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. It is now time to put an end to Palmer’s fake metro and come up with a workable and ambitious plan that meets our needs.
"Palmer spent more than £2 million on developing a business case for his initial idea for 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.
"He is now effectively starting from scratch again. But rather than actually talking to people who live here, Palmer has brought in the management consultants - and the costs have unsurprisingly skyrocketed. He is putting £8 million into a new delivery company just to get it started. And he is now wanting to appoint a chief exec and a board for the company, at a cost of half a million pounds a year!
"What is worse is that no one has any idea about where he is going to get the billions that the CAM will eventually cost. Despite my requests, we have still not been told when any of this will be built, or even when we will be told.
"The transport problems in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough are acute. We need to deal with them now. Traffic jams are making the lives of commuters a misery and they are starting to hurt our economy. We must create green transport options that offer a genuine alternative to the car. But grandiose projects like CAM are just distracting us from finding realistic solutions for the immediate problems. We have the money and the support from the public to develop plans for excellent public transport that can actually get built quickly. I call on the Mayor to focus on that."
Campaigning leads to free school meals U-turn
Following all the hard work put in by local councillors, community groups, businesses and residents to provide food for our district’s poorest children during half-term (such as this fundraising campaign in Histon & Impington), we were very pleased that the government has done a U-turn on the free school meals issue.
Thanks to immense public pressure spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford, the government has now put forward a £170m Covid winter grant scheme to support vulnerable families, and extended the holiday activities and food programme to the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks next year. It’s not yet clear how the funding will be implemented, but it’s a very welcome change of direction.
Over Day Centre to continue providing a lifeline of free meals
A free meals service for vulnerable residents run by volunteers at Over Day Centre can now continue for a further six months due to new funding. Supported by Lib Dem councillors and South Cambs District Council, the Centre was able to access government grant money to keep running the scheme it set up during the first lockdown.
So far it has delivered more than 1500 nutritious weekly meals to around 100 residents in need in Over, Bar Hill, Caldecote, Cottenham, Hardwick, Harston, Longstanton, Swavesey and Willingham. Read more
There continues to be a lot of pressure on local foodbanks as increasing numbers of people struggle to make ends meet under the current circumstances. In the absence of adequate government support, foodbanks have become vital for many. If you would like to make a donation, the Cambridge City Foodbank is currently short of:
• Bags for life (or similar strong plastic carrier bags)
• Rice pudding
• Instant coffee
• Tins of salmon and tuna
• Olive oil 500ml
• Long-life juice
• Large ham (canned)
• Meals in cans (e.g. chicken in sauce, chilli)
• Tinned vegetables
• Laundry powder
Find out how to make a donation
Find out how to get help from a food bank
South Cambs’ first electric bin lorry now in service
It was great to see South Cambs’ first all-electric bin lorry enter service this month. It’s the first of a fleet of 55 vehicles planned by the Lib Dem district council as part of its strategy to make South Cambs carbon neutral by 2050. Read more about the Lib Dems’ vision for a greener South Cambs
Concerns over proposed policing cuts
Cambridgeshire Lib Dems were very disappointed to hear the news that the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Constabulary has proposed cost-saving cuts to neighbourhood policing in the county.
The cuts entail halving the number of Police Community Support Officers, removing the community safety team, closing nine enquiry offices, and introducing an appointments-based system for members of the public to speak to police officers.
We are concerned about the impact of such changes on grassroots policing in our communities and are calling for proper public scrutiny of the proposals. Read more
We welcome evidence supporting a green and inclusive Local Plan
South Cambs District Council and Cambridge City Council have published a range of independent studies they commissioned in preparation for developing the next Local Plan. They cover the environmental impact of different strategies, water resources, likely growth rates and infrastructure requirements.
We welcome the publication of all this evidence that supports a green and inclusive Local Plan, and which will allow our communities to shape the future development of our area over the next 20 years and beyond. Read more
An important victory for liberal democracy and the rule of law
Published in The Cambridge Independent, Aidan Van de Weyer, Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, on the US presidential election: "It’s fantastic news that Joe Biden’s victory has been confirmed, putting an end to the nightmare of the last four years with Donald Trump as a world leader.
