope the application is successful and that as an academy it can flourish without the dead hand of the state!

It seems the Labour county councillor for Coleridge, who is one of the governors who voted against the scheme, is sticking with his party colours in opposing this move. That's a shame - David Cameron made sure that his MPs supported Labour's policies, such as the original academy programme, when he thought they were right for the country.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Calling all canvassers...

To any canvassers roaming the streets of Coleridge, if you happen to spot my bicycle (pictured) around the ward I would be very grateful to hear from you! The frame should show signs of daily use, there are new handlebar grips and the lock holder is in the opposite orientation resulting in the lock having rubbed away a bit of the logo. Thanks!

Last seen on Brackyn Road last night...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

City Council Tax U-Turn Welcome

We tentatively welcome the news that the city council seems to be coming round to our way of thinking and is planning a council tax freeze for 2011/12.

Local Conservatives were delighted when George Osborne announced in Autumn 2008 that a Conservative government would provide for two years the funding to enable a council tax freeze for councils that keep their rises to just 2.5%. This good news was consistently rubbished by local Liberal Democrats despite Chris repeatedly calling for the city council to plan to take advantage of the offer. The county council, however, very sensibly signed up to the deal.

Unfortunately, not winning the general election outright, this pledge had to be watered down to one year only (with a second year as an aspiration), but the good news is that now the Liberal Democrats are part of the coalition they no longer feel the need to oppose it for the sake of it.

The council's medium term strategy currently in force plans for a 3.5% tax rise this year. Executive councillors agreed at a meeting on Friday to recommend a new strategy which plans for a council tax freeze this year followed by 2% increases. This is certainly an improvement and to be welcomed. The final decision on the strategy will be made by full council on 8th November and the budget and council tax levels for next year at meetings in 2011.

The new MTS slightly pessimistically assumes that the central government funding for the freeze will not be forthcoming. I was previously calling for a cut in councillor allowances to trigger this funding. If the council is looking to make the saving in other ways then I call on them also to reduce the councillor allowances by 33%. This would then enable a council tax cut of 1.25% - welcome relief to hard-pressed residents.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Everything that's wrong with Cambridge planning

Everything that is wrong with planning in Cambridge is encapsulated in Richard Taylor's excellent article on redevelopment of Cambridge Fire Station.

Well not quite: there are other things too, like the Lib Dems' ridiculous and ideological maximum parking restriction which adds to parking chaos across the city. But the adverse impact of so-called affordable housing is a point well made.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Commuter cycling in Cambridge

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign does an excellent job at raising awareness of the needs of everyday cyclists in Cambridge and promoting safe cycling. One of the problems they face in a place like this is that a lot is said and done on behalf of cyclists by people who may have the best intentions at heart but don't themselves make a daily cycle commute.

As someone who often used to do a 14-mile cycle commute and now mostly cycles to work but over a shorter distance, I take a different view of what is helpful than council officials often do.

If a bicycle is to replace a car then it needs to enable good, direct, progress without excessive stopping.

Some of the solutions that get proposed, however, I believe actually harm cycling. In many people's minds the obvious cycling measure to be deployed is a cycle lane. I think these can have a place, particularly if they are wide, but they rarely are (or can be) and are often relegated to second class lanes, disappearing or moving onto the pavement. They can be worse than useless, putting cyclists into more danger.

Shared-use cycle paths are another love of well-meaning bureaucrats, but a look at Milton Road should scotch that. Cyclists on that path should stop at each junction, which horribly detracts from progress and the temptation is just to go for it. Knowing someone whose teeth were broken in a resulting collision I don't think this is something that should be encouraged and I know that pedestrians feel intimidated by cyclists on the pavement. Progress is much better on the road itself but users who do that often suffer the ire of drivers who think the cyclists should be on their 'facility' (or 'psychle farcility' as some cam.transport posters rather endearingly call them). I can't help thinking Milton Road would be better for cyclists if widened (possibly by removing the bus lane if it turned out not to be that effective but I am not that familiar with bus progress rates on Milton Road to be able to comment competently on that at the moment.)

A good use of cycle lanes, in my view, is contraflow lanes, such as in Downing Street. These add genuine value to the cycling network and should be encouraged. It does help if delivery vehicles aren't parked in them, though!

