Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tenants lose out in Digital Changeover

The City Council has previously maintained communal TV aerial for its tenants - and most private sector tenants would expect the same from their landlords as well.

But I think they have a mess on their hands with their plans for the digital changeover. The Council plan for communal digital aerials on City Homes residences that are 3 or more stories high (i.e. very few in Coleridge), and have basically told residents in building 2 storeys high they need to make their own arrangements, and unhelpfully added that they will probably need planning permission.

I've followed this up with the planning department, and the situation on planning permission for aerials is far from straightforward - to be more precise:
"Part 25 Class B deals with buildings less than 15m in height and limits the number of antennas that can be put up without the need for permission to 2, of which only one may exceed 60cm in length and neither of which may exceed 100cm in length.  Furthermore, any antenna
-       attached to a chimney must not exceed 60 cm in length and must not exceed the height of the chimney; and
-       must not have a cubic capacity in excess of 35 litres; and
-       no part of an antenna installed on a roof without a chimney shall exceed the highest part of the roof on which it is installed; and
-       an antenna installed on a roof with a chimney must not exceed the height of the chimney stack or 60cm above the highest ridge tile, whichever is lower.
The length of an antenna is measured in any linear direction and shall exclude any projecting feed element, reinforcing trim, mounting or brackets."
The Council just telling tenants they 'may need planning permission' and leaving them to get on with it when so many people are affected by this is not very helpful.

The Council needs to rethink its decision and arrange to make digital aerials available to all tenants - but at the very least where it would be better to have a smaller number of communal aerials on two storey buildings, City Homes should be making the arrangements and dealing with the planning complexities. The current policies are unacceptable.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Works planned for Station Road

The contractors for the guided bus have provided notification of some road works and traffic management from 3 May for two weeks for the new bus/rail interchange at the station:
As part of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway scheme BAM Nuttall are building a new bus interchange at the Railway Station.

The final phase to complete the interchange is to carry out work to tie in the new interchange area with the roundabout outside Cambridge Railway Station entrance.

To carry out this work safely traffic management will be put into place on the night of Monday 3 May 2010. The works will commence on Tuesday 4 May and last for approximately 2 weeks, including working at the weekends.

The traffic management restrictions will be in place and operated 24 hours a day with works taking place between 7am and 8pm. The traffic management cannot be removed at night as it would leave the road in an unsafe condition.

Please find attached a detailed sketch of the proposed traffic management that will be in place for these works.

To explain in more detail. There will be traffic lights controlling the roundabout for the duration of the works. Buses will not be using the roundabout; instead they will carry out a U-turn in front of it when they are given a green light by the temporary traffic signals.

All other vehicles will use the roundabout as normal although the carriageway width will be restricted. Access to the car park, disabled parking, taxi ranks, cycle park and other buildings will remain as normal.

The footpath on the south side of the road will be closed, but access will be maintained to all buildings, part from the Railway Station. People wishing to access the Railway Station should use the path on the north side of the road.

Please expect some delays due to the volume of traffic in the area and allow some more time for your journey.

Should you have any queries regarding the works please contact BAM Nuttall on 01954 785200.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Conservative City Council Manifesto launched

Today City Conservatives launched our manifesto for the city council outside City Homes South on Cherry Hinton Road.

A Conservative vote in Cambridge is a vote to set a path towards:
  • Lower council tax, with a focus on better basic services
  • A planning system that protects Cambridge's heritage, and puts local residents in control
  • More frequent refuse and recycling collections
  • Promoting sport in the run up to the Olympics
  • Supporting better transport of all types, public and private
  • Open and accountable governance
We recognise that when asking people to make sacrifices during tough times politicians should lead by example, that is why we are proposing to cut councillor allowances by 10%, contributing £25k towards cutting council tax.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Government is so expensive, part II

