Park and Ride Victory

Parking charges at the Babraham Road and other Park and Ride sites will END on 1st April. After four years in which usage of the Park & Ride sites has slumped, County Council Conservatives have at last admitted the daily charge was a mistake.

When the Tories proposed the charges, I opposed them, knowing that drivers would just park elsewhere. Unfortunately, that “somewhere else has been outside our houses. In Queen Edith’s, we have been suffering from the extra parking for four years, so I am pleased the charges are at last being scrapped.

Why prospective elected mayors should pause after the Cambridge roadblocks fiasco

It appears that Labour/ Conservative proposals to fine drivers using key roads in and out of Cambridge in peak hours may be for the scrap heap, or at least the City Deal chair, Labour councillor Lewis Herbert, has declared them ‘unviable’.

It’s excellent that the huge volume of objections appears to have forced the Cambridge area’s City Deal Board into a rethink. But such a plan shouldn’t have seen the light of day in the first place, especially without proper exploration of other ways to achieve the very necessary aim of reducing traffic congestion in Cambridge.

The decision two years ago to introduce parking charges at the Cambridge Park & Ride sites resulted in half-empty car parks and a drop of 15% in bus passenger numbers. That clearly needs to be reversed. And we need an open and wide-ranging conversation including all who live or work in Cambridge, or visit the city for whatever purpose, about how to make travelling into the city more sustainable.

But the whole fiasco is also an object lesson in what happens under remote boards like City Deal, consisting of representatives selected by councils to make decisions at an extra remove from the public. And it’s an alarm bell about how decisions on all sorts of matters will be taken by the new ‘powerful Mayor’ of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and his ‘combined authority’, which will be foisted on us by the Government and by Conservative and Labour councillors from May next year.

80K Elected Mayor? No thank you!

why

www.notoamayor.org.uk

The good news: The Government is proposing to devolve some powers, giving Cambridgeshire and Peterborough control over funding for new housing, transport and other infrastructure.

The bad news: in return, they are demanding we have an elected mayor. Unlike ceremonial mayors, elected mayors take executive decisions. The government’s plan is for an elected mayor to lead the new combined authority that would take decisions on the spending.

The Liberal Democrats have opposed having an elected mayor, at Cambridgeshire County Council and in other councils in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area (see my post on Peterborough City Council’s meeting). We have voted against the proposals, but have been outvoted by the Labour and Conservative parties.

I spoke on the elected mayor element at an extraordinary meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council on Tuesday.

Devolution is meant to be a step forward for democracy, but elected mayors are a step backwards, making government more remote from the people it serves. An individual representing a million people is not likely to have more than a superficial knowledge of local areas.

It is dangerous to concentrate power into the hands of one individual, especially as the proposals we have provide for no right of recall. I fear there is a risk of slipping into ‘personality politics’.

Ironically, it was that great populist Tony Blair who introduced elected mayors in 2000. But even he didn’t force them upon local areas: if cities wanted a mayor they had to get 5% of the population to sign a petition for a referendum, and only if that referendum was passed would a mayor be introduced. Out of 40 referendums, only 13 cities said yes. I remember that the Labour party in Cambridge tried to get a petition up for a mayor, though as we never saw it, we assume they couldn’t get enough signatures.

As there haven’t been any successful petitions anywhere else in Cambridgeshire or Peterborough, it looks as though people here don’t want an elected mayor.

We are told ‘a mayor is necessary’, but why? Why can’t the new combined authority just elect a chair from its own members? The case for an elected mayor has not been made.

We hear the mayor is going to have a salary of £60-80,000 and have an office costing about £300,000. And this after huge cuts to essential services to children’s services and social care!

I applaud the devolving of powers and welcome the extra funding for infrastructure, especially for new houses. But we must say that we do not want an elected mayor on a big salary. I think the public is very unlikely to support that.

UPDATE: Sign the Liberal Democrat petition opposing an elected mayor.

An elected mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough?

The councilsPeterborough and Cambridgeshire could come together with a joint authority and an elected mayor, under government devolution proposals. The good news is that the deal would bring more money for transport, housing and other infrastructure. The bad news, for many, is that the government demands an elected mayor.

All the councils in Cambridgeshire and Peterbrough are debating the government’s deal, holding extraordinary meetings. Before voting at Cambridgeshire County Council, I visited Peterborough City Council’s meeting to get a different perspective.

