Thursday: East Cambridgeshire Full Council meeting

Thursday evening saw the fullest public gallery at East Cambs council for a long time, as climate change campaigners attended to see what happened to their petition calling on the council to declare a climate emergency. The meeting also saw what may probably be one of the longest East Cambs council meetings ever, at a staggering six hours and twenty-five minutes.

We heard some passionate and articulate statements from the public in support of the petition. Because there were two motions on climate change on the council agenda, debate on the content of the petition was reserved to those items.

The Liberal Democrat group voted against the council’s proposed corporate plan, which nevertheless passed by 15 votes to 12. This deeply disappointing and repetitious document of course contained a few items we could support, but gave excessive weight to cars and insufficient priority to pedestrians and cyclists, and promoted East Cambs Conservatives’ distorted Community Land Trust model with its conflicts of interest and failure of governance.

The following is a list of the 22 positive proposals put to the meeting by the Liberal Democrat group – every single one of which was voted down by the massed ranks of the 15 Conservative councillors running the authority.

  1. An excellent motion on inclusivity submitted by Cllrs Alison and Christine Whelan was butchered so badly by a Conservative amendment that they had to withdraw it. The motion sought to make the council and the wider district more inclusive of people from all different walks of life. We had suspected the Conservatives might seek to delete the proposal for unconscious bias training, on grounds of cost. We never in our worst nightmares imagined that they would burn the motion to the ground and then burn the ashes, turning the motion from one which promoted everybody’s right to be fully included into society into a statement whose main theme was: there isn’t really that much actual hate crime here so that’s good.
  2. An ambitious climate change motion proposed by Sutton’s Cllr Mark Inskip declared a climate emergency, set a ‘zero carbon’ deadline date of 2030, and proposed to involve the community in some radical steps to reach carbon zero. It was defeated.
  3. Our first amendment to the Conservatives’ competing, and much less effective, climate change motion didn’t need to be debated, as the Conservatives amended their own motion to include it – the declaration of a climate emergency. Unfortunately, our second amendment, proposed by Cllr Victoria Charlesworth from Soham, to change the zero carbon deadline from 2050 to a more ambitious 2030 was voted down.
  4. An amendment from Bottisham’s Cllr Charlotte Cane to form a climate change partnership to work with the community on the threat of climate change was also lost.
  5. Cllr Victoria Charlesworth drew attention to the award-winning Passivhaus council house development in Norwich, and proposed that East Cambridgeshire aspire to build to those standards. Defeated again – why don’t we deserve what Norwich has got?
  6. Ely North’s Cllr Simon Harries moved to delete the glowing references to development at Kennett from the Conservative motion – a prudent move as the controversial scheme there is under threat of potential judicial review. This was also lost.
  7. Cllr Charlotte Cane proposed to require the business plans of the council’s two trading companies to address the climate emergency, and again was defeated on both counts.
  8. A Liberal Democrat proposal to defer consideration of the trading company’s business plan was voted down – rather rashly, really, considering that the accounts and governance of the trading company have been referred to the auditors and we are awaiting their response.
  9. We thanked the council’s Independent Remuneration Panel for its work but voted against their recommendations to increase councillors’ allowances, on the grounds that we don’t think the council can afford this or that it’s the priority right now. The Conservatives disagreed and voted through the rises.
  10. We proposed that the council should set up a separate Strategic Planning Committee to consider issues relating to the local plan and planning policy. This is after all one of the most important issues facing East Cambridgeshire at the moment. Instead, Conservative councillors voted to add this work to the council’s Finance & Assets Committee, not only increasing the scope of work of a busy committee, but also adding further to the conflicts of interest at East Cambs council. How will a committee responsible for the council’s finances, land ownership and trading company deal impartially with planning policy which could increase its income?
  11. We proposed that council officers should circulate amendments to council motions before the meeting. This was defeated, somewhat bizarrely as Conservative councillors had been complaining earlier in the evening about Liberal Democrat amendments not being circulated earlier!
  12. We proposed that when councillors ask questions at council meetings they should be answered by the people to whom they are addressed. Too often council officers, who are meant to be impartial, get dragged into answering questions, or even into the detail of debates, when it should be the councillors running the authority who should be held accountable. Defeated again.
  13. Cllr Alec Jones proposed that the council should delete the requirement for councillors to have to seek permission from the chairman not to stand when speaking. A number of councillors find this difficult for personal reasons, and it’s not inclusive to require them to request special permission to participate properly in the business of the council. But then we had already seen East Cambs’ Conservatives’ understanding (or not) of inclusivity earlier in the evening. Another defeat.
  14. Cllr Charlotte Cane proposed an amendment expressing concern that the council trading company’s accounts had not been circulated to councillors despite being expected at committee almost a month earlier. For the only time in the evening, one Conservative councillor broke ranks to abstain on this – but it was voted down by the rest of his group, who are apparently quite relaxed about this.
  15. Cllr Cane also proposed an amendment to change the title of the ‘director commercial’ of East Cambs Trading Company. This seems a small matter, but it’s the same title the officer holds in the council, and a different title would have helped remove some of the permanent confusion about which role people are acting in when there are already so many conflicts of interest between the council, its trading company, and the company’s primary lender. Voted down again.
  16. Cllr Cane further opposed the appointment of the recently resigned councillor directors of the trading company as ‘observers‘ with speaking rights at trading company board meetings. These appointments would continue to muddy the waters between the council and the trading company, giving these councillors influence but no accountability. Another defeat.
  17. Cllr Cane then proposed to delete a proposal that the council authorise the company secretary to update the company’s articles of association, on the grounds that this was a further blurring of the distinction between the council and the company. Voted down again.
  18. We then had the same proposals (15, 16 and 17) and the same defeats with respect to the other council company (East Cambs Street Scene)’s director titles
  19. … and councillor observers
  20. … and authorisation of the company secretary.
  21. We proposed that the council defer a decision on whether or not to begin drawing up a new Local Plan. The officer’s report indicated that the arguments for and against this were finely balanced. We felt strongly that as parish councils were bearing the burden of not having a current Local Plan that could stand up to scrutiny, both by having to respond to huge volumes of planning applications and by having to draw up neighbourhood plans as their only means to protect their villages, parish councils should be consulted before the district council decided to kick the can down the road for another year or more. Defeated.
  22. We also proposed to withdraw discussions of how the council would distribute the Community Infrastructure Levy income from developers, so that we could assess whether the plans helped the council’s new climate change proposals before bringing them back to a future meeting for reconsideration. But this was also voted down.

