by Susan van de Ven on 8 July, 2017
Liberal Democrat Community Newsletter July 2017
We are writing to you, as councillors and campaigners for our interlinked cluster of villages, to keep you informed of local issues involving the District and County Councils. If you would prefer not to receive this email newsletter, please reply asking to be removed from the distribution list. If you know of someone not receiving this newsletter who would like to do so, please ask them to contact firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BUSES AND LOCAL TRANSPORT LINKS: 17 JULY BUS USERS’ GROUP
As has been extensively reported, changes are underway on local bus services. The Cam Vale Bus Users’ Group has been set up to provide a collective voice for those who depend on local bus services to get around in our area. For more information on all the items below, please come along to the group’s next meeting on July 17, 7:30PM, at The Limes Communal Facility in Bassingbourn High Street. If you can help with lifts from Melbourn, Meldreth and Whaddon, please contact Susan.
1: Stagecoach is making changes to its 26 and 27 commercial buses. From 23 July, the 26 bus will resume an hourly service with some running through Trumpington Park and Ride; this is being done on a trial basis and will need to see very healthy ridership to continue. At the same time, Stagecoach is completely withdrawing the 27 bus, for which the average ridership was less than three passengers per day.
Details on changes here.
2: As for council-subsidized 127/128 buses, we are expecting an announcement this week on the operator for retendered contracts. The future of these services is uncertain due to continuing extreme council budget cuts.
3: Susan is working with Royston and District Community Transport to set up a lift service for post-16 students to get from Bassingbourn and Whaddon to Meldreth Station, in order to access college in Cambridge. This would be a minibus running once in early morning and returning once late afternoon. The service would need to be paid for by users but should have economies of scale. Please let Susan or RDCT (01763 245228) know if you are interested in using this service.
4: We have just been advised by one commercial operator, Whippet, who had been standing by with interest in providing a new commercial service in the 27 bus area, that they can no longer play a role. Due to unprofitability on many of their Cambridgeshire services, they are in the process of deregistering them. Key problems are lack of public support for using bus services, and intolerable congestion in Cambridge, which means their buses cannot run to schedule. This leaves us with even fewer local public transport options, and we must be mindful of the fact that Royston and District Community Transport’s council grant is not protected.
£31 MILLION FURTHER COUNTY COUNCIL CUTS THIS YEAR
This financial year the County Council must agree yet further cuts, of £31 million. This is a result of continuing Conservative Government policy to wind down revenue support grant to zero by 2019; Conservative/UKIP policy to freeze Council Tax; and demographic pressures mainly arising from an aging population with costly social care and health needs. County Council reserves are very low and borrowing very high, to the extent that there is no scope for exploiting either. The trend is toward eliminating all public services that are not legally required.
CHILDREN’S CENTRES TO BE ‘REDESIGNATED’ – UNNECESSARