Highways Committee

Substituting for an absent colleague this morning at a meeting of the county council’s Highways & Infrastructure Committee.

I raise a question about movable speed limit signs: the council has moved towards bulk purchasing of these to reduce the cost for parish councils which apply for them. However, at the recent panel I attended to discuss parish councils’ highways applications, it was very clear that there was a huge variation in the price and specification of the mobile speed signs being applied for. It has to be one or the other – either a rather Soviet-style ‘one size fits all’ approach with the benefits of reduced cost, or flexibility to meet parishes’ individual needs in which case bulk purchasing won’t help. More work to be done on this, I think.

Then there’s a petition about making it easier to close streets temporarily for children to play out, which I speak in support of. Currently there’s a huge bureaucratic barrier to communities in Cambridgeshire seeking to close their streets for play, which might explain where there are no Playing Out streets in the county. We all agree there’s something here to be further investigated.

Next we have four questions. The first is asking for motorcycles to be allowed to use bus lanes: my colleague Cllr Ian Manning wants to know more about whether this would encourage people out of their cars and on to motorcycles (the only scenario in which this would be better for the environment), and also what the comparative carbon emissions would be.

The second and third questions are about the barriers recently installed by a private company on the guided busway pathway near the biomedical campus. Cllr Manning suggests we need a comprehensive statement from council officers on the county council’s responsibility and position, so that there is some consistency of approach. There’s also a suggestion that consultation processes need to be reviewed; and about whether a wider safety review is needed.

The fourth question is about progress on introducing coach parking permits along The Backs in Cambridge. The questioner mentions seeing thirty-two coaches arriving to park in an already fully parked-up area – and also the climate impact.

We then receive a financial update for the directorate of which Highways is a part. There’s an underspend projected of £2.7M for this year, mostly due to greater than expected income for bus lane and parking enforcement, and a reduction in landfill tax due to breakdowns at the Waterbeach waste plant. Various questions follow on issues such as concessionary fares and delays to works. I ask a number of questions:

  1. What is happening about the £463K increase in the costs of winter gritting under the new contract with Skanska, and how can this be addressed? (Officers advise that there is an audit currently in progress of the last two years of the contract).
  2. One of my parishes has suggested that the new e-permit scheme for large vans and trailers at the recycling centres may be leading to an increase in fly-tipping – how does the county council liaise about this with district councils who pick up the bill for clearing fly-tipping? (I’m advised that there is ongoing dialogue, but nothing yet to suggest that this is an issue).
  3. The report on tree removal and tree planting shows 110 trees removed and 159 planted in the last three years. I’m told these numbers relate only to trees planted on the highway. I ask whether it’s possible to get numbers for trees planted by the county council across Cambridgeshire in total, as tree planting is a significant part of the action we’re committed to in addressing climate change and carbon emissions.

The highways risk register passes with minimal comment.

Next there’s a report on residents’ parking permits in Cambridge. The recommendation is to leave the fees for residents’ and visitors’ permits unchanged, but to reduce the number of permits available to tradespeople from two to one. The reason for the proposal is that although only one of the two permits should be in use at any one time, in some cases this is being breached. Cllr Manning says that reducing the number of permits for all tradespeople because a few break the rules is unfair, and proposes instead that in cases where a tradeperson is using both permits at once, both should be ruled invalid. It’s agreed that this clearly needs more work, and that proposals for the tradespeople’s permit should be brought back to the committee in a few months’ time.

We receive the plan for future meetings. I’m advised that comments on the process for applications by parish councils for local highways schemes will be on the agenda for a future meeting. Then suddenly a lively discussion breaks out about the controversial new anti-terrorism barriers outside King’s College Cambridge. Meeting over at 12:45PM.

Courier fraud

Another update from the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Against Scams Partnership. This time it’s about courier fraud, also known as impersonation fraud.

Courier fraud is when criminals cold call a victim, typically claiming to be a police officer or bank official. Offences are often committed by organised crime groups who target the elderly and vulnerable.

Fraudsters may claim there is an issue with the victim’s bank account or request their assistance with an ongoing bank or police investigation – the ultimate aim of the call being to lure them into handing over money or their bank details. The fraudsters may tell the victim to withdraw large sums of cash, purchase an expensive item, or provide their bank cards or details. In all cases, a ‘courier’ will then come and pick up the cash or items, on behalf of the police or bank. You’ll never see them, or your cash, again!

