Performance review

Slimmed-down council committee meetings in the time of COVID mean that a whole set of documents that used to be presented to committee members for discussion are now just sent round by email for information.

The latest batch are the quarterly performance reports for council functions which fall under the remit of the new Environment & Sustainability Committee – and a few of the charts caught my eye.

Local bus passenger journeys originating in the local authority area

A sad story of decline, with over two million fewer journeys a year than in 2013/14. This figure is only updated once a year, in the summer, so the most recent result isn’t in yet, and will presumably be artificially low because of COVID. But here’s the parlous state of public transport in Cambridgeshire, in a single graph. The text supplied with the graph optimistically describes performance as ‘improving’ because of that last uptick of the solid blue line. But it isn’t, is it, really? Even the council admits that this glimmer of hope is probably just something to do with lifting the charge for parking at the park and rides.

Growth in cycling from a 2004/05 average baseline

Wow those columns are growing well! But why has the target (thicker dotted line) not changed for the last four years? Surely, and especially now in the time of COVID with pop-up cycle lanes and so, on, the council needs to be more ambitious than this? And the real step-change happened in 2014 – there’s been no real improvement since then. This is an annual figure again, so it will be interesting to see what the current year performance is when it comes in.

Traffic entering and leaving Cambridge

The scale goes from 200,000 vehicles at the bottom, to 208,000 at the top – and it’s a snapshot of a twelve-hour day on the first Wednesday in October. So that’s a small increase, and an even smaller decrease, and 2,000 more vehicles entering and leaving Cambridge than six years ago. Another annual figure – the 2020 data will be available in November. How much of the positive traffic-reducing effect of lockdown will have dissipated by then? Or will we be in the middle of lockdown #2?

Changes in traffic flows within Cambridge

By way of comparison, this is what lockdown looks like. This measure is the number of vehicles crossing the River Cam bridges within Cambridge in a single twelve-hour day, in May. This shows a a 66 per cent reduction, pretty obviously COVID related. How much of this vehicle traffic will bounce back next year?

Freedom of Information requests answered within 20 days

Ooh, COVID or no COVID that fall-off in performance doesn’t look good. Not surprisingly, reports against this indicator will be made to senior officers fortnightly for the next six months to ensure performance improves.

Marie Curie bereavement support

I’ve been contacted by a local resident in Witchford asking me to help spread the word about the charity Marie Curie’s bereavement support service and campaign for a National Day of reflection after lockdown.

She says:

“Grieving can feel isolating enough without social distancing. Many people bereaved during lockdown have been unable to properly say goodbye to loved ones, comfort or even hug each other. If they can’t get the support they need, they will be more likely to struggle with the long term effects of grief.

To help, Marie Curie offers a free bereavement support service. Anyone who is grieving can access up to six telephone sessions with a matched volunteer by calling 0800 090 2309. Further details as well as online information and support is available here: www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/support/telephone-bereavement-support

National Day of reflection
The Marie Curie charity is running a petition for a National Day of reflection after lockdown is fully lifted, to collectively support those who have lost someone since lockdown began on 23 March. The petition is at www.mariecurie.org.uk/who/day-to-reflect

Stagecoach service changes from Sunday 28 June

Stagecoach has announced further changes to its services on a number of Cambridge routes with effect from Sunday 28 June.

These include

  • Reopening of the Milton Park & Ride
  • All Cambridge Park and Ride services to operate at a 10 minute frequency
  • The No 9 bus from Littleport to Cambridge at 18:00 operating 18 minutes earlier throughout its journey.

More information about all changes available here.

And from Monday 29 June, as previously reported, Histon Road Cambridge will be closing southbound (from just south of the junction with Kings Hedges Road) for several months. This will impact Stagecoach’s Citi 8 and Busway route B on their inbound journeys to Cambridge.

Combined Authority Overview & Scrutiny

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Image by Cllr Marcus Gehring

A meeting of the Combined Authority’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee this morning, with a couple of changes of membership – welcoming Cllrs Corney and Mason, and recording our thanks to departing Cllrs Dew and Miscandlon, and our congratulations to the latter on being elected Chairman of Fenland District Council.

