Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lighten up, Labour!

Reading Labour's local, somewhat unmagnanimous, victory newsletter it seems that Labour councillors are a little rattled at the work we have been doing in the ward.

We are used to Labour councillors whinging at us for supposedly 'taking credit' for their work but in reality they are just having difficulty recognising how hard we have been working in recent years and how effective Chris is as a ward councillor.

Some of Labour's favourite areas for this complaint are:

Kelvin Close - Cllr Howell spoke out effectively against unsuitable planning applications and campaigned against the then Labour governments's garden-grabbing policies. Coleridge Conservatives took our concerns about the planning system right to the top in the Shadow Cabinet.

Charges for disabled adaptations - Cllr Howell had challenged council officers on this subject before speaking out on the issue at a meeting of the Housing Management Board.

In contrast, Coleridge Conservatives actually welcome the involvement of our political opponents in issues on which we have led such as City Homes South and the Ashbury Close/Golding Road cycle path - that is what voters deserve. There is no doubt that since Coleridge Conservatives came on the scene in force, making this a marginal ward, residents have benefitted from extra attention from both sides. (The Lib Dems ignore Coleridge.)

The two big campaigns of recent years, saving Marshall's Airport and congestion charging are areas where Labour have tried to paint local Conservatives on the wrong side of the argument in the knowledge that that did not reflect the truth.

Marshall's Airport - Conservatives were first to expose the dangers of Labour's housing targets over ten years ago but Labour dismissed our warnings as scaremongering before waging a long newspaper letter-writing campaign to claim we were for the development.

Congestion charge - City Tories have opposed congestion charging ever since local Lib Dems expressed their love of the concept but Cambridge Labour kept trying to pin the Labour government's congestion charge blackmail on local Tories. I would have voted against the TIF bid if elected to the county council in 2009 but Labour's county councillor actually voted for it, with a sycophantic defence of the Labour government!

If Labour want to claim dirty tricks we could remind them of their attempts to skew our residents' surveys with dodgy responses - not helpful for residents - or the rather amusing 'Tawrie Bluebird'. A bit of self awareness would help! We know it is often hard for died-in-the-wool socialists to acknowledge positive traits in Conservatives and they can tend to 'hear' what they want to hear but my advice for local Labour councillors is to lighten up... we have always been keen to work with our political opponents for the benefit of local residents and nothing has changed in that regard... so how about that pint, Lewis?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cherry Hinton Care Home Redevelopment Begins

Work has now started on the controversial extension to the nursing home at 369 Cherry Hinton Road. Two semi-detached houses have already been demolished, and the site is being prepared for construction.

There has already been an issue over the removal of some trees that were due to be retained in the approved plans, so this morning I was at a site meeting this morning including planners, the developers and local residents, to talk through this and any other issues.

The trees at the front of the site were removed in error - and the developer has reassured me that similar trees (and more) will be replanted when the work is complete.

Another issue of interest that has arisen (particularly for the planning appeal being held in July against the refusal of permission for a development at the other end of the close) is the level of the water table - apparently it is very high - a test hole filled immediately with water. Perhaps not unrelated to this, the road further up the close is currently very unstable - the developers have stopped lorries reversing there in case the road or pavement collapses.

I will be following up this issue with the highways department, and the developer has promised to keep residents informed about progress on the works (due to last 40 weeks). If there are any further comments about the site, please be in touch and I can pass them on.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cherry Hinton Road Resurfacing

Quick reminder - the long awaited resurfacing work on Cherry Hinton Road (Perne Rd to Cherry Hinton) is due to start at some point over the next week. Expect a few delays...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Have your say on Mill Road Festive Lights

A message from the Mill Road Festive Lights Association:

"What did you think of Mill Road’s first ever Christmas Switch On last year?
What Lights do you want to see in 2010?
The Mill Road Festive Lights Association will be holding its first AGM at 7pm on Tuesday 29th June at Ross Street Community Centre – see the map below.
Everyone is welcome to come along, and free refreshments will be provided.
There will be a review of the first ever Mill Road Lights last year, and you can help us decide how and when we switch the Lights on this year – plus what new Lights you want to see for 2010.
We will also be electing officers to the committee, and we are looking to the local community to get involved. As well as the job of putting the Lights up and planning the Switch On, we need people to speak to Mill Road traders, and we also need help with fundraising and publicity. If you live near Mill Road, or if you care about the area, then we want to hear from you!
Please help us publicise this event by passing this information on, or print off our poster and put it in your windows -
To see the full agenda or read the proposed constitution, please go to our website:"

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Around Coleridge

Been a busy of couple of days with on-site meetings looking at some of the long standing ward issues:

Grass verges
The East area committee has allocated £25,000 to each ward including Coleridge to tackle problems with grass verges. Last night 2 of our 4 Councillors met (in the rain!) with a City Council officer, to talk about how we can use this very limited amount to help in the main problem area around Chalmers Road and Birdwood Road.

It won't be possible to repair all the verges, and the suggestion was that some of the money could be used for some yellow lining on Birdwood Road (especially round the junctions) that could allow some verges to be protected, and for some of the (much narrower) verges in Chalmers Road to be tarmaced, but with some new trees planted as well. Whilst there isn't the cash to pay for additional dropped kerbs (and it would be unfair on those that have had to pay for this work themselves), I suggested we look into whether a bulk deal on dropped kerbs could be negotiated to see if any residents would like to pay for improved access to drives, with the Council then being able to repair the verges with some hope of them surviving. Very early days, but hopefully plans for some improvements (if not a complete solution) should be forthcoming in due course for public consultation.

