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.

Yellow lines coming soon

TROAddenbrooke’s is an outstanding hospital, but the thousands of cars it attracts pose a problem for those of us living nearby, earning the south of Queen Edith’s the sobriquet of the ‘Addenbrooke’s Overflow Car Park’.

Last year, Cambridgeshire County Council advertised a raft of parking restrictions, some new yellow lines and some extensions of existing ones, for example, making them effective seven days a week instead of just Monday to Friday.

I have been pushing the Council’s Highways officers to get on with the restrictions that they advertised last year as the first step of the Parking Review. Most of these were agreed last spring under Geoff Heathock’s watch as county councillor, but the yellow paint has still not hit the streets.

The officers are now making and sealing traffic regulation orders for new and extended yellow lines in the following streets:

The Council plan is to have the yellow lines in operation week beginning 16th January, weather permitting. I had hoped to have them in place before Christmas, but given we are getting so close, the decision has been taken to wait until the New Year, so as not to make life difficult for your Christmas visitors.

Hills Road VI Form College is another car magnet, and the roads off Hills Road are used by students and staff during the day, particularly inconvenient for those who do not have their own drives. Some of these roads are very narrow and the Fire Service has raised concerns.

I have asked officers to propose some solutions, and they will be consulting in the New Year.

Dog problems

dogs_no fouling signFrom time to time, people contact the Lib Dem Focus Team about dog fouling – a subject that isn’t very pleasant, but which definitely needs to be addressed.

Most responsible dog owners would not allow their dogs to foul grass verges and pavements; if they did, they would clear up afterwards. But a minority do – and it is dangerous. Apart from being unsightly, dog dirt is a health hazard, especially for young children, and can cause asthma and eye disorders.

Recently, we have had complaints in various streets and passageways, ncluding Godwin Close-Gunhild Close, Wulfstan Way-the Queen Edith’s Primary School; and most recently, Hulatt Road. (more…)

New play equipment for Holbrook Park

Holbrook Road has a small park with a children’s playground and football area, a few doors away from Homerton Children’s Centre. It has a range of play equipment: a slide, wooden climbing frame/ obstacle course, swings, a few springy things, football goalposts and a picnic table.

The wooden equipment came about as a result of a petition by local youngsters in 1996 and the picnic table was also something requested by local residents, so there is a tradition of the community having an input. When I heard that the City Council was planning to spruce the park up and instal a few new pieces of kit, I asked if we could run a small survey of park users. The Council has agreed we can canvass local views.

There is enough money for two new things, one piece from Category 1 only, and both from Category 2 if required. Please take a look at the pieces of equipment shown here and let me know what you think. All opinions welcome, especially children’s!

Feel free to comment here, email me at [email protected], or drop a note through my door (41 Holbrook Road).

CATEGORY 1: Rotators (small carousels with an original off-axis turning mechanism that provides an extra twist!)

Rotator 1

Rotator 2

CATEGORY 2: Small climbing unit or Springy Unit

Climber 1

Climber 1 (alternative view)

Springy Unit

Labour cap on shared houses

The latest motion to appear from the Cambridge Labour Group alarms me greatly. They are raising concerns about shared houses, and call for a report on limiting the number of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). Labour wants to widen the HMO term to include homes with lodgers as well as shared houses of young single people (though whether this is legal or not we do not know). And they are contemplating a cap on the number of shared houses in individual streets.

I find the motion nasty in the way in which it demonises people who share as ‘troublemakers’.  When we first moved to Queen Edith’s, one set of next-door neighbours was a large family with children; the other had Anglia Ruskin students. We never had any noise or disturbance from the students; the family with children, though friendly and sociable, was noisier by far!

I fear for the motion’s effects on those who rent and share houses because they cannot afford to buy in Cambridge, as well as for the many families who depend on extra income, say, from renting out spare bedrooms to students from the universities or language schools. And quite honestly, not everybody fits into the nuclear family mould – why should we all conform?

My colleague Tim Ward, who runs the Cambridge Accommodation Noticeboard, details the problems http://www.brettward.co.uk/canb/threat.htm.

Here is the motion, proposed by Petersfield councillor Gail Marchant-Daisley:

The Council recognises the vital contribution that well-run Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) make in providing housing for families, students, professionals and migrant workers.

