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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ECDC-building-small-300x182.jpg

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

19/01158/FUL
Coveney
The Brambles 7A Main Street Coveney
Replacement garage and workroom, storage/shed.

19/01163/FUL
Coveney
Home Farm 7 Main Street Coveney
Extension to barn to form shed/secure store.

19/01534/OUT
Little Downham
Site south of Willow Farm Pymoor Common Pymoor
Outline application for three detached dwellings of two storeys with garages.

19/01130/FUL
Little Downham
1A Townsend Little Downham CB6 2TA
Single storey rear extension.

19/01088/FUL
Little Downham
Site north east of 8 Fourth Drove Little Downham
New four-bed dwelling – previously approved 16/01253/FUL.

19/01403/OUT
Sutton
22 Link Lane Sutton CB6 2NF
Proposed one three-bedroom detached dwelling.

19/01086/FUL
Witcham
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.

Health Committee

A pretty thin agenda for the county council’s Health Committee this afternoon, with only a couple of substantive items for decision.

One of those items is to give council officers delegated authority to award a contract for services for the prevention of sexual ill-health. This, like so many others these days, is a contract to be procured jointly with Peterborough City Council. My colleague (and Lib Dem lead member on this committee) Cllr Susan van de Ven makes the very good point that any such proposal should have a clear statement of the respective liabilities and protections of each council when entering into a joint contract. This is agreed. There’s also a discussion about climate change and its relevance to the contract – everything from use of plastics to arrangements for travel.

The same issues apply to the next item, on the recommissioning of sexual health services. It’s potentially a seven-year contract (three years, plus two years, plus a further two years) and the process is agreed.

The committee’s budget is on track. Because of the General Election, the committee’s training plan is revised, and any scrutiny of the NHS has been moved to the new year. The meeting is over in fifty minutes.

Remembrance Sunday

Meadow, Poppy, Poppies, Bloom, Red, Klatschmohn, Field

At St Leonard’s Church in Little Downham this morning for the Remembrance Sunday service, to read from one of the scriptures at the invitation of the minister Natalie Andrews.

A well-attended event, with the Brownies playing an active part in one of the readings and the children carrying battery-lit tea-lights to place on the altar.

Always sobering to stand in the church yard, with the Last Post sounded, standards dipped, the names of those to be remembered read out, and two minutes of silence to contemplate those who have lost their lives in conflict.

Overview & Scrutiny at the Combined Authority

This morning saw 11 of the 14 members of the Combined Authority’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee wrapping up warm to brave the chills of Peterborough’s Town Hall. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

Mayor Palmer was there to answer questions from the committee, of which we had a number.

  1. In answer to a question about public transport to Alconbury, the Mayor said he was ‘confident we will bring the CAM Metro to Alconbury’. He also hoped to see Ramsey-Hamptons-Peterborough as a public transport link.
  2. No, Mayor Palmer’s Combined Authority wouldn’t be declaring a climate emergency as he ‘hadn’t seen the evidence’. However, there would be an independent environmental review, and the ‘garden village’ concept and CAM Metro would ensure the Combined Authority was carbon neutral.
  3. Would the Combined Authority use Peterborough’s proposed new Housing Revenue Account as a way of delivering new affordable homes? The Mayor told us he was interested in ‘new models’ of housing delivery.
  4. With only 935 homes built by Community Land Trusts in the whole country, would the Combined Authority not do better to rely on tried and tested methods such as working with housing associations instead? According to the Mayor, the housing minister thought everything was fine with the way the Combined Authority was delivering housing.
  5. The Combined Authority had appointed a member of staff to work on Brexit impacts.
  6. The Mayor couldn’t give details as to the number of former Thomas Cook employees he had directly helped into employment following the collapse of the company with consequent effects in Peterborough.
  7. He would also come back to the committee with an update on the review of the processes used in the departure of the Combined Authority’s former chief executive and chief finance officer.

The committee’s vice-chair Cllr Kevin Price then presented us with an update of the work by the committee’s Task & Finish group scrutinising the CAM Metro plans. Several pieces of promised information had not yet been supplied to the group to help it do its work. There was some concern that a lot of money was being spent on the CAM Metro without exploring the fundamental feasibility of tunnelling under Cambridge.

