Connecting Cambridgeshire launch

Today saw the launch of Connecting Cambridgeshire’s Digital Connectivity Strategy at the science park in Cambridge. The strategy aims to build on current and previous programmes, to ‘target a significant increase in the full fibre footprint across the area, improvements in voice and data mobile coverage (2G and 4G), better public access Wifi and trials of 5G (next generation mobile)’.

The event was unfortunately dogged by late (or non-) appearances, particularly from Government, resulting from transport delays.  A shame, as Government is key to making this work.

After welcomes from Connecting Cambridgeshire’s Noelle Godfrey and the Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, we heard from David Cleevely CBE, Vice-Chair of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Independent Economic Review.  Digital is ‘alongside fire and the wheel’ in terms of its importance, and needs weight behind it to make it happen, he said.  We also need a strategy to address the downsides, such as the ‘hollowing out’ of our high streets by the increase in online shopping.  We need equal access to opportunity and growth, in the Fens as well as in Cambridge, to overcome the ‘digital divide’. Demand is also important – doubling the demand for connectivity halves the cost of supplying it.

Gareth Elliott from Mobile UK was next up, pointing out the benefits of mobile connectivity and noting that 95 per cent of the population had at least one mobile phone. Barriers to further extension of mobile infrastructure (masts, basically) in the UK included political leadership, lack of suitable sites, strategic planning, consistency of planning, and under-resourced planning departments.  Opportunities included access to public assets, landlord relationships, updated and refreshed Local Plans, guidance and best practice, digital champions, planning reform, and investment and partnership.

Rob Hamlin from CityFibre introduced the 51 city projects the company was currently planning, and alluded to the widening gap between increasing demand and the capacity of current infrastructure. A graph showed how under-invested the UK is for fibre compared with other OECD countries.  Peterborough will be one of the first seven cities to benefit from the company’s strategic FTTP (fibre to the premises) partnership with Vodafone.

Trevor Linney from BT Openreach talked about the Fibre First programme, plans to get as much capacity as possible out of existing infrastructure, the civil engineering challenges (and opportunities including ‘quantum gravity sensors’!), the potential of robotics, and their collaboration with Huawei and the University of Cambridge.

After breakfast (!), we heard from Ian Adkins of Analysys Mason about their forthcoming study into pre-empting barriers to 5G connectivity, and from Mark Andrews from Enabling Digital Delivery.  Vincent Berghout from Cambridge Fibre suggested that focused regional operators could outperform national players, and outlined his company’s work with ‘TrueFibre’ broadband, ethernet, ‘dark fibre’ and more.  While businesses in urban areas were an attractive target segment, rural homes were expensive and difficult to reach – the final ‘one per cent’ would need community effort to enable them to be connected.  He laid out the capital and operating costs of build, buy and lease options for infrastructure investment, and the six main challenges ahead: legislative ambiguity, the ‘8 digit challenge’ of securing investment of £10M and above, continued funding of ‘fake [copper] fibre’, wayleaves and other land ownership issues, construction obstructions, and open duct access in new property developments.  The last speaker was Andrew Glover of Bridge Fibre who described their experience of dealing with local government.

The concluding questions and answers covered broadband in schools, the costs to companies including the financial risks associated with responsibility for reinstatement of roads and pavements, and the challenges of ensuring connectivity in rural areas – even though there is a potentially thriving rural economy, held back in many ways by lack of appropriate internet provision.

A useful event, with much to think about and feel positive about, but always that underlying feeling that the UK is now scrambling to catch up with something other countries have been investing in better and for longer – just at a time when the Government’s attention is distracted elsewhere and Government cash is even less likely to be available in the sums needed.  And the concern that while the quick and easy investments in our cities storm ahead, rural residents and businesses get left behind because they’re not economic for private providers and there isn’t the serious Government cash to make it happen.

Road safety figures continue to worsen

The number of people killed or seriously injured on Cambridgeshire’s roads continues to rise.  It’s been clear for some time that the local Road Safety Partnership target (a reduction to 246 a year by 2020) isn’t going to be met, with 2016’s figure of 348 rising to 366 last year.

Next Tuesday (10 July) the county council’s Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee will consider another report on road safety, with an action plan based on a previous report the committee approved earlier this year.  The action plan consists of three areas of work: analysing collision data, integrating a ‘hub’ of road safety expertise into the highways service, and digitising speed cameras.

