Fat Cat Tuesday

Today has already been labelled Fat Cat Tuesday – the day Cambridgeshire’s Conservative county councillors tore up the recommendations of an independent panel and voted themselves a massive pay rise instead.

The independent panel had been asked to advise on the allowances paid to county councillors for doing their duties. The panel interviewed a range of councillors, asked searching questions, and made informed and sensible recommendations.  These would have cost about £750,000, which is less than the council had budgeted for this year.

However, Conservative councillors (with just one exception) decided to rip up the panel’s proposals and invent their own allowances. To everyone’s utter surprise (not), these were far more generous, totalling £936,726 – over £185,000 more than the panel had recommended.

The Leader of the Council currently gets £21,000 a year.  The panel proposed he should be paid £25,000.  He has decided he is worth over £31,000.

The Deputy Leader, currently on over £14,000, was recommended by the panel for a pay cut, to £11,250.  Instead he’ll get a pay rise too, to £20,627.

Both of those allowances are on top of a basic allowance that rises to over £10,000 a year.

Two additional committees have been set up: that means seven committees instead of five. Each one has a Chair (on over £18,000) and a Vice Chair (on nearly £8,000). That’s an extra £52,000 just for those two committees.

And there will be five new councillor posts called ‘area leads’ within the new Community & Partnerships Committee, each on an extra £5,000.

It’s a job creation scheme on a massive scale. Almost two-thirds of the Conservatives’ 36 county councillors could be on some kind of extra allowance.

Meanwhile, residents in Coveney and Wardy Hill are losing their one bus a week, because the council says it can’t afford it. Families in Sutton are about to lose their children’s centre, because the council is pleading poverty. There’s no money for services, but there’s enough money for a massive pay rise for councillors.

The sheer naked greed of the exercise is breathtaking – and unforgivable.

Sutton Co-op update

The Co-op has now submitted updated plans for its proposed store in Sutton on the triangle of land at the A142 roundabout.

The original 32 car parking spaces weren’t enough in council officers’ view, so the applicants have removed one of the two original hot food takeaway outlets, and a small additional retail unit, leaving only one takeaway alongside the Co-op store itself. This will create room for a total of 49 car parking spaces. There will also be space for twelve bicycles.

The store is proposed to open from 7:00am to 10:00pm Monday to Sunday. The applicants have not yet said who will operate the takeaway unit.

The applicants are proposing vehicle entrance and exit from Ely Road, where the old road joins Ely Road. They intend to create a three-metre wide shared cycle and pedestrian way on that side of the road, with a pedestrian refuge to serve pedestrians crossing from the Tramar Drive side.

Comments on the revised application are open until 28 July, and can be made here.


East Cambs councillors vote themselves a 25 per cent rise

Councillors on East Cambridgeshire District Council tonight voted themselves an immediate 25 per cent pay rise. The decision was in line with the recommendation of an independent panel report on the council’s allowances.

I proposed delaying the increase until the elections in May 2019.  At that point, there will be 28 councillors instead of 39, and an increase won’t cost the taxpayer any more money. Not a single other councillor was prepared to support my proposal, which therefore didn’t even make it to a vote.

The immediate increase in allowances will cost the council over £48,000 a year until the next elections. The former council leader (now the Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough) said last year that reducing the number of councillors was our contribution to saving money in difficult financial times.  Not if Conservative councillors vote for a 25 per cent pay rise it isn’t!

Council committee meeting: a bit of a shambles

East Cambridgeshire District Council’s new Community Services committee met for the first time yesterday evening.

Off-street parking was on the agenda.  The council recently consulted the public on a number of changes to parking arrangements, including increasing the parking Penalty Charge from £50 to £70 (a decision the council made in 2015 but had not yet carried out).  No-one had objected, but a last-minute amendment was put on the table at the meeting by the Conservatives to make the new charge £60.  It appears they have taken two years to change their minds about a decision they didn’t carry out when it was made and that no-one has objected to anyway.