We then spent some time considering the new arrangements for the Combined Authority Board and its Committees to take decisions, and how we will need to change our ways of working to scrutinise them effectively. We agreed to invite the committee chairs to our meetings to answer questions in the same way that we invite the Mayor; to appoint lead members to shadow each of the committees; and to adopt a system for agreeing which questions and comments to put to the Committees.

We confirmed a set of questions to take to the Combined Authority Board on Wednesday: on slippage of projects, Community Land Trusts, funding options for the CAM Metro, on the transport levy passed back to Peterborough and Cambridgeshire councils, on the review of procedures following the departures of the former Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer, and on the declaration of a climate emergency.

We looked through the Combined Authority forward plan and identified the issues we wanted to look at in more depth, including the draft Local Transport Plan and the various stages of drawing up the Combined Authority budget, and we added these to our own workplan.

Same time next month then: Monday 25 November in Huntingdon. It’ll be feeling even more like Christmas by then!

New charges for adult social care: have your say

A consultation by the county council on the new charges is now online, and there are a number of consultation events, including in Ely on the afternoon of Monday 28 October.

A range of new or increased charges could be on the way for people in Cambridgeshire who receive care from the county council.

The county council is consulting on five new charges:

  1. To change the Minimum Income Guarantee figure used, to the level set by the Department of Health and Social Care.
  2. To include in the financial assessment calculation all rates of Attendance Allowance, the DLA care component and the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment.
  3. To change the way the charge for short-term respite care is calculated, using ‘residential’ care charging rules.
  4. To introduce a new administration fee for those whose social security benefits and finances are managed by the Council acting as their DWP corporate appointee.
  5. To charge an annual care arrangement fee to those who can afford the full cost of their own care but have asked the Council to arrange this for them.

Council chiefs hope to raise as much as £3M in income from the proposals.

Some of these charges were proposed in a similar consultation exercise two years ago, and were overwhelmingly rejected by the public. It’s hard to see what’s changed, other than that the county council’s financial position has become even more desperate.

Details of the council’s proposals, and an online survey, are at https://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/residents/adults/adult-social-care-charging-policy-consultation/

There are also a number of consultation events, including one on Monday 28 October, 2:00–4:00PM at Ely Community Centre in High Barns.

Community Eyes & Ears

With Sophie Meuwissen from Cambridge Women’s Aid, who are recruiting domestic abuse Community Ambassadors in Cambridgeshire

At this morning’s Community Eyes & Ears conference in the Lady Chapel at Ely Cathedral. A great opportunity to catch up with local organisations working in the field of community safety, from domestic abuse and hate crime to refugee resettlement, energy efficiency, protection from scams, and drug and alcohol abuse. Fantastic to meet residents from several of the villages in my county council division getting actively involved in making their communities stronger and safer.

Tuesday: General Purposes Committee

10:00AM sees a meeting of the county council’s General Purposes Committee. As usual, we receive a financial update on the spending for which the committee is directly responsible, and then an update on the whole council’s financial position. There’s an expectation that the council will overspend again this year, with considerable underspends in some services such as highways offset by overspends in others such as care. Cllr Nichola Harrison observes that contractual savings or additional income in areas such as waste or parking are not used to improve related services.

We’re asked to approve a new request to spend £5.5M on disposals, acquisitions and adaptations of property that the council will use following the move of the council’s HQ to Alconbury, along with over £0.5M for reorganisation allowances and moving costs. My colleague Cllr David Jenkins expresses concern that the council has not seen a business case for this very large item of expenditure – which is why Nichola, David and I abstain.

We receive the council’s draft Medium Term Financial Strategy for the next five years, which will be updated and debated in February alongside the budget. The government has not given the council certainty about funding beyond next year, which makes it difficult to plan for the future. I make the point that the strategy currently contains no reference whatsoever to climate change or the environment, and suggest that this should be included within the strategy’s ‘guiding principles’ and in the text of the strategy. There is a long and somewhat fractious debate but we agree that we have ‘considered’ the document and will see it again in four months’ time.