Defeated on this occasion but not deterred, Liberal Democrats on East Cambridgeshire District Council will continue to stand up for the interests of local residents and our district. The next meeting of the full council isn’t until January. Perhaps more frequent council meetings might mean shorter ones?

County Council meeting: an outbreak of unanimity

Unusual to have a full county council meeting without a vote needing to be taken, but it happened today with unanimity on everything.

The meeting started with a public question from Antony Carpen about Mill Road depot in Cambridge and the old library. We then moved to the application for a town or village green to be registered at the Shire Hall site, and agreed unanimously that Suffolk County Council should be asked to determine this application so that there could be no perception of a conflict of interest. (A lesson for East Cambridgeshire district council to learn here, perhaps.)

We considered two matters referred to the full council from the Constitution & Ethics Committee: a revision of the council’s petitions scheme, and the extension of the term of one Independent Person and the appointment of another. (The Independent Person considers complaints under the council’s Code of Conduct.) My group had suggested to officers a clarification of the wording of the petition scheme about the rights of councillors to speak on petitions, and were pleased that this was agreed and incorporated.

Three annual reports followed – the Audit & Accounts Committee report introduced by my colleague Cllr Mike Shellens; and the reports of the Pension Fund Committee and the Cambridgeshire Local Pension Fund Board.

A new vice chairman of one of the council committees was appointed due to the ill-health of the previous vice chairman, whom the meeting wished well.

Three motions for debate followed. The first, from my colleague Cllr Ian Manning, proposed to press ahead with trialing innovative ways of improving highways and public spaces using the example of New York. This was seconded by the chairman of the Highways Committee and passed unanimously, with local councillors to be involved once a shortlist of possible projects has been drawn up. My division here in rural East Cambridgeshire doesn’t look anything like New York, but I’m sure there must be some opportunities to trial new ideas here.

The second motion was from my colleague David Jenkins, who proposed that the council’s budget in February should include a commentary explaining how it will address the council’s Climate Emergency commitment. This was seconded by the Leader of the Council and again passed unanimously.

The third motion was from the chairman of the council’s County Farms working group, promoting tree planting and proposing to lobby government for money to set up a pilot project for restoring peatland. Drained peatland used for agriculture is responsible for the emission of large amounts of greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. I moved an amendment to this motion, noting the work on peat already being undertaken by the National Trust and the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire, at places like Wicken Fen and Great Fen. The county council should be seeking to be a partner with organisations like these, rather than compete with them for scarce government funds.