There's a lot to be said for the shared space concept - in town or village centres - with large vehicles giving way to smaller ones in turn up to pedestrians. The centre of town could be cited as an example. Unobservant pedestrians make cycle progress slow, but that should be expected and accepted - the only problem is inconsiderate (and going-the-wrong-way) cyclists, who can make life unpleasant; motor vehicles can sometimes also be a menace in the evenings but that is partly a cultural problem.

I do value investment in cycling infrastructure. Their merit should be judged on whether they add value for cyclists - opening up new routes, speeding travel or genuinely improving safety (and not just the illusion of such). Schemes such as the Shelford DNA cycle path, which is really nice, and Coleridge Conservatives' proposed cycle route between Ashbury Close and Golding Road are, in my view, really valuable. But I am very sceptical of plans to entrench cycling on the pavement on Cherry Hinton Road (although if the shared-use footpath is to remain that then the proposed plans could be beneficial for safety), 'cycling town' money which could perhaps be better spent on other cycling infrastructure.

An alternative view is taken by Lib Dem Market Councillor Colin Rosenstiel who has argued in favour of narrow cycle lanes, even in the 'dooring zones' to the right of parked cars. Colin says that some people are not so confident on the roads and really value these facilities. I don't agree with Colin but perhaps my views are skewed by being a confident and experienced commuter cyclist. Has Colin got a point? What do you think?

[Picture from after this year's London to Cambridge cycle ride]

UPDATE: The original version of this article may have given the impression that the cycling campaign promotes pavement cycleways - that was not the intention as I know this is not the case.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why we should cut councillor allowances by 33%

At the forthcoming city council by-election I will be standing on the Conservative manifesto for the recent city council election in May, where we argued for a 10% cut in councillors' basic and special responsibility allowances.

Since then the new government has opened the books and concluded that departments need to identify between 20% and 40% savings. It is only right that councillors should lead by example - we are all in this together - so we are now proposing a 33% cut in those allowances.

Councillor allowances are not a salary, honorarium or stipend but are intended to cover out-of-pocket costs. The distinction is important because if seen as a salary then a culture of rights and a sense of entitlement could accrue, as if it were paid employment. It is also not intended to be a backdoor mechanism for the state funding of political parties [search for received by 'Cambridge' and donor 'group'].

The saving of 33% in those allowances could fund a 1.25% reduction in the planned council tax rise. That would take the 3.5% increase which the Lib Dems are planning in their medium term strategy to 2.25%, triggering George Osborne's council tax freeze and allowing a net reduction in council tax from the city council of 0.25%. Good leverage, eh?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Selected for Coleridge by-election

Local Conservatives have selected me to defend the Coleridge by-election on 4 November. I have stood in Coleridge at the last two local elections, coming a close second on both occasions. I will be putting the case for a Conservative voice on the city council.

When Chris Howell was elected to represent Coleridge in 2008 he took the number of Conservative councillors from nil to one and the beneficial results were immediately clear. At council meetings the debates were better for the presence of a Conservative voice (all the other councillors are from left-of-centre parties) and local ward councillors were not able to take the seat for granted.

I am in a good position to campaign for Coleridge residents having already been a key player working closely with Chris on campaigns such as against congestion charging, against the development of Marshall airport, for safe cycling, pointing out the problems of the 'Speedwatch' vigilante scheme, reporting many minor local issues to the local authorities, getting involved with the meetings aimed at mitigating problems around Tiverton Way and requesting resurfacing work on Mill Road and Cherry Hinton Road.

If you are a Coleridge resident please do get in touch with your priorities for the ward and the city council or if you could help our campaign then please give me a ring on Cambridge 750002 or e-mail me at Thank you.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

More evidence that the A14 needs upgrading

Four crashes on the A14 this weekend provide yet more evidence of the urgent need to upgrade the A14. The need for this road to be widened has been known for years but first it was cancelled by John Prescott and then the Lib Dems got their way with a public enquiry this February. Thanks to these needless delays the cost has rocketed to $1.3bn but that doesn't make it any less essential.

The new government's review of various projects was inevitable given the constraints on public finance (largely thanks to Labour's chronic overspending in earlier years) but I hope that this project gets through. Given the importance of the A14 for the local area as well as nationally and internationally it is no surprise that Conservative MPs and council leaders in the area are backing the project and lobbying the government for it.