The council’s appointees to various local organisations had been asked to submit written reports to the meeting, as happens every year.  A lot of these reports are blank, and I’ve been getting more and more outspoken asking what these Conservative appointees are doing if they cannot even be bothered to submit a report once a year.  The message seems to be getting through, and there was a flurry of last-minute reports on the table yesterday.

  • None of the four councillors on the Community Safety Partnership (including the chair of yesterday’s committee meeting) had submitted a report on what the partnership had done in the last year – or even whether they had attended.
  • The report of the district council’s representative on the county council’s Health Committee said only: ‘This Body fits in with ECDC’s Corporate Plan, as it looks [sic] the areas of need for all residents’. I’m not sure that tells us a lot about what’s happening in the important area of public health.
  • The council’s representative on the East Cambs & Fenland Children’s Trust said in his report that he wasn’t sure it was worth the council being represented on this body. If that’s the case, why did the council nominate him?  Does the council think this organisation is worthwhile?
  • The council’s representative to the Paradise Centre management committee said she couldn’t keep them informed of what was happening because she wasn’t on the right council committees.  That doesn’t sound like effective relationship building.
  • And finally, it was reported that the council has decided to withdraw from the City of Ely Perspective group, just at the point where it seems to be reviving and submitting important views on developments in Ely such as the proposals for the building on the Market Square.

It all seemed a bit of a shambles.

Planning Committee set to consider Witchford and Sutton applications

East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Planning Committee meets next Wednesday 5 July, with some controversial local items on its agenda.

Planning officers are recommending that councillors should refuse Gladman’s application for outline planning permission for up to 55 homes on land north of 22 Marroway Lane in Witchford (16/01136/OUM).

However, officers are recommending approval of Linden Homes’s application for 77 homes at the top of Mepal Road in Sutton (16/01772/FUM).

Two applications in Coveney are also being recommended by officers for approval: a three-bedroomed, two storey detached eco-home at 2 Gravel End, Coveney (17/00652/FUL), and two detached houses on the adjacent land (17/00549/OUT).

Recent planning applications

The following local applications have been published by East Cambridgeshire District Council in recent weeks:

Land west of 1 Jerusalem Drove, Wardy Hill
Proposed erection of a dwelling house and change of use for south of site to domestic garden.

Land adjacent 2 Gravel End, Coveney CB6 2DN
Erection of two detached dwellings, garages and associated works.

2 Gravel End, Coveney CB6 2DN
Construction of 3 bedroom, two storey, detached eco-dwelling with garage and access, plus the alteration of amenity area and parking to host house.

Little Downham
59 Cannon Street, Little Downham CB6 2SS
Demolition of vacant property, and construction of new 3 bedroom chalet dwelling with associated parking.

Little Downham
29-33 Main Street, Little Downham CB6 2ST
Installation of new external extraction system (retrospective).

Little Downham
Land to east of Sunnydene, Pymoor Lane, Pymoor
Erection of a four bed dwelling.

Little Downham
Carlisle Farm, Main Drove, Little Downham
Proposed change of use from agricultural building to 3 dwellings.

Little Downham
80 Cannon Street, Little Downham CB6 2SS
Two storey side extension.

Little Downham
Sunnydene, Pymoor Lane, Pymoor
Front and side single storey extensions plus two storey rear extension.

Little Downham
51 Cannon Street, Little Downham CB6 2SS
Demolition of existing dwelling and construction of two four-bedroom two-storey detached dwellings, four three-bedroom one-and-a-half storey detached dwellings, and one three-bedroom two-storey detached dwelling.

Little Downham
Land adjacent to  21 Cannon Street, Little Downham
Three four-bed dwellings (Plots 1-3).

Little Downham
Barn at Head Fen Farm, Head Fen Drove, Pymoor
Change of use from agricultural storage to dwelling house.

Little Downham
Works adjacent to 7 Cannon Street, Little Downham
Construction of eleven four-bedroom, nine three-bedroom, seven two-bedroom dwellings and associated works.

Hill Farm, Sutton Road, Mepal CB6 2AG
Cattle shed. Existing building already being used for this purpose.