Next up we’re asked to note a review of the council’s draft revenue budget for next year. There’s just one specific proposal, a council tax collection counter-fraud project with district councils. Then it’s the council’s draft capital strategy and capital programme. Cllr Nichola Harrison points out that the debt charges paid by the council look set to rise closer and closer towards the council’s advisory debt charge limit over the next five years (and even exceeding it in the final year), and that these charges are also taking up a higher and higher proportion of the council’s spending – from 7.6 per cent next year to 9.0 per cent in five years’ time. She also observes that the council has chosen to exclude from its advisory limit schemes for which the cost of borrowing the money is equal to, or lower than, the savings or income that will result. But not all schemes deliver the savings or income they hope for, she points out – what happens then, as we will have borrowed the money?

We then have a presentation by students from CUSPE, the Cambridge University Science & Policy Exchange, on their research into how to measure Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s carbon emissions, and how we might go about reaching carbon zero by 2050. The work they have done is enormously impressive and is a useful base from which to work. (I’m on the council’s Climate Change & Environment working group, which will be considering these issues.) Cllr Nichola Harrison draws attention to the significant contribution of transport to carbon emissions, and the need to do more, citing the ongoing work of the Greater Cambridge Partnership. We’re told the researchers have been keen to pursue this particular area further and that there’ll be more information towards the end of the year. I ask the researchers about the potential competing land uses raised in their work: restoration of peatland, tree planting, renewable energy production, agriculture for food security – and of course the council’s strategy to make more commercial non-agricultural use of its own farms, and the pressure for housing and economic growth across the county. Some other important points are made, including the need to move to a more plant-based diet, and about water shortages. Cllr Harrison proposes that the research report should be sent to all county councillors and to our partners across the county. It’s great to see the CUSPE research work, championed by Cllr Ian Manning, bearing fruit.

There’s a series of reports from the council’s Transformation Team, including a monitoring report on performance to date. The committee is asked to approve spending of £390,000 on a commercial team of three people, as discussed at the Commercial & Investment Committee last Friday. Then there’s a bid for £410,000 to review home to school and adults social care transport policy, processes and procedures; and to train 50 of the 183 pupils with special needs currently travelling in individual taxis to travel to school by other means. While it’s really important to enable and encourage children with special needs to be independent wherever they can, it’s also important that this should be led by what is in the best interests of the children not by the financial savings. We are told this will be going back to the Children & Young People’s Committee; after all, as one councillor says, if the parents and the council disagree about what is in the best interests of the child, who reconciles that?

We then see the quarterly performance report. There has been a huge improvement in how the council receives performance information, and the way it’s presented for us.

Finally we agree to ‘repatriate’ our Professional Finance Services and Democratic & Members’ Services officers back from LGSS (the council’s shared services arrangement with other councils including Northamptonshire) to our own council. There’s an ongoing review of these LGSS arrangements which hasn’t concluded yet.

Saturday: on the march

On the march at Hyde Park with Pippa Heylings, South East Cambridgeshire’s next MP.

An 07:50 start from home to get to Trumpington Park & Ride in time to join one of the coaches travelling to London for the march. Unusually, Parliament was sitting on a Saturday, and we would be there to let them know that over a million people were prepared to travel to the UK’s capital city on a weekend to call for the people to have the final say on Brexit.

Dropped off outside Madame Tussaud’s, we walked along Baker Street and met in our various agreed locations – in our case, near the Duke of Wellington memorial statue at Hyde Park Corner. It was great to catch up with friends from Cambridgeshire and further afield as we wended our way along Piccadilly to Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall. At one point we were walking behind two ladies carrying an Orkney flag who had come all the way down from the islands to join the march.

Shortly after we arrived in Trafalgar Square the heavens opened, leaving us all thoroughly soaked. But though we were dampened, our enthusiasm wasn’t.

We’d just reached the top of Whitehall when a huge cheer went up. I managed to get enough signal on my phone for a Twitter update, but people were already passing the news on – the ‘Letwin amendment’ had passed by 322 votes to 306. This meant parliament would not approve the prime minister’s deal until the withdrawal bill implementing Brexit had been passed – avoiding a situation in which the deal could pass on Saturday, but then the legislation implementing it could fall, allowing a no-deal exit on 31 October after all.

We watched some of the speakers on the giant TV screens along Whitehall, and eventually managed to reach Parliament Square itself to hear the MP speakers, before dragging our weary limbs to The Strand for a hot drink and chocolate cake and on to the waiting coaches home.

So what now for Brexit? The Prime Minister decided not to die in the ditch he said he would rather choose, but instead wrote the letter Parliament forced him to write requesting an extension of time.

