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.

Fly-tipping at Pound Lane

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Yesterday evening a group of Sutton residents – Mark Inskip, Brett Collard and myself – asked a series of questions at the Community & Environment Committee of East Cambridgeshire District Council.  Our aim was to get the council to commit to doing something about the perpetual nuisance of fly-tipping.

Mark (pictured here with me at the Pound Lane recycling point) asked whether the council would improve the signage at the site and consider using CCTV to identify fly-tippers.  The current rather weather-beaten sign directs residents to the recycling centre at Grunty Fen, which was closed 18 months ago!  The council’s response was that there was no money for better signage, though they would put up some small laminated notices on the bins at the centre directing people to Witchford.  They also, apparently, have the wrong kind of CCTV equipment, which can’t be installed at Pound Lane – and no money for better equipment, either.

Brett asked whether the council would stop discouraging residents from preserving evidence of the identity of fly-tippers gathered from dumped rubbish.  The council’s response was that this made it more difficult for the council to prove its case against fly-tippers in court – although, as the council has not mounted any prosecutions at all in the last three years relating to fly-tipping in Sutton, it’s hard to see the logic of this answer.

Finally, I asked whether the council had any plans to improve on the current three full working days which is the target for the council to clear up fly-tipping at Pound Lane after it has been reported.  The council did agree that this has been a problem, and has said it will introduce a regular three-day-a-week clean-up schedule for the Pound Lane site in view of the ongoing problems we have experienced here.  That at least is good news.

The council has only one enforcement officer to deal with fly-tippers across the whole of East Cambridgeshire.  It’s therefore little surprise that the council’s record of action on fly-tipping isn’t as robust as, for example, that of next-door South Cambridgeshire.  But the residents who set this campaign in motion have been promised a meeting with the enforcement officer, where we’ll be able to discuss what else could and should be done to address this all-too-regular nuisance.

Annual meeting of the electorate

Tonight saw the annual meeting of the electorate for residents of Sutton, at the Glebe.

Sgt Mark Yeldham from the Ely South policing team gave an informative presentation on tackling crime in the district, with the good news that most forms of crime have been reducing while detection rates have been rising, and that Sutton is an area of comparatively low crime.

County and district councillor Philip Read – currently chairman of the Planning Committee – arrived at that point and made a similar presentation to the one at Tuesday’s parish council AGM.  A questioner asked him why the district council had flown in the face of planning principles in choosing to site Ely’s new leisure facility in the proposed out-of-town location, to which Cllr Read replied that the council owned the land concerned.  I’m not convinced that that’s a sound argument for locating leisure provision somewhere where it can’t be reached by public transport and is disconnected from the rest of the city and its amenities.  Surely a leisure park near to rail and bus services would be more appropriate?

Representatives from the Youth Club then spoke about some of their recent projects; they were asked whether they were keen to have a permanent skate park locally, and if so where in the village they would suggest it be placed.  The temporary skate park which had visited recently had cost £700 for six hours.

Parish councillor Ian Dewar reminded everyone that there are three vacancies on the parish council.  The next election to the parish council is in 2015 so the term of office would be less than two years.  If you are interested, or know someone who might be, more information is available on the parish council’s web site including an email address to contact the parish clerk.

Sutton Parish Council AGM

Just back from sitting in on the Parish Council AGM at the Pavilion tonight, where Bob Browne and Mark Inskip have been re-elected unopposed as Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively.

There were questions from parish councillors to county councillor Phil Read about improving the road between Willingham and Earith, and about why the district council has taken the unusual step of abolishing its scrutiny committee and thereby reducing its accountability.  And the decision was made to grant £1,000 to the Feast Committee – hurrah!

It’s good to see the Parish Council in such a healthy state considering the situation it was facing two years ago.  There’s an appropriate amount of money in reserves, and some good work by the various working parties and panels bringing the council into shape with improved IT and tidier procedures.  All very heartening.