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...