Littleport to move to Norfolk in new constituency plans

Littleport will move from North East Cambridgeshire to a new Thetford and Downham Market parliamentary constituency, if proposals from the Boundary Commission are given the green light by MPs.

Sutton and the Downham Villages will remain in North East Cambridgeshire constituency, together with Fenland.

Meanwhile South East Cambridgeshire is set to lose Fulbourn, Linton and Teversham to South Cambridgeshire constituency, and gain Earith from Huntingdonshire.

Littleport will remain in East Cambridgeshire for district and county council purposes.

This is the Boundary Commission’s final report.  It will now be laid before Parliament, and a draft Order will be made for Parliament to approve (or reject).  After the Order has been made, the next General Election will take place on the new boundaries.  Any parliamentary by-elections in the meantime will take place on existing boundaries.

Plans for part of A14 upgrade to become a motorway

18 miles of the A14 – the stretch between the M11 and the A1(M) – could be reclassified as a motorway, and renamed the A14(M), once upgrade works have been completed, Highways England have announced today.

The move would create an unbroken motorway link between London and Peterborough, and would enable the introduction of variable speed limits to reduce congestion and help traffic move more smoothly.

Highways England will be asking the Planning Inspectorate to amend the road’s status from trunk road to motorway, in time for the project opening in 2020. The Secretary of State for Transport will then make the final decision next year.

If the change goes ahead, motorway status will also be extended to a three-mile section of the A1 from Alconbury to Brampton, which will be re-named the A1(M).

  • A14 website https://highwaysengland.co.uk/a14c2h
  • Twitter @HighwaysEast and @A14C2H
  • Facebook www.facebook.com/A14C2H/

Building work at Ely Library

News from Cambridgeshire County Council:

‘Work is due to commence on a new lift at Ely Library from Saturday 8 September until Wednesday 17 October. This work is essential to improve fire safety provision and provide accessibility for all. We are committed to minimising the disruption to our customers as much as possible, the latest information is as follows:

The Library will remain open, apart from the following days, 8, 10, 11 , 17 ,18 , 24  and 25 September and 1 ,2 ,8 , 9 , 13, 15 and 16 October. There will be a mobile library parked on Ely Market on Saturday 8 September and Saturday 13 October.

The lift will be unavailable during the duration of the works, however the ‘Library at Home’ service is offering temporary home visits to customers unable to access via the stairs and will deliver books to customers’ homes. There are posters and a contact number already displayed in the library to alert customers.

The out of hours book drop on the ground floor will remain open all day while the work is carried out and a telephone number will be displayed on the ground floor that is a direct line through to the library desk on the first floor. Customers who cannot access the library and who require assisted digital help with forms such as blue badge and bus pass applications, can arrange an appointment with library staff who will assist them at Ely Job Centre.

Staff are also working with the East Cambridgeshire access group to ensure they are aware of the special arrangements that are in place throughout this period.  The service are also working closely with our room hirers and partners to discuss access during closed periods to minimise any inconvenience.’

[Many thanks to Julie Elsey for the photograph of the diary with the library closure dates]

Recent planning applications

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

18/01146/FUL
Little Downham
Site to north east of 20 Third Drove Little Downham
Resubmission for two four-bed dwellings (phased development).

18/01161/FUL
Witchford
Rear of 36 Manor Close Witchford CB6 2JB
New two-bed dwelling.

18/01136/FUL
Witcham
13A Silver Street Witcham CB6 2LF
Change of use of yard area from sheds sales, storage and parking to shed sales, car sales and parking.

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.

Recent planning applications

The following planning application in the Sutton division has been published by East Cambridgeshire District Council.

18/01040/FUM
Little Downham
Reservoir Head Fen Pymoor
New fishing lake, new access, four timber fishing lodges and one brick timber lodge.

This is a retrospective application for a development which has already taken place.

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.

Cambridge Magistrates’ Court stays open

Excellent news that Cambridge Magistrates’ Court is not to close after all.

In a written statement, Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke MP said today:

I have concluded that the proposal to close Cambridge Magistrates’ Court should be withdrawn. This proposal received the largest number of responses to the consultation and the decision to consult was a finely balanced one, not least because this is a court in a strategic centre serving a large surrounding area. There is excess court capacity in the area but, following new information regarding the likely proceeds of disposal and consideration of the cost of re-provision, I have concluded the value-for-money case for closure has not been made.