Ultimately, however, two issues remain: there isn’t enough money being spent on those improvements to the roads which are necessary for greater safety (such as the £4-5M package recommended by last year’s safety study of the A142 between Ely and Chatteris); and there is far too much irresponsible, reckless and dangerous driving on our roads.

[Note: this posting amended 30 July 2018 to correct the date and title of the committee meeting referred to.]

Taxi fare increases consultation

East Cambridgeshire District Council is consulting on proposed increases to hackney carriage fares. Objections and comments must be received by the council by midnight on Tuesday 31 July. Any objections will be considered by the Licensing Committee on Wednesday 12 September. If no objections are received the new fares will come into effect on Wednesday 1 August.

If you wish to object, you are recommended by the council to give reasons for your objection.

The proposed increases (the first for five years) are weighted to affect overnight and bank holiday bookings the most, with fares between 7:00AM and 11:00PM rising much less sharply.

Details of the proposed new fares are as follows:

Tariff One
All journeys commenced after 07:00 hours and before 23:00 hours Monday to Sunday (excluding Bank Holidays)

  • First mile (approx. 1.609 kilometres) £3.70
  • For each additional 167.6 yards (153.3 metres) or part thereof £0.20

Tariff Two

All journeys commenced after 23:00 hours and before 07:00 hours Monday to Sunday (excluding Bank Holidays)

  • First mile (approx. 1.609 kilometres) £5.55
  • for each additional 167.6 yards (153.3 metres) or part thereof £0.20

Tariff Three

All journeys commenced on a Bank Holiday

  • First mile (approx. 1.609 kilometres) £7.40
  • For each additional 167.6 yards (153.3 metres) or part thereof £0.30

Waiting time

  • For each period of a minute or part thereof at any time £0.40

Sundry Items

  • Persons carried in excess of 4 persons £0.50 (per additional person, per trip)
  • Soiling charge Not to exceed £150.00

Any objections to the proposed table of fares should be sent in writing to the Senior Licensing Officer, East Cambridgeshire District Council, The Grange, Ely, CB7 4EE, or by email to licensing@eastcambs.gov.uk by midnight on Tuesday 31 July. A copy of the notice has been deposited at the Council Offices and is available for inspection during office hours until Tuesday 31 July.

Ely underpass works

Into my inbox from Cambridgeshire County Council:

As you may be aware, during the development of the Ely Southern Bypass there was a clear desire to improve conditions in the area of the underpass and station for pedestrians and cyclists.

Once the bypass has opened, the level crossing will be closed. Traffic using the existing underpass at the low railway bridge will be single file and controlled with traffic lights, allowing significant improvements for pedestrians and cyclists to be made.

This part of the project is a planning condition and aims to discourage through traffic from using the underpass and encourage use of the new bypass. It will not prevent local traffic from using this route should they wish to do so. We expect from traffic impact studies we’ve carried out, the majority of vehicles on the A142 will use the new road, greatly reducing the number of vehicles using the underpass. The waiting times at the proposed signals will therefore be short compared to the existing delays caused by the level crossing and make journey times much more reliable.

We understand there are concerns amongst local residents about the traffic being single file and the use of traffic lights and we can assure you these concerns were considered in our traffic impact studies. It is estimated the traffic lights will result in a maximum queue delay of 27 seconds per vehicle and vehicles will only wait once at a red light. We have taken residents’ concerns into account and changed elements of the design to minimise delays by making sure the lights are activated by vehicle detectors, which means they will respond as vehicles approach and at times when there is no demand the lights will show red in both directions which will allow them to respond more quickly. We have also brought the stop lines closer together to reduce the time that a driver will need to wait for opposing vehicles to clear the underpass section and for their signal to turn to green.

We wanted to give an update on the changes that will be implemented as part of the scheme – the principles of which were agreed as part of the Ely Bypass planning application –  and an opportunity for you to ask questions or raise comments on the project.

Please find attached the poster detailing the key features of the scheme, you can also get updated drawings and further details on our website (https://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/residents/travel-roads-and-parking/transport-projects/ely-southern-bypass/). Please raise any comments or queries as indicated on the poster by 31 July 2018.

Power struggles and collision courses

‘A power struggle between Cambridgeshire & Peterborough CA mayor James Palmer (Con) and local leaders has led to ministers threatening to withhold up to £400m funding,’ the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) reports.