"The campaign of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris focussed on the issues that affect people’s lives, while Donald Trump attempted to stir up division and hatred.
"And Biden encouraged his supporters to vote by post given the pandemic, which has escalated so far out of control under Trump - while Trump urged voters to turn up in person at polling stations.
"Such contrasting behaviour between the two candidates confirms that the American people have made the right choice. They have chosen the candidate who believed the science and did right by the electorate in this pandemic election - and who upholds the democratic process above all."
South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats have welcomed the publication of evidence that will allow local communities to shape the future development of our area over the next 20 years and beyond.
As part of the process for creating a new joint Local Plan, South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council have published studies on a range of topics, including the environmental impact of different strategies, water resources, likely growth rates and infrastructure requirements.
Pippa Heylings, Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for South East Cambridgeshire, said:
“We are experiencing a climate crisis and a collapse in biodiversity. More residents than ever responded to the first consultation on our new Local Plan, and climate change was ranked highest amongst the themes it should address. We now have firm evidence that shows it is possible to respond to your concerns, with an ambitious plan that supports our aims of making the area carbon neutral and doubling nature - whilst also balancing growth with the water supply and the recovery of our chalk streams.
“The residents of South Cambridgeshire are already very engaged in creating a greener and fairer future. The number of sign-ups to the Solar Together scheme, for community bulk- purchase of solar PVs and batteries, was the highest in the country. The response to the district council’s zero carbon grants has also been fantastic. And many villages are putting together great Neighbourhood Plans and Village Design Guides, which give them a voice in shaping development and making green space available.”
Ian Sollom, Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for South Cambridgeshire, said:
“The evidence that the councils have published today is hugely important in discussions about how we shape future development. It is clear that simply putting large numbers of new homes into already overstretched villages is not sustainable.
“Our area really needs more genuinely affordable homes to be built in sustainable locations with good transport links. This new independent research shows how we can achieve that.
“The Liberal Democrats in South Cambs want to protect what makes our villages special, and we will be working closely with communities across the district to make sure that their voices are heard.”
Published in the 4th November 2020 edition of The Cambridge Independent, our Lib Dem district council leader's assessment of the government's new Planning white paper, and what it means for the communities of South Cambridgeshire.
The consultation on the government's Planning White Paper (PWP) closed last week. Shockingly, I am yet to find anyone with anything positive to say about it. And with good reason: It's terrible.
The PWP is thin on detail and ignores opportunities to address the inadequacies of the National Planning Policy Framework, or the horrible consequences of new permitted development rights. Nor does it pay heed to the government putting its own planning inspectorate in order, which was partly responsible for the four-and-a-half years it took to approve the current South Cambs Local Plan. This delay resulted in two years of no Five-Year Housing Land Supply, and 4000 unplanned houses built with no financial contribution to the communities they were sited in.
The government loves to play to its audience, and its ambition to build 'beautiful' does just that. But if a national design standard to deliver 'beauty' results in houses with no reference to local, indigenous architecture, then we have countrywide 'cookie-cutter' developments and you won't know if you are in Harston or Hartington. Moreover, there is little mention of standards, or climate change or homes that support health and wellbeing - all the things that really matter to people.
The new housing minister Chris Pincher's focus is entirely on numbers and speeding up housing delivery. And how does he plan to do this? By encouraging small and medium-size builders into the market - but we get no clue as to how this can be achieved. The last 15 years have seen a 50% decline in SME developers, and though my own experience is that they often build better, quicker and cheaper, they will need help to purchase our very expensive land. And if the government is not going to give them that help, councils need to have the powers and resources to do so.
Additionally, the proposal that no affordable housing will be required for developments of fewer than 50 units will kill off any new affordable homes in many of our villages, depriving people of the choice to live where they want to live - often close to family, support networks or jobs.
Mr Pincher seems quite convinced that parish councils and residents would be so delighted that they were to play a full part in Local Plan formation that they would not mind that this would be the point at which their voices ceased to be heard. Once 'zones' are created development can go ahead, and as long as it is 'beautiful', all will be well and everyone will be happy. My view, having been a district councillor for more than 12 years, is that this could not be further from the truth. The parish council and resident voice adds hugely to the evidence for or against development.