It is somewhat disappointing that the local Lib Dems are letting their 'isolationist city' mentality guide their frantic attempts to stop this crucial work, with the MP even going so far as to call a Westminster Hall debate on the subject.

I agree that we can do more with getting freight onto rail but there's something slightly loopy about the Lib Dems' obsession with stopping the 'superhighway' into Cambridge - I hope they will think again and join local Conservatives in standing up for this crucial piece of infrastructure during the government's review. Coalition speaking unto coalition?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

County Conservatives lead way on opening the books

I am pleased to see that the county council has not dragged its feet over the government's call to publish online all items of expenditure over £500 and will start on 20 September. David Cameron had already opened the national books for spending over £25,000.

It is to be hoped that the city council will follow the Conservative lead and publish their expenditure ahead of the goverment-imposed deadline of January, as we had already some time ago been campaigning to get them to do, but the local Lib Dems do not have a good track record on openness.

This is very welcome news although we will have to wait to see how well the information is represented and in what detail.

Opening the books will help council taxpayers to get better value for money and help local firms to compete for council contracts.

County Councillor John Reynolds shows that the spirit here is not just to tick the box:
We are committed to being as transparent and accountable as possible. We were one of the first authorities to publish details about our senior management pay and I am pleased that we are in the first group of councils to put this information about spending over £500 on line. We have a good national record for managing finances and we are eager not only to publish this long before the Government’s deadline of January but to eventually exceed Government expectations by publishing spending below £500 as well.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Good news for Kelvin Close

A rare item of good news has come to my attention in the form of the planning inspector's rejection of the developers' appeal on Kelvin Close.

Well done to local residents for securing this result through their representations.

The main issues considered by the inspector were:
Firstly, the effect of the proposal on the character and appearance of the area.

Secondly, effect of the proposal on the living conditions of the occupiers of 24 Kelvin Close with regard to noise and overlooking and 21A Kelvin Close in relation to natural light and visual impact. Thirdly, the effect of the proposal on the provision of public open space, community development facilities, education and transport.
For once it is clear that someone in the planning system 'gets' it:
Clearly, the rhythm of development created by the symmetrical layout of semi-detached houses on the Close is an important feature of its character and appearance.
It seems that the government's removal of a "national indicative minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare" was helpful here and will be helpful in the future when this perceived requirement may have tipped some applications towards acceptance despite other reservations.

It is a shame that area committee amateurs gave permission for the care home to be expanded - their case was clearly weak - as there is no appeal for successful applications, only failed ones.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

By Election to be held in Coleridge

With great reluctance, I have taken the decision to stand down from the Council, and have today resigned with immediate effect. It is expected that a by election will be called in Coleridge to be held in approx 6 weeks time.

Being a councillor should not have to be a full-time job - the last thing we want is a tier of relatively highly paid local politicians living off the taxpayer. But the time it takes to do it can come close. I always tried to be the type of Councillor who is accessible, keeps in touch with residents and is active in trying to solve local issues. As the only elected Conservative in Cambridge (let alone the only Conservative out of 4 Coleridge Councillors), I also tried taking on a remit including moving forward the case for a Conservative alternative for the future development of the City, as well as trying to scrutinise decisions across the City Council. This remit is always going to be a challenge, but over the last few months, for various reasons, it has been impossibly difficult to make any progress, and the commensurate 'job-satisfaction' in being a Councillor all but vanished.

My professional career has effectively been on hold since I was re-elected and for that reason I decided some time ago that I wouldn't stand for re-election at the end of my term in 2012, to focus on career development. Without the prospect of being able to make significant progress politically before this time, I came to the conclusion that I needed to bring forward that decision, step down now and let the baton be taken up by someone who can make progress in the longer term.

It has genuinely been an immense privelege and honour to serve residents in Coleridge over the last two and a half years as a City Councillor (as it was in Cherry Hinton from 2000 to 2004), and to be part of the democratic process scrutinising how decisions are taken affecting Cambridge now and in the future. I remain deeply interested in many of the key issues facing us in Cambridge - how we develop the local economy in a way that helps all local residents and supports the national economy, and how we can bring new and better housing and transport to the area with the support of local residents and without damaging the things that makes Cambridge special. Whilst I may continue to engage with the issues, I am retiring from party politics for the forseeable future.