A disagreement between the Mayor and the Greater Cambridge Partnership* has led to housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire stepping in to try to pour oil on troubled waters. The LGC reports that previous communities secretary Sajid Javid and growth minister Jake Berry, as well as James Brokenshire, have been involved.

*The Greater Cambridge Partnership is the body responsible for implementing the City Deal covering Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire.

The Mayor’s interim transport strategy was approved last month, and sought to put on ice a number of transport projects on which the Greater Cambridge Partnership was working. The Scrutiny Committee which holds the Mayor to account was set to review the freezing of these projects, but in what had every appearance of a coordinated absence, not enough Conservative members of the committee attended the review or ‘call-in’ meeting to enable it to go ahead.

Mayor Palmer is reported to be blaming the Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership for a ‘lack of progress during the four years of its existence’.

Are we likely to see an acrimonious spat followed by a bid by the Mayor to take over the Greater Cambridge Partnership and its potential £500M budget, as happened with the Local Enterprise Partnership which has now become a ‘Business Board’ of Mayor Palmer’s expanding realm?

A tour of the depot

I was invited by council director Jo Brooks to tour the depot used by (among others) the staff of East Cambs Street Scene, the new council in-house company responsible for bin collections and street cleaning.

I arrived at 1:00PM as arranged, to be followed by Jo in the front of a refuse vehicle, where she had been out since 6:00AM with the crew who empty all the dog waste bins – not the most pleasant job on one of the warmest days so far this year.

The depot building itself, between Chettisham and Littleport, looks seriously neglected inside, not a place that gives staff the message that they are valued. Now that the council has taken back the building from former contractor Veolia, work has started to make it more suitable and welcoming, including a coffee machine, working showers, and somewhere for wet clothes to be hung to dry – the bin teams go out in all weathers, not just sunny days like today.

Earith causeway

A useful meeting this morning with county council officers, Environment Agency staff, and neighbouring county councillor Steve Criswell. The meeting was arranged to consider how procedures could be improved when the road at Earith is flooded or at risk of flooding.

The Environment Agency team explained how they have considerable advance warning of flooding at Earith, as they can monitor the rise in the waters from Buckinghamshire through Bedfordshire to Cambridgeshire. When the appropriate trigger point is reached, the Environment Agency warns the County Council’s highways team, and issues an alert.

There are a number of electronic notification signs, which need maintenance, as well as manual flip-down signs in various locations on the road network which are used to warn when the road is flooded. The team will be looking to redesign these signs. I asked them to consider putting signs at the new Ely bypass, to give advance warning to HCV drivers coming off the bypass – and among other things we also discussed adding road closures onto the existing roadworks.org website to improve the accuracy of the information given to the public about whether the road is open or closed.

Recycling banks – keep or scrap?

The future of recycling banks in East Cambridgeshire is up for grabs in a consultation which closes on Saturday (30 June).

The introduction of wheelie bins for recycling has meant less recyclable waste being taken to local recycling banks, like the one on the corner of The Brook and Pound Lane in Sutton. 747 tonnes of recyclable materials were collected from East Cambridgeshire recycling banks in 2013/14 – but in 2016/17 the amount had fallen to just 217 tonnes.

Meanwhile the market for recycled materials has become more difficult: there is less money in the sale of recyclable waste than there used to be, so the cost to the council has gone up. Two of the three contractors (the glass and paper processing companies) do not wish to renew their contracts for our recycling banks because they cannot make a profit from them.

Simply continuing with the recycling banks as they are is likely to cost the council an extra  £20,000 a year.  The council is therefore consulting on the future of the recycling banks.

The council is putting forward three options:

  1. Remove all recycling bank sites except for textile banks, to avoid additional costs to the Council.
  2. Keep only the highest performing recycling banks: Tesco Ely, Waitrose Ely, Main Street Littleport, Fountain Lane Soham, High Street Chippenham, and High Street Cheveley.
  3. Keep all the current recycling banks, accepting the low level of items collected there, and the extra cost to keep them going.

You can complete a simple survey on the council’s website – but remember you will need to do this by the end of Saturday (30 June).

Minerals and Waste Plan

Consultation on the initial stage of the new Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Minerals and Waste Local Plan closes this coming Thursday (28 June).