Perne Road Shops
As previously reported, the developer has put plans for the Perne Road shops redevelopment on hold until the finance markets improve. They are however working on putting hoardings around the site, and have offered to contribute to some artwork on the hoardings and building. Working with one of our other Coleridge ward Councillors, there was an on-site meeting today with teachers from Coleridge Community College, and a representative from Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination, a charity who work on community public art projects. The plan is for the school to work with the community and produce some public art. Hopefully the school will be taking this project forward with CCI, and with the support of local Councillors.

Tiverton House
Finally, at 7pm this evening, there is a residents meeting at St Thomas' Hall, Ancaster Way to talk about Tiverton House, with updates on the current (much improved) situation, actions since the last meeting, and a plan for the start of the next academic year. All local residents (including Tiverton House!) welcome.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Councils told to publish expenditure over £500

The Conservative decentralisation, or localism, plan does not just mean handing powers down from central government to councils, it also means handing power directly to people. Conservatives believe in treating adults like adults and understand that people will rise to the opportunity if given responsibility. That is why Conservative policy is being enacted by the new government to publish all items of expenditure over £25,000 and why Eric Pickles is requesting councils to publish all spending over £500. This ties in with another Conservative campaign on transparency and openness in general.

By publishing expenditure freely for everyone to see people will be able to scrutinise public bodies to such an extent that it will be difficult for the bodies to get away with wasting public money so easily as they currently do. The change will also make it easier for local suppliers to bid for contracts which will be great news for the small businesses which have been so badly hit during the recession and on which our recovery will depend.

Chris Howell had already urged the city council to follow the best practices showcased by Conservative-run councils like the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which already publishes all expenditure over £500.

It will be important that councils release the data in a format that can be manipulated systematically and I am sure that groups such as mySociety will be quick off the mark with interesting and useful tools for analysing the data.

It seems that the new policy is due to be effective by January, but why wait? Coleridge Conservatives call on Cambridge City Council to end its culture of secrecy and start publishing the data as soon as possible. The Openness motion of which Chris supported the strengthening last year already called for change but what progress has been made?

Growth in North West Cambridge - public meeting.

There are a number of 'growth areas' for housing planned around Cambridge. The Southern Fringe around Trumpington Village has got furthest through the planning process, but plans are now also progressing for the North West of the city, including the NIAB site.

Its the opposite side of the City to Coleridge, but the local authorities have agreed to the establishment of the North West Cambridge Community Forum, which will be set up to discuss a wide range of issues that are of relevance to the whole of the North West Cambridge quadrant. Membership will include key community stakeholders, local authority officers, councillors and partner organisations.

The first Open Community Forum Event will be held on 19th June at the Meadows Centre, 1 St Catharine’s Road and will be open to all members of the public. Local authority officers will be in attendance, as well as developers, and this event is seen as the beginning of the longer term engagement process with local communities.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Blowing a Raspberry

It was disappointing news to many, including myself, that the police decided to 'cancel' this weekend's planned Strawberry Fair. Yes, it isn't everyone's idea of fun, but for many people in Cambridge and elsewhere it is, and the police could (and should) have concentrated on those causing trouble, and leave the vast majority who like the festival and the music to enjoy their day in sun.

Instead, they decided to 'cancel' the event by withdrawing their support. The City Council didn't help either by changing the licensing arrangements this year. The outcome was that the strawberry fair organising committee concluded they couldn't continue with this year's event as planned.

Not surprisingly in today's world of social networking sites and the like, an alternative event is now planned for the common. The reaction of the authorities to this says a lot about how the police and government view their role at the moment. Their view seems to be that if a group of people want to do something, it is up to the authorities to graciously grant us their permission, and if people aren't prepared to concede to every bit of regulatory control on the grounds of health and safety or whatever else the government thinks is good for us - which in itself is a constantly moving target - the authorities will just say no and think that is reasonable. The City Council have been in emergency planning mode - I couldn't tell you much about what precautions they have taken (for some reason I wasn't invited to the Councillor's briefing - UPDATE - it appears I was invited but only using my Council email address, which it turns out randomly stopped forwarding emails to me, so I didn't know about the invitation - apologies to those concerned for suggesting this was intentional - I give up completely on the Council's email system - I am now telling everyone to only use my personal address!). The police on the other hand were reported in the CEN as saying: 'Riot police will be on standby at an illegal gathering to replace Strawberry Fair' (my emphasis).

A letter in today's Cambridge Evening News makes the point I was thinking reading the CEN report: 'Since when was picknicking on common land illegal? What precise law are we breaking?'

The authorities clearly have a duty to protect public safety, and plan ahead where there are potential threats, but this whole episode illustrates the extent to which the police mindset is still very much in authoritarian New Labour mode - we don't like something, we'll stop it no matter what. My personal view is that as long a people behave responsibly and in accordance with the law, the police and authorities should be there to actively support them and protect them from those who don't behave in accordance with the law or with due responsibility for those around them. They can't be bothered to enforce the law in really very simple situations like cyclists riding at night without lights, or cars parked in mandatory cycle lanes - you would at least thought that they could police events like Strawberry Fair by concentrating on the small minority of law-breakers, rather than stopping everyone's fun.

Personally I don't plan to enjoy the sunshine on Midsummer Common tomorrow with friends, but I hope if lots of people do make that choice, they have a good time, but also think about the neighbouring residents and be responsible. If people do cause trouble, the police should focus on the troublemakers, and remember that they are partly responsible for the situation by regulating out of existence the formal organisation for the Fair - leaving behind an event over which they have much less control.