A few days ago I wrote about why government is so expensive, and why the Conservatives are right that it is not only better to reduce the cost of government (rather than increase taxes) to fix Labour's debt crisis, it is mandatory. I said:
 'Partnership working' is another recent entry in public sector buzzword bingo - in theory, great, it means (I think) public bodies working together to try running services better. In practice, there are pots of money available from government for their pet projects, whole teams of project managers and press officers producing plans to demonstrate that the right boxes are being ticked to show people are working together - along with endless meetings and powerpoint presentations taking up vast amounts of time, and involving senior public sector employees
As if by magic, an example turns up. The Community Alcohol Partnership from the humble Councillor's point of view is simply the police working with trading standards to tackle underage drinking, and they had been working in Coleridge as part of a pilot project. They visited places like Coleridge Rec on a friday or saturday night in response to complaints about under-age drinking, so the police can confiscate alcohol and contact parents as necessary, and trading standards can work with the shops who sold the alcohol to find out how it came into the possession of under 18s, and try to stop those sales in future.

All very sensible - except all seemed to have gone quiet from the community alcohol partnership, so this week I made enquiries as to what had happened to it - here is the reply:

As you had observed there has been less activity in recent weeks.
There are a couple of reasons for this.  Firstly, the Adult Alcohol Commissioning Group are now acting as the CAP Board to oversee the roll-out of all CAPs in the county (including the existing ones) This measure was put in place earlier this year primarily to address some of the issues that had arisen. For example, they found that, without any formal structure or agreements, the representation of some partners on the working group changed several times - and some new representatives did not consider CAP a priority. This made it difficult to undertake any activities requiring input of certain partners.
The CAP Board will oversee and commit resources to the CAP (i.e. influence the CAP on the ground - making sure the working group has the necessary resources to deliver the relevant activities) and by getting formal agreements signed by each partner (SLAs) of their contribution to the scheme. A Terms of Reference for the working group and the SLAs will be drafted shortly and we hope to have these signed ASAP.
In addition, there is currently an evaluation of the CAP's work by xxx Ltd which will identify how the CAP can be improved as they move forward. It is anticipated that some of the aforementioned formal agreements and structures will be among the suggested improvements going forward. Once the evaluation report is published the CAP Board can consider the findings and influence how the CAP continues in the city.
And to think that if you believe Labour, it is vital we have so much government and any cost cutting would immediately impact doctors, nurses and teachers on the front line - absolute nonsense. One Conservative policy I really like is the idea of a directly elected police chief. Someone local residents can hold accountable, and to thom they could say that they just want the police to work with other groups to tackle the problem of underage drinking in their neighbourhood, and if they can't do it without a commissioning group, an oversight board, contracts, service level agreements, and a consultants report, they won't be in charge for very much longer...

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Wine Merchants for Cherry Hinton Road

The former Wine Rack shop on Cherry Hinton Road, that shut after the parent company went into administration  last year looks set to reopen as a branch Cambridge Wine Merchants, who have just submitted an alcohol premises license application for the shop.

They are a local specialist chain with branches on Mill Road, Bridge Street and Kings Parade, and hopefully will be an valuable addition to shops on Cherry Hinton Road.

Meet the General Election Candidates

Perhaps the public meeting is staging a comeback as part of election campaigning, as there seem to have been a number of debates already involving the main general election candidates. As a strong supporter of No2ID in Cambridge, I would particularly like to publicise the following debate on April 22nd:

Cambridge NO2ID is collaborating with Amnesty International Cambridge city group & Cambridge Oxfam Group to run an Election Question Time on Thursday 22nd April.

These Cambridge parliamentary candidates will be there to answer your election-time questions:

Daniel Zeichner (Labour)
Tony Juniper (Green)
Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat)
Nick Hillman (Conservative)
Peter Burkinshaw (UKIP)

Andie Harper of the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire will be in the chair.

Attendance is open to all, and free (but donations are appreciated).

Time & Date: 20:00, Thursday 22nd April 2010 (Doors open 19:30)


Emmanuel United Reformed Church
72 Trumpington Street
Cambridge CB2 1RR

(Opposite Pembroke College, next door to Peterhouse)



Saturday, April 10, 2010

Planning Reception moves to Mandela House

At the start of this month, the planning reception on the second floor of the Guildhall closed, and queries on planning applications will now be dealt with by the customer services centre at Mandela House, who are now the first point of contact for the Council's environment and planning department.

