What now for community transport?

A ruling from the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) could have repercussions for community ‘dial a ride’ transport operations across the country, including here in Cambridgeshire.

Until now, many community transport organisations have been operating under special arrangements established for ‘non-commercial’ transport operations. Under these special arrangements, drivers are regulated to a different standard than that which applies to commercial operators. This has caused friction for some time with drivers of hackney carriage and private hire vehicles, who have to comply with more demanding standards and have claimed that they face unfair competition from community transport organisations doing what amounts to commercial work.

The DVSA has now ruled that these less stringent requirements do not necessarily apply to community transport organisations if they are carrying out commercial-type contracts won from a local authority in competition with other providers. And if such organisations are carrying out any services ‘exclusively for non-commercial purposes’, then all of the services they offer must be carried out to standards applied to commercial operators.

This could potentially have implications for local operator FACT (Fenland Association for Community Transport) along with its ESACT and HACT operations in East Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire respectively.  They operate a number of services for the county council, including most recently winning the contract to provide the new ‘East Cambs Connect’ minibus service set up following cuts to a number of bus services in East Cambridgeshire.

It’s early days, and it’s not yet clear how all of this will work out.  But at the very least it could cause some disruption while it is resolved, and at worst it could mean current contracts being withdrawn and re-tendered.

Meanwhile, investigations into FACT/HACT/ESACT are still ongoing, following various allegations about its operations including grant applications.  I asked at the time how this would affect the county council’s decision to award the East Cambs Connect contract to ESACT, and was told it wouldn’t.  And a grant of over £13,000 to ESACT from East Cambridgeshire District Council is still being held back after I proposed it would be wise not to allocate this money until the investigations are concluded – one way or another.

Recent planning applications

The following local applications have been published by East Cambridgeshire District Council.

Little Downham
Land Parcel South West Of 6 Third Drove Little Downham
New dwelling.

29 Vermuyden Gardens Sutton CB6 2QR
Construction of single storey rear extension which extends beyond the rear wall by 4.5m, has a maximum height of 3.4m and an eaves height of 2.7m.

Site North West of 27 Sutton Road Witchford
Detached three bed bungalow.

Land Adjacent to No 2 Market Way Witcham CB6 2LP
Outline application for two storey dwelling, single carport, parking, access, turning and associated site works.

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.

Fat Cat Tuesday

Today has already been labelled Fat Cat Tuesday – the day Cambridgeshire’s Conservative county councillors tore up the recommendations of an independent panel and voted themselves a massive pay rise instead.

The independent panel had been asked to advise on the allowances paid to county councillors for doing their duties. The panel interviewed a range of councillors, asked searching questions, and made informed and sensible recommendations.  These would have cost about £750,000, which is less than the council had budgeted for this year.

However, Conservative councillors (with just one exception) decided to rip up the panel’s proposals and invent their own allowances. To everyone’s utter surprise (not), these were far more generous, totalling £936,726 – over £185,000 more than the panel had recommended.

The Leader of the Council currently gets £21,000 a year.  The panel proposed he should be paid £25,000.  He has decided he is worth over £31,000.

The Deputy Leader, currently on over £14,000, was recommended by the panel for a pay cut, to £11,250.  Instead he’ll get a pay rise too, to £20,627.

Both of those allowances are on top of a basic allowance that rises to over £10,000 a year.

Two additional committees have been set up: that means seven committees instead of five. Each one has a Chair (on over £18,000) and a Vice Chair (on nearly £8,000). That’s an extra £52,000 just for those two committees.

And there will be five new councillor posts called ‘area leads’ within the new Community & Partnerships Committee, each on an extra £5,000.

It’s a job creation scheme on a massive scale. Almost two-thirds of the Conservatives’ 36 county councillors could be on some kind of extra allowance.

Meanwhile, residents in Coveney and Wardy Hill are losing their one bus a week, because the council says it can’t afford it. Families in Sutton are about to lose their children’s centre, because the council is pleading poverty. There’s no money for services, but there’s enough money for a massive pay rise for councillors.

The sheer naked greed of the exercise is breathtaking – and unforgivable.