See this excellent YouTube video produced by the Metropolitan Police which shows how courier fraud and other impersonation frauds work.

There is also a recent article in the BBC News which gives a victim account of the devastation caused by courier fraud.

Instances of courier fraud across the country are on the rise and affecting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

There were 233 reports of courier fraud in the East of England in 2019 (up until 24 December) with total losses of more than £620,000.


  1. Your bank or the police will never call you to ask you to verify your personal details or PIN by phone or offer to pick up your card by courier. They will never ask for your bank account details or PIN over the phone, or ask you to send them your bank cards or any other personal property. Hang up if you get a call like this.
  2. If you need to call your bank back to check, wait five minutes as fraudsters may stay on the line after you hang up. Alternatively, use a different line altogether to call your bank.
  3. Your debit or credit card is yours – don’t let a stranger take it off you. You should only ever have to hand it over at your bank. If it’s cancelled, you should destroy it yourself.
  4. If you are suspicious about a telephone conversation you should end the call and contact police via the non-emergency number, 101. Ideally use a mobile phone or a friend’s phone or wait at least five minutes before calling to ensure you aren’t reconnected to the offender.
  5. To report an incident in action or if you are in immediate danger always call 999.

Beating Blue Monday

Mind, Railway, Platform, Brain, Thought, Mental, Health

Today (20 January) is Blue Monday. It’s believed by psychologists to be the most depressing day of the year, as competing pressures, general causes of stress, debt, cold weather and coming back from the Christmas break all pile up. This can lead to it being a time of heightened anxiety for many and a period when people most require coping techniques.

The Liberal Democrats have a strong history of campaigning on mental health. We’ve put together these top 10 tips on how to ‘Beat Blue Monday’.

1. Try something new: Trying something new and stimulating your brain is a great way to stop dwelling on the old.

2. Get physical: This can be done easily by something as simple as a shoulder shake at work, or walking that extra bit further for lunch, or even a full work out in the gym. Getting physical is a great to change the way you feel and release some endorphins.

3. Contact a friend or relative: Get in touch with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. This can take your mind off your worries.

4. Take a break: Head somewhere different for your morning coffee or even treat yourself to a trip away. Changing your physical location can change your perspective on the world.

5. Be nice to a stranger: Do something good for someone else, as a random act of kindness. This is one of the best forms of self-satisfaction.

6. Help the planet: Help the planet by being green – for example cycling rather than driving.

7. Pamper yourself: Treat yourself to a small indulgence or something you’ve been promising yourself for a long time.

8. Plan something new: Give yourself something to look forward to. It can be something as little as a plan at the weekend, or something much bigger like a holiday for later in the year. Looking forward to something can be refreshing and uplifting.

9. Share your thoughts: A problem shared is a problem halved so don’t be afraid to speak to others.

10. Speak to the Samaritans: The Samaritans are always reachable and there to help. Visit them at www.samaritans.org

Liberal Democrats have fought to reduce the historic inequality between the way physical and mental health are treated in the NHS and are proud of the strides forward we made. But we know there is still so much more we can do. Find out more about our plans for the future of mental health at https://www.libdems.org.uk/plan

Lib Dem leadership: the timetable is set

The Liberal Democrats have today agreed the timetable to elect the next leader of the party.

Nominations will open on Monday 11 May and close on Thursday 28 May. The ballot (of all members – we’re a democratic party) will then open on Thursday 18 June and close on Wednesday 15 July, after which the party will announce the next leader.

The candidates will by definition be fished from a limited pool. They must be Members of Parliament and must be proposed by at least 10 per cent of other members of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons (that would be a threshold of two out of the current eleven).

Some have already ruled themselves out, or like Tim Farron will not stand again. Three of the eleven are brand new, elected to Parliament for the first time only last month.

Ed Davey, defeated in the last contest by Jo Swinson, is currently acting in the leadership role, and will no doubt throw his hat in the ring again. I voted for him last time, largely because I felt that Jo would face exactly the problems she did indeed face – defending her own marginal seat miles from Westminster, and trying to do so by running effectively a Scottish campaign across the whole of the UK.

(Note 1: that clearly wasn’t the only problem Jo and the party faced last month. The party needs its internal debrief to be firmly honest about the many shortcomings of the Lib Dem General Election campaign last month.)