There should be a separate check-in area for planning queries at the customer service centre and a duty planning officer - if residents need to contact the case officer for a particular application, they can be phoned, or a meeting setup in the Guildhall.

One definite improvement being rolled out from 1st April, is that plans, drawings and documentation for planning applications will now be available online at

The plans will however involve significant headcount reductions in the planning department - with more straightforward queries being dealt with by customer services staff. I would be interested to know how the changes to the system are working for those that deal with the planning department.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Validly Nominated

I have received formal notice today that I am the Conservative candidate for the Cambridge City Council election in Coleridge Ward on Thursday 6 May. The full list of candidates is available on the city council website.

It will be a busy month for the Coleridge Conservative team as we fight a marginal council seat and promote Nick Hillman, our excellent parliamentary candidate in Cambridge.

We'll be keeping the blog up-to-date during the campaign. If you'd like to help then please drop me an e-mail at or give me a call on 07876 031832.

Let battle commence!

Does the City Council need a climate change officer?

Just been listening to our hopefully soon to be ex-Chancellor, discussing how impossible it is to find any efficiency savings in government - so he would prefer to go ahead with his national insurance rise that business leaders agree would do serious damage to the low paid and cost jobs rather than risk 'front line services'.

It is hard to believe that the person responsible for running the nation's finances has so little clue as to what has been going on in the public sector.

Whole areas of taxpayer funded activity are happening now that didn't exist even five years ago. (And taxpayers in this context includes both current taxpayers and people currently too young to pay tax, who will be taxed more to pay off Gordon Brown's catastrophic public debt). So I have a question for the Chancellor - perhaps I can call it the 'climate change officer test'.

If Cambridge City Council gets rid of its Climate Change Officer, and most of its related budget (totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds, paid for by taxpayers), would this be 'an efficiency saving' or a 'cut to front line services'?

Don't get me wrong, climate change is a serious issue, that needs to be addressed with some major changes to how we generate, transport and store energy - I just don't see how the City Council employing someone to encourage self-flagellation over the damage we are probably doing to the planet can possibly help - it hasn't even persuaded the Green Party to turn the lights off in their campaign HQ!

Perhaps it is unfair to pick on one area. 'Partnership working' is another recent entry in public sector buzzword bingo - in theory, great, it means (I think) public bodies working together to try running services better. In practice, there are pots of money available from government for their pet projects, whole teams of project managers and press officers producing plans to demonstrate that the right boxes are being ticked to show people are working together - along with endless meetings and powerpoint presentations taking up vast amounts of time, and involving senior public sector employees, many of whom are now being paid over £100k a year to run a local Council.

And we haven't even got onto regional bodies - I get emails from some of them that I literally can't understand through all the public sector gobbledegook what they are even trying to add that is of public benefit. Many of these bodies could shut up shop tomorrow, and residents would be unaware they had gone. Some of these bodies, like the ones trying to force housing targets on us against local residents wishes (or in the case of Marshalls, against the wishes of the landowner!), need to be disbanded before they do any more damage. The list of things the state could stop doing to avoid doing any more damage is not short - for example ID cards and a big database to track everyone as they negotiate their way through public services, or the layers of managers and administrators in the NHS whose sole job - as a doctor friend of mine explained - is to try and stop doctors allocating resources according to their judgement of clinical need, and start allocating resources to meet whatever the latest announced NHS target is - the list goes on.

And my answer to my own question - neither - there are whole areas of activity where it is not the case that they are being performed inefficiently (although many undoubtedly are), or that they aren't a front line service (although in many cases nobody would care if the 'service' wasn't provided) its just obvious that the business of government has grown too large, not slightly, but massively - we can't afford it, and in many cases it isn't even helping people. It will be possible to stop many activities of government, whilst simultaneously tackling the debts Gordon Brown has built up, stopping the tax rises that will cost jobs and damage the economy, but also actually improving people's lives and opportunities as the state stops trying to control from Whitehall so many aspects of our lives. It is definitely time for change in Government.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lights on but no one in, Comrades

Pictured is the Green Party's 'shop' on Mill Road, taken at 11.20pm tonight, with the lights blazing. There didn't appear to be anyone in at the time.