Sutton Co-op update

The Co-op has now submitted updated plans for its proposed store in Sutton on the triangle of land at the A142 roundabout.

The original 32 car parking spaces weren’t enough in council officers’ view, so the applicants have removed one of the two original hot food takeaway outlets, and a small additional retail unit, leaving only one takeaway alongside the Co-op store itself. This will create room for a total of 49 car parking spaces. There will also be space for twelve bicycles.

The store is proposed to open from 7:00am to 10:00pm Monday to Sunday. The applicants have not yet said who will operate the takeaway unit.

The applicants are proposing vehicle entrance and exit from Ely Road, where the old road joins Ely Road. They intend to create a three-metre wide shared cycle and pedestrian way on that side of the road, with a pedestrian refuge to serve pedestrians crossing from the Tramar Drive side.

Comments on the revised application are open until 28 July, and can be made here.


East Cambs councillors vote themselves a 25 per cent rise

Councillors on East Cambridgeshire District Council tonight voted themselves an immediate 25 per cent pay rise. The decision was in line with the recommendation of an independent panel report on the council’s allowances.

I proposed delaying the increase until the elections in May 2019.  At that point, there will be 28 councillors instead of 39, and an increase won’t cost the taxpayer any more money. Not a single other councillor was prepared to support my proposal, which therefore didn’t even make it to a vote.

The immediate increase in allowances will cost the council over £48,000 a year until the next elections. The former council leader (now the Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough) said last year that reducing the number of councillors was our contribution to saving money in difficult financial times.  Not if Conservative councillors vote for a 25 per cent pay rise it isn’t!

Council committee meeting: a bit of a shambles

East Cambridgeshire District Council’s new Community Services committee met for the first time yesterday evening.

Off-street parking was on the agenda.  The council recently consulted the public on a number of changes to parking arrangements, including increasing the parking Penalty Charge from £50 to £70 (a decision the council made in 2015 but had not yet carried out).  No-one had objected, but a last-minute amendment was put on the table at the meeting by the Conservatives to make the new charge £60.  It appears they have taken two years to change their minds about a decision they didn’t carry out when it was made and that no-one has objected to anyway.

The council’s appointees to various local organisations had been asked to submit written reports to the meeting, as happens every year.  A lot of these reports are blank, and I’ve been getting more and more outspoken asking what these Conservative appointees are doing if they cannot even be bothered to submit a report once a year.  The message seems to be getting through, and there was a flurry of last-minute reports on the table yesterday.

  • None of the four councillors on the Community Safety Partnership (including the chair of yesterday’s committee meeting) had submitted a report on what the partnership had done in the last year – or even whether they had attended.
  • The report of the district council’s representative on the county council’s Health Committee said only: ‘This Body fits in with ECDC’s Corporate Plan, as it looks [sic] the areas of need for all residents’. I’m not sure that tells us a lot about what’s happening in the important area of public health.
  • The council’s representative on the East Cambs & Fenland Children’s Trust said in his report that he wasn’t sure it was worth the council being represented on this body. If that’s the case, why did the council nominate him?  Does the council think this organisation is worthwhile?
  • The council’s representative to the Paradise Centre management committee said she couldn’t keep them informed of what was happening because she wasn’t on the right council committees.  That doesn’t sound like effective relationship building.
  • And finally, it was reported that the council has decided to withdraw from the City of Ely Perspective group, just at the point where it seems to be reviving and submitting important views on developments in Ely such as the proposals for the building on the Market Square.

It all seemed a bit of a shambles.

Planning Committee set to consider Witchford and Sutton applications

East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Planning Committee meets next Wednesday 5 July, with some controversial local items on its agenda.

Planning officers are recommending that councillors should refuse Gladman’s application for outline planning permission for up to 55 homes on land north of 22 Marroway Lane in Witchford (16/01136/OUM).

However, officers are recommending approval of Linden Homes’s application for 77 homes at the top of Mepal Road in Sutton (16/01772/FUM).

Two applications in Coveney are also being recommended by officers for approval: a three-bedroomed, two storey detached eco-home at 2 Gravel End, Coveney (17/00652/FUL), and two detached houses on the adjacent land (17/00549/OUT).

