Liberal Democrat, Labour, and Independent Groups on Cambridgeshire County Council have hammered out an agreement for a Joint Administration to run the Council.
Cambridgeshire bucked the national trend in last week’s local elections, with the Tories losing control of the county council after the Lib Dems won seven previously Conservative divisions.
We have triple local elections taking place in Cambridgeshire on Thursday 6th May, for the county council, the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
In addition, there are by-elections taking place in four South Cambs wards for district councillor positions: Girton, Harston & Comberton, Melbourn, and Milton & Waterbeach.
Cllr Hazel Smith, longstanding Liberal Democrat District Councillor for Milton and Waterbeach, has announced her retirement from the Council, triggering a by-election for the seat in May.
Hazel was first elected for the ward of Milton in 2004 and served as councillor for Milton and then Milton and Waterbeach for 17 years. For the last three years, Hazel has been the Lead Cabinet Member for Housing in the Liberal Democrat administration at South Cambridgeshire District Council.
Hazel Smith said,
“It has been a very fulfilling experience serving Milton and then more recently also Waterbeach and Landbeach over the last 17 years.
“Thanks to the people of Milton and Waterbeach for putting their trust in me over the years. And thank you to all those parish councillors and the clerks for their support and help.
“I have said my fond farewells to the Housing Department, for which I have been Lead Cabinet Member for the last 3 years. I'll follow their progress with interest. Seeing new council houses handed over to tenants was one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
“I know I'm leaving South Cambs in good hands. We have a very capable group of councillors who have now served together for 3 years. The candidate to succeed me, Paul Bearpark from Waterbeach, is a passionate campaigner and will work hard for our residents.”
Aidan Van de Weyer, Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said,
“It has been a privilege to serve alongside such a dedicated councillor. Hazel has always put the best interests of the residents of her ward and of South Cambridgeshire first, ensuring that the council engages with all parts of the population.
“In her time in charge of housing, Hazel has done some fantastic work. She has laid the groundwork to double the number of council houses that we are building, put in place the scheme to welcome vulnerable refugees to the district and developed a new housing strategy focussing on genuine affordability across the full range of housing types.
“The people of Milton and Waterbeach can be confident that Paul Bearpark, our candidate at the by-election, will represent them as effectively.”
The pandemic has seen an increase in goods traffic through the villages of South Cambridgeshire, from small delivery vans to large articulated lorries. This has coincided with more residents taking up cycling and walking, increasing the safety risk on our roads. It has also come about at a time when the government has proposed abolishing the current vehicle weight restrictions.
As well as making our local roads less safe for pedestrians and cyclists, the rise in HGV traffic has contributed to air pollution, and stress for residents who are regularly subjected to noise and vibrations from the vehicles.
Rural roads were not built for HGVs and surfaces have suffered from the increase in traffic. Moreover, where weight restrictions are in place, they are often ignored and the police have indicated they are not able to enforce the limits.
The motion, tabled at February’s full council meeting by Lib Dem councillor Claire Daunton (Fen Ditton & Fulbourn), proposed that the district council request the county council to facilitate measures that encourage:
- local communities to report HGV infringement of restrictions
- the police to take action against persistent offenders
- satnav companies to incorporate the County’s advisory freight routes into their systems
- delivery companies to switch to hybrid or electric vehicles
- the installation of appropriate 20mph speed limits, along with physical highway restraints, in the areas worst affected
The motion also called for the Leader of South Cambs District Council to write to the Secretary of State for Transport, to request that the government fully take into account the effects of HGV traffic on rural communities when considering changes to current regulations on vehicle weight.
We are proud of the Lib Dem South Cambs District Council's newly adopted strategy to double nature in South Cambridgeshire, which will bolster rich wildlife habitats, tree cover and accessible green spaces, as well as improving air quality and water management. This very much complements the council’s overall goal of turning South Cambs carbon neutral by 2050.
The doubling of nature will be achieved through several strategies at all levels of South Cambs life, starting with an audit of all trees on district council land. This will record the location, size, species and condition of every tree, enabling the council to plant the right trees in the right places to maximise tree canopy.
The council will support residents who want to plant trees and shrubs on communal land, and continue with the Three Free Trees scheme, which offers parish councils vouchers to buy trees. It will also improve its green spaces by reseeding them with wildflowers where suitable, and support community orchards, allotments and woodlands, as well as the development of new neighbourhood green spaces.
Meanwhile the council has made biodiversity and green spaces one of the four big themes that will influence how homes, jobs and infrastructure are planned in the new Local Plan. Its aim is to achieve 20% biodiversity net gain on all new developments in the district.