The EU27 might grant this, or might refuse it.

The government might try to get Boris Johnson’s deal through parliament early this coming week, in which case if it were passed the extension would not be needed. Speaker Bercow would have to decide whether to allow yet another vote on the same subject.

We might have a vote of no confidence and a general election. 

The country is as divided as ever. Members of Parliament can agree what they don’t want, but not what they do want. The nation is paralysed. Employers and employees pack up and leave the country, medicines get shorter in supply, the economy falters. Playing on the growing national mixture of frustration and boredom, the Leave side is singing its siren song that a vote for Johnson’s deal (which has seen no assessment of its economic impact on our country) will ‘get Brexit done’.

But of course it wouldn’t – even after an exit on 31 October there would still be the long, painful years and years of negotiations about agreements and arrangements. There would be the growing pressure for independence in Scotland, in Northern Ireland, and to a lesser extent in Wales. ‘Brexit’ wouldn’t be the end of the story, just the beginning of a long, slow slog by a country weakened and isolated.

Isn’t it time to admit that this has been a massive wrong turn, retrace our steps, and become the country we were so enormously proud to be,  when we hosted the Olympics just seven years ago?

Friday: a day at Shire Hall

First up at 10:00AM, a meeting of the county council’s Commercial & Investment Committee. The committee approves down payments of £722,000 for grid connections for three energy projects at Babraham Park & Ride, North Angle Solar Farm, and Stanground closed landfill site, so that they will be able to export energy to the national grid.

We’re then asked to support a bid to the council’s ‘transformation fund’ for £390,000 to fund a team of people for eighteen months to progress the council’s investment and commercial ambitions, with the aim that they will become self-funding within eighteen months. This leads into a wider discussion about the sustainability of the ‘transformation team’ itself, from which some of the commercial team will be seconded, and which will also need to be self-sustaining at some point in the coming years.

We receive an update on the council’s strategy for older people’s accommodation. An ageing population, and rising prices for care, leave the council exposed to significant increased costs. There’s some debate about why there are empty care beds but prices still don’t come down; and about the suggestion of new ‘tenancy’ models of care which would ‘repatriate costs currently borne by the [Local Authority] to the appropriate agency’ – in other words, shift care costs from the county council to others including the health service and the housing benefit bill.

We have a first look at the committee’s budget proposals for the next financial year. There are two proposals: a continuation of the council’s investment in a pooled property fund; and increasing commercial returns from the county council’s farms estate. In response to a question from me, we’re told that we will be asked in December to increase the amount invested in the fund from £11M to £20M. I also ask about how the county council will develop a view on how decisions like the commercialisation of the county farms estate will contribute to climate change. What is the council’s view of the competing uses of agricultural land – whether for the council’s own solar energy schemes, for increasing non-agricultural uses of its own farms estate, and for agriculture and food security in the light of the coming climate emergency? The council has two working groups working on a climate change strategy and a county farms strategy respectively – they both report into the Commercial & Investment Committee, but is a commercial committee the right place to develop this environmental view?

Having noted the committee’s draft capital programme, we move on to note the council’s investment strategy. Overall the council aims to generate a six per cent return on its investment portfolio over the medium term.

There’s a finance monitoring report, our forward agenda plan and training plan, and then the press and public are excluded for a ‘Cambs 2020 Spokes Review’ – a somewhat cryptic title for the ‘spokes’ or non-HQ buildings from which the council will also be operating once it moves its HQ from Shire Hall to Alconbury.

Second up, a training session for Commercial & Investment Committee members on some of the council’s energy projects.

  • The schools energy efficiency programme has committed £11M across 55 schools to install solutions including solar PV, LED lighting, building energy management systems, new boilers, biomass boilers, and air-source heat pumps. These are generating financial as well as energy and carbon savings.
  • The Swaffham Prior energy project is a joint scheme with the local Community Land Trust which aims to create a district heating network to move the community from oil to renewable heating.

Finally, a meeting of the cross-party councillor steering group overseeing the development of the council’s climate change and energy strategy. A useful discussion about the overall aims of the strategy and the need to work with partners and local communities to make this happen. I pointed out the growing number of parish councils, including Witchford in my own area, now declaring a climate emergency and beginning to develop their own plans.