This white paper is a 'developers' charter'. No more, no less. It removes democracy from planning, it silences local voices, it centralises decision-making. It's no wonder no one has a good word to say about it.
Bridget Smith, Liberal Democrat Leader, South Cambridgeshire District Council
Covid-19 has highlighted the incredible work that NHS staff do to care for the public and keep them safe. This week we have read that Boris Johnson has nominated NHS workers for a Pride of Britain Award to recognise their dedication. We should absolutely be immensely proud of our NHS and its staff.
However, this seems like a very hollow gesture - much like the pin badges handed out or ministers clapping outside Downing Street - when Boris Johnson doesn’t support a meaningful pay rise for NHS staff. Our own MPs Anthony Browne and Lucy Frazier voted, along with their Conservative colleagues, against a pay rise for nurses earlier this year.
Since 2010, NHS workers have lost one fifth of their wages in real terms. As a result, many of them are now struggling to make ends meet. In recent years, we have seen them turning to food banks, unable to afford their rent, or forced to take on extra shifts just to get by.
Alongside this, their workload and stress levels have been on the rise – and now they face a winter with the immense pressures of a second wave of the pandemic.
All this is causing too many healthcare workers to leave the jobs they love, creating a vicious cycle of understaffing, which means frontline staff are more overstretched than ever. In nursing, there were more than 44,000 vacancies in the NHS in England, even before Covid-19. A recent Royal College of Nursing survey found 36% of nursing staff consider leaving the profession, many citing low pay as a reason. This government needs to invest to ensure we can recruit and retain staff in the NHS.
Liberal Democrat MPs voted in support of a pay rise. Our manifesto committed to a 1p increase for every £1 of Income Tax to be able to invest in our NHS. We are now calling on the Chancellor to fund a pay rise for NHS staff in the upcoming spending review.
Now is the time to reward NHS staff with more than Pride of Britain Awards and to give them a pay rise that reflects the value of the work they do.
Ian Sollom, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for South Cambs
Pippa Heylings, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for South East Cambs
Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats have asked the Conservative-run County Council to make sure that none of the county’s vulnerable children go hungry this Christmas. Lib Dem-run South Cambridgeshire District Council has even offered £25,000 to help fund the provision of Free School Meals vouchers.
Lucy Nethsingha, Leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group on Cambridgeshire County Council, said, "The government is refusing to feed the most vulnerable children in our country, just as the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is becoming more severe.
"The response to the fantastic campaign by Marcus Rashford to ensure no child goes hungry has shown the strength of feeling across the country.
"Along with Liberal Democrat colleagues, I am calling on the government to make food vouchers available during school holidays throughout the pandemic to all pupils eligible for Free School Meals. As we saw during the summer, this is one of the most effective measures that the government could take.
"If the government won’t do the right thing by hungry children this Christmas, I urge Cambridgeshire County Council to step in now so that support is available.
"Other councils, including some run by Conservatives, are stepping up to help feed children. We need to see the efforts increased in Cambridgeshire."
Bridget Smith, Lib Dem Leader of South Cambs District Council, said, "This Christmas is going to be especially hard for so many of our residents due to Covid-19. At South Cambs, we are able to pledge £25,000 towards food vouchers for our most vulnerable children. This will ensure families do not have to make the harsh decision between a gift for their child and feeding them or heating their home.
"I have written to Cambridgeshire County Council to offer to help fund a Free School Meals voucher scheme for the children in our district. It is essential that we plan now to have the scheme in place well before the Christmas holidays. I look forward to discussing with Conservative councillors how we can work together to help the children of our area.
"Since the very start of the pandemic, Liberal Democrat campaigners have been working hard to support members of their communities who are struggling, by raising funds, organising food banks and cooking meals. We are continuing this through the autumn half term."
Read Bridget's letter to the County Council
Ian Sollom, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for South Cambridgeshire, has written to our Conservative MP, after he voted against extending free school meals to school holidays at this time of ongoing national crisis.
I am writing to you to express my deep concern over the government’s response to Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend Free School Meals (FSM) during the school holidays, and your own vote against such a proposal in parliament last week. I am sure we can agree that no child should ever go hungry in the UK, so in this period of ongoing national crisis, it seems extremely callous of you and the government to oppose extending measures that would help tackle this.