Read a copy of the draft Doubling Nature strategy
Cllr Pippa Heylings, the Lib Dem Chair of South Cambs District Council’s Climate and Environment Advisory Committee, said:
“The pandemic has exposed the terrible inequality that exists because of the number of families who do not have close and easy access to wild, open, green spaces. South Cambridgeshire is one of the fastest growing areas in the country and yet is one of the poorest in terms of biodiversity, and has one of the smallest areas of land managed for nature, relative to size. The challenge to balance economic growth with measures to protect and enhance nature has never been more urgent.”
South Cambs District Council’s Lib Dem Leader, Cllr Bridget Smith, said:
“The days when we could just take nature for granted are long gone. The cumulative damage that began with the Industrial Revolution has now reached the point where all of nature is under serious threat, and just minimising and mitigating damage is no longer an option. We now have no choice but to actively find every opportunity we can to protect and enhance what natural assets we have, and to double, as an absolute minimum, the land that is devoted to nature. If we do this right, we will create well managed natural habitats for both nature and humans to enjoy. We will improve air quality and biodiversity, and reduce the damage from climate change. In South Cambridgeshire we are determined, through everything we do, to create a district where nature come first and thrives as a consequence.”
Check out the series of free webinars the council is running during Climate and Environment Fortnight 2021, which starts on 22nd February:
• Greener businesses - Thursday 25 February
• Sustainable farming in Cambridgeshire - Friday 26 February
• Greening your older home, tips and inspiration - Tuesday 2 March
• Shrinking your carbon footprint - Wednesday 3rd March
• Food for our future workshop - Thursday 4 March
Find out more and sign up
Join our call on MPs and mobile phone companies to waive data costs for educational websites, to help the one million disadvantaged pupils who have little or no laptop or internet access at home.
Sign our petition, which local Lib Dems Pippa Heylings and Lucy Nethsingha will present to MPs Gavin Williamson and Oliver Dowden, Secretaries of State for Education and for Digital, Culture and Media. It calls on them and mobile phone companies to think again and stop the lockdown locking out vulnerable children from learning.
As the country went into another national lockdown and schooling moved online, families locally and across the country have been excluded from learning due to the punitive costs of mobile data.
The cost of internet use is the single biggest factor that prevents all children from accessing learning during lockdown, and one that is exacerbating the disadvantage gap in education.
What about the laptops, you may ask? Well, it's true that the government has provided up to half a million laptops and a further 100,000 are to be distributed. However, that is in the context of the Department of Education’s decision last October half-term to slash the overall target of laptop allocation to disadvantaged pupils by 80%. Ofcom figures show that between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children in the UK (9%) do not have home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet.
Therefore, according to Ofcom, around a million children are trying to access online learning from a parent’s mobile phone. Even worse, an Ofcom survey in December found that one in five households reported problems with the affordability of their telecoms services – equivalent to 4.7 million households. What’s more, 5% of households had lowered how much they spend on clothes and even food to pay for data for their children to learn. No family should ever have to make a choice between food and education.
As an example of the costs that are forcing these terrible decisions: Oak National Academy (which is one of the leading voices in this campaign) found that to download a lesson from its website uses 250MB of data. Based on a leading mobile phone provider’s standard UK charges for pay-as-you-go data:
- Four lessons a day would use 1,000MB of data to download and cost £97 a day
- A two-week isolation period would use up 10,000MB of data and cost £970
As a result of campaigning led by the Oak National Academy, the government has provided a data uplift for schools and also launched a scheme to make available a limited amount of free 4G access for disadvantaged families. But this scheme has to be implemented through schools and there's a lot of admin to identify those eligible. This goes against the key principle that education should be free to all, and families shouldn't have to ask for hand-outs to access it.
There is a simple solution: waive mobile data costs for the viewing and downloading of all education websites.
This comes as the BBC extended its education programming last month, with much more content being broadcast on TV in a bid to reach pupils on the wrong side of the digital divide. It’s now time for the big telecoms firms to step up and do their bit.
Sign the petition
UPDATE: Since we launched this petition, BT has announced zero-rate data for educational websites!
Parliamentary Spokesperson for South East Cambridgeshire, Pippa Heylings, supports Cambridge Chamber of Commerce's calls for immediate government clarity, to enable businesses to prepare for the end of the Transition Period. Pippa warns that we are careening towards a 'Brovid' cliff-edge for businesses, jobs and livelihoods.
Today, the cross-party Brexit Select Committee has published its latest report, containing a scathing assessment of the appalling lack of readiness. "At this late stage the government must be ready to implement contingency plans where necessary to mitigate the effects of any disruption. Failure to do so would mean the worst possible start to the new year for many people and businesses who are already experiencing the toughest of times," the report says.
Deal or No Deal, there is just too little time for businesses to get ready. And this is happening at the same time as the sudden shift to tighter Covid restrictions, which have thrown hospitality and retail businesses into even more dire straits, causing their Christmas sales to be further frustrated. Spiralling Covid infection rates mean that a full national lockdown in early January is now more than likely, meaning an even greater hit on all businesses across the country.