We’ve been asked by the Combined Authority Board to consider whether we wish to co-opt an Independent councillor to the Committee, who would not have voting rights, and would not count as a member of the committee for formal purposes. Between 2017 and 2019 the Committee did indeed have an Independent member from one of the Cambridgeshire councils, but in 2019 the Board said this would no longer be permitted. Independent councillors are not included for the purposes of calculating how many seats each party is given on this Committee, which has a distorting effect on the ‘political balance’ of representation overall.

My view, which I express in the meeting, is that inviting us to co-opt an Independent member with no vote, who will not even count among the minimum number of members to hold a meeting, is no more than a fig-leaf strategically placed to cover the distortion of not including them properly in the calculation to begin with. No-one on the Committee disagrees. We decide not to co-opt a member on these terms, and to ask the Combined Authority

  1. Why was an Independent member allowed to sit on the Committee from 2017 to 2019?
  2. Why was there a change to exclude Independent members in 2019?
  3. What efforts has the Combined Authority been making to persuade Government to remove any legal barriers to including Independent councillors in the calculation of committee places?

We then agree that the Committee should appoint a Lead Member to shadow the work of the Combined Authority’s Business Board – an increasingly important body in shaping Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s COVID recovery, and with considerable amounts of money to disburse to local businesses. We already have Lead Members from our Committee shadowing the Skills, Housing and Transport Committees, and feel that the Business Board deserves no less consideration. We decide to invite expressions of interest in taking on this task, and to make an appointment next month.

We move to consider the Committee’s work programme for the year, and agree to add to the existing agenda items

  • invitations to the Chairs of the Skills, Housing and Transport Committees, and the relevant Directors, to come and brief us about their work
  • items on the A10 dualling and junctions project, the Ely Area (Rail) Capacity study, and digital communications
  • ongoing overview of the CAM metro scheme.

A number of projects have been closed, either because they have been completed or because they are no longer progressing, and we receive a short report on that.

Finally, with input from our Lead Members we consider the Combined Authority’s forward plan, and note some of the items that will be of particular interest to the Committee, such as the CAM metro Cambourne to Cambridge route, and (intriguingly) a ‘change of registered office’ for the Combined Authority in early August. Will they have sealed the deal on their new premises in Ely by then?

Covid-19 in Cambridgeshire: figures to 15 June 2020

This week’s headline numbers, taken from figures produced by Cambridgeshire County Council’s Public Health intelligence team.

  • There have been 1,239 laboratory-confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Cambridgeshire – an increase of nine since last week. The rate per 100,000 population is still less than the England average. (As usual, remember that the number of actual cases will be considerably higher).
  • East Cambridgeshire still has the lowest rate in the county, and Huntingdonshire the highest. The rate of cases is increasing more slowly than previously.
  • Over half (50.4 per cent) of Cambridgeshire care homes have reported an outbreak during this pandemic, compared to 44 per cent in the East of England. The proportion of care homes which have experienced outbreaks is highest in South Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, and lowest in East Cambridgeshire. For the week starting 1 June, there was only one reported fresh outbreak in Cambridgeshire (in Huntingdonshire).
  • 18 deaths related to Covid-19 occurred among Cambridgeshire residents in the week ending 5 June – a reduction on the previous week. Five of these deaths occurred in a care home. 13 of the 18 deaths occurred in Huntingdonshire, and none in East Cambridgeshire. 68 deaths from other causes occurred in the same period.
  • Overall there have been 377 Covid-19 related deaths in Cambridgeshire between 27 March and 5 June. 239 of these have been in hospital, and 118 in care homes.
  • For the week ending 5 June, the number of deaths is above the 2014-18 weekly average in Huntingdonshire and South Cambridgeshire, primarily as a result of deaths where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate. The number of deaths in Cambridge, East Cambridgeshire and Fenland has returned to levels lower than the 2014-18 weekly average.

A full copy of the weekly report is available here.

Recent planning applications

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

20/00742/FUL
Little Downham
37 Main Street Pymoor CB6 2ED
Single storey rear extension.

20/00702/FUL
Witcham
5 Silver Street Witcham CB6 2LF
Single storey flat roof rear extension following removal of existing single storey conservatory style room.

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.

