Highways & Transport Committee

Road safety, verges, roundabout costs, borrowing for the A14, and rising traffic

Some pretty straightforward decisions at Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways & Transport Committee today – and some lively discussions too.

Straightforward were the decisions to award a contract for management of the construction contract for the King’s Dyke crossing; and the revised funding agreement and compulsory purchase order arrangements for the Wisbech Access Strategy.

Road safety strategy

A new road safety strategy was then proposed, to replace the one which came to an end this year. Obviously you can’t vote against road safety – who would? – but although I voted for the principles, I expressed my concerns about the new strategy itself and abstained on it.

  • The previous strategy undertook to cut the numbers of people killed and seriously injured on Cambridgeshire’s roads by 40 per cent. It missed that target quite significantly. That’s not to cast blame, but to face facts. I would have welcomed a strategy that squared up to that, explored openly why the previous strategy hadn’t succeeded, and explained what had changed that would result in success this time.
  • Residents and parish councils in my own area between Ely and Chatteris regularly ask the County Council for action to improve road safety at the junctions along the A142 – and are always told it’s not possible. Increasingly the County Council is expecting parish councils to take responsibility (and raise money!) for road safety works, whereas in reality parish council powers to influence significant road safety issues are somewhat limited.
  • A strategy relies on funding for its implementation. It’s now a couple of years since the report on the outcome of the road safety study of the A142 between Ely and Chatteris. It recommended a package of measures costing over £5M. A few of these have been carried out, and a few more to follow, and I know council officers are valiantly trying to pull together what money they can for the rest. But all this requires the political will to fund it.

Verge management

An item proposing a new strategy for managing roadside verges was unexpectedly withdrawn, after a resident submitted a comment pointing out that although it claimed to align with best practice recommended by national charity Plantlife, it didn’t actually appear to do so. Oops.

Cambridge roundabout

My colleague Cllr Amanda Taylor finally managed to get this report on the Fendon Road roundabout in Cambridge to the committee, after pressing for it for months in view of the escalating costs. The proposal to reallocate money from elsewhere in the programme to complete the roundabout was agreed. My colleague Cllr Ian Manning proposed that the committee receive a report to a future meeting on the work officers are doing to achieve better cost and time estimates for projects in future, but this was defeated.

A14 borrowing

The committee received a financial update, including the note that the council would have to borrow to pay the money it had agreed to contribute to the works to the A14. When times were good, the council offered to pay £25M towards these works, using £1M a year from the grant it received for highway improvements. At the time, that grant from Government was around £10M a year. Now, however, it’s been slashed to around £3M a year, so the council is having to borrow to pay this promise, rather than see one-third of its grant vanish – not a very good position to be in.

Traffic floods back

Finally, the committee received a report on the impact of COVID on highways and transport. I commented on the dismal news that, even with many people still furloughed, and many services and amenities still shut, traffic on our roads is already back at 70 per cent of what it was before COVID. This is very worrying news for those who had hoped to retain at least some of the benefits of better air quality, quieter streets, and an improved natural environment. The public agencies really need to redouble their efforts to promote active travel, and to make public transport safe and attractive.

Covid-19 in Cambridgeshire: figures to 29 June 2020

A few headline numbers taken from figures produced by Cambridgeshire County Council’s Public Health intelligence team.

  • Just one new ‘Pillar 1’ positive COVID-19 test in Cambridgeshire last week (in Fenland) – though as we know this doesn’t include a lot of community-based ‘Pillar 2’ testing. Rates are significantly lower than the national rate.
  • 51.9 per cent of Cambridgeshire care homes have reported a COVID-19 outbreak – higher than the average for the East of England. The proportion is much lower in East Cambridgeshire, at 33.3 per cent.
  • Trends in COVID-19 deaths since the peak are declining across all areas in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
  • The number of ‘all cause’ deaths (12) in East Cambridgeshire in Week 25 (week ending 19 June) is similar to the 2014-18 average. A quarter of these were in care homes. In this and the previous week there were no COVID-related deaths in East Cambridgeshire.
  • In total there have been 50 COVID-related deaths in East Cambridgeshire between 27 March and 19 June.

Recent planning applications

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The following planning applications in the Sutton division have been published by East Cambridgeshire District Council.

26 Main Street Coveney CB6 2DJ
Demolition of the existing pair of semi-detached cottages, associated farm and outbuildings, and the erection of five dwellings.

Little Downham
California House California Little Downham
Proposed construction of a detached family dwelling and associated works, in conjunction with previously approved application 19/01512/OUT.

