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.

Witcham new speed limits

Fantastic to see the new speed limits installed at Witcham!

Witcham Equestrian Centre have been continuing to do amazing things with their fundraising efforts for this scheme – which still has to be paid for.  There have been regular pop-up tea-rooms (the next one is this Saturday, 9 June, 11:00AM-3:00PM at the Centre).  They’ve organised a speaker evening (which I wrote about here), and an open day.

Patsy’s Midsummer Party takes place on Saturday 23 June at Witcham Village Hall, 7:00PM for 7:30-11:30PM, with disco, hog roast and raffle. Tickets available until tomorrow only!  £25 from the Equestrian Centre on 01353 777588.

And they’re still raising money online through their JustGiving page. Please give generously for a great cause – do it for the pony in the brilliant campaign jacket!

Full Council meeting at Shire Hall

Today’s Full Council meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council was the first of the new council year, so started with the election of the Chair (Mandy Smith) and Vice Chair (Mac McGuire).

The Chair noted the death of Nigel Bell, who represented Ely North & East as a Liberal Democrat county councillor from 2005 to 2013.  Lib Dem group leader Lucy Nethsingha paid tribute to Nigel’s contribution to the council.

There was a question from a member of the public about the redundancy and immediate reappointment as an LGSS* contractor of the former LGSS Director of People, Transformation and Transactions – the answer given by the Leader of the Council was so long and convoluted that the Chair cut it off half way through so we never did hear the full story.

[*LGSS is the partnership of Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes councils for the provision of ‘back office’ services.]

A petition was received asking the council to fund The Fields children’s centre nursery in Cambridge.

County council to move to Alconbury

The major debate of the day was about the proposal to move the county council’s HQ out of Shire Hall to a new purpose-built building at Alconbury.  Many councillors including me made the point that the public transport links there were poor, and also that there was a surplus of office space in a variety of local government buildings all round Cambridgeshire.  Cambridgeshire’s partner in LGSS, Northamptonshire recently went basically bankrupt and has now been taken over by Government commissioners – and one of the first things to happen was the sale of their brand new HQ.  And of course there is every prospect of some sort of reorganisation of local government sooner rather than later, leading to at least one tier of local government disappearing and even more surplus office space.  The Alconbury proposal was voted through by Conservative councillors, however, with other groups opposing.  For all the talk of this decision saving the taxpayer millions of pounds, I can’t help feeling that this will return to bite the council, and Cambridgeshire residents, on the bottom.

It’s not yet clear whether the council will sell the existing Shire Hall HQ, or just lease it out.  At present, the council’s Commercial & Investment Committee has the power to make that decision without bringing it back to the Full Council.  I asked the committee chair for an assurance that the committee wouldn’t take such a significant decision but would bring it back to the whole council.  Such an assurance was not only not given, but was pointedly refused.

Constitutional change

Until today, committee meetings could make decisions if only a quarter of their members were present. For a committee of eight, that could result in just two councillors making decisions, including Planning decisions.  That felt wrong, so I asked the Constitution & Ethics Committee to consider the question.  The committee did this, and recommended that the council should increase this requirement from a quarter to a half, and to one-third for the Full Council.  The council today agreed – result.


The council appointed councillors to committees, and to outside organisations on which the council is represented; and appointed committee chairs.  As a result of other changes on the council, I’m now no longer on the Health Committee, which is a sadness as that is something I’ve very much enjoyed.

Motions from councillors

A motion from one of the independent councillors, Tom Sanderson, called for councillors to be allowed to attend the quarterly Highways Authority & Utility coordination meetings, which take place for council officers and utility companies to plan ahead together for roadworks.  My colleague Henry Batchelor seconded this, and I and my group voted for it, but the Conservative group opposed it so it was defeated.

A motion from Conservative councillor Anna Bailey proposed that the council should mount a ‘purge on plastics’.  I moved an amendment, put jointly by my group and the Labour group, to try to widen out what was a rather narrow and restrictive motion, but again this was defeated.  It was a decidedly surreal debate (why was it right to include plastic straws in the motion, but not plastic cups? why was it so wrong to ask for a committee meeting to discuss an action plan so that everyone could bring their ideas and discuss this properly? should we ban balloons?), and we ended up with everyone voting in favour of a motion that could just have been so very much better and more inclusive of other people’s contributions.


There were a couple of written questions put by a couple of my Lib Dem colleagues, about the growing menace of potholes, which received written answers.

Recent planning applications

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

9 Main Street Wardy Hill
Revised access including dropped kerb and crossover.

Little Downham
Land adjacent 82 Ely Road Little Downham CB6 2SN
New single storey dwelling and associated garage.

24 The Orchards Sutton CB6 2PX
Single storey rear extension and front porch.

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 webpage (the link above);
  • by email to plservices@eastcambs.gov.uk;
  • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.