The Greens are always trying to tell everyone what to do - perhaps as socialists they think it's one rule for the party elite and another for the rest...

More seriously, we do all need to do our bit and cutting out obvious wasting of energy like this is the right place to start, not mosquito farming, wacky protectionist economics and ideological opposition to nuclear energy etc.

Police Investigating Coleridge Murder

For those that don't read the Cambridge Evening News, police are investigating an apparent murder that occurred at around 7am this morning in Fanshawe Road, Coleridge.

It is because such events are thankfully so rare in Cambridge, there will doubtless be many shocked local residents, but I understand from police that although it may take some time to thoroughly investigate this incident, they don't have reason to believe at this stage that there should be a wider community impact.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Celebrating the Olympics in Cambridge

Our local Councils are currently planning how to celebrate the Olympics in 2012. Cambridge has a proud sporting history, and it is likely that the Olympic Torch relay will pass through the City.

But from what I have heard so far, I am disappointed that the Councils are not planning to do more to use the Olympics to do more to promote more participation in mainstream sport, and will be taking this up with the Council.

Sport has the potential to address many of the policy areas public bodies spend a fortune of taxpayers money tackling the symptoms of - health problems, obesity, anti-social behaviour, lack of community engagement etc. It is also the area where most voluntary work is carried out by individuals. And the Council is failing these volunteers. They tried to stop students using the public open spaces for training, and I know, for example, the rowing community in Cambridge feels very let down by the City Council - they are seriously under-represented on the Cam Conservators, and so have little formal say over river management - which is currently holding back development of rowing in the City. The Lib Dems seem to see rowing as elitist and irrelevant to Cambridge, despite the efforts being made by clubs such as St Radegund, which I am involved in, to introduce more people to the sport.

In this context, this week I met with the prospective organisers who wish to restart the Cambridge City Half Marathon. Every similar city to Cambridge seems to have a half marathon - the previous successful Cambridge event stopped around 1995 - I understand due to lack of support from public bodies. They have setup a Facebook group, and I am meeting with Council officials and lobbying Councillors to support its return. Whether this support is forthcoming will be a key test to me of whether the Lib Dems running Cambridge have any intention of supporting my vision of Cambridge as a place renowned for its fit, healthy and sporty residents.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Annual survey flies off the presses

Coleridge Conservatives' annual residents' survey for 2010 was flying off the press this Easter. Look out for it through your letterbox soon! Coleridge residents are welcome to complete the survey online.

We really value the feedback we get from these surveys, so thank you to everyone who has taken part in the past.

Coleridge's Labour councillors are of course very welcome to send in their own answers, but please avoid spoof answers as it doesn't help in our common cause of working for residents effectively...

Finally, do get in touch with us if you would like to help stuff some envelopes!

Monday, April 5, 2010

What next for the station area?

View Larger Map

A period of exciting changes to the station area are planned for the future, that could be vital to transport infrastructure for the City.

To the west of the station, the Council finally signed off the s106 agreement for the CB1 development at a recent planning meeting. This gives the development permission to go ahead. We have blogged previously on the merits of the scheme as a whole, but the arguments go on about the financial viability of the whole scheme, what the Council knew about the previous developers Ashwells financial problems, and why even now their is a risk that only parts of the development will be built (like the student accommodation that appears to be most profitable), with some of the vital transport infrastructure never being built. The recent serious fire affecting listed buildings on the site only clouded the situation further.

But independently of the CB1 development, network rail has plans for the Coleridge side of the site. They would like to build a central platform, that will open up a range of options for accessing the station from Coleridge. They also have a vacant site that appears to be ripe for development, and could provide much needed housing in an area that is well served by transport links.

Further afield, we understand development of the former Cambridge Water site on Rustat Road could be about to be picked up again, and there is scope for improvements to the Leisure park.