The purpose of the plan is to ensure that enough minerals, such as sand, gravel, limestone and brick clay, are available for use in construction and industry; to provide sufficient facilities to manage the waste generated in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough; to safeguard key minerals and waste infrastructure; and to protect and enhance the environment whilst supporting growth.

Councils are required to review their Minerals and Waste Local Plan every five years, and this is what is happening now.

A summary of the proposed plan is available here, and more information is available here including links to the proposals (as six – long and technical! – ‘documents to download’).

The county council says: ‘At this stage it is not clear if more sites for mineral and waste management development are needed, so the Preliminary Draft Plan does not allocate any land for development, nor does it identify any sites or broad locations. However, in case more sites will be needed the Plan does give landowners, their agents and operators the opportunity to submit their land for future mineral and / or waste management development … It also asks if existing allocations should be carried forward. Any sites submitted will be assessed against any defined need and, if required, preferred sites will be put forward at the next stage of the Plan, expected to be published for consultation in Spring 2019.’

 

Air quality under the spotlight

Air quality and the effects of air pollution were the subject of a morning conference in Huntingdon yesterday. It was an event my colleague Cllr David Jenkins (Histon) and I had instigated at a meeting of the county council’s Health Committee many months ago, so I was delighted to see it finally come and to have the chance to attend.

The event was far better attended than my photo (from near the front of the room) suggests, with district and county councillors and council officers from across the county and across a range of different professional disciplines.  I was also pleased to have secured places for a couple of members of the local Joint Parishes HCV Group who have been working hard on the problems caused by lorries cutting through villages between the A142, A141 and A14, including Sutton, Earith, Haddenham, Bluntisham, Cottenham and Willingham.

Sharing knowledge and raising the profile

Stuart Keeble, consultant in public health, opened the event, which he reminded everyone was timed to take place in the week of Clean Air Day. Air quality issues were achieving a higher profile, and this was an opportunity to share knowledge.

We had a brief opportunity to discuss what we wanted to achieve from the event. In our small group, we talked about learning more about the role of district councils as planning authorities and their influence on air quality; better links between county and district councils; a recognition of the importance of air quality; identifying who was responsible and what powers they had to effect change; identifying and overcoming barriers to effective action; possibilities for collaboration, and for specific actions not just more monitoring; including businesses in the discussion; the national dimension; and ensuring air quality is at the forefront of the thinking of council officers working in disciplines such as planning and transport.

We learned for example that Public Health England has developed a tool that can calculate the cost of bad air quality to the NHS through its effect on health – a really useful opportunity to enable councils to quantify requests for developer contributions to the health service for the air quality effects of their developments.

Air quality and health

National air quality specialist Dr Beth Conlan (in the photo above) put some more figures to those air quality effects on health. Poor air quality contributes to 40,000 premature deaths each year in the UK, from cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and dementia. Between five and six per cent of all-cause mortality is attributable to air pollution from particulates, and air pollution causes more harm than passive smoking. There will be 2.4 million new cases of disease in the UK between now and 2035 which are attributable to air pollution. The cost of this toll on our health has been calculated at £20 billion a year.

Particulate matter in the air arises from three types of source: natural, primary and secondary. Natural particulates include sea spray or ash from forest fires. Primary particulates are directly released in to the atmosphere by a range of human and other activities. And secondary particulates are formed by physical and chemical reactions from other pollutants.

The two main air quality measurements used are of small particulate matter (PM2.5) and of the ‘greenhouse gas’ nitrogen oxides (NOx, including nitrogen dioxide NO2). Though most attention is focused on transport as a source of these pollutants, it is not the only factor: domestic wood and coal burning, including those popular wood-burning stoves in so many of our homes, is a major contributor to PM2.5 – something we are told the government may be issuing some sort of regulations on. The government publishes up-to-date air pollution information and forecasts at https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/

Exceedances of NOx limits mostly result from traffic, and particularly so in urban areas – ‘street canyons’ where tall buildings on either side of the road trap pollutants at low levels; slower road speeds (40MPH is the best speed to minimise NOx); more vehicles. Across the EU, 64 per cent of NO2 exceedances come from road transport. And of course there has been the ongoing ‘dieselgate’ scandal over the falsification by some car manufacturers of diesel emissions data.

Legislation gives local authorities and others a number of powers to tackle air pollution in areas where there known to be issues.