Much of the our local campaigning in Coleridge has very much been a team effort - I thank those in the ward team who have given me unstinting help and support, and would urge residents to support the Conservative candidate at the forthcoming by-election - Coleridge and Cambridge desperately needs a Conservative voice!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bradney on Bikeability and Cycle England

Matt Bradney's views on the recent news about these cycling projects is worth reading:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

£¼ million council grants allocated to Coleridge

City councillors at last month's East Area Committee allocated more than £250,000 of council grants to Coleridge Ward.

First up was a one-off allocation of some accrued 'section 106' bribes funds, some of which the city council needs to spend soon to make sure that it doesn't have to be returned to developers.

Two very worthy voluntary projects in Coleridge were given a share of £400,000 along with three other projects:
  • Improvements to the Flamsteed Road scout hut.
  • Community facilities at the Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cherry Hinton Road.
A further £115,000 was allocated for future community facilities projects in the ward.

The second allocation was of the Environmental Improvements grants. This is from a pot of money that the city council created along with the area committees and is for capital projects. The aim was to spend all of the available money. It is not clear whether this fund for area committees will be replenished in future - it is something that the city council will have to decide based on its spending review.

The projects approved for Coleridge were:
  • A Crossing for Perne Road just north of the Radegund Road roundabout (£65,000)
  • The verge/parking/yellow line plan for Birdwood Road and Chalmers Road (£59,000)
  • Completing the gap in the Rustat Road footpath (£10,000)
  • The Ashbury Close/Golding Road cycle path consultation and plan (£34,500 or £47,500)
The last of these projects was given a lower priority and therefore will only happen if one or two of the other approved projects for the area falls through for any reason (and of course subject to a satisfactory outcome to the consultation, which will proceed anyway).

All of these projects will benefit Coleridge residents; I am particularly keen on the last three and all have been supported by local Conservatives with the last two being initiated by Chris.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cambridgeshire Tories well represented in blog awards

The independent 2010 Total Politics blog awards are out for the top Conservative blogs and Cambridgeshire Tories feature well.

This 'Cherry Hinton Road' blog has entered at number 74 while over on Perne Road Coleridge branch chairman, Richard Normington, has moved up from 90 to 64 (well done, Richard!)

The full local list is:

21 (27) Steve Tierney
40 (50) Steve Barclay MP
59 (88) Ellee Seymour
64 Richard Normington
67 (77) Tales from a Draughty Old Fen
74 Your Coleridge Conservative Action Team

(Today also marks four months since Labour's last local blog post.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chalmers verge plans emerge

Good news on verges for residents of Chalmers Road and safer parking for everyone off Birdwood Road!

Following a recent verge 'walkabout' with councillors and council officers the city and county councils have worked together and approved in principle a long-awaited proposal to deal with the verges and parking in this area.

There is clearly a chronic shortage of parking spaces in this area yet well-kept verges can make an area much nicer. St Thomas's Square probably has the balance about right, with some bays and verges. Coleridge Conservatives have long argued that in places like Chalmers Road a combination of turning some verges into parking spaces and protecting others vigorously is the right answer.

The plan for Chalmers Road is to repair and reseed verges as approporiate but to turn two substantial sections of verge into hard standing: the low odds and mid evens.

The junctions of Birdwood Road with Gray Road, Ward Road and Chalmers road will have double yellow lines on the corners to discourage unsafe parking (it's a shame these are needed since the highway code is clear on this point as it is...), enforced by wooden bollards.

The Southern side of Birdwood Road as it joins Perne Road is to have its verge strengthened and reseeded.

We have asked the city council whether it is also possible to have trees planted to mitigate the effect of losing verges. Such planting would also help to enforce no parking on the verges.

Overall this seems like a great plan - I hope that it will be accepted by residents and councillors and that it will attract funding.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Improve our parks and open spaces - Ideas wanted!

Having extracted loads of cash from local developers through 'section 106' agreements, the money is now burning a hole in the Council's pockets, and they are looking for ideas on how to spend it.

