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!