Planning reforms favour developers over solving housing issues - Ian Sollom and Pippa Heylings

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.

Upgrading streetlights as part of our zero-carbon plan

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.

Back British farming and stop Tory MPs opening the floodgates to low-quality products

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)

Pippa Heylings: our appreciation for the huge effort South Cambs schools have put into reopening

As schools go back this week, Cllr Pippa Heylings (Histon & Impington), Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for South East Cambs, looks back at everything that Heads, teachers and all school staff have had to deal with over the past six months, and we're sure speaks for a great many of us in voicing her gratitude.

Read more

South Cambs Lib Dems win extension to Cambridge Waste Water Treatment Plant consultation

Following a request by the Liberal Democrat councillors who represent the affected areas, Anglian Water have allowed a further four weeks for the public to have their say on the initial proposals to move the Cambridge Waste Water Treatment Plant from its current site south of Milton.

Cllr Claire Daunton, Liberal Democrat councillor for Fen Ditton and Fulbourn, said, “Along with the other Liberal Democrat councillors in this area, I asked Anglian Water for more time for the public and Parish Councils to scrutinise these proposals. I am very pleased that they have responded positively.

“This is a very complex project, and it is vital that we understand the implications and make sure that Anglian Water takes all the issues into account. With the consultation period now lasting until after the summer holidays, many more of our residents will get the chance to have their say.”

Cllr Pippa Heylings, Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for South East Cambridgeshire, said, “There is so much change happening just in this small area north of Cambridge, and residents are right to be concerned about the impact on their lives. It is important that we find the most suitable location.

“There are still a lot of outstanding issues that we need answers on. How much traffic will go to and from the new site? How much noise and smell will come from the new site? How does this move contribute to our aims to reduce carbon emissions to zero?

“I would urge all residents of the villages to the north and east of Cambridge to look at the proposals and give their feedback before 14th September. The information can be found on Anglian Water’s special website at”

How our mayor can help Cambridgeshire and Peterborough fulfil its potential

By Aidan Van de Weyer, Liberal Democrat Prospective Mayor

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 5th August 2020.

In a few weeks, the government will announce plans for big changes to local government, encouraging all areas of the country to accept powerful mayors.

Here in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, we already have one of these metro mayors – the first one not based on a big city. It’s not a way of running things that I like: do people in Peterborough want their affairs decided from Cambridge, or vice versa? But that doesn’t mean we can’t make it work well with the right leadership, by being transparent in all we do and cooperating closely with all residents.

Our mayor has responsibility for creating transport plans and speeding up the construction of affordable housing, as well as providing skills and training to support economic development. These are all things that can have a big and positive impact on all of our lives.

We can be most effective when we are all pushing in the same direction. This is the most important way in which the mayor can contribute: bringing people together around shared goals. This takes a lot of time and effort, but the results will be worth it.

There are some enormous transport projects being planned, costing hundreds of millions of pounds – billions in some cases. We need to get them right. That means building routes in the right places, enhancing the environment, and making alternatives to the car attractive. We cannot make those choices without the involvement of residents and businesses. The mayor is in a unique position to get the broad support required.

We are all now agreed on the urgency of tackling climate change, but there isn’t yet concerted and effective action across the whole area. We are going to have to make big changes to how we live: using less water, coping with extremes of weather, drastically cutting carbon emissions. While we already know a lot of what has to be done, we do need to have everyone on board. The combined authority is able to play a vital role in bringing people together and ensuring focus on action now.

One of the most acute problems that we have is the lack of homes that people can actually afford. The astonishing cost of buying a house here affects people’s lives in so many ways. People have to endure long and expensive commutes. Young people have to move away. Businesses find it hard to recruit. The mayor has been given £170 million to help get more affordable housing built. This can only be done by coordinating with district councils, housing associations, house builders.

The terrible impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be with us for years. The job prospects of young people are disappearing, creating a lost generation. Small business owners are struggling to keep going. More and more people are losing their jobs. As we rebuild the economy after the lockdown, the combined authority can use its responsibilities for skills, training and business support to great effect. The job market will be very different – even if we don’t know exactly how - and we must do all we can to enable training for young people especially, but also retraining at all stages of careers. The combined authority has the resources to shape the new world, investing in a green recovery and making sure jobs are less precarious.