(Note 2: for what it’s worth as a resident of England, though not born in England, one of the things I never understood about the campaign was why it was absolutely essential to hold a second referendum on membership of the EU while simultaneously absolutely unthinkable to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence. In the changed circumstances we now face, with the assurances about Scotland’s future as part of the UK in the EU given at the last ‘Indyref’ now lying in tatters, it seems to me entirely reasonable to ask the Scots whether they wish to think again, and I have a feeling that ultimately if we’re not careful the Liberal Democrats may find ourselves on the wrong side of history on this one.)

A number of challengers to Ed have been mentioned, all female: three from the ‘class of 2017’ – Layla Moran (Oxford West & Abingdon) most prominently, but also Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) and Wera Hobhouse (Bath) – and newcomer Daisy Cooper (St Albans) elected to Parliament only last month.

The leadership campaign therefore is likely to look like Ed v The Rest on two counts. Gender obviously, but also the choice between someone who was a significant minister in the coalition government of 2010-2015, or a new leader who was not even a member of parliament during those years.

It’s clear that the Johnson government is here for the long haul, and that there is no hope of another party running the country for at least another ten years (my guess is more like fifteen or twenty). Is my previous choice the candidate for that long haul? Or would the party be better placed with a post-coalition leader unencumbered by the past and looking to that long-term future?

At the moment, depending whose names end up on the ballot paper, Ed will need to persuade me not to vote for the connoisseur’s choice, Daisy Cooper. But there will be lots for party members to hear from all the hopefuls in the coming months.

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Against Scams

I’ve just joined up as a supporter of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Against Scams Partnership (CAPASP). Increasing numbers of parish councils and other organisations are doing the same.

Every so often I’ll be posting up the latest information about scams and how to avoid them.

Your digital footprint

https://getsafeonline.org/yourdigitalfootprint/ is an article on the Get Safe Online website all about your ‘digital footprint’ and why you should take care online.

For more information about scams

  1. Follow the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Against Scams Partnership (CAPASP) on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/CAPASP19/ or Twitter @CambsPboroAgainstScams
  2. Visit the CAPASP website www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/against-scams  

Histon Road Cambridge closures ahead

One of the main routes from the A14 into Cambridge will be seriously disrupted over the next fifteen months for major works to be undertaken.

Histon Road will be closed inbound from May, from a point south of Kings Hedges Road to allow vehicles to turn from the A14 into Kings Hedges Road and vice versa.

Details of the closure arrangements can be found here.

Meanwhile, if you want to be kept up to date with the scheme:

  1. You can sign up to receive regular email updates from the contractor Skanska – register at www.greatercambridge.org.uk/subscribe, selecting Histon Road in the Projects section.
  2. You can view the project web pages at www.greatercambridge.org.uk/histon-road
  3. You can visit the public drop-in points which Skanska will announce nearer the time.
  4. You can contact Skanska’s project team on histonroad.contact@skanska.co.uk or telephone their 24 hour contact centre on 0330 105 1980.

Lancaster Way roundabout objection

I’ve written to East Cambridgeshire district council’s planning department as the county councillor for Witchford to support Witchford Parish Council’s objection to planning application 19/01704/FUL for the changes to the roundabout at Lancaster Way. The roundabout is not in my county division, but Witchford is—a great many Witchford residents use it, and the proposed changes will affect them.

The proposed scheme has been drawn up with only motor vehicles in mind, and with no serious consideration for pedestrians and cyclists whose use of the roundabout it will make more dangerous by reducing verge space for active travel, and increasing the number of lanes walkers and cyclists will have to cross.

Skanska’s assessment of the scheme is poor: it gives scant space to assessing the needs of pedestrians and cyclists, and even then only considers pedestrian and cyclist flows west-east to Ely and the railway station. There’s no reference to crossing the A142 north-south in any kind of safety at or near the roundabout. And it doesn’t mention equestrians at all—there are a large number of horses south of the A142 near the roundabout.

The proposed scheme breaches the emerging Combined Authority Local Transport Plan, and in particular its user hierarchy. S2.17 (P68 of the draft Plan) says: “This Local Transport Plan privileges the ‘active modes’ over other forms of transport, as we believe that their benefits align closely with our three goals of Economy, Equity and Environment”. There is no evidence that the proposal for the roundabout aligns with this strategy or ‘privileges’ active travel in any way at all.