Peterborough Town’s Hall a short stroll from the main railway station, near the city museum and cathedral. It’s imposing from the outside: my problem was getting inside, as the front door was firmly shut, with a small sign directing me to a back entrance in St Peter’s Street.

Once I had found my way in, I was led up some old stone stairs to the public gallery. This gives a good view of the council chamber and you can actually hear the speakers too, which is more than can be said for arrangements at Shire Hall.

The chamber is a mixture of ancient and modern – reasonably enough for a New Town that still has a Norman cathedral and the remains of a prehistoric causeway, Flag Fen. The furniture is up to date with big desks for all those council papers and comfy chairs (such comfort as would not be risked at Shire Hall.) There are lovely old wrought iron lights and a gorgeous ceiling decorated with lilies, roses and thistles. One one wall hang two Victorian worthies and on the other the St George’s flag and the Union Jack. No EU flag.

The meeting opened thoughtfully with prayers and a 1-minute silence for the recently murdered MP Jo Cox.

Although I couldn’t quite tell who was who, the speeches seemed to break down pretty neatly by party: the Conservatives talked up the devolution deal, the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Liberal1 members exposed its deficiencies.

Cllr Seaton proposed the motion, declaring that the deal was Brexit-proof – he’d been given advice. He was pleased about the promises for a University Enterprise Zone and ‘local decisions being taken locally’. It was a great opportunity.

The next councillor talked about how he had sat on a committee arranging devolution. At first, only large metropolitan cities such as London and Manchester were considered, but now the government was extending the offer more widely. Not that he would claim credit…

Lib Dem Darren Fower was less than enthralled. He pointed out several flaws – eight altogether. He said Peterborough was being compromised by having weaker representation on the new body, and by threats to its autonomy on transport and planning. The new authority would inevitably be Conservative. And Cllr Fower was the first – but not the last – to bring up the extra housing money being assigned to Cambridge.

Labour Cllr Ferris questioned the need for an elected mayor. Most cities, when offered a mayor in a referendum, had said no thank you.

Rush and Drew spoke about the proposed consultation. Responses should surely not be only on line. And must be made public. Could there be roadshows?

Cllr Over bemoaned losses when Peterborough split from Cambridgeshire to become a unitary authority in the 1990s. Powers on health and education had been taken away, and Peterborough had been regarded as a colony far up in the north of the county where it could be safety ignored. The new combined authority must meet in between the two cities and not be based in Cambridge.

Labour councillors Murphy and Ellis also criticized the democratic aspects of the deal. Elected Mayor: O, can we not? A mayor could only be denied with a two-thirds majority – much harder than on a council!

Liberal Chris Ash could not support an elected mayor and the extra bureacracy – and wasn’t it undemocratic for the mayor to appoint the deputy? He too was reluctant to join up with Cambridgeshire – good things had happened since breaking away last time.

New councillor Azurula made a passionate maiden speech about the needs of his constituents in North Ward. He wanted the deal to address issues of deprivation, including low life expectancy.

Lib Dem councillor Julia Davidson expressed scepticism about the consultation, as the timetable outlined in the papers allowed no time for comments to be acted on.

The Tories’ responses to the many valid criticisms made were rather weak. They assured the council that future deals would be better and that the consultation might leverage improvements to this one. They ignored the objections to the new mayor and focussed on his location: you never know, he might not be from Cambridge; he might work in Cambridge but live in Peterborough! 2

THE VOTE

The Conservatives, having promoted and praised the deal, voted FOR – not surprisingly.

The Liberals and Liberal Democrats, having spoken of several important shortcomings in the deal, voted AGAINST – not surprisingly.

Labour, having highlighted the lack of democracy and made other criticisms without saying one positive word for the deal, voted FOR too. That was rather strange.

The other eight councils in the area are taking their votes this week. So far, Cambridge City, Cambridgeshire and South Cambs have voted in favour of the devolution proposals. The public gets its say over the summer.

1Peterborough has members who sit as Liberals and not as Liberal Democrats, due to a local row at the time when the Liberal Party merged with the SDP.

2The mayor being Conservative AND from Cambridge are unlikely, given that Cambridge has not one Conservative councillor.

Queen Edith’s being pushed eastwards!