Recent planning applications

The following local applications have been published by East Cambridgeshire District Council in recent weeks:

Land west of 1 Jerusalem Drove, Wardy Hill
Proposed erection of a dwelling house and change of use for south of site to domestic garden.

Land adjacent 2 Gravel End, Coveney CB6 2DN
Erection of two detached dwellings, garages and associated works.

2 Gravel End, Coveney CB6 2DN
Construction of 3 bedroom, two storey, detached eco-dwelling with garage and access, plus the alteration of amenity area and parking to host house.

Little Downham
59 Cannon Street, Little Downham CB6 2SS
Demolition of vacant property, and construction of new 3 bedroom chalet dwelling with associated parking.

Little Downham
29-33 Main Street, Little Downham CB6 2ST
Installation of new external extraction system (retrospective).

Little Downham
Land to east of Sunnydene, Pymoor Lane, Pymoor
Erection of a four bed dwelling.

Little Downham
Carlisle Farm, Main Drove, Little Downham
Proposed change of use from agricultural building to 3 dwellings.

Little Downham
80 Cannon Street, Little Downham CB6 2SS
Two storey side extension.

Little Downham
Sunnydene, Pymoor Lane, Pymoor
Front and side single storey extensions plus two storey rear extension.

Little Downham
51 Cannon Street, Little Downham CB6 2SS
Demolition of existing dwelling and construction of two four-bedroom two-storey detached dwellings, four three-bedroom one-and-a-half storey detached dwellings, and one three-bedroom two-storey detached dwelling.

Little Downham
Land adjacent to  21 Cannon Street, Little Downham
Three four-bed dwellings (Plots 1-3).

Little Downham
Barn at Head Fen Farm, Head Fen Drove, Pymoor
Change of use from agricultural storage to dwelling house.

Little Downham
Works adjacent to 7 Cannon Street, Little Downham
Construction of eleven four-bedroom, nine three-bedroom, seven two-bedroom dwellings and associated works.

Hill Farm, Sutton Road, Mepal CB6 2AG
Cattle shed. Existing building already being used for this purpose.

34 Chestnut Way, Mepal CB6 2YR
Single storey rear extension.

The Three Pickerels, 19 Bridge Road, Mepal
Proposed extensions, loft conversions and alterations.

36 St Andrews Close, Sutton CB6 2QX
Single storey rear extension.

10 Oates Lane, Sutton CB6 2RG
Construction of a replacement dwelling, with associated landscaping and parking.

1A High Street, Sutton CB6 2RB
Change of use from office to two two-bed dwellings.

Kings of Witcham Ltd, The Slade, Witcham
Demolition of existing motor vehicle garage and construction of six four-bed dwellings, two three-bed dwellings, garaging, access road and associated works.

Land north of 22 Marroway Lane, Witchford
Outline planning permission for demolition of existing dilapidated farm buildings and erection of up to 55 residential dwellings (including 30% affordable housing), introduction of structural planting and landscaping, informal public open space, surface water attenuation and associated ancillary works. All matters to be reserved.

Land east of Needhams Farm, Main Street, Witchford
Outline application for residential development.

33 Victoria Green, Witchford CB6 2XB
Change of use from detached garage to small two-person salon.

6 Barton Close, Witchford CB6 2HS
Proposed two-storey rear extension and conservatory.

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.

Proposed parking changes in Ely

East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Commercial Services Committee meets next Wednesday (17 May) at 5:30pm.  The agenda includes proposals for a new off-street parking places order for the following purposes.

  1. Update the car parking map for Barton Road to show the changes to market trader parking arrangements and the removal of all but one of the coach spaces.
  2. Include the new car park at The Dock (near Angel Drove car park and the railway station).
  3. Include cashless parking as an alternative payment method at Angel Drove and The Dock.
  4. Increase the Fixed Penalty Notice to £70, as agreed in the council budget in February.
  5. Extend the waiting time at the public car park at the Council Offices during office hours; it’s currently 30 minutes and will now be an hour.

All of these proposals will require a 21 day public consultation period, after which the proposals will come back to the committee for final approval.

The actual draft order is here.