The proposed scheme also breaches the district council’s Local Plan policy COM7 which states (P104) that “Development should be designed to reduce the need to travel, particularly by car, and should promote sustainable forms of transport appropriate to its particular location. Opportunities should be maximised for increased permeability and connectivity to existing networks.” This application will promote car travel to the detriment of sustainable alternatives, and reduce still further any remaining connectivity north-south across the A142.

Both East Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council have declared a climate emergency, and this application does nothing to address climate concerns—indeed it promotes the interests of motorised transport and makes sustainable active travel less safe.

Congestion on the A142 at Lancaster Way is a daily occurrence, particularly at peak times, and of course this needs to be addressed. However, the specific proposal on offer fails to consider the needs and safety of pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians. The application as it stands should be refused and the applicant asked to return with a scheme which takes these concerns seriously.

Mepal Road Phase 2: a planning application arrives

A planning application has arrived from Linden Homes for Phase 2 of the large development at the top of Mepal Road in Sutton.

The application is described as ‘Outline planning application for the demolition of existing buildings and erection of up to 173 dwellings and provision of land for community facilities (sports pitches and burial ground), including access (not internal roads), open space, sustainable urban drainage systems and associated landscaping. All matters reserved apart from access.’

The application site is shown in red on the plan above. The site in blue is Phase 1 – the 77 houses currently being built.

Further information about the application can be found here, and the deadline for public comments is Tuesday 4 February.

If you would like to respond formally to the council about this or any other planning application, comments should be addressed to the district council and not to me.  Comments may be made

Note: Linden Homes originally wanted 427 homes in total at the top of Mepal Road – the first 77, plus a further 350 in Phase 2. They pressed strongly for this when the district council was developing its (now abandoned) Local Plan.

However, Sutton’s Neighbourhood Plan was voted through by local people in a referendum in May 2019. This plan allocates the whole site for ‘approximately 250 homes’. That is why the latest application is for 173 homes (77 + 173 = 250). This is much lower than the number Linden Homes originally wanted, and a real demonstration of the importance of Sutton’s Neighbourhood Plan in making sure the views of local people count!

Reducing emissions from transport in Cambridgeshire

Cambridge University Science and Policy Exchange (CUSPE) continued its valuable work with the county council recently, with a seminar specifically on reducing emissions from transport in Cambridgeshire. This follows on from their earlier report on our ‘carbon footprint’ – the amount of carbon our activities release into the atmosphere.

The report which forms the basis of this seminar has already been presented to the Greater Cambridge Partnership, which is working on transport issues in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire. It’s about how to reduce congestion, CO2 and air pollutant emissions in Cambridgeshire.

Transport contributes 39 per cent of the emissions in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area, and this has not significantly reduced in the last ten years. Cambridgeshire has growing levels of congestion, and areas with air pollution over the legal limit. But there is a lack of quantitative research into the future of transport emissions in the county.

The latest project aims to estimate transport baseline emissions to 2050, focusing on road transport, reviewing policy in other cities and its success or failure, and estimating the effects of local policy interventions on passenger transport emissions.

In 2019, transport in Cambridgeshire will produce 1.6M tonnes of CO2. The faster traffic can be moved away from cars and on to more sustainable forms of transport, the greater the impact in reducing this.

The researchers looked at the effects of charging zones and strategic closures, modal shift, behaviour change, technological improvements and promotion of electric vehicle uptake, in cities including London, Durham Nottingham, Stockholm, Madrid and Milan. Nottingham has already met its 2020 target of 26 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions, using biogas-fuelled buses and increasing cycling by 43 per cent with segregated cycle lanes.

The researchers recommend that by 2030, 60 per cent of travel should be sustainable, and 60 per cent of new car sales should be electric vehicles, in order to achieve a 65 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050.

Recent planning applications

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

The Brambles 7A Main Street Coveney
Replacement garage and workroom, storage/shed.

Home Farm 7 Main Street Coveney
Extension to barn to form shed/secure store.

Little Downham
Site south of Willow Farm Pymoor Common Pymoor
Outline application for three detached dwellings of two storeys with garages.

Little Downham
1A Townsend Little Downham CB6 2TA
Single storey rear extension.

Little Downham
Site north east of 8 Fourth Drove Little Downham
New four-bed dwelling – previously approved 16/01253/FUL.

22 Link Lane Sutton CB6 2NF
Proposed one three-bedroom detached dwelling.

Oneway Headleys Lane Witcham
First floor extension above existing garage.

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.