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 web page (the link above);
  • by email to plservices@eastcambs.gov.uk;
  • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.

Better COVID data on the way at last

Very pleased indeed to hear today that Public Health England is finally changing the way it presents COVID-19 data, to include Pillar 2 (community and home testing) as well as Pillar 1 (laboratory testing) results.

Since the start of testing, 1277 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Cambridgeshire through Pillar 1 testing, and 901 through Pillar 2.

This is very different to the situation widely reported in Leicester, where Pillar 2 tests identified nine times as many cases as Pillar 1.

Whatever the Government is telling us we can now do, we really do still need to do whatever we can to reduce the chance of spreading the virus and continue to observe social distancing and hand hygiene.

I certainly won’t be going to the pub, or for a haircut, for quite a long time yet.

Meanwhile, anyone with COVID symptoms should book a test on the www.NHS/coronavirus website (or call 119 if they don’t have access to the internet). 

Council play areas to reopen on Saturday

Bear, Teddy, Teddy Bear, Toys, Plush, Children Toys

East Cambridgeshire District Council will be re-opening its outdoor play areas on Saturday 4 July.

East Cambridgeshire District Council maintains 19 play areas throughout the district and provides a range of facilities for a variety of ages from toddlers, to juniors and youths. A list of the play areas to be reopened is below.

Further to a conversation with Mark Inskip as Chair of Sutton Parish Council I have asked district council officers for details of their risk assessments, as a number of parish councils have reservations about how they can safely open their play areas and ensure national guidance is met.

Safety guidance

  • Do not use the play equipment if you are showing any symptoms of COVID-19
  • Sanitise hands before and after use (where washing facilities are not available please use hand sanitiser gel)
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Facemasks are recommended where possible
  • Children should be supervised to maintain good hygiene and social distancing
  • If social distancing cannot be maintained, please wait until the equipment is free
  • Please do not consume food or drink while using the play equipment

Council play areas

  • Beresford Road, Ely
  • Brooke Grove, Ely
  • Collier Close, Ely
  • Goldsmith Court, Ely
  • Jubilee Gardens, Ely
  • Kingsley Walk, Ely
  • Morley Drive Toddler Play Area, Ely
  • Murfitt Close, Ely
  • Pocket Park, Ely
  • Tennyson Place, Ely
  • Fisher Bank, Littleport
  • Sandys Crescent, Littleport
  • Meadow Way, Mepal
  • Bittern Grove, Soham
  • Downfields, Soham
  • Kingfisher Drive, Soham
  • Lapwing Way, Soham
  • Teal Avenue, Soham
  • Victoria Green, Witchford

Other play areas within the district not listed above could be the responsibility of the parish council or another organisation.

For more information about play areas in East Cambridgeshire visit https://www.eastcambs.gov.uk/community/east-cambridgeshire-play-areas

A rant about Openreach

I very rarely get cross. Even when the bureaucracy is being particularly intractable, or opposing politicians particularly objectionable, I can usually rustle up a smile or at worst a resigned shrug.

But there is an exception – and it’s Openreach.

Ten days ago I spent forty minutes on the phone to Beverley at Openreach HQ, most of them on hold. It was the third number for Openreach I’d tried, having plumbed the depths of Google to find it, and I’d gamed the system by selecting options that sounded severe and urgent enough to warrant human attention.

A number of notices had sprung up in Witchford, I’d explained, advising that communications poles were going to be installed by Openreach. The notices advised that this fact was going to be communicated to ‘Ely Council Planning Department’, and that anyone who had a problem with that could write to a postal address in Liverpool.

The correct planning authority, East Cambridgeshire District Council, had not in fact been notified, as is Openreach’s obligation in law. Nor was Openreach responding to East Cambridgeshire District Council’s enquiries on the matter. Indeed, Openreach had reportedly been telling residents with concerns about the installations that it was the duty of their parish council to consult the public on the proposals. This would have been a little difficult, firstly because the parish council had not been notified about the installations either, and secondly because it has no responsibility for telecommunications infrastructure.

The forty minutes on hold proved fruitless, as Beverley could find no-one with the remotest inkling what might be going on in Witchford. Beverley was very sorry, but the only way to address the matter, at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, was indeed to write a letter, put a stamp on it, find a postbox, and send it on its way to an address in Liverpool off the road to Bootle. I suspect company procedure hasn’t changed much since the days of writing to say that the post-chaise had been held up by highwaymen.