The meeting ended with the opportunity for questions from councillors. My colleague David Jenkins asked the Leader of the Council, who is a member of the Mayor’s Combined Authority, whether the Combined Authority will join the county council and some district and parish councils in declaring a climate emergency. The answer wasn’t a No, but it wasn’t a resounding Yes either. There were also two written questions, one from my colleague Nichola Harrison about the registration service (births, marriages, deaths etc) in Cambridge, and the other from me about what has happened to the Children’s Centres that the council’s ruling group closed, including the local one in my own village of Sutton.

Lib Dem concerns grow after failed shareholder meeting

Lib Dem councillors leaving the shareholder meeting, where neither the company chairman nor the managing director were present to answer our questions about the companies’ governance and performance.

Liberal Democrat members of East Cambridgeshire District Council walked out of a meeting tonight called to discuss the council’s two trading companies. 

All councillors were invited to what was billed as a shareholder meeting for East Cambridgeshire District Council’s two trading companies. We had been advised that this was a meeting run by the trading companies, and expected the opportunity to raise important questions of governance and performance with the company chairman and the managing director.

Lib Dem councillors were dismayed and alarmed to find that neither the chairman nor the managing director of the companies was present, that the council chairman was running the meeting, and that there would be no opportunity to discuss governance and performance issues with the chairman or the managing director of the companies.

In response to questions from Lib Dem councillors, confusing and contradictory advice was given about the rules under which the meeting was being conducted. Lib Dem councillors pointed out that if the meeting was a council meeting it should have been open to the public, whereas if it was a company meeting the company chairman should have been chairing it.

We were shocked to discover that there was to be no opportunity to have our questions answered by the company chairman, that the meeting appeared to be neither a company meeting nor a council meeting open to the public, and that no minutes would be taken. We could not possibly remain under those circumstances.

The way in which this meeting was handled only adds to our growing list of concerns about the council’s trading companies.

Tory councillors in shock company resignations

Image result for east cambs trading company

East Cambs Liberal Democrat councillors were shocked to receive a letter yesterday afternoon (8 October) from the Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council Cllr Anna Bailey, tendering her resignation and those of councillors David Ambrose-Smith, David Brown and Joshua Schumann with immediate effect as directors of the council’s two trading companies.

The reason given for the resignation is that the four councillors “have been consistently advised that we cannot, as Directors of the Trading Companies, fully participate in business of the Council in which there are implications for the Companies” and therefore “cannot take part in important debates and motions arising from the new political make-up of the Council”.

The letter goes on to state that officers will be recommending that councillors should no longer be members of the company boards.

It seems extraordinarily irresponsible for Cllrs Bailey and Ambrose-Smith to abandon the board of the council’s main trading company just at the point when it is embarking on the major project of refurbishing the former MOD homes in Ely, leaving the company without the required minimum of four directors.

The resignations of Cllrs Schumann and Brown also leave the council’s waste collection and street cleaning company without the required minimum of directors. The all-councillor Shareholder Meeting of the companies previously arranged for Thursday evening also looks set to go ahead without a full complement of directors to answer questions on the companies’ accounts, performance and business plans.

It appears from Cllr Bailey’s letter that the sole reason for these resignations is to ensure that the Conservative group can vote down any Liberal Democrat proposals on the agenda for the full council next Thursday 17 October.

We are seeking urgent legal advice about the implications of this decision, about which we were given no prior warning.

Climate change research

Holme Fen Posts, Holme Fen Nature Reserve

An interesting presentation to Cambridgeshire county councillors and staff yesterday about climate change and the size of Cambridgeshire’s carbon footprint, by some postgraduate students from CUSPE, the Cambridge University Science & Policy Exchange.

The county council is currently working on a climate change strategy to support its recent declaration of a climate emergency, and I’m one of five councillors on a working group supporting officers in drafting this strategy.

Two standout points from the presentation we heard.

  1. The need to increase capacity to distribute energy through the grid, for all those electric vehicles, and for domestic use by households which will no longer be on gas or oil; and the need to decentralise energy production.
  2. The importance of peatland – three per cent of the earth’s surface, but the largest natural terrestrial carbon store. Draining and agriculture have released large amounts of carbon over hundreds of years, and restoration of peatlands needs to be considered as a priority.

The image above is of Holme Fen Posts, Holme Fen Nature Reserve, and shows posts marking the original level of the peatland before drainage.

Image © Copyright JThomas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. 

Recent planning applications

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

Land adjacent 2 Gravel End Coveney CB6 2DN
4 dwellings and associated works.

Little Downham
Ash Lodge 6A Third Drove Little Downham
Installation of a mobile home to include timber cladding facade with a raised decking platform to the front of the unit (retrospective).

Little Downham
Barnhouse Holme Lane Little Downham
Single storey side extension, internal and external alterations and garage conversion.