In all of this, the mayor will be constantly working closely with residents, businesses and partner organisations, and therefore must have their trust. As a relatively new organisation, the combined authority is well placed to show how the Nolan principles of public life can be applied to local government. Everything we do must be as open as possible and we need to design ways of being accountable to the public, not just every four years at election time. This needs to be backed up by some really robust processes around all aspects of the work of the combined authority, from spending and procurement to staff appointments.

Like any big organisation, the combined authority will come in for criticism. How it responds is vital to giving people confidence, and it’s not clear that it has been so far. It must always take heed of feedback and address issues with care, as transparently as possible.

With all of the big issues under the control of the combined authority – transport, housing, economic – we need to be thinking long-term, 20 or 40 years ahead. We are currently dealing with choices made 20 years ago; choices we make now will be felt for decades to come. This is well beyond the period of office of any single politician. That is why it is vital that we work hard to create a shared vision for what we want.

Despite all the setbacks we are facing – from coronavirus to Brexit – Cambridgeshire has a bright future. Together, we can realise our full potential and make sure that all of our residents get the benefits.

Aidan Van de Weyer's Positive Legacy as He Stands Down from GCP to Focus on Winning Mayoral Election

Lib Dem councillor Aidan Van de Weyer has stood down from the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) Board to concentrate on defeating James Palmer in the election for Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough next May.

South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats have chosen Cllr Neil Gough to replace him as South Cambridgeshire District Council’s representative on the GCP Board.

Cllr Van de Weyer said, “Cambridgeshire needs better leadership than it is getting from Mayor Palmer. Our area is being held back by the incompetence and arrogance of the Tories at the Combined Authority. I will work hard to bring the whole of the county together around a vision for a fair and green future.

“It has been a privilege to sit on the Greater Cambridge Partnership for over two years, including one as Chair. I have been able to ensure that the GCP’s investment is targeted at making a positive difference to the lives of the people of Greater Cambridge.

“I helped set up a Citizens’ Assembly on transport in the area, which was a fantastic way of getting a cross-section of our community involved in the issues and has focussed our work on making our public spaces, including roads, more people friendly.

“I supported the establishment of an apprenticeship brokerage service to help young people access the best training. While I was chair of GCP, the Greenways programme was pushed forward, making so many villages accessible by bike, and I launched the first two electric buses in Cambridgeshire. I helped GCP unlock the next multi-million pound tranche of funding of investment from government."

Bridget Smith, Liberal Democrat Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said, “Aidan will make a fantastic mayor who I know will be trusted to fight for all of the residents of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

“I am very pleased that we have appointed Neil Gough to the Greater Cambridge Partnership. He will bring his enormous professional experience in complex roles. He is just the person to take forward our work there, building on the close collaboration that is needed to deliver infrastructure improvements for the people of South Cambridgeshire.”

Lib Dem Motion to Tackle Structural Racism in South Cambs Passed by Huge Majority at Full Council

A far-reaching motion to eradicate structural racism through a series of practical actions was passed at South Cambridgeshire District Council’s full council meeting on Tuesday 14th July.

The motion, put forward by Lib Dem district Councillor Sarah Cheung Johnson (Longstanton, Oakington & Westwick) and seconded by Councillor Tumi Hawkins, was passed by all councillors present bar one.

The motion addressed insidious racism in a range of areas, including education, employment, health, housing and policing. It proposed:

  • Black History Month is made an annual event in South Cambridgeshire

  • Reviewing the council’s own structures to ensure ethnic minorities are not disadvantaged in employment or in access to housing and welfare

  • Auditing street names and public monuments for racist historical associations

  • Writing to the Secretary of State for Education to call for a review of the national curriculum to ensure the inclusion of BAME history and culture in lessons, and asking South Cambridgeshire schools to include such material proactively

  • Asking the Police and Crime Commissioner to report on measures for eradicating racism within South Cambs policing
  • Requesting a review of the impact of Covid-19 on the local BAME population

  • Calling for the Combined Authority to produce a toolkit for businesses to help broaden their understanding of race inequality in the workplace

  • Working with the NHS to ensure that it fully compensates BAME staff, who have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19

Cllr Cheung Johnson said: “The death of George Floyd sparked a renewal of the Black Lives Matters movement and it's imperative that we don't allow this to be merely a moment. We must understand that the work of sustained anti-racism is constant and requires our attention at all times. Black Lives Matters doesn't mean they matter more but that they matter equally - which they currently don't. To that end I hope you agree that this motion is one with practical actions we can take. The list is by no means finite and I hope that we would build on it with suggestions from council members, officers and residents on how we do this.”