This money comes from cash payments made to the Council before planning permission will be granted, in theory to 'mitigate the effects of the development' but in reality is more like a 'developers tax' ultimately paid for by purchasers of new properties in Cambridge. Some of the payments are to mitigate the fact that insufficient open space has been provided on a new development, and the cash can then be used to 'improve' or provide facilities on existing open spaces.

Notwithstanding the fact that you can't really compensate for a lack of open space (i.e. overdevelopment) of a new site by enhancing existing open space, this does give an opportunity for the many recreation areas around Coleridge to benefit from some investment.

The Council says:

"We are seeking ideas from members of the public, councillors and stakeholders for potential new recreation and open space projects in the city, as part of the council's  'Improve your Neighbourhood' scheme.

If you would like to suggest an idea, please go to the website at this link to see how the scheme works and what type of projects can be funded:"

The weblink gives examples of the type of schemes the Council has in mind - if you have any ideas, be in touch with the Council, and don't forget to let you local Conservative team know as well!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More misery for Mill Road

There is more misery for traders on Mill Road, as inspection of the sewer during the current works has revealed a further collapse.

While Anglia Water were carrying out the repair works to the collapsed sewer in Mill Road they discovered another blockage 20 metres further along the Mill Road line.

They put a camera down the sewer and confirmed at a site meeting yesterday that the sewer has collapsed at that point and that there is a void under the road. The sewer is deeper than the one they are working on now at about 8.5 metres.

The estimated repair time for this is 9 weeks. A second team will deal with this repair whilst the first are dealing with the original collapse.

As traffic is already used to using the diversion that is in place Anglian Water has been instructed to continue immediately with the second repair rather than wait for the first to be finished in two weeks time. CCC highways team has told Anglian Water that even when Hobart Road is opened again it should not form part of a diversion route as it is a residential area. Instead it should be for access only.

Cyclists and pedestrians will still be able to pass the works at all times.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Developers Present Plans for New Hotel

The developers of the Red House site on Station Road presented their latest plans to Councillors yesterday.

The site, on the north side of Station Road between Tenison Road and the station has been subject to two previous applications for hotels - a smaller successful application in 2006 (that wasn't implemented), and a plan for a larger 169 room hotel in 2009 that was turned down, mostly on transport grounds.

The site is next to Great Eastern House, which Microsoft wants to rebuild as its UK HQ. Whilst it isn't part of the area covered by the CB1 outline planning permission, the new plans seek to fit in with the CB1 proposals, which include a small open space behind the hotel site.

The developers, O'Callaghan hotels, are appealing against the refusal last year, but are also going to put in this new application to address the concerns raised (presumably in case the appeal fails). They are addressing the concerns by reducing the proposed height of the new building (which will be around 7 storeys), and putting in place a valet parking scheme.

Whilst the building itself looks to be a reasonable design for a business class hotel in an area destined to become more of an urban business district, I am concerned about the valet parking plans.

The new plans propose no on-site car parking, with those hotel customers who do have cars being offered valet parking - which will involve hotel staff transporting cars to the Leisure Park car park on Clifton Road. Even if, as developers claim, few guests will arrive by car - the valet parking will still create additional traffic on busy Hills Road and Cherry Hinton Road. It seems ironic that this scheme proposes to solve the problem of lack of parking on site by creating additional trips to the Leisure Park, when the lack of parking on CB1 was the reason given why such a large redevelopment wouldn't generate significant additional traffic. Even if the additional trips are relatively few, it will still add to an existing problem with the plans for the CB1 area.

The developers also claimed to have looked at parking restrictions around the site, and concluded there was nowhere that hotel customers could freely park for long periods of time. I asked if they had considered the Rustat Road area in their analysis, less than 10 minutes walk away - and as with the CB1 developer, the answer was no, this area, and its existing commuter parking problems had been forgotten. I don't accept that hotel users won't know about this, even guests who aren't on a repeat trip - all it will take is one comment about the valet parking and the Rustat Road alternative on a website like Tripadvisor and it could significantly add to the problems Coleridge residents are already facing and will face from commuter parking in the parts of the ward near the station.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

East Chesterton Councillor Resigns

Siep Wijsenbeek has resigned as county councillor for East Chesterton. A by-election is expected on 16 September.