I proposed a motion to the County Council earlier this year, calling for Cambridge Magistrates’ Court to be kept open – but it was defeated when Conservative councillors failed to support it.

Image cc-by-sa/2.0 - © N Chadwick - geograph.org.uk/p/3896556

Level 3 heatwave warning issued in Cambridgeshire

With temperatures reaching 30C this week, people are being urged to take extra precautions and look out for those most vulnerable.

The Met Office has declared a Hot Weather Alert Level 3 in the East of England until 9:00AM on Friday, which means there is a high chance that an average temperature of 30C by day and 15C overnight will occur over the next two to three days.

Temperatures in Cambridgeshire are expected to be in the high 20Cs for the rest of this week and the weekend, with a 90 per cent chance of temperatures being high enough on at least two consecutive days to have significant effects on health.

Hot weather can be uncomfortable for many people, but can be dangerous for the very old, very young and those with chronic illnesses who feel the effects more acutely.

Val Thomas, Consultant in Public Health at Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “Hot weather is enjoyable for most people though for some it is uncomfortable. However, sadly experience tells us that exposure to excessive heat can have a very serious effect upon your health. It is especially harmful for those with heart and lung problems with excessive heat leading to worsening of their condition. We’re asking people to look out for those at risk from high temperatures – the elderly, ill or the very young; to make sure they are able to keep cool.”

Here are some practical tips on how to stay cool and cope with the hot weather:

  • look out for others, especially older people, young children and babies and those with underlying health conditions
  • close curtains on rooms that face the sun to keep indoor spaces cooler. But if it is cooler outside, then open your windows to let the cooler air in
  • drink plenty of water as sugary, alcoholic and caffeinated drinks can make you more dehydrated
  • never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially infants, young children or animals
  • try to keep out of the sun between 11am to 3pm
  • take care and follow local safety advice, if you are going into the water to cool down
  • walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a hat, if you have to go out in the heat
  • avoid physical exertion in the hottest parts of the day
  • wear light, loose fitting cotton clothes
  • make sure you take water with you if you are travelling

For more information, visit www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Summerhealth/Pages/Heatwave.aspx.

Care worker shortage looms

An increase of 36 per cent in Cambridgeshire’s 10,000-strong social care workforce will be needed by 2030 if it is to grow in line with the rising number of over-65s in the county, we were told at a meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Adults Committee on Thursday (19 July).

And that increase doesn’t take into account the need to replace care workers from EU countries outside Britain who currently provide care services in residents’ homes or in various adult care settings.  The report on the social care labour market points out that unemployment in Cambridgeshire is low, so most residents have other job options, and the weekly income of a care worker is less than one-third of the average weekly household income, in an area of the country with comparatively high living costs.

A survey of 15 per cent of Cambridgeshire’s social care staff in the independent sector showed that 24 per cent of them come from non-UK European Economic Area countries.  Many non-British EU citizens are already leaving the UK, and others may well find themselves with no options after March next year.  Replacing the massive contribution they make to our community, as well as meeting the growing needs of an ageing population, will be very difficult indeed.

I’ve been told that the situation in Essex and Suffolk appears to be if anything even worse, and the older population in Norfolk is growing fast.  Should we be convinced by the assurances of the committee chair that ‘the people are out there’ to fill the huge gaps looming in our adult care workforce—gaps which will suddenly be made even larger next year by Brexit?

East Cambs Full Council meeting

Yesterday I outlined the agenda for this evening’s meeting.  Here’s what I said about the two most controversial items.

Future role of the Shareholder Committee

“This reference from the Shareholder Committee consists of three recommendations:

  1. Revisions to the terms of reference of the Shareholder Committee
  2. Revisions to the Shareholder Agreements of the council’s companies
  3. A new document, variously called a modus operandi or a memorandum of understanding

The first two recommendations are related to each other, and their primary purpose is to reduce the ability of the Council to influence the activities of its two companies.

Under these proposals, the Council will no longer have any say over the ability of the directors of the companies to

  • Pay dividends
  • Engage in business activities outside their business plan
  • Increase the remuneration of employees or consultants by more than 1 per cent
  • Introduce bonus schemes, share options or profit-sharing for employees
  • Start or settle legal proceedings
  • Borrow money, provided the Council is not providing a guarantee or security
  • Create security interests over the business
  • Enter into contracts or transactions outside the normal course of the business, or
  • Make loans or grant credit.