34 Chestnut Way, Mepal CB6 2YR
Single storey rear extension.

The Three Pickerels, 19 Bridge Road, Mepal
Proposed extensions, loft conversions and alterations.

36 St Andrews Close, Sutton CB6 2QX
Single storey rear extension.

10 Oates Lane, Sutton CB6 2RG
Construction of a replacement dwelling, with associated landscaping and parking.

1A High Street, Sutton CB6 2RB
Change of use from office to two two-bed dwellings.

Kings of Witcham Ltd, The Slade, Witcham
Demolition of existing motor vehicle garage and construction of six four-bed dwellings, two three-bed dwellings, garaging, access road and associated works.

Land north of 22 Marroway Lane, Witchford
Outline planning permission for demolition of existing dilapidated farm buildings and erection of up to 55 residential dwellings (including 30% affordable housing), introduction of structural planting and landscaping, informal public open space, surface water attenuation and associated ancillary works. All matters to be reserved.

Land east of Needhams Farm, Main Street, Witchford
Outline application for residential development.

33 Victoria Green, Witchford CB6 2XB
Change of use from detached garage to small two-person salon.

6 Barton Close, Witchford CB6 2HS
Proposed two-storey rear extension and conservatory.

Further information can be found on the district council’s planning pages.If you would like to respond formally to the council about any planning application, comments should be addressed to the district council and not to me.  Comments may be made

      • online using the council’s public access webpage (the link above);
      • by email to plservices@eastcambs.gov.uk;
      • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.

Proposed parking changes in Ely

East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Commercial Services Committee meets next Wednesday (17 May) at 5:30pm.  The agenda includes proposals for a new off-street parking places order for the following purposes.

  1. Update the car parking map for Barton Road to show the changes to market trader parking arrangements and the removal of all but one of the coach spaces.
  2. Include the new car park at The Dock (near Angel Drove car park and the railway station).
  3. Include cashless parking as an alternative payment method at Angel Drove and The Dock.
  4. Increase the Fixed Penalty Notice to £70, as agreed in the council budget in February.
  5. Extend the waiting time at the public car park at the Council Offices during office hours; it’s currently 30 minutes and will now be an hour.

All of these proposals will require a 21 day public consultation period, after which the proposals will come back to the committee for final approval.

The actual draft order is here.

Progressive alliances

(Warning: long posting with lots of graphs!)

Much time was expended on social media in the recent County Council election in East Cambridgeshire debating (if that’s the right word) the merits or otherwise of a ‘progressive alliance’ of non-Conservative and non-UKIP parties.  The idea was that the various parties should stand down in each other’s favour and unify around a single candidate in each seat, thus ensuring the defeat of the Conservatives.

There is much that could be (and has been) said about the principle behind this argument.  Labour supporters have said there is nothing ‘progressive’ about a Liberal Democrat party that formed a government with the Conservatives in 2010-2015.  Liberal Democrats have retorted there is nothing ‘progressive’ about a Labour party that has backed Conservative plans for a ‘hard Brexit’.  It can be argued that the political climate in the UK has moved on since last year’s EU referendum, with the traditional left-right model increasingly fractured, and newer interests beginning to coalesce (Labour’s Kate Hoey in that boat with Nigel Farage being just one memorable example).

This posting does not intend to rehash these arguments or consider whether they are right or wrong, but rather to examine Thursday’s actual results in East Cambridgeshire to see whether, in practical terms, a ‘progressive alliance’ approach would actually work in practice.  For this purpose, it takes at face value the notion that Liberal Democrat, Labour, and Green parties are ‘progressive’ with a shared set of core values; that they would be able to unite and marshal all their respective voters behind candidates of another party; and that denying voters the chance to vote for a candidate of their choice in the cause of the ‘greater good’ is a good thing.  (Those are pretty big assumptions, which I do not necessarily accept, and merely take on board for the purpose of what follows).

In order for a ‘progressive alliance’ to succeed in a particular seat, this posting assumes two basic criteria:

  1. That the aggregated votes of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green candidates total more than the votes of the Conservative candidate in that seat; and
  2. That one of those three parties can evidence a lead over the others sufficient to demonstrate that it has not only the ‘right’ or mandate, but also the credibility and supporting infrastructure to win the seat.