QE red wardThe Boundary Commission has just published proposals for changes to the Cambridgeshire electoral divisions, as part of its periodic review. The Commission is charged with arranging the boundaries of the divisions so that they all have roughly the same ratio of electors per councillor. For example, at present, Cherry Hinton has 6,344 voters, while Market Ward in the city centre has 8,495. The new boundaries are intended to come into effect in 2017, when we next have Cambridgeshire County Council elections, so the figures take account of projected housing growth, eg the Bell School. The other factor is that the total number of councillors will be reduced from 69 to 61.

This review is for the county council elections and will not automatically change the Cambridge City Council ward boundaries, although the City Council may well follow suit so that people are in the same voting areas for all local elections. Who knows what impact it will have on a future parliamentary boundary review? Maybe there will be a chance to address the odd situation of Queen Edith’s having a different MP to the rest of Cambridge, but there are no guarantees.

Although Queen Edith’s is in between the two extremes with just over 7,000 voters, the proposal is to shift us eastward in order to get the numbers right on other wards which will have greater housing growth.

The Commission wants to move the odd side of Hills Road and everybody to its west into Trumpington, and to move parts of Cherry Hinton Road and streets leading off it into Queen Edith’s. Ironically, that would echo the ward boundaries before the last review. We’d lose Addenbrooke’s and Long Road Sixth Form College, but gain Hills Road Sixth Form College. Although the colleges don’t have any residents, it makes sense for the institutions that affect a community to be represented by the same councillor.

The Commission is also proposing to add the Greystoke Road area and the Cherry Hinton chalk pits – which have more of a Cherry Hinton feel to them than a Queen Edith’s one. It makes the ward a very strange shape. Here’s a map: https://consultation.lgbce.org.uk/node/4143

The Commission is inviting your comments up until 6th July.

Cambridge Library and the Tory Enterprise Centre: FAQ

Cambridge Central Library: Kora option for an Enterprise Centre FAQs

Liberal Democrat councillors led the way toward securing a public consultation and forcing a reconsideration of options, and specifically reconsidering the officer-recommended Kora option, for an Enterprise Centre at Cambridge Central Library.

The process has been flawed; other options have not been evaluated and the ‘preferred’ Kora option may not stand up to closer scrutiny.

1. How long had officers been negotiating with Kora for an Enterprise Centre on the third floor of Cambridge Central Library?

Since January/ February 2013, according to the County Council’s Head of Community and Cultural Services at one of the KORA meetings.

2. When did councillors learn about Kora’s role and officer negotiations?

Members of the Highways and Community Infrastructure (HCI) Committee first learned about this in the lead-up to their March 17 meeting, when they were asked to make a decision endorsing the officer recommendation to go forward with the preferred option of working with Kora to develop an enterprise centre.

The concept of an enterprise centre had been publicly discussed for many months and was endorsed by committee members, but knowledge of Kora’s role and contractual negotiations was not shared by officers with councillors except for those in the Cabinet in 2013.

3. Did any councillors outside the HCI committee know about the proposals?

The Conservative Cabinet members serving at the time of the inception of the proposal – autumn 2013 (see the Leader of the Council’s response on this). The current cross-party HCI committee came into being in May 2014.

4. Did any councillors challenge the officer recommendation to proceed with the Kora option?

Yes. At the March 17 HCI meeting, Lib Dem Councillor Susan van de Ven proposed an amendment, seconded by Lib Dem Cllr Amanda Taylor:

to defer the decision to develop and Enterprise Centre in Cambridge Central Library, pending receipt of further detailed information on the proposals, including the opportunity to question Kora, and the opportunity for a robust consultation exercise.

This amendment was supported by Cllrs Barbara Ashwood and Noel Kavanagh.

The amendment was rejected by the rest of the HCI committee – all of the UKIP, Independent and Conservative members – who then voted and resolved:

a) to approve the development of an enterprise centre within Cambridge Central Library;
b) to enter into an agreement with Kora (part of the Regus Group) to create and run the Cambridge Library Enterprise Centre (CLEC); and
c) to delegate to the Executive – Director of Economy, Transport and Environment in consultation with the Chair and Vice Chair of the Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee authority to approve the final negotiations required to complete this project.

Cllrs van de Ven, Taylor, Ashwood and Kavanagh did not support the decision.