And it was even worse, explained Beverley, because at the moment due to COVID-19 all the post was having to be gathered up, opened, scanned, and then sent to someone’s home to be answered.

There was, however, thought Beverley, a ray of hope. It may be that the poles were something to do with their Community Fibre team, who were so far sighted and visionary that they had gone out on a limb and procured themselves an email address. It was unlikely, I thought, but worth a punt, so an email message was fired off in their general direction ten days ago.

Today, the email was opened, and the inevitable reply came back. No, it’s nothing to do with us, but if you want to you can put all your concerns on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, stick the appropriate stamp on it, find a postbox, and send it with thoughts and prayers to the sixth floor of the building off the Bootle road.

Frankly, it is outrageous that a company the size of Openreach, which is responsible for such a significant part of the nation’s vital infrastructure, should be so completely dismissive of the public as to refuse to allow people reasonable means of communication; and that it should be so dismissive of the local authorities whom it is supposed to inform of proposed installations that it doesn’t inform them, fails to answer planning officers’ communications, dumps the resulting community unrest on the public authorities, and simply regards itself as above any form of engagement with anyone except presumably its shareholders.

In the days when I thought I might be quite interested in being a Member of Parliament, I used to wonder if elected what my first entry would be in the ballot for introducing new laws through Private Members’ Bills. That ship has sailed, but I am in no doubt now what my Private Members’ Bill would be. It would make it absolutely illegal, on pain of eye-watering fines followed by public ritual disembowelment for the Chairman and the Chief Finance Officer, for any company responsible for the provision of any aspect of the nation’s infrastructure to hide away from the public behind a postal address, and fail to provide a working telephone number and customer email address and sufficient staff to answer both of them promptly.

Looking at you, Openreach.

Recent planning applications

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The following planning applications in the Sutton division have been published by East Cambridgeshire District Council.

Little Downham
Land adjacent Mount Pleasant Farm 66 Main Street Pymoor CB6 2DY
Outline application for four marketable residential properties (resubmission of 16/00133/OUT).

Little Downham
5 Third Drove Little Downham CB6 2UE
Construction of replacement dwelling and garage.

Little Downham
Poplar Farm 2 Fourth Drove Little Downham
Construction of a new cattle building.

21 Stirling Way Sutton CB6 2QY
Proposed combined single and double storey rear extension.

Additionally, though not in the Sutton division, residents may be interested to note the application 20/00730/FUM by the district council’s Trading Company, for 13 dwellings and associated parking and landscaping on the site of the disused swimming pool in Newnham Street Ely CB7 4PQ.

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 web page (the link above);
  • by email to plservices@eastcambs.gov.uk;
  • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.

COVID ‘shielding’ to pause from 1 August

The Government has said that people currently shielding will no longer need to shield after Friday 31 July.

Points to remember:

  • Food parcels and prescription collections for ‘shielded’ residents will continue until Friday 31 July.
  • People who are shielding can register for priority shopping at the major supermarkets until 17 July.
  • NHS volunteers will continue to support the shielded group.
  • Up to date information about the Government’s statements on COVID-19 is available at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

The shielding programme may resume in future if circumstances change.

Edit (29 June): Cllr Mark Inskip has pointed out that everyone on the shielding list should have received a new letter from the Government last week on the changing arrangements of 6 July and then 1 August.

Small business grant applications close on Tuesday

If you’re a small business in East Cambridgeshire with ongoing fixed property-related costs and weren’t eligible for Small Business Grants Fund or Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants Fund, applications for Discretionary Grants close on Tuesday (3 July).

Priority will be given to

  • Small businesses in shared offices or other flexible work spaces which do not have their own business rates assessment. Examples could include units in industrial parks, science parks and incubators.
  • Regular market traders with fixed building costs, such as rent, who do not have their own business rates assessment.
  • Bed & Breakfasts which pay Council Tax instead of business rates.
  • Charity properties in receipt of charitable business rates relief which would otherwise have been eligible for Small Business Rates Relief or Rural Rate Relief.

In order for your business to qualify for the grant, you must provide evidence that you meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • Businesses with relatively high ongoing fixed property related costs
  • Businesses which occupy property, or part of a property, with a rateable value or annual rent or annual mortgage payments below £51,000
  • Businesses which can demonstrate that they have suffered a significant fall in income due to the COVID-19 crisis
  • Business with fewer than 50 employees
  • Businesses that were trading on or before 11 March 2020.

More information about the grant and how to apply is available at https://www.eastcambs.gov.uk/business/local-authority-small-business-discretionary-grant