Ouse Washes

Mark Nokkert Ouse Washes project Gault Day

At the Gault Day today, I was interested to hear from Mark Nokkert – pictured here with his exhibition stand – about the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership Scheme.  Mark, from the Netherlands, is the programme manager for this project, which aims to increase understanding of the local washlands, promote the area as a visitor destination, involve local communities in maintaining the landscape, and provide training in conservation and heritage.

Like many people, I hadn’t really thought much about the Ouse washes as a single piece of landscape with a shared potential, but this scheme includes the whole area from Downham Market down the Old Bedford and New Bedford Rivers through Sutton as far as the RSPB nature reserves at Fen Drayton and Needingworth.  Cambridgeshire ACRE has received an initial grant of just over £90,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to start the project off, and a further sum of nearly £1M has been earmarked to put the scheme into effect.  There are 23 key partners ranging from local councils and voluntary groups to national charities, with 60 more organisations and individuals on the partnership forum.

There are opportunities to get involved, and the project is on Twitter at @ousewasheslp.

Gault Day

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What a brilliant day we all had at the Gault today!  Chickens, bees, plastic ducks*, Pooh sticks, cream teas, music, Peter the eel catcher, bouncy castle, trampoline, display and information stands, sunshine, great company – it had everything.  Well done and thank you to all involved.

*The picture shows the first few ducks emerging from under the bridge at the Anchor. Mine wasn’t one of them.

East Cambs residents to pay £1M for A14

In response to a question from me yesterday afternoon at East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Finance & Governance Committee, the leader of the Council has confirmed that he’s given the nod to donating £1 million of East Cambs cash towards upgrading the A14.  There’s the nicety of putting this decision through the appropriate council committee first, of course.  But that’s a huge amount of money for a council that always claims to be so cash-strapped – and which already includes among its priorities the viaduct at Ely station, the new Ely leisure village, the car park extension at Littleport station, the new railway station at Soham and the Soham Eastern Gateway.

There’s not a lot of money sloshing around the public services at the moment.  The freeze on council tax continues, and there’s a £400,000 black hole in the council’s finances caused by the collapse of the Conservatives’ car park charging plans.  It’s hard to see how the council proposes to find another £1 million.

Good news for local schools?

Wednesday’s government announcement from George Osborne about introducing a new national funding formula for schools may mean good news for Cambridgeshire.

Our schools here in this county are at the bottom of the national funding league table and have been starved of cash by successive governments for 30 years.  A commitment from the government to start addressing that is very welcome – as is the future extension of the pupil premium and more money for apprenticeships.

Rats? Mice? Wasps? You’re on your own …

Rats

Have you got a problem with rats, mice, wasps or other pests?  If so, East Cambridgeshire District Council will no longer be offering you help.  The council used to rely on South Cambridgeshire District Council to run its pest control service, but that council has decided to make its pest control staff redundant and East Cambridgeshire has no alternative provider.  The council will maintain a service for the treatment of wasps’ nests but only until the end of August.

It’s true that councils have no legal duty to provide a pest control service – and an increasing number, like East Cambridgeshire, are cutting or closing their pest control services.  But they do have a legal obligation to take necessary steps to secure as far as practicable that their district (and in particular their own land) is kept free from rats and mice.  They must also make sure other landowners live up to their obligations – including telling the council in writing if there are substantial numbers of rats or mice on their land.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health is seriously concerned about the numbers of councils ceasing to provide pest control services – partly because treating individual properties might not be effective, but also because it means more householders using poisons of which they have little experience.  It believes that decisions like that of East Cambridgeshire and South Cambridgeshire are inconsistent with councils’ public health responsibilities.  It’s arguably a fair point.

Let’s have a heated debate!

How many signatures on a petition do you think Cambridgeshire County Council wants before it will allow the petition to be debated by councillors?  500, maybe?  A thousand – that would demonstrate that local people felt strongly about something.  5,000 signatures would be a pretty major response.

In fact, the County Council requires at least 15,130 signatures before it will debate a petition presented to it – that’s nearly five times the adult population of Sutton.  And so restrictive is the County Council’s policy on this, that since it was introduced there has never been a debate triggered by a petition.

But moves are now afoot to try to change this.  A Cambridge county councillor, Ian Manning, will be proposing a motion to the County Council at its meeting on 16 July, to change the rules so that only 3,000 signatures would be needed on a petition before the council would have to debate it. Cllr Manning also wants each political group on the council to be able to reply to questions put to county council meetings by members of the public, with these responses published on the council’s web site.

Too often people go to a lot of trouble to collect petition signatures, or take time off work to attend meetings to question the council about something, only to be told dismissively that a council officer will write to them at some future date.  That’s just not good enough.  All credit to Cllr Manning for trying to bring some light into the darker corners of local democracy.

No to nuisance calls

Very pleased to see next-door’s MP Julian Huppert (Lib Dem, Cambridge) backing a Private Members’ Bill to tackle the menace of unsolicited phone calls and text messages.  Like many local residents, I’m constantly on the receiving end of calls or texts that I haven’t asked for, don’t want, and are just trying to sell me stuff I don’t need.  It’s an abuse of people’s personal data and it’s time to clamp down on the companies that inflict this menace on us.

Fly-tipping – the East Cambs record

We know that East Cambridgeshire District Council’s record on tackling fly-tipping in Sutton frankly isn’t that great.  But how does our district council compare with others?  The official league table of councils’ fly-tipping performance across England paints a less than impressive picture.

Comparing East Cambridgeshire and neighbouring South Cambridgeshire’s performance in 2011/2012, it appears that:

  • South Cambridgeshire issued 18 warning letters, East Cambridgeshire none
  • South Cambridgeshire issued 13 statutory notices, East Cambridgeshire none
  • South Cambridgeshire issued 25 fixed penalty notices, East Cambridgeshire none
  • South Cambridgeshire issued 10 formal cautions, East Cambridgeshire just one
  • South Cambridgeshire mounted 13 prosecutions, East Cambridgeshire none
  • South Cambridgeshire collected £5480 in fines for fly-tipping, East Cambridgeshire £0

At the very least, that’s a ‘must try harder’, East Cambs.  Surely this is something our local councillors should be pressing the council to improve, and to fund properly?  It is, after all, a pretty basic council responsibility to chase up and make an example of people who dump rubbish indiscriminately and spoil our local environment.