The Shareholder Committee at least reinstated the requirement that the Council should approve any changes to, or replacement of, the companies’ business plan.  After all, as one member of the committee observed, it was ‘nonsense’ that the Council should be required to approve the companies’ business plans, but not required to approve any amendment to, or replacement of them.

The changes to the terms of reference of the Shareholder Committee double the frequency of the Board’s reports to the committee, but substantially reduce the committee’s remit.  The requirement for the committee to review the services and performance of the companies is struck out.  It will no longer receive management accounts, just summaries — though it is hard to imagine anything more summary than the financial reports the committee has received to date.

The Shareholder Committee has already been emasculated under the existing arrangements.  Its chairman cancelled two meetings of the committee during the time in which the trading company it is supposed to scrutinise was drawing up applications for over £45M in loans from the Combined Authority.

The company is required to send all agendas and supporting papers to members of the Shareholder Committee at the same time as they are issued to the Board.  I regret to inform the Council that under the existing arrangements, the company is already in breach of the Shareholder Agreement, as I have never received any such paperwork — a fact confirmed by the Chief Executive today.  Loosening the control of the Council over its companies can only make matters worse.

I used the word ‘scrutinise’, because that is the stated and sole objective of the Shareholder Committee in its terms of reference: ‘to scrutinise the East Cambridgeshire Trading Companies’.  This brings me to the so-called Memorandum of Understanding.  When this was presented to the committee, it was called a Modus operandi, a title the document still bears in its footer.  It fact, it is neither a modus operandi nor a memorandum of understanding, as it neither describes how the committee will work, nor lays out the terms of a relationship between two or more bodies.

If this document is anything it is something akin to an Oath of Allegiance to the Council and its companies.  It does not use the word ‘scrutiny’ once, despite this being the stated constitutional purpose of the committee. Instead we are supposed to be not the Board’s scrutineers, but its cheerleaders.  I utterly reject that, and I say to this Council that my duty is not to the company, not even primarily to the council, but to the residents of East Cambridgeshire who elected me — and it is my intention to carry out my constitutional duty on their behalf to scrutinise the activities of the Board in the way they run the council’s two companies.”

End of Year Council Report

“We are requested only to note this administration’s End of Year Report — not to comment, consider, approve or any other more active course of action.

But I do not feel I can let it pass without some form of challenge.

I shall forbear from addressing the various typographical errors in the document, though it is somewhat symptomatic that the very first word after the front cover should be mis-spelled — and indeed that the subtitle ‘some of our successes over the previous 12 months’ should be followed by a question mark.  I question it too.

The report talks of improving infrastructure and local transport, but refers only to roads and parking spaces.  There is no reference at all to bus transport, and if the response of the administration is that this is not something for which the district council is responsible, I would simply say — roads aren’t either.

The report talks of recycling, but not the year on year fall in recycling rates, from 56.6 per cent in 2015, to 56.4 per cent in 2016, to just 52.4 per cent in 2017.

The report talks of affordable housing, but gives no figures.  Last year just 11 affordable homes (out of 234 homes in total) were completed in East Cambridgeshire — the lowest number for at least five years.  The council’s new development at Barton Road nominally provides for two out of the 11 dwellings there to be affordable, with a third affordable property to be delivered somewhere else in the district.  I have asked where and when this third affordable home will be delivered, or even how that is to be decided, but have received no concrete answer.

It talks of Phase 1 of the North Ely development, but not the low levels of affordable housing on those sites.  It does not refer to the fact that an under-provision of about 850 affordable homes within this district was part of the inspector’s deliberations when allowing the recent appeal by Gladmans against refusal of planning permission in Fordham, nor that the ‘substantive unmet need for affordable housing which remains in East Cambridgeshire’ is part of the statement of case by Endurance Estates in their ongoing appeal against refusal of planning permission in Sutton.

The administration’s answer is not to negotiate hard with developers, but to encourage the building of many hundreds of unaffordable homes in rural areas — areas which would never have otherwise been granted planning permission — to deliver no more than the 30 per cent affordable housing it says it expects of any commercial developer building within the development envelope.