The government of business? No. Boris Johnson said "F**k business", and his government is doing a pretty good job at that.
The refrain from business remains: "Clarity. Just give us clarity and we will make the best of things." When the government says "Get ready, set, go", businesses are shouting into the wind: "Ready for what? Set for what? To go where??"
I was in a Zoom meeting a few days ago with the Chair of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, who told us that the Chamber’s Brexit Guidance Dashboard – long used by both business and government to evaluate the quality of official UK government guidance – still has 24 of the 35 key questions flashing ‘Amber’ or ‘Red’ with just two weeks to go:
- Firms still do not know what rules of origin will apply after the Transition Period, preventing them and their customers from planning, and potentially creating unprecedented new administration costs.
- There remains very limited guidance on procedures for the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
- Ten-digit tariff codes have still not been published and there is still doubt about the final WTO MFN tariff rates.
- There is no information on how UK tariff rate quotas will be administered or how businesses can access them beyond the Transition Period. Businesses are more than a little frustrated that there seems to be government messaging that blames them for not getting ready. When, in fact, they have been asking all year, throughout the Transition Period, for clear guidance and earlier negotiated agreements. With so little time left, "businesses need answers, and they need them now. Posters and television adverts are no substitute for the clear, detailed and actionable information businesses require to prepare for the end of Transition."
- Meanwhile, Stephen Phipson, Chief Executive of the manufacturers' lobby group Make UK, warned that many of the 2.7 million jobs supported by manufacturing businesses were heavily dependent on trade with the EU. "A No Deal would be catastrophic for Britain’s manufacturers, a sector which came to the nation’s aid when the Covid crisis struck," he said. "It is vital that the Prime Minister and the President of the EU Commission work together and find a pragmatic solution to deliver a zero-tariff and zero-quota deal to avoid additional friction at the border."
I am not calling all of this a failure of statecraft, because I see little evidence that statecraft has been applied in the Brexit negotiations. Businesses are being thrown under the bus, along with food standards, workers' rights and environmental and animal welfare.
Mobile Warden Schemes expanded across South Cambs
The district council’s popular Mobile Warden Scheme has just been expanded to cover 20 further villages in South Cambridgeshire. The Lib Dem council dedicated £200,000 to launching seven new schemes, to add to the 15 existing schemes that currently cover 30 villages.
Mobile Wardens visit elderly people in their homes and provide practical help with daily tasks, as well as friendly social contact. In the past year, more than 300 residents received regular visits from Wardens, and help with things such as shopping, filling in forms and collecting prescriptions.
Protecting our beautiful chalk streams
Lib Dems in South Cambs are pushing to protect some of the world’s most important chalk streams found in the district.
More housing in the area will put more pressure on the aquifer from which water supplies are extracted, which will in turn reduce the water in our local chalk streams.
“The Environment Agency is responsible for water supplies, and we need to ensure that it gets the money from the government it needs in order to safeguard the streams and habitats like them,” said Lib Dem campaigner Ian Sollom.
Lib Dem candidate calls on Mayor Palmer to dump his imaginary tunnels
Aidan Van de Weyer, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, has called on Mayor James Palmer to cease expenditure on the so-called Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro until a realistic plan with broad support is adopted.
"Mayor Palmer is continuing to shovel public money down the tunnels that only exist in his imagination. He spent more than £2 million on developing a business case for his initial idea for the CAM, which involved sending bendy buses down large tunnels under Cambridge. All of this work has now been binned without a word of apology to the taxpayers who are funding this farce. And he is now effectively starting from scratch again." Read more
South Cambs District Council commits to supporting 12 refugee families
Lib Dem-run South Cambs District Council will offer housing to four refugee families a year for the next three years, in a plan agreed by the council’s cabinet recently. Over the past 18 months, the council has helped four refugee families from war-torn areas settle in the district, and this month’s decision aims to build on this effort to assist those most in need.
The families helped will include those who have been forced from their homes in Syria, Iran or Sudan, who require urgent medical treatment, and who are survivors of violence and torture. Read more
Campaigning against a massive new town in the countryside
You may have heard the recent news that a property developer, Thakeham, is proposing a new town in the countryside southwest of Cambridge, which would consist of 25,000 new houses and would cover an area similar to that of Cambridge itself.
This has been a bombshell for residents of villages between Cambridge and Royston, whose communities would be completely absorbed by such a development. And the impact would be felt much more widely. It’s clear from the published plans that the scheme is not sustainable at all, from environmental, transport, or employment perspectives.
South Cambs Liberal Democrats are campaigning alongside residents of the affected villages to halt the plan. Read more
Ian Sollom, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for South Cambridgeshire, said:
"I and all the residents of South Cambridgeshire are shocked to discover that a major property developer has spent the last two years putting together a plan for an enormous new town in our countryside. That the developer seems to have attempted to get the support of central government rather than going through the council’s Local Plan process is an insult to local communities and local democratic scrutiny.