The current make-up of the county council is:

42 Conservative
22 Liberal Democrat
2 Labour
1 Green
1 Vacancy

But of the county councillors within the city boundaries:

10 Liberal Democrat
2 Labour
1 Green
1 Vacancy

This by-election will be a great opportunity to elect a Conservative onto the county council from within the city. It would be hugely beneficial for Cambridge residents to be represented by at least one councillor in the ruling group on the county council. All the other city-based councillors who were present at the TIF vote last year voted for congestion charging - they clearly cannot be relied-upon to stand up for Cambridge's interests.

Cambridge Conservatives' James Strachan gave the Lib Dems the closest run at the last county council election in East Chesterton while Kevin Francis has been a close second in recent city council elections there.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Connecting Asbury Close & Golding Road

Coleridge Conservatives have supported a cycle route between Ashbury Close and Golding Road since 2007.

This is a scheme which Chris Howell requested for an environmental improvements grant. A plan has now been devised. See page 83 (87) of the agenda pack for the last East Area Committee for the details

Cycling is currently banned in the area but in practice this rule is barely followed, with people variously cycling on the pavement and on the grass, neither of which is ideal for residents.

A cycle path between the two, if well sited, could ensure that those who already cycle do so in a considerate fashion and open up the route to people who are currently penalised for following the rules.

If the path eliminates a couple of 4x4s from driving children to school and puts cyclists out of the way of pedestrians and children playing on the grass then it will have been a very worthwhile scheme.

We have generally found residents to be accepting of this idea, with a small amount of opposition. The concerns expressed have been:
  • It will increase cycle movements.
    Not much – the current prohibition is widely ignored & some movements will be instead of vehicle movements clogging up nearby roads and parking.
  • It will bring antisocial behaviour.
    I cannot see how this claim is supportable
  • Parking will be lost.
    This is a risk but a good scheme would lose only two spaces and possibly fewer
  • The money could be better spent.
    The proposed grant is from the environmental improvements pot and this is a capital project so comparisons with potential expenditure that would be recurring are not fair.
  • Cyclists will be a menace to pedestrians.
    This should become less true than it currently is because the path will mostly run along the inside of the existing pavement and will mainly not be shared.
  • The path would otherwise dissect the greens and be a loss to an area for children to play.
    The proposed plan has the path mostly adjacent to the path or nearly adjacent to the path. Of greater impact to children enjoying themselves must surely be the miserly 'no ball games' signs adorning the area?
The bottom line

I support this scheme but only on condition that:

1. No more than one parking space is lost at each end and options are investigated to reduce this to nil. (I think more work on the current plan is due in this respect.) It certainly would not be acceptable for council officers to introduce gratuitous parking restrictions by the back door through this proposal.

2. It is as much as is practical a separate rather than shared-use path.

3. The large grass area should not be dissected.

4. There is a proper consultation of local residents - and not the usual faux consultation.

At the city council's recent East Area Committee of 17 June Coleridge Conservative Councillor Chris Howell spoke in support of the scheme but stressed the importance of a proper consultation, which officers have promised to provide.

As a footnote, the record of what local politicians have said about this scheme in the past is available on the Cambridge Cycling Campaign website:

May 2010 District Elections (question 6; see also question 5).
May 2008 District Elections (question 8).

Friday, July 30, 2010

One day left to vote for your favourite blogs

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2010

There's only one day left to e-mail your votes for your favourite blogs in this year's Total Politics blog awards.

The blog awards weren't on our radar last year until Richard Normington unexpectedly received one for the blog he wrote on the local association website. Richard's blog is a great read and highly recommended in its new location.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Green Car Park Madness

Abbey Ward councillors are certainly providing good entertainment value at the moment for avid local politics watchers.

First we had the Labour councillor at full council a week ago claiming that zero-rated VAT goods included hidden VAT payments for the input costs of producing and selling the items. Hint: next time you waste council time debating national policies it's probably best to do your homework first...

Now the Cambridge News reports Green councillors wanting to replace Park Street car park with so-called 'affordable' housing. The car park, which also includes secure cycle parking, is in need of major work or replacement. Originally budgeted at c. £1m it seems the cost may now exceed £2m.

This call is plainly bonkers. Apart from the significant loss of amenity and the effect on city centre trade the loss of the car park would punch a hole in one of the city council's most lucrative sources of income.