The government agreed to fund an extension to the FSM scheme over the summer holidays this year. Yet as we continue in much the same, if not a worse national situation with the pandemic compared with the summer, it is simply not credible for you and your colleagues to argue that what was deemed necessary over the summer is not necessary now.
I have seen you make the case on the BBC that Universal Credit rose by £20 per week in the Chancellor’s initial response to the pandemic (on 20th March), and that this should be used to cover the cost of feeding children in the school holidays. But this is no justification: the increase came in well before the summer holidays and applies to the standard allowance of Universal Credit, entirely unrelated to having children.
So, I must ask, why has the government changed its view on this now? Why do you believe child food hunger is less of a problem now than just a few weeks ago in the summer holidays?
The truth is that it is not less of a problem. That so many individuals, businesses and local authorities can see that and have offered to step in to provide what the government will not is both heart-warming and inspiring. But it is also wrong and should leave you feeling deeply ashamed. Vulnerable children across the country now face a lottery of local provision in their holidays, their nutrition determined by their proximity to those able and willing to help.
There is no doubt that the problem of child food hunger requires a much more comprehensive and long-term plan. The numbers of pupils on FSM has been rising alarmingly in recent years and will undoubtedly rise further as we face the economic consequences of the pandemic. Your Conservative colleague, Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, argues eloquently of the need for such a long-term strategy, and not only on compassionate grounds but on sound economics: increasing educational attainment, boosting life chances and saving money in the long run.
But Robert Halfon, like me and many of your constituents, also recognises that the extension of FSM into the school holidays is necessary in an economy reeling from the pandemic. Indeed, he described it as a “no-brainer”. If you truly believe that no child should be going hungry in the UK, then you must surely agree.
I urge you to reconsider your position on this issue and join with Robert Halfon, Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs in pressing the government to change its policy.
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for South Cambridgeshire
Councillor for Harston & Comberton Ward, South Cambridgeshire District Council
One of the priorities of the Lib Dem District Council’s Business Plan is to provide more genuinely affordable housing, and it’s great to see nine new council and shared-ownership homes now ready for tenants in Foxton.
Other developments totalling 54 new energy-efficient council houses, at Taversham, West Wickham, Toft and Hardwick, are also due to be ready for occupancy this winter.
We hope you are staying safe and well. Here's some local Covid-19 support info that you might find useful, as well as other South Cambs news from the past month.
Covid-19 updates and reminders
All the areas of help and advice available from South Cambridgeshire District Council can be found on its Coronavirus page.
There is a shortage of testing capacity and new guidance now applies. Please only book a test if you have any of the key symptoms, and booking is essential – keep checking online or calling 119 as new appointments go live throughout the day.
All the information you need to apply for a government grant should you be required to self-isolate and consequently lose income is on the South Cambs District Council website.
South Cambridgeshire Hall has been closed again as a safety measure. Please check the SCDC website for information about online services and other alternative arrangements. Do let us know if you experience any difficulties accessing council services.
The District Council now has a team of four officers dedicated to Covid-19 business support. If your business is struggling please contact them - their job is to help you. Read their latest newsletter
The District Council has also made available a £50,000 fund to help parish councils and community groups respond to any local Covid-19 outbreak. The money could be used for sanitiser, PPE, or emergency food among other things. Officers are contacting volunteer groups to assess their capacity and hear any concerns.
If people need supermarket deliveries for good reasons the District Council can facilitate getting Tesco and Iceland delivery slots – currently key workers are the priority.
And Cambridge Water is offering tailored support to those who are struggling to pay their water bills due to Covid-19. More information can be obtained from the Cambridge Water website or on 0800 587 7701.
Finally a reminder that face masks and other items of PPE must be disposed of in the black bin, not the blue bin.
Upgrading streetlights as part of our zero-carbon plan
Last year Lib Dem-run South Cambs District Council announced a plan to replace the area’s streetlights as part of our wider vision to turn the district carbon neutral by 2050, and we are delighted to say that this work is now underway!