What is the Conservative approach to the station and leisure park area?
Firstly, public consent - we need meaningful dialog with local residents before decisions are taken.

Second, we need high quality development - in such a key strategic part of the city, we must have a very high quality built environment. The Travelodge on the Leisure Park clearly fails this test - we mustn't make the same mistake with other sites.

Finally, we must develop the best possible transport links - and this means getting the agreements right when granting planning permission, and making sure developments are viable with the improvements to transport that must be provided to make the developments work without putting local residents in Coleridge to any greater inconvenience than they are already from problems such as commuter parking .

What are we doing about this?
I spent considerable time with network rail trying to setup a meeting to discuss a range of issues of public interest - what are their plans for a second platform? how will it connect to the main platform? How will it link to Coleridge? Will they help improve cycle parking at the station? Will they support the Chisholm Trail that could significantly improve cycle links from our ward?  What are their plans for the vacant sidings? How can the public get involved? After emails with many people with 'communications' in their job title, I was no nearer speaking to anyone who actually had a meaningful role in decision making in these areas, and have asked the Director of Planning at the City Council to try setting up a meeting. It appears network rail, whilst enjoying all sorts of statutory protections and operating in many respects like a public body, operates outside of any type of democratic scrutiny. This needs to change!

We will be keeping up the pressure on the planning system at the Lib Dem run City Council - it isn't delivering quality, and we fear the station agreements will turn out to be a terrible deal for taxpayers - who have already funded much of the site through the bank bailouts prior to Ashwell's going bust, and who are now likely to pay for a lot of the transport infrastructure on the site as well. Our planning policies need to change, to ensure a quality build environment is not an unaffordable luxury after all the Council's other requirements have been met. Our planning policies also need to support and encourage better transport infrastructure, particularly on key sites like the station area.

Last week I also met with the owners of the Cambridge Leisure Park, along with other local Councillors. We pressed the case for better usage of the site, and talked about some of the transport issues - like how to encourage leisure park users into the multi storey car park rather than surrounding roads, and how to improve access to the site from the station area. I support some type of bridge (and/or possibly a connection to the new platform) - I could never understand why the Lib Dems allowed this to be taken out of the original planning permission for the Leisure Park in the first place...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Victory for Conservatives' Marshalls Campaign

Another key piece in the Labour Government's warped vision for Cambridge appears to have collapsed today, as Marshall's announced it had ruled out all the remaining options for relocating its aerospace business and was effectively staying put. Although Marshalls do keep their options open, saying:

"it is clear that relocation is not a feasible option at this time, but we do not rule out the possibility that circumstances may change again in the future, in which case we would be prepared to reconsider it."

their announcement today does sound like a very significant announcement that should put a stop to all planning for thousands of homes on the airport site. It is also a humiliation for the Lib Dems running Cambridge City, who have been the main voice in favour of airport redevelopment, and all the transport chaos that would inevitably result in east Cambridge wards like Coleridge.

As much as local Labour politicians may claim to support Marshall's, they also support the cause of the threat - Labour's top down housing targets that force our local Councils to come up with plans like building on Marshalls. It is a humiliation for Labour's plan for Cambridge - thousands of bland properties (yuppie flats and social housing is all the current system can manage), dumped in areas regardless of whether local residents want them there, or if the transport can cope. The other part of Labour's plan - to force congestion charging onto Cambridge instead of building proper transport networks disappeared last month as the 'Transport Investment Fund' process to bid for transport funds disappeared, along with its mandatory congestion charging so controversially supported by our local Labour Councillor.

We could be on the verge of a new Conservative government who have promised to sweep away Labour's top down planning system, that has utterly failed to deliver the quality new housing and transport we need. Coleridge Conservatives have for some time been urging all local parties to take on board the Conservative plans for housing and planning, and start the change of mindset that will be required from nanny government knows best on housing regardless of local opposition, to giving local residents genuine local choice, and start encouraging schemes for the new family housing we desperately need that can attract the support of local people, i.e.a high quality built environment, good quality open spaces, excellent transport links and genuinely sustainable communities.