However, given problems from some HMOs failing to deliver quality, safe housing, or creating serious problems for neighbours, the Council requests the Executive Councillor for Housing to bring forward a report to assess options to improve the operation and regulation of HMOs in Cambridge, including:

1) extending the current HMO definition to include all properties with 3 or more people in two or more unrelated households, regardless of the building layout

2) improved enforcement of breaches of licences granted to HMOs, and

3) wider adoption of best practice on HMOs by comparable cities including Oxford,

and that the Head of Planning Services also report to the Executive Councillor for Planning and Sustainable Transport and the Development Plan Scrutiny Sub-Committee on the future option of denying permission for additional HMOs in any street or 200 metre stretch of any street where HMO numbers reach 25% of residential properties, to enable inclusion of this proposal in the summer ‘issues and options’ consultation on the Cambridge Local Plan 2014 to 2031.

Other motions this Thursday are on:

  • taking more local decisions at area committees, eg tree works, safety grants
  • recording protocol for council meetings
  • housing maintenance contract
  • Marshalls
  • supporting Post Offices

I attach the full agenda. The meeting is open to the public and starts at 6 p.m. in the Guildhall this Thursday.

Icelandic investments coming home to Cambridge

The news is just in and it is good news: the Icelandic Supreme has today ruled that British councils’ deposits in Landsbanki HF have priority status over other creditors. This means that most of Cambridge City Council’s outstanding deposits should be returned.

Cambridge had £9 million invested with Landbanki Islands HF and Heritable Bank, one of 145 councils to have investments in Icelandic banks, all dating from the time when these banks had good credit ratings.

We have been waiting three years to hear what is happening to our money since the collapse of the Icelandic banking system, but we are delighted with this ruling.

Time to recycle Eric Pickles

Time to recycle Eric Pickles?

‘For most people, the only visible service that they get from the council is the removal of refuse.’

Eric Pickles, Daily Mail, 30th September

What a fatuous comment and how deeply insulting to the thousands of people who work in councils throughout the country.

The hardworking people who empty our bins and sweep the streets have hundreds of thousands of colleagues working alongside them in their councils: 1.7 million according to the LGA1 – yet Pickles says they are invisible.

One wonders what kind of world Pickles’s people inhabit. Do they not register their children at birth or send them to school? Do they not bury their dead? Do they never use a public toilet? Do they fly over the pavements and roads? Do they never look at a tree or stroll in the park? And one assumes they have their own personal fire engine? All of these are services provided by either Cambridge City Council or Cambridgeshire County Council.

‘All the Council does for me is empty my bins’ is not a clever remark from anyone, but there is no excuse for this kind of talk from Eric Pickles, who is the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He is responsible for local government and should know better. This casual denial of his army of council workers reduces his credibility. He is not fit for the job.

The Mayor’s Dinner 2011

Last Thursday, Jean, George and I and our respective husbands and wife went to Corpus Christi College for the annual Cambridge City Council Mayor’s Dinner – to celebrate the mayoral year of the outgoing mayor, Cllr Sheila Stuart. After a civilized aperitif in the college gardens, we filed into the dining hall for a feast, with the learned men of bygone ages looking down on us.

On my own table were councillors old and new, with their partners – on the other two tables were people who have contributed to the city in various ways, including Marshalls and Addenbrooke’s.

Sheila had asked one of our local celebrities, Allan Brigham, to propose a toast to her year of office. Allan is probably the City Council’s best-known employee. During the day he works as a street-sweeper, but in his spare time, he is a Blue Badge Guide and local historian who shares his in-depth knowledge of the city’s history by conducting tours.  A couple of years ago, he was awarded an honorary M.A. by the University of Cambridge ‘for services to the community as an historian’.

Allan shared some of this with us on Thursday, reminding us that the college we were sitting in, although the only Oxbridge college to have been founded by the people of the town, despite being stormed by the mayor and townspeople 30 years later, demanding lower rents! The 19th-century architect, William Wilkins, had also designed Downing College and worked at Trinity.

Allan went on to pay tribute to Sheila, saying she had given us ‘a sense of place’ and praising her qualities of ‘showing interest, making time and having the energy’.

He highlighted some of Sheila’s ‘firsts’ in her year as mayor: walking the full 5 miles in the Bridge the Gap walk, cycling all the way to Reach Fair. Some scary ones too, such as abseiling down the side of the Guildhall for charity! He also spoke of the ordinary events such as showing schoolchildren round the Guildhall, chatting to the market traders. (In Queen Edith’s we welcomed Sheila last year both to our Party in the Park at Nightingale Avenue Recreation Ground (pictured) and to the Christmas Carols event outside the Wulfstan Way shops.

Allan concluded by wishing Sheila and Bruce well as they went back to leading a normal life, with the hope that they could ‘have a holiday without having to shake hands all the time’.

Well done to Sheila and Bruce from me. And to Allan. You’ve all done us proud!