It is clear that in East Cambridgeshire a number of seats can be discounted on this basis, as they do not meet the criteria.

(Note: all bars drawn to scale).

In Littleport and Soham North & Isleham, neither criterion is met.  The winning Conservative candidate secured comfortably more than 50 per cent of the total vote, and in each case only 25 votes separated the Liberal Democrat and Labour candidate – the two seats being a mirror image of each other in this respect, with Labour nosing ahead in one seat and Liberal Democrats in the other.

In Burwell, Soham South & Haddenham, and Woodditton, the three ‘progressive’ parties were not able to marshal sufficient votes between them to exceed the Conservative vote. One of those parties is however capable of evidencing a clear lead over the others in these seats – and in all three cases it is the Liberal Democrats.

That leaves three seats in East Cambridgeshire which meet both criteria – a total vote among the three ‘progressive’ parties that is greater than the Conservative vote, and a clear ‘front-runner’.

In Sutton division, the sitting Liberal Democrat councillor (raises hand) was returned with a slender majority of 88 over the Conservative challenger.  In this seat, the ‘progressive alliance’ had encouraged people to vote Labour, risking handing an additional seat to the Conservatives.  The actual result shows firstly how misguided and risky (from a ‘progressive’ viewpoint) this strategy was, but secondly that voters were wiser than those advising them, and refused to be taken in by such blandishments.  Sadly, and shockingly for democracy, this remains the only non-Conservative county council seat in East Cambridgeshire.

In Ely North and Ely South, however, enough voters (encouraged by the ‘progressive alliance’) chose the third-placed party to help the Conservatives hang on.

The unifying factor in all the above seats (apart from Littleport and Soham North & Isleham where no ‘progressive’ party could win) is that it is the Liberal Democrats who are clearly the challengers to the Conservatives.  There is literally no seat in East Cambridgeshire which Labour or the Greens could win, even if the parties standing down managed to corral every single one of their voters into the polling station to vote for a party that was not their first choice.  Labour has not won a county council seat in East Cambridgeshire since 1993 – not even in 1997, the year in which Tony Blair swept victorious into Downing Street carrying all before him.

This self-evidently means that demands for ‘horse-trading’ between the ‘progressive’ parties in East Cambridgeshire are futile, as two of the three parties have nothing to trade.  However, a unilateral decision by Labour to stand down in the Liberal Democrats’ favour in Ely North and Ely South might have made the difference.  (It could perhaps have been reciprocated somewhere else in the region).

Next month ballot-weary voters will return to the polls yet again for a General Election to elect their MP, some three years earlier than expected.  The concept of a ‘progressive alliance’ in South East Cambridgeshire for that election has been mooted.  In that context, the total number of votes cast for each party across the South East Cambridgeshire constituency* in Thursday’s local elections makes for instructive reading.

Which party clearly has the strength and the support to take on the sitting Conservative Lucy Frazer?

(*Note that South East Cambridgeshire constituency does not include Littleport or Sutton, but does include a number of seats in South Cambridgeshire district – hence the number of votes in the constituency graph is not an aggregate of the votes in the East Cambridgeshire districts).

Finally, the parallel election which took place on Thursday, for the Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, has some instructive insights to offer into the practicality of a ‘progressive alliance’ approach.  In this election voters could exercise a first, but also a second, choice – giving a glimpse of their willingness or otherwise to switch parties, even after having been able to use their first vote for their first choice of candidate.

What was noticeable during the campaign was the willingness of Labour voters to give their second vote to the Greens, or to the Conservatives, or to the independent candidate, or even to UKIP.  Green voters were happy to give their second vote to Labour, or the Conservatives, or the independent or UKIP or even the English Democrats.  Only a minority of Labour and Green voters were prepared to give their second vote to the Liberal Democrat candidate, even when – as was eventually proved at the election count on Friday – he was evidently the clear challenger to the Conservative throughout the contest.