Tubbs Farm The Gault Sutton
Single storey rear extension and detached garage.

Rear of 10 Ely Road Sutton CB6 2QD
Proposed two bed dwelling.

College Farm Main Street Wentworth CB6 3QG
To Vary Condition 8 (The development hereby permitted consists of solely self-build dwellings as defined in the Custom Housebuilding Act 2015) of previously approved 18/00840/OUT for All matters reserved except access for the redevelopment of the farmyard, buildings and associated land for up to 6 self build plots.

11A The Orchards Witcham CB6 2LR
Garage conversion.

13 Manor Close Witchford CB6 2JB
Single storey rear extension and internal alterations.

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;
  • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.

Help choose the programme at your local library

‘The Library Presents’ is inviting members of the public to help choose which performances and workshops they would like to see in the next season (Spring 2020) at local libraries.

A menu of events is available from now until 5 October at participating libraries including Ely, or online at

The menu includes dance, theatre, music, magic, comedy, circus, puppetry, storytelling, poetry and workshops in a variety of disciplines, from visual and digital art to music, theatre and dance. The full programme will be announced in January.

Tickets for autumn events can be purchased at participating libraries, by phone or online at where there is also a video showcasing the autumn events programme.

Thriving, not growing

A sit-up-and-listen talk from economist Kate Raworth, about an economic model that balances essential human needs and environmental boundaries. Can our economies grow forever? What does that demand do to the limited resources of our planet? A timely presentation with very local relevance, as Cambridgeshire’s Combined Authority has signed up with Government to double the growth of our local economy, while at the same time Cambridgeshire’s county council has declared a climate emergency.

Ely bypass overspend: the auditors report

The County Council’s auditors, LGSS, have carried out a full and extensive audit of the overspends on the Ely bypass. The resulting report has been presented to the council’s Audit and Accounts Committee.

The report found that “due to the desire of key stakeholders to get the project completed in the shortest timescales possible, and the consequent design of the Contract, insufficient time was given to the project planning stage which, when combined with the type of Contract used during construction, meant that the true costs of the project were not available to officers nor Members until the project was near completion”.

The report made six recommendations:

  1. Consideration should be given to whether the Constitution should be adapted to incorporate limits to delegating authority away from Committees, particularly when there are significant financial implications. In instances where officers are given delegated authority to make significant decisions outside of their ordinary powers as stated in the Scheme of Delegation, even in consultation with some Members, then reports should be provided to relevant Members or Committee which outline the decision that was taken, particularly in high-risk areas or projects.
  2. Future projects should follow a procurement and design stage which takes full account of advice from key officers, the procurement team, any external consultants and suppliers. This should include a provision for extending certain phases of projects; such as the design stage. The relevant Committee on any project should be made aware of any risks associated with the procurement/design process being recommended to them, including any impact this might have on the final costs of the Project.
  3. In instances such as the Ely Bypass project, with numerous spend increases compared the original budgeted and contracted amounts, regular updates should be taken to the relevant Committee. These updates should include the current price and the most up-to-date target/expected final price, along with a detailed project risk register, which should give an overview of the key areas where further price increases may occur, as well as the likelihood of these price increases.
  4. The Project Board should insist on the most up-to-date figures on cost at all times, even if the final expected figure is not known. Further, rather than being left to individual officers to decide when the Committee is informed on the progress being made on the project or on any price increases, this decision should have been made by the Project Board, who should dictate when any risks on the project, including any overspends, are presented to Committee.
  5. Directors should manage, or if necessary escalate, situations where there is pressure to pursue actions that do not follow normal governance rules. It is recommended that a simple procedure is put in place for instances requiring escalation through a short report to the next available Joint Management Team. Regarding this recommendation, the Internal Audit team will always be available to support officers with emailed advice on procedures should there be a need.
  6. Rather than waiting for the Project Board meetings for Members of the Board to be told about the Contract, the Project Board should be provided with the Dashboards every month, in order to allow any concerns which the dashboards may raise to be discussed as early as possible Future projects should follow a procurement and design stage which is in line with advice from key officers, the procurement team and any external consultants.

Image © Copyright John Sutton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Recent planning applications

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

4 Gravel End Coveney CB6 2DN
Construction of single storey rear extension which extends beyond the rear wall by 7.2m, has a maximum height of 4.0m and an eaves height of 2.4m.

21 The America Sutton CB6 2NY
Proposed roof extension and conversion over an existing swimming pool with a stairwell link.

17 Mostyn Close Sutton CB6 2QJ
Conversion of outbuilding.

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;
  • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.