"The proposed town will do terrible environmental damage to the countryside. Covering an area nearly the size of Cambridge and with poor transport links, the town will fail to meet the government’s own climate change targets. It will be impossible to mitigate the ecological damage to the Cam valley and its precious chalk streams. The developer’s claims about sustainability are hollow.
"This proposal is not the solution to our housing crisis and I will be campaigning to stop it going ahead. I urge the developer to withdraw the proposal immediately and end the blight that dozens of villages will suffer until it is defeated.
"The Conservative Party has accepted over £400,000 in donations from Thakeham, the property company behind this proposal. Coming in the wake of the scandal involving donations from Richard Desmond to the Tory party shortly after the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick decided a major planning application in his favour, this news seriously undermines confidence in this government’s approach to planning and development.
"I call on our MP, Anthony Browne, to join me in demanding that the Conservative Party return Thakeham’s donations. Our residents need to know that decisions about the future of our area are not tainted by suspicions of financial links between those who make the decisions and the property companies that stand to make a fortune.
"We still have no clarity from the government on the Development Company for Cambridge announced in the Budget. The government seems to be keeping its own MP in the dark on significant developments in our area. Does Anthony Browne know what is going on? Are Thakeham’s proposals the Development Company vehicle? Residents of South Cambs need to be treated better by the government on this."
South Cambridgeshire District Council will offer housing to four refugee families a year for the next three years, in a plan agreed by the council’s cabinet this week. Over the past 18 months, the council has helped four refugee families from war-torn areas (15 individuals) settle in the district, and this week’s decision aims to build on this effort to assist those most in need.
Aidan Van de Weyer, Deputy Leader of the council and the Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said:
“We don’t live in a bubble in South Cambs. What happens beyond our borders affects us, however indirectly. If the world outside South Cambs gets better, we benefit. If the world outside South Cambs gets worse, we lose too.
“The suffering of others does not make us better off; it diminishes us. This is true whether the suffering occurs just over the border in Suffolk or 2000 miles away in a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. We have the chance to make some tiny contribution to reducing some of that suffering.
“The circumstances of these refugees are unimaginable to us. We don’t have the mental tools to comprehend their experiences. In addition to being refugees, the people that this programme accepts are among the most vulnerable, so their suffering is compounded. And this makes our decision to offer them housing here all the more important.
“I am very proud to have participated in making the decision to continue showing solidarity with the people of Syria, and to help alleviate some of the misery that Assad and the Syrian regime have inflicted.”
The families helped will include those who have been forced from their homes in Syria, Iran or Sudan, who require urgent medical treatment, and who are survivors of violence and torture.
In order for the council’s plan to be carried out over the next three years, it is hoped the government will continue its funding under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, which is part of the UN’s project to aid refugees in Syria and surrounding countries.
Local families who are already on the council’s housing list will not face a longer wait because of this scheme; the council will decide which accommodation it offers to the refugee programme, in order to minimise any effect on demand in the district.
Councillor Hazel Smith, Lead Cabinet Member for Housing for South Cambs, said: “We are really pleased to have been able to help some refugees, who were fleeing terrible conditions, find new homes in South Cambridgeshire. This is now about continuing to do the right thing as human beings. Hopefully, these new arrangements will help change the lives of some of the most deserving people.
"I know that South Cambridgeshire residents will continue to extend a warm welcome to new members of our community in the months and years ahead. With our stock of around 5,500 council homes, we will be able to decide which properties are offered as part of this programme. Therefore, as with the first phase of this scheme, we do not anticipate this arrangement having any impact on council house waiting lists.”
Following a tweet by South Cambs' Conservative MP Anthony Browne, which effectively blamed the cities of Cambridge and Peterborough for putting the county in Tier 2, the Lib Dem leader of South Cambs District Council, Bridget Smith, has said that now is not the time to be divisive.
Bridget said: "This is absolutely not the time to be divisive and to blame other districts for the Tier we find ourselves in. It is the time to follow the experts’ advice. South Cambridgeshire wraps all around Cambridge, with many people living or working in both districts, so it would be ludicrous for us to be in different Tiers.
"We know that all of our local hospitals are at or near to capacity. While our rates may be lower than the average, we recently saw very rapid increases and this could very easily happen again. We want to support efforts to avoid this happening, so that we reduce rates and transmission as much as possible before the five- day Christmas break.
"The Tier 2 rules are going to hit the village pubs in our district particularly hard. The support currently provided by the government is far from adequate, and I fear that many will just not survive.
"Along with our brilliant community groups and parish councils, we continue to focus on supporting any residents and businesses in need, whether through financial support or in practical ways, and also encourage any business concerned by today’s announcement to get in touch with our new Business Support and Development Team."