5. Was this decision then challenged?

Yes. Cllr Amanda Taylor led a ‘call-in’ of the decision which was considered by the General Purposes Committee (GPC) on 14 April. The GPC agreed unanimously to send the matter back to the HCI committee on 2 June, and to ask for the public’s views in a consultation exercise.

6. Will the HCI committee consider the other two Enterprise Centre options put forward on 17 March, alongside the Kora option?

That was the expectation and we requested that those options be more fully worked up to create a level playing field – and we are disappointed to see that the officers have still not provided enough details on the other options to enable us to take an informed decision.

7. Will members of the public be consulted on next steps?

Members of the public were consulted on the Enterprise Centre proposals through the library consultation exercise, which closed on 10 May, and a public meeting was held at the library on 6th May.

8. Which councillors take the decision? The Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee: details here.

Cambridgeshire still blue … but a paler shade of blue

rosettesToday was a day of change at Cambridgeshire County Council. The old Conservative Leader Nick Clarke was formally voted out of office, finishing off the job done in the elections on 2nd May. A new Tory Leader, Martin Curtis, was elected – but only on the second round of voting, and only as Leader of a minority administration with 34 Tory councillors.

The other important thing that happened today was a change in the way the Council makes decisions. (more…)

Cambridgeshire County Council Election: THANK YOU

A huge thank you to everyone who supported me and the Liberal Democrats in yesterday’s election to Cambridgeshire County Council. The result was as follows:

Queen Edith’s results [electorate: 6,590, turnout: 2662 (40.24)]
Candidate
Party
Votes
% share
John Frederick Beresford Labour and Co-op 931 35.1
William Birkin Green 172 6.5
Tom Bygott Conservative 361 13.6
Amanda Joan Taylor Liberal Democrat 1188 44.8

We campaigned on a range of key issues in the Queen Edith’s ward, including roads & pavements maintenance, parking management, road safety and policing, as well as community amenities, such as playgrounds and the local library.

Lib Dems in Queen Edith’s have a tradition of working all the year round, but the election campaign proper began in March, with lots of lovely snow! Thank you to those of you who bravely opened their doors to us. Between then and the belated appearance of spring, we called on as many people as we could, and had a wealth of conversations about the local area, garnering many good ideas as well as things that need to be sorted out.

My thanks as a candidate also go to my fellow Liberal Democrat councillors Jean and George, as well as to the army of helpers who delivered leaflets and got the message out. And to retiring county councillor Geoff Heathcock, who has set a high standard of hard work and commitment for the Queen Edith’s area.

The work starts immediately: tomorrow morning I shall be making my first visit to Shire Hall for my induction as a county councillor – an opportunity to raise a number of local issues with officers, building on my work over the past year and during the campaign.

Cambridgeshire County Council Budget Debate – the Liberal Democrat approach

kilianThe following is the transcript of the speech given yesterday by Cllr Kilian Bourke the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Cambridgeshire County Council. He was speaking in relation to the Conservative Business Plan for 2013/2014 (aka the budget);

“Despite the very considerable variations in the Conservatives’ approach to the Council’s Business Plan over the last four years, this budget confirms that some things have stayed the same.

The administration has not lost its appetite for big, grand projects (especially ones that are made of concrete) but nor has it cured itself of its inability to deliver them well.

For all the headline-grabbing numbers in the capital column, the fact is that the Conservatives have messed up on their duty to provide basic council services to the public, and this budget does not change that.

And if there is one thing the public asks and expects of its Councils, it is for them to provide basic services well.

Having been in control of the council for too long, this administration has become wedded to the trappings of power—too attached to its grandiose surroundings to sell off the most inefficient building in the estate, when this could provide funds to protect services.

The Conservative Leader’s strange views on climate change are being imposed on half a million Cambridgeshire people. (more…)

Police elections this Thursday: why I am a semi-floating voter

This Thursday, 15th November 2012, will see Britain’s first ever elections for Police & Crime Commissioners to oversee our police forces. Everyone in England and Wales outside of London will vote for a Police & Crime Commissioner for their county. They will be in charge of Chief Constables, set budgets set policing priorities. Here is a list of the candidates standing for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The Police Commissioners are intended by the Conservatives to provide greater accountability to the communities they serve. I question whether one person is more accountable than the police authorities, which comprised a number of people. Nevertheless, here we have an opportunity to get people thinking seriously about policing matters, including how best to handle offenders and prevent reoffending. (more…)