About 1800 streetlights across 84 villages fall under SCDC’s responsibility, and the council is now replacing these with more energy-efficient LED lamps. These will provide just as much light as the old ones but will offer better control and quality of light, which is warmer in tone and less polluting to wildlife - as well as saving money for parish councils. Read more on SCDC’s zero-carbon plans
More affordable homes ready to move in
One of the priorities of the Lib Dem District Council’s Business Plan is to provide more genuinely affordable housing, and it’s great to see nine new council and shared-ownership homes now ready for tenants in Foxton.
Other developments totalling 54 new energy-efficient council houses, at Taversham, West Wickham, Toft and Hardwick, are also due to be ready for occupancy this winter.
Mayor Palmer's Covid comments challenged
Lib Dem Mayoral candidate Aidan Van de Weyer has challenged Mayor James Palmer's flippant attitude towards Covid-19. Incredibly he claimed that Cambridge bus station was guaranteed to be free of the virus for 30 days after he had it sprayed, an unscientific claim he was forced to withdraw. Now he has ridiculed the notion of a short national lockdown when it is what many scientists believe is necessary to help reduce rapidly growing infection rates.
Having a railway station at Addenbrookes has moved another step closer, with the launch by Network Rail of a consultation on the preferred location for the station. The Lib Dems have been campaigning for this station for over 20 years and will continue to do so until it's built! It is just south of the guided busway bridge, with access from both sides and plenty of parking for bikes (but not for cars, sensibly). The consultation runs until 29 November 2020. Be sure to have your say.
The Greater Cambridge Partnership are consulting on their preferred off-road route between Cambridge and the new travel hub/park & ride site at Babraham. See the plans and documents The consultation closes on 7th December 2020.
Local Lib Dems raise concerns about proposed planning reforms
Lib Dem parliamentary spokespersons Ian Sollom (South Cambs) and Pippa Heylings (South East Cambs) have jointly voiced their concerns about the government's proposed planning reforms, which appear to amount to deregulation in favour of developers. They have called on our local MPs to challenge the government about this - read their article published in the Cambridge Independent
Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokespersons Ian Sollom (South Cambs) and Pippa Heylings (South East Cambs) on the government's proposed planning reforms, published in the Cambridge Independent on 14/10/20.
When the Liberal Democrats took control of South Cambs District Council from the Conservatives in May 2018, one local issue was annoying residents more than any other: planning. Suffering through a period when there was effectively no Local Plan – during which developments had sprung up all over South Cambs, approved with little thought to infrastructure and little consideration for local priorities and concerns – many residents were desperate for change. A feeling pervaded that developers were running rings around planning, bypassing local democracy and avoiding affordable housing targets and the high-quality housing South Cambs deserves.
Not long after the Lib Dems took office, the current Local Plan was formally adopted. While the repercussions of the period without one are still with us, work has begun on a new and ambitious green Local Plan and everyone hopes not to return to those dark days. Sadly, government proposals for planning reform threaten to do just that, unleashing a free-for-all for developers and dashing hopes for more affordable housing.
Few people would dispute there are problems in need of fixing in the planning system. There is also broad political consensus on the need to build more homes: all the major parties went into the 2019 General Election with similar commitments to do so. On launching the proposals for reform of planning, Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, stated “we need more homes”, while the Prime Minister has adopted a mantra of “build, build, build”. But laying the responsibility for the shortfall in building homes on an over-regulated planning system is a wilful misdiagnosis, and the proposed reforms, which amount to little more than deregulation, are the wrong medicine.
Over the last decade, more than a million homes granted planning permission have not yet been built; across the country there are hundreds of thousands of "phantom homes" on sites with planning permission fully approved; nine out of 10 planning applications are approved by local councils. In a widely praised report in late 2018, the former Conservative cabinet minister, Oliver Letwin, identified the fundamental problem: too many similar types of homes on offer on large sites, and the limit on the rate at which the market can absorb such similar products. The Letwin report also made recommendations for addressing the problem, but the proposed planning reforms go in a very different direction, seemingly written to the agenda of developers, and not to address the needs of local communities.
Take affordable housing: under the current planning system, any application for a development of more than ten homes needs to include some affordable dwellings – developments of 10 or fewer are exempt from this condition. The government proposes that the threshold under which developers are exempt from providing affordable dwellings should rise substantially to 40 or 50 homes. This would no doubt be good for developers’ profits, but in rural areas such as those around Cambridge, few villages see schemes above this threshold, and consequently would not see any new, and much needed, affordable housing.