“I would like to reiterate that racism isn't just about people expressing prejudice - it's not just about Cllr Tumi Hawkins being followed around shops because of her skin colour, or my Chinese friends being called C-words and being blamed for bringing Covid-19 to the country - although these things should not be happening in 2020. It’s about tackling structural racism - the unseen but very real barriers which mean those who are not white do not have equality in our society today. We as a council have a duty to lead these efforts across our district.”

Cummings Must Go - Ian Sollom. Sign Our Petition If You Agree

A letter calling for Dominic Cummings' resignation by Ian Sollom, local Lib Dem parliamentary spokesperson, was published in the 27th May edition of the Cambridge Independent. Below is the full text. If you agree with Ian that Cummings must go in order to restore public trust in the government's response to the pandemic please sign our petition.

It’s time for Dominic Cummings to resign

During times of national crisis, politics as usual is generally suspended. There is a natural and just tendency to 'rally to the flag': to will our Prime Minister, our government and our institutions to do their best regardless of our political allegiances. We all chip in and do what we can to help the national collective effort.

As a South Cambs district councillor, it’s been fantastic to see the army of volunteers and organisers step up in our communities to support the most vulnerable. But simply obeying the rules laid down to help prevent the spread of this deadly virus is the single most important contribution any individual can make. The sacrifices we have all made – and for some of us, there have been some truly heart-breaking sacrifices – have undoubtedly saved many lives.

In this context, Dominic Cummings’ actions in travelling to Durham during lockdown must be condemned. His trip risked spreading the virus around the country and flouted rules we all need to obey to protect each other. That Mr Cummings believes his actions were reasonable in exceptional circumstances is an extremely poor defence. These were not exceptional circumstances: countless families with young children have, as instructed by the government, isolated without support at home in this crisis, gritting their teeth and battling on. Many are rightly angry that someone at the heart of government did not keep to rules we were all told we must follow.

The Prime Minister’s backing of his advisor, denying any breach of the rules in letter or in spirit, risks undermining wider public trust and adherence to government guidelines. The possibility of more infections and more deaths as a result cannot be ruled out, and it is deeply concerning that the Prime Minister would put lives at risk in this way, apparently encouraging Conservative backbenchers to do the same: in tweeting similar unapologetic support for Mr Cummings on Saturday, South Cambs MP Anthony Browne revealed his own priorities for his time in office.

I would urge Mr Browne to reconsider his stance. As we move into the next phase of this crisis and new guidelines emerge, it is vital that we continue to feel we are all in this together, making the personal sacrifices that will continue to be necessary. For as long as the government continue to stand by Mr Cummings they show contempt for that collective effort. It is time for him to go.

Ian Sollom
Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for South Cambs

South Cambridgeshire Pulling Together

One month into this very challenging period of lockdown, the number of volunteers that have come forward in virtually every village in the area has been astounding and heartening; it really has been a time when the best in people has shone through adversity. 

We have been working closely with these community volunteer groups and putting them in touch with people who need their help, while our district councillors have been calling all elderly residents in their wards to check if they are ok or need any assistance. Find a volunteer group in your locality

The Lib Dem team and the staff at South Cambs District Council have been working very hard to offer residents as much practical help, continuity of service and reassurance as possible. They have compiled a huge amount of advice and support information on their coronavirus page, covering bill payments, housing, help for businesses, domestic abuse and emergency baby supplies among many other things. They have also produced a comprehensive advice pack for parish councils, to support their efforts to help the most vulnerable people in their communities.  

Led by Peter McDonald, Lib Dem councillor for Duxford, a dedicated team at the district council have been working at breakneck speed to distribute government grant money to small businesses. They have transferred funds to about 1500 businesses so far, and are trying to track down another 500 that are thought to qualify for aid. If you think you may be one of them and you haven’t heard from the council, please contact them, they are ready to help.

Another piece of good news is that the council is able to start a phased return of green bin collections from 4th May. After a difficult few weeks when they were suspended due to severe staff shortages, a skeleton service will resume, which will ensure safe distancing for the operatives. Find out full details 

This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult times that many of us have ever faced. But through pulling together as a community with acts of compassion and generosity, we can make some difference to those who need help the most. Take care everyone, and stay well.

Coronavirus Community Taskforce

In these very difficult times, your local councillors are here to signpost residents to accurate information and community support, especially for those who are most vulnerable. Please also check South Cambridgeshire District Council's coronavirus page to find out about the latest advice, council services and help available.