And if the Labour and Green parties cannot ensure that their voters will give a second preference vote to the Liberal Democrats even after they have had the luxury of using their first preference vote for their preferred candidate, how can they guarantee that a ‘progressive alliance’ will deliver its stated aim of defeating the Conservatives and ensuring a more balanced and democratic county council?

No-one would be happier than I if there were a ‘quick fix’ way to mend East Cambridgeshire’s broken politics – being the leader of a group of two on the district council facing the serried ranks of 36 Conservatives at council meetings is a constant reminder of that.  Ultimately what is needed is electoral reform to introduce a proportional voting system on local councils, to better reflect the views and wishes of their residents.

In the meantime, however, misleading claims that votes for third or fourth placed parties can unseat powerful Conservative interests only serve to make the democratic deficit wider than ever.

County Council election: Thank you

Thank you very much indeed to the 1,441 residents of Sutton, Witchford, Little Downham, Mepal, Pymoor, Witcham, Coveney, Wardy Hill, Wayhead and Wentworth who gave me their support in the county council elections on Thursday.

It is an enormous privilege to serve as your county councillor, and I am grateful for the confidence you have shown in me.  I will do my best to be worthy of it, and to represent residents of our villages to the best of my ability, whether you voted for me or not.

The new County Council will have a different dynamic for the next four years, with a majority Conservative group made possible by the complete collapse of UKIP.  While the ruling Conservative group may have 60 per cent of the seats on the County Council, it received only 40 per cent of votes cast.

The Liberal Democrat group is now the main opposition on the County Council.  Our role will be to provide challenge, scrutiny and a positive alternative vision for Cambridgeshire, and to be a constant reminder to the ruling Conservative group that its majority in the council chamber represents a minority of public opinion across our county.


Recent planning applications

The following local applications have been published recently by East Cambridgeshire District Council:

26 Main Street, Coveney CB6 2DJ
Outline application for residential development with all matters reserved except access, layout.

Loledor, 2 Hale Fen Lane, Wardy Hill CB6 2DS
Erection of 4 bedroom house and garage.

Little Downham
82 Ely Road, Little Downham CB6 2SN
New three bedroom ‘chalet’ bungalow with integral garage.

Little Downham
Land adjacent Lane Farm, Pymoor Lane, Pymoor
2no four bedroom dwellings both with double garage and drive way.

Little Downham
Piggery Barn, Tower Road, Little Downham
Proposed change of use from agricultural building to dwelling.

Little Downham
Alpaca Lifestyle Farm, First Drove, Little Downham
Erection of an agricultural dwelling.

Hill Farm, Sutton Road, Mepal CB6 2AG
Cattle shed on site of existing agricultural buildings.

26 Laurel Close, Mepal CB6 2BN
First floor rear extension onto existing ground floor extension and loft conversion to the whole roof space.

Broadmead Kennels, Witcham Road, Mepal
Change of use from kennels with house to dwelling with no kennels.

5 The America, Sutton CB6 2NY
Demolition of bungalow and development of 1No. detached four-bedroom dwelling for open market in its place and additional 2No. detached bungalows.

36 The Row, Sutton CB6 2PD
Two storey rear extension.

Land adjacent to 2 Main Street, Wentworth
Proposed dwelling, double garage, access and  turning along with all associated site works.

11 Manor Close, Witchford CB6 2JB
3 bed dwelling.

Land adjacent 204 Main Street, Witchford CB6 2HT
Proposed erection of 5 dwellings with associated parking and garages including the demolition of 204 Main Street.

5 Briars End, Witchford CB6 2GB
Erection of a 1.8m high boundary fence along the west edge of the property, parallel to the driveway.

9 Victoria Green, Witchford CB6 2XB
Hardstanding for storage of caravan – retrospective.

Further information can be found on the district council’s planning pages.If you would like to respond formally to the council about any planning application, comments should be addressed to the district council and not to me.  Comments may be made

      • online using the council’s public access webpage (the link above);
      • by email to plservices@eastcambs.gov.uk;
      • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.