Garden Close Sutton planning application refused

Abbey Homes application at Garden Close refused

The application by Abbey Homes for the ‘reserved matters’ at their site at Garden Close Sutton has been refused by East Cambridgeshire District Council today.

Abbey Homes still has its outline planning permission, but the council has refused this application for the details.

Eight reasons are given for the refusal.

  1. The scale and form and density of the proposed development does not accord with the aims and objectives of the Sutton Neighbourhood Plan 2019 which requires development on the site to be predominantly low-density single-storey dwellings. The scheme as proposed therefore fails to respect its edge of settlement location and fails to preserve or enhance the views into and out of the settlement. The proposal conflicts with Policies ENV1 and ENV2 of the East Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2015 and Policy NP5 of the Sutton Neighbourhood Plan 2019.
  2. The reduction of open space, tree and hedge removal and changes to the drainage strategy have not been adequately assessed within the scheme as to what harm would occur to the ecology and protected species of the site, which also would result in irreparable damage to the Great Crested Newt habitats on and off the site. Furthermore an updated Ecology Management Plan (LEMP) has not been received and this document is an integral part of the s106 Agreement and secures the welfare of protected species and the management of ecology and biodiversity networks/systems. The proposal is therefore considered to be contrary to Policy ENV7 of the East Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2015 and Policy NP2 of the Sutton Neighbourhood Plan 2019.
  3. The mix of market housing proposed on site fails to contribute to meeting the needs of the village. The lack of 2 bedroom market dwellings as well as the needs of an ageing population looking to downsize into homes suitable for lifetime occupation have not been accommodated within the development. The proposal is therefore contrary to Policy HOU1 of the East Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2015 and Policy NP7 of the Sutton Neighbourhood Plan 2019.
  4. The proposal fails to provide an acceptable turning and parking layout on site as well as limited visitor parking contrary to Policies COM7 and COM8 of the East Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2015.
  5. The location of an area of accessible public open space as well as the parking layout to the north of the site does not provide a suitable buffer to protect the residential amenities of an adjoining occupier who has protected characteristics. As such the scheme would not comply with Policy ENV2 of the East Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2015 and Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.
  6. Insufficient information has been provided to support the view that a sustainable urban drainage strategy can be delivered satisfactorily throughout the site without compromising the amenities of neighbouring properties through the raising of land levels to the rear of properties in Garden Close. The overbearing nature of the development would lead to a loss of privacy; overlooking; over shadowing which is exacerbated by the disparity in scale of the existing bungalows along the western boundary of the site and the applicant’s intention to provide two storey dwellings throughout the development. The proposal is contrary to Policies ENV1 and ENV2 of the East Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2015 and Policy NP5 of the Sutton Neighbourhood Plan 2019.
  7. No information has been provided with the reserved matters application of the design and layout of the POS nor the LEAP. Furthermore the applicants’ have failed to provide information on how much public open space has been lost due to the changes in layout and the introduction of SUDS features around the site. Moreover as the drainage strategy is in the process of agreement between the statutory consultee, neighbours, and the applicant, to which the Council has not been a party to, it is also not known how much of the POS would be lost to accommodate the new drainage strategy. Due to insufficient information being received to satisfy the Council’s concerns the proposal would conflict with Policy GROWTH 3 of the East Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2015.
  8. Due to the continued submission of contradictory tree information, combined with the unnecessary loss of category B trees and high likelihood of future pressures for tree removals and pruning that there would be an adverse impact on the settlement character and visual amenities of the area. The proposal is contrary to Policies ENV1 and ENV2 of the East Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2015 and Policy NP5 of the Sutton Neighbourhood Plan 2019.

Lib Dems slam Govt’s £900k makeover of RAF Voyager as “absurd waste”

Responding to reports that the Government is set to spend £900k to repaint RAF Voyager in the colours of the Union Jack flag, Liberal Democrat Defence Spokesperson, Jamie Stone MP said: 

“This absurd waste of nearly £1 million at a time when so many families are struggling to put food on the table and so many are worried about their job security is insulting.

“The country is facing the biggest crisis in generations but Boris Johnson is concerned with the colours of his plane.

“This government continue to astound with their posturing. It is disgraceful. They should halt these plans and use the money to help those who need it most right now instead.”