It’s been amazing to see volunteer groups springing up all over South Cambs to assist people affected by the coronavirus in their communities. The groups are offering to pick up supplies for people who are having to isolate themselves and check up on those who may need help. 

As part of a national initiative by the Liberal Democrat Party, South Cambs Lib Dems have set up a local taskforce to coordinate our network of councillors, members and activists with the volunteer groups’ efforts. We want to help ensure that all those self-isolating, especially the vulnerable and elderly, get the support they need. 

We’re pleased to be making the most of our leaflet delivery networks by sharing our street lists and maps with the volunteer groups to support their activities. We’ll also be calling elderly people in the area to check if they need anything.

Whether you are someone who needs help or you would like to volunteer, you can find out what group is active in your neighbourhood here. (If you know of a group that isn’t on this list, please get in touch to let us know.)

In a joint statement, local Lib Dem parliamentary candidates Ian Sollom and Pippa Heylings said:

"As the coronavirus crisis continues, people in South Cambs are rightly concerned about their family, friends and loved ones. Even more people are keen to do something to help.
This crisis is leaving the most vulnerable in our communities at risk and we are determined to do what we can to help them.
"That is why local Liberal Democrats are setting up the Coronavirus Community Taskforce. This will coordinate our network in South Cambs to help ensure that those who are in most need get support."

Take care everyone, and whatever happens, together we can make a difference.

South Cambs News March 2020

Lib Dems Win County Council By-election

Many congratulations to Peter McDonald, the sitting Lib Dem district councillor for Duxford ward, who won last month’s by-election to also become county councillor for his local division.

Following the resignation of a Conservative councillor, a double by-election for Duxford division and Whittlesford ward was held on 27th February. Peter won by a comfortable majority of 517, gaining 60% of the vote.

A great campaign was also fought in Whittlesford ward by first-time Lib Dem candidate James Hobro. Commiserations to James, who came close with a big swing, achieving 45% vote share. Next time!

Safer, Greener Taxis

The Lib Dem District Council has adopted a new taxi licensing policy that will improve both personal safety and air quality on the roads. From March 2021, CCTV will be compulsory in all Hackney cabs and private hire vehicles based in South Cambridgeshire. And from December 2021, new licences will only be granted to taxis that are ultra-low or zero emission, and licences will be refused to vehicles more than nine years old. These environmental requirements support the Council’s goal of making South Cambs a carbon neutral district before 2050. Full policy details

Extraordinary Times at the Combined Authority

In February Mayor James Palmer announced that his Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority would take control of public transport improvements in the area. A final decision on the Cambourne to Cambridge Guided Busway was due to be made by the Greater Cambridge Partnership on 19th February, but the papers were pulled after the Mayor’s announcement, in which he said that the scheme didn’t fit with his plans for the Cambridge Autonomous Metro.

This despite the fact that the GCP has been working alongside the Mayor’s office, which had not raised any concerns since late 2018, when the Mayor agreed that the outline plan would fit with his vision for CAM. The proposals include delivering phase one of the CAM, covering connections to Cambourne, Waterbeach, Granta Park and towards Newmarket. So his announcement is completely at odds with recent Combined Authority decisions. It’s not clear if he has the power to take control from the GCP in this way, but we understand discussions with central government are ongoing.  

Dire Finances at the County Council Set to Continue

Cambridgeshire County Council has approved a budget that includes a £4-million deficit, while once again not raising Council Tax as much as it could. Council Tax will go up this year by 1.59% instead of the permitted 1.99%, which will further contribute to the tide of disappearing public services - and save the average Band D property 11p a week. The Council's annual revenue is now £22 million less than it would have been, had the Conservatives agreed to go up to permitted limits for Council Tax increases in recent years. 

Lib Dem county councillors have consistently voted for permitted Council Tax rises, in line with most local authorities around the country. But even this would not fill the enormous gap created over many years - most dramatically through central government's total withdrawal of the Revenue Support Grant, which used to be the lion's share of spending power for councils. The Conservative government's strategy of issuing one-off capital grants creates good-news headlines, but doesn't enable councils to plan and manage their finances in order to run effective public services. 

The Council is now introducing controversial and complex new charges to vulnerable people receiving Adult Social Care as a drastic measure to generate revenue. Meanwhile, in the realm of highways maintenance, you only have to look at local streets and pavements to see the effects of 'managed decline'. There are countless other stark examples of how services are falling apart and unable to meet growing demand, with a hard impact on so many people's daily lives.  

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