The situation in Cambridgeshire

Iain Green, Cambridgeshire’s senior public health manager for environment and planning, then outlined the position more locally, and drew attention to the information contained in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA). This aims to describe the current and future health, care and wellbeing needs of the local population and to inform the local Health and Wellbeing Strategy.

Major roads and urban centres such as Cambridge, Huntingdon, St Neots and Wisbech have the highest levels of pollution. East Cambridgeshire levels are generally lower though NO2 levels in Ely are similar to other urban areas – and of course pollution levels in South Cambridgeshire are higher in the area of the A14. In England the most deprived areas tend to have the highest pollution levels and there is often considerable new house-building in these more polluted areas.

257 deaths in Cambridgeshire were attributable to air pollution in 2010, but poor air quality also contributes to more calls to NHS 111, more GP visits, and more trips to A&E particularly for people who are predisposed to breathing problems, such as those with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). NO2 levels tend to be higher in winter and PM2.5 levels higher in spring.

Focus for the future includes switching passenger fleets such as buses to low emission vehicles; encouraging walking and cycling; providing more information such as pollution text alerts to vulnerable people; and considering air quality when planning new developments. The county council has recently organised air pollution training for transport planners, and new pages on Cambridgeshire Insight.

We had another opportunity for group discussion, and it was exciting to hear councillors from the new administration in South Cambridgeshire talking about their keenness to tackle the determinants of poor health. We also considered the lack of air quality measurement in many parts of Cambridgeshire, and the potential role for residents individually and collectively in ‘crowd-sourcing’ air quality data.

Who does what?

Jo Dicks, environmental quality and growth manager at Cambridge city council, outlined the range of responsibilities for air quality across different levels of government.

The government sets health based objectives and national strategy, and monitors and models air quality for compliance with EU requirements. (Though it has had to be taken to court several times by environmental group ClientEarth over its failure to do this properly). The Secretary of State for the environment is responsible for compliance with national objectives and EU limits, but can devolve these duties to local councils – though this has not (yet) happened.

Councils are required to monitor, review and assess air quality against the objectives, and if the objectives are not achieved, the council must declare an Air Quality Management Area and produce an action plan. There is technical guidance, lots of it, on this.

District councils have the lead role for air quality, including periodic reviews and assessments, and an Annual Status Report which must be signed off by the Chief Executive.  They must designate Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) where appropriate, and amend or revoke them in light of subsequent reviews.  In doing so, they should liaise with the county council and consult on the action plan.

The county council must ensure that district councils’ Annual Status Reports are signed off by the director of transport and the director of public health, and help district councils fulfil their AQMA responsibilities.

District councils have powers under the Clean Air Acts, the National Planning Policy Framework, road traffic regulations against vehicle idling, and legislation regarding some industrial processes.  County councils and transport authorities can use their Local Transport Plans, powers under the Transport Act 2000 including congestion charging, and traffic regulation orders.

The Environment Agency also has responsibility for overseeing larger industrial processes – we thought this might include the proposed incinerator at Waterbeach.

Cambridge AQMA

Cllr Rosy Moore from Cambridge talked about the Cambridge air quality action plan for the next five years. An Air Quality Management Area was designated over a large area of Cambridge in 2004, and the latest action plan aims to reduce local traffic emissions as quickly as possible, maintain levels of pollutants below national objectives, and protect public health by improving air quality in future.  Priority actions include lowering taxi emissions; reducing emissions from buses, coaches and HCVs; using planning policies; improving public health; and a feasibility study for implementing a Clean Air Zone. (More about Clean Air Zones here). A consultation on this is being launched on 21 June and will run to 18 September.

Co-benefits of active travel, air quality and health

Stuart Keeble outlined some of the health benefits of physical activity, and the relationship between this and air quality.  Random fact: you would have to walk over five hours per day for the health benefits of exercise to be outweighed by the health effects of air pollution, even in a fairly high-pollution area.

What happens next?

We were all keen to continue and develop the shared understanding we had begun to achieve, and to retain the energy from the event. I suggested something along the lines of a parliamentary Special Interest Group, open to all councillors and council officers with an interest in the subject and able to continue working together on this. We talked about better harmonising what we are doing, ‘mainstreaming’ air quality throughout the work of our respective councils, and expanding air quality monitoring according to need.

Cambridgeshire’s director of public health Liz Robin closed the event thanking everyone involved and expressing a wish to use the output of the event to effect progress, and to continue working together.