The report talks of apprenticeships, but not of the dramatic fall in apprentice starts across Cambridgeshire in the last year.  And it states that the Council itself employs over 250 staff.  This is particularly interesting because if that is true, the Council is obliged by law to report on gender pay gaps under the Government’s defined headings.  Yet the council’s own Resources & Finance Committee was recently advised that the Council would not be reporting under the legislation because it had fewer than 250 staff.  Something is not right here, and I would appreciate an explanation of whether the Council is in breach of the law, or just does not know how many people it employs.

But the report is as interesting for what it omits as for what it includes.  It does not see fit to mention the Purge on Plastics anywhere in the document — perhaps because the administration refused to draw up an action plan to achieve it.

The report does not update us on its promise to draw up plans to redevelop the council building by 2019 and to relocate offices.  Nor does it mention progress on its promise to seek to deliver a crematorium in the district by 2019.

This is not a report which inspires me with confidence in the commitment of the council to deliver on its promises.”

  •  Cllr Christine Whelan (Ely South) also commented on the report. She pointed out that the health and wellbeing section of the report appeared to blame people with chronic ill-health for being ill – and that many residents of East Cambridgeshire suffer ill health through no fault of their own. They would love to be more active, and need to be encouraged and supported, not condemned and criticised. She also observed that the community and tourism section of the report fails to mention that the markets in Ely are now run not by the Council but by the East Cambridgeshire Trading Company.  It also fails to refer to the fact that tourism in Ely has now been handed over to the City of Ely Council, but that there is no tourist service or strategy for the rest of the district.

East Cambridgeshire Full Council preview

So what’s on the agenda for tomorrow evening’s meeting of East Cambridgeshire District Council?  No petitions, motions, or questions from councillors this time.  But the deadline for questions from the public isn’t up until just before the start of the meeting at 6:00PM – so if you have a burning question you’d like to ask the district council, here’s how.

Shareholder Committee

The Treasury Operations Annual Performance Review is unlikely to cause much of a stir.  More controversial is likely to be the item on the Future Role of the Shareholder Committee with appendices Appendix B2: Shareholder Committee Terms of Reference, Appendix B3: Shareholder Agreement East Cambs Trading Company, Appendix B4: Shareholder Agreement East Cambs Street Scene, Appendix B5: Memorandum of Understanding and Appendix C: Summary of Shareholder Committee Amendments

This item will remove the council’s final say over a large number of matters which will now be decided solely by its two in-house companies. I kicked up quite a fuss about this at the recent meeting of the Shareholder Committee (the first one for months), and managed to persuade the committee to reinstate one or two of the powers they had proposed to remove, but it still leaves a lot of decisions to the company (two councillors, two officers, plus the independent chair).

The item also removes references to the original trading company being a ‘Teckal-compliant’ company, which it now will not be — but we knew that this would happen after the council messed up how it set up the company in the first place.

Finally, the council is proposing a new Memorandum of Understanding for councillors regarding the Shareholder Committee and the council’s trading companies.  I’ll have something to say about that tomorrow.

End of Year Council Report

This is the taxpayer-funded report that will be delivered to every household in the district telling us what a grand job the council is doing.  I’ll have something to say about that tomorrow too!

Statement of Community Involvement

This is an ‘update’ of the statutory statement that sets out how the council will consult on planning matters and engage with and support parish councils on the neighbourhood plans.  It is not clear what has changed between the proposed 2018 version and the current 2015 version, other than that the section on neighbourhood planning is new.  I have asked the council’s Chief Executive for a version that makes it clearer what the changes are between the current version and the updated one.

Polling Districts, Places and Stations Review and Community Governance Review

The Polling Districts, Places and Stations Review and Community Governance Review with all its appendices is the culmination of two rounds of public consultation.  It changes the various election arrangements to align with the changes to district council ward boundaries, and it reviews parish boundaries too to resolve some historical anomalies.

And finally, there’s a report asking the council to extend leave of absence for my colleague Cllr Sue Austen (Ely West) while she recovers from her recent serious ill-health.  And the council will receive reports of recent decisions by the Combined Authority.

The council has given up broadcasting Full Council meetings on YouTube, so I’m afraid you won’t be able to watch proceedings from the comfort of your own home. But the council is on Twitter (as @EastCambs) — and so am I.