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.

Wort’s Causeway: Council digging holes

Wort's Causeway dig 1People living in or travelling through Wort’s Causeway may have noticed the fields on each side being dug up. The previously tranquil meadows are now pitted with trenches and orange netting, as well as a jolly blue loo on the western side of the road.

Wort's Causeway Dig 5This is part of an archaeological survey, being carried out at this time of year while the fields are free of crops to establish whether there is anything of archaeological interest in the location.

The archaeologists will be on site until Friday and there will then backfilling work for a few more days.

Wort's Causeway Dig 5

The status of the land is still green belt until and unless the Local Plan determines otherwise. As Queen Edith’s county councillor I have made other councillors aware of the strong local opposition to development. When the land was discussed at the Council last year, I said it was insensitive (not to mention rash) to do any work relating to future building on this land before the Plan was settled. You can read my comments here.Wort's Causeway 4

The Tory councillors ignored objections this and gave officers the go-ahead to draw up a business case for future development. They are primarily interested in the revenue potential of the land rather than its community asset value.

I am nevertheless assured by the powers that be that ‘nothing has happened’ on the scheme. I shall continue to investigate, as it certainly doesn’t look like’ nothing’ to me.

Don’t play Bob the Builder with the Green Belt!

BobLast week, the Tory-led Cambridgeshire County Council Cabinet voted to start putting together a business case for developing housing on Wort’s Causeway. The County owns 8.5 hectares of land to the south of Wort’s Causeway, known in the Local Plan consultation as GB2, GB1 being a slightly smaller parcel of land to the north.

I think this was premature. Both sites are still in the green belt, despite the fact that the City and District Councils’ Local Plans have proposed that they come out so they can be built on. As the Local Plan has not yet been decided, I think the County Council should wait before it starts playing Bob the Builder. To do otherwise is hugely disrespectful to the hundreds of people who have made representations about these sites. It is also speculative, making assumptions about the outcome of the Local Plan.

Although the County Council Cabinet takes major decisions, backbencher councillors are able to call in decisions and have them debated by overview and scrutiny committees. That is what I did, along with colleagues from Histon & Impington, East Chesterton and Fulbourn.

The paper was discussed at the Resources scrutiny committee this afternoon (download hereHousing call-in). Histon councillor Mike Mason and I addressed the committee and expressed our concerns regarding the prematurity of the decision, the principle of the County providing housing, and whether the business case development is properly provided for in the Council’s budget. I am pleased to say that the committee voted to refer the decision back to the Cabinet, who will now need to take a fresh look.

Watch this space.

Here is a transcript of what I said at the meeting today:

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Cambridge Local Plan: deciding the shape of Cambridge for the next decade

local plan

By law, local authorities must set a Local Plan for their areas, stipulating what kind of development can take place where. It covers employment and leisure facilities as well as housing, so it very much determines where people live and work and how they get about.

It is the master document against which individual planning applications are assessed, and incorporates local planning policies. For example, an important policy being proposed for the Cambridge Local Plan this time round is special protection for pubs, to preserve pubs as community facilities.

On Saturday, there was an exhibition on the options for the Cambridge Local Plan at Netherhall School Sports Centre in Queen Edith’s Way.

Plans were on display showing sites in the city that could be allocated for residential, employment or other uses. There was also an option for a community sports stadium, near the football ground.

One of the options is causing a great deal of local concern: it is to build on either side of Wort’s Causeway, at present in the Green Belt. Over 500 new homes are proposed. This is a very large number of new properties, and there are concerns not only about the encroachment into the Green Belt, but also about road access, and how new development would affect the Park & Ride service. (more…)

Cheers to the Council: have your say on defending pubs in Cambridge

Queen Edith’s residents will remember the public concern two years ago, when Punch Taverns, the owners of the old Queen Edith wanted to knock the building down and replace it with housing. As councillors we supported the strong local opposition to getting rid of a pub, and we argued that the pub was an important community facility. See previous post.

Sadly, even though we were able to defeat the planning application in 2010, the Queen Edith closed because of other problems. Unless and until the Queen Edith’s re-opens, there is not a single pub in this ward. Pubs provide an important community hub, and the principle that pubs matter though, is still one I vigorously defend.

Too many pubs are closing in the city, and it’s important to give them some protection. Liberal Democrat-run Cambridge City Council is proposing a new planning rule to say pubs can only be turned over to housing or other uses if they are no longer needed as pubs. Anyone wishing to change the use would have to justify their proposals.

The Council is running a consultation until 27th July. To express your view on the new rule, please comment on the City Council’s website, or if you prefer to write a letter, drop it in at the Council’s Customer Service Centre, or send it via the Queen Edith’s Focus Team.

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.

Amanda Taylor: Your Liberal Democrat candidate in Queen Edith’s

Amanda standing for re-election

Liberal Democrat Councillor, Amanda Taylor is standing for re-election in Queen Edith’s. Amanda has been in Queen Edith’s for nearly twenty years and represented the area on Cambridge City Council since 1994. She lives in Holbrook Road with her husband Ashley, and their eight-year old son, a Morley Memorial pupil.

Amanda is best known for her work on transport and housing. Her biggest achievements have been Dunstan Court on Wulfstan Way, which replaced Labour’s sub-standard sheltered housing accommodation; and improved bus services, following her campaign for improved reliability. ‘When I first came to live here,’ says Amanda, ‘there were just two buses an hour into town from Hills Road – and they didn’t always come on time. Now there are over twenty buses an hour, and bus usage has increased dramatically.’

More recent successes for Amanda and the Lib Dem Focus Team include revamped play facilities at Nightingale Avenue Recreation Ground and new lighting and paving outside the shops on Wulfstan Way. They have also got the police to monitor parking outside schools.

Amanda is currently campaigning for improvements to cycleways in the area, for example lighting the Guided Bus cycleway, and for road safety improvements, eg yellow lines on junctions near the Queen Edith’s Primary School.

She is an active member of the Friends of Rock Road Library, which started as a gardening group and then took on a campaigning role in the fight to prevent the Conservative County Council from closing the library down.

In our wider community, Amanda chairs the Council’s South Area Committee, is a member of St John’s Church on Hills Road, and is a member of the Cambridge Fairtrade Steering Group.

Amanda and Lib Dem team visit residents in Queen Edith’s all through the year, not just at election time. When there are issues in a particular street, we always try to listen to the concerns of residents. At election time we try to call on as many households as we can, and we look forward to speaking to you soon, if we haven’t already! The BBC came to see us in action on Tuesday: see here.

Please see the link on the left for this year’s Liberal Democrat election manifesto for Cambridge.

CAB Advice Hub points

Advice hub

Cambridge Citizens Advice Bureau and has 16 touch screen kiosks giving advice on a range of issues, including housing, employment, debt and benefits. The kiosks make it easier for people to get advice, by providing it where people are, and in a variety of languages. Nine of them are earmarked for Cambridge City, funded by Cambridge City Council.

There are kiosks at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the City Council’s Mandela House amongst other locations, and the CAB is looking for some more places in the city to put kiosks. They are visiting the City Council’s South Area meeting on 7th November to gather feedback. The meeting, open to all, starts at 7 p.m. and this item will be taken after public questions and the police report. If you cannot attend the meeting, do send any thoughts to me or one of the other councillors for Queen Edith’s, Trumpington or Cherry Hinton.

Download an agenda: http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/democracy/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=882&x=1