The council's budget setting report doesn't appear to break down the figure by car park and doesn't make it easy to find all the associated costs but gives a projection of £7.5m in annual car parking income. Even at the higher end of the scale for the cost of sorting out Park Street car park it is hard to imagine that it wouldn't still be a good value investment. Of course, Coleridge Conservatives would encourage the city council to do its best to keep the costs down!

Just as crazy, however, is the suggestion that it should be so-called 'affordable' housing that the site is used for. How is it good value for council taxpayers and the purchasers of unaffordable housing (anyone not eligible for the 'affordable' stuff) to subsidise accomodation on a prime site in the centre of the city?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cambridge Gateway and Hills Road

Coleridge residents will already be aware of the latest works on Hills Road bridge. When the bridge was being restored after the recent guided bus works the opportunity was taken to trial new cycling arrangements over the bridge. Now the Cambridge Gateway project designed to create a new bus, pedestrian and cycle link to the railway station area is in progress and includes a new permanent layout for the bridge with more cycling provision.

There are traffic restrictions in place such as a ban on turns from Hills Road into Brooklands Avenue and no overtaking of cyclists on the bridge in the single lane on the bridge. All the work is expected to finish in February 2011 and work on the bridge is anticipated to be finished by Christmas.

We are anxious that the no overtaking restriction is observed. We previously secured CCTV for this purpose but to doubtful effect. It would be easier to solve the problem if cyclists had the confidence to ride in the middle of the lane in this situation but that rarely seems to happen.

More information is available on the county council website: layout and briefing note.

Personally I think the new layout is far too complicated and would be happier cycling over the bridge without any cycle lanes at all but I accept that is a minority preference. Let's hope when the work is finished that it proves to be worth the money!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Should Cyclists be forced to wear helmets?

An argument that has been rumbling on for years hit the local press over the last week.

On wednesday, blog favourite Cllr Colin Rosenstiel was quoted claiming that wearing a cycle helmet makes you more likely to have an accident, and criticised the County Council over their attempts to compel staff to wear them.

But yesterday, the chief executive of Cambridgeshire head injuries charity Headway hit back, questioning the assumption that cyclists with helmets are more likely to be involved in an accident, and calling for a common sense approach, that those with helmets are more likely to have their skull protected in an accident than those who don't.

On this latter point, it is hard to argue that in the case of an accident involving a head impact, you wouldn't be better off with a helmet on, although the protective effect is nothing like as comprehensive as some might think, particularly in high speed collisions.

The issue of whether wearing a helmet makes you more likely to have an accident in the first place is more debatable. There are usually two parties involved in causing an accident, and usually through defensive driving or riding, either party can stop an accident happening. It is possible cyclists would ride less 'defensively' whilst wearing a helmet - an extreme way of expressing this is the argument sometimes suggested for preventing injury from car accidents - it would be safer to put a large metal spike on the steering wheel than an airbag - which rather graphically illustrates the point. Another factor that could cause  helmet wearers to be more likely to be involved in an accident is the effect the helmet has on other road users, and in particular it is claimed that drivers are more likely to drive closer to cyclists (i.e. less defensively) if they have a helmet.

But there is a third argument why forcing cyclists to wear helmets might increase the accident rate (not to mention also increasing levels of traffic and obesity) - a second order effect, namely that forcing helmet usage reduces cycling as it is significantly less convenient, which it turn makes if less safe for all cyclists. Countries with very high rates of cycling like Holland don't insist on helmet use, and tend to have much lower accident rates amongst cyclists, as road users always expect high levels of cyclists and change their driving or cycling accordingly to reduce the risk of accidents.

Put all these arguments together, and I can easily believe that the protective effect of helmets in some accidents is more than outweighed by an increase in accident rates and reduction in cycling take up if helmets are made compulsory.

Add to this my natural scepticism whenever government tries forcing an individual to do something purely for 'their own good', even when that individual has taken a considered and informed view that they wouldn't otherwise do it, and I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing rather more with Cllr Rosenstiel that we shouldn't be forcing helmet use on cyclists - it should be a personal choice.

Usually around town I don't wear a helmet - but I hope I ride quite responsibly and defensively. Riding along the tow path this evening marshalling the town bumps I probably will choose to use my helmet...