Worse still is the concept of "permission in principle" – the extension of the equivalent of outline planning permission from minor developments to major developments of up to 150 dwellings. This would give developers a fast track to secure the principle of development on sites without having to address fundamental problems like lack of infrastructure. Not only will this remove opportunities for local residents to have a say in shaping major developments on their doorstep, the government’s own research suggested this change could well lead to homes not fit to live in.
Both of the above measures are short term, ostensibly to assist a Covid recovery. But they foreshadow the much more substantial measures for planning reform that are currently out for consultation. Under proposals in the Planning for the Future white paper, outline planning permission will be assumed in so called “Growth Areas”, while the system of affordable housing requirements and developer payments through Section 106 agreements will be scrapped in favour of a single, England-wide, "flat rate" levy, with, as you won’t be surprised to hear, a higher threshold on the requirement to contribute.
There is much else to be concerned about in these broader proposals, which would be the biggest shake up of planning for over 70 years, not least the lack of consideration of zero-carbon standards, accessible green spaces and biodiversity. For South Cambridgeshire, it is the removal of opportunities for local residents to have their say on these and other concerns that will grate the most.
The government is trying to rush through these planning reforms, but they are not the solution to a problem we actually face. We know the country needs a broad mix of high-quality, age-friendly, zero-carbon homes which are affordable to buy, affordable to live in and in the right place. This deregulation of planning is likely to achieve quite the opposite and we urge our local MPs to challenge the government to do better.
Last year we announced our plan to replace the streetlights under South Cambridgeshire District Council's control, as part of our wider vision to turn the district carbon neutral by 2050, and we are delighted to say that this work is now underway!
About 1800 streetlights across 84 villages fall under SCDC’s responsibility, and the Lib Dem council is now replacing these with more energy-efficient LED lamps.
These will provide just as much light as the old ones but will offer better control and quality of light, which is warmer in tone and therefore less polluting to wildlife - as well as saving money for parish councils. The replacement work is expected to be completed by March next year.
SCDC’s Lead Cabinet Member for Environmental Services and Licensing, Lib Dem councillor Brian Milnes, said: “We want to do everything we can to reduce the carbon footprint of South Cambridgeshire – and this is another small step towards our much wider aspirations for a zero carbon district by 2050. I’m pleased that, in addition to the energy being saved by these new lights, parish councils will also benefit from reduced electricity bills. This will leave them with a little extra to spend in their villages, which is especially useful as we continue to deal with the ongoing impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic.”
Protecting and enhancing the environment are at the heart of Lib Dem-controlled SCDC’s Business Plan for 2019-2024. Our goal of creating a cleaner, greener, low-carbon future for the district informs everything we do. We are working with urgency to deal with the climate and ecological emergency facing us all.
We have pledged to make South Cambs carbon neutral by 2050, not just in terms of the council’s own property and operations but in terms of the entire district. This will be achieved through planning policies for housing, energy and transport, and through waste management among many other things.
Cambridgeshire is one of the UK’s least biodiverse counties and among those with the fewest trees. It is also one of the most water-stressed. At the same time, it is one of the fastest-growing counties. So, as well as avoiding adverse impacts on the environment from this growth, we want to ‘double nature’ in the county by increasing the amount of rich wildlife habitat and green space, and also by increasing tree cover by 50%. The role of nature in our physical and mental health is beyond dispute; for instance trees are now proven to reduce noise as well as absorbing and filtering pollution.
We are continually exploring opportunities for green energy generation, greater energy efficiency, more recycling and improving air quality.
So far we have:
- Eliminated the procurement and use of single-use plastics at the council within just three months.
- Put in place a full recycling system at the council offices, where minimal recycling was being carried out previously.
- Installed solar panels on the roof of the Waterbeach waste depot, which are providing 25% of the energy the plant needs.
- Set targets for increasing household recycling and reducing the total volume of black bin waste. We aim to achieve these through information campaigns and working with resident groups.
- Initiated the drafting of a two-year climate change action plan. In partnership with Cambridge University, we will produce a baseline of current carbon emissions from all sectors, and scenarios of projected emissions as a result of current growth plans in transport, construction, housing, etc. We will use this as a basis for decision-making about what we can do directly and indirectly as a council to radically reduce carbon emissions.
- Launched the Zero Carbon Communities grant scheme, which provides funds to local groups for measures that reduce their carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.
- Included a green investment stream in our new Business Plan’s investment strategy.
- Started tackling the growing problem of fly-tipping.
- Adopted a new taxi licensing policy to make our taxis greener.
- Supported an initiative to convert used coffee grounds from cafes into biofuel.
- Carried out a public consultation on proposals to make new housing developments as green as possible through sustainable design and construction that minimise carbon emissions (as well as running costs), flood risks, pollution and pressure on water sources.
- Started to replace 1800 footway lights with LED, which will save 60-70% energy.
Purchased a trial electric vehicle in our recycling and waste services.
- Facilitated a solar panel group-buying scheme with Solar Together Cambridgeshire
Going forward, we plan to:
- Impose high environmental standards on new homes, in the form of sustainable design and construction that minimise carbon emissions (as well as running costs), flood risks, pollution and pressure on water sources.
- Ensure new homes are built close to places of employment to reduce commuting, and work with partners to make sure walking, cycling and public transport improvements provide alternatives to using the private car.
- Provide electric-vehicle charging points.
- Install new air-quality monitors in hotspots across the district, such as schools on busy roads.
- Audit our stock of council houses and retrofit them with insulation and other energy-saving measures, to keep people warm, and reduce both their energy bills and their carbon emissions.
- Make Biodiversity Net Gain a mandatory consideration in planning.
During lockdown, we came to value local food production more than ever. We are particularly lucky because Cambridgeshire and the Fens are home to more than 50% of the UK’s Grade 1 and 2 agricultural land. And much of the production, as well as livestock, is salad and vegetable food, which is becoming ever more important for our health and for climate-friendly diets.
However, farmers are facing a tough time with a rollercoaster of unusual weather conditions, from the extreme cold of the Beast from the East in 2018 to a severe drought with little winter or spring rainfall, and now a wet harvest in August.
This autumn, British food and farming face further uncertainty as the Agriculture Bill returns to the House of Commons to be passed into law, and as trade negotiations continue with countries across the world.
At a hearing in May this year, I was disappointed that our local MPs, Lucy Frazer and Anthony Browne, did not vote to protect the UK from poor quality food being imported through proposed amendments to either the Agriculture Bill or the Trade Bill.
At that time, a poll showed that around 80% of Britons did not want to ditch animal welfare and environmental rules as part of any new trade deal with the United States. More than a million people signed the National Farmers’ Union’s petition urging the government to ensure future trade deals do not lead to an increase in food imports that would be illegal to produce here.
We are quite rightly proud, not only of our world-class animal welfare standards but also of our standards on the sustainable use of pesticides, which reduce risks to consumers and the environment. The UK Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food consistently finds that over 97% of UK-produced food meets or exceeds trading standards – better than imported food.
However, as Jamie Oliver said in his letter to the Prime Minister, British farmers are massively disadvantaged if we “open the floodgates to cheap, low-quality imports from the US and at the same time drive world-class British producers out of business”.
As the Agriculture and Trade Bills come back to Parliament, there has never been a more important time to highlight the crucial role farmers play in feeding the nation and caring for the countryside. On the annual Back British Farming Day, therefore, MPs are being asked to wear a wool and wheatsheaf pin badge in the Palace of Westminster as a sign of their support for British farmers and a commitment to enshrine manifesto promises into law.
Covid-19 has highlighted just how important our food security is. As Liberal Democrats, we submitted a motion to the County Council asking for the Food Standards Commission powers to be made statutory so that they would have teeth. Sadly, although supported by Labour and the Independents, the motion was voted down by the Conservatives on the Council. We believe we need to support our British farmers to produce high-quality food to feed the nation. I hope to see our MPs wearing the wool and wheatsheaf badge and showing they believe the same.
Pippa Heylings, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for South East Cambridgeshire
(Photo: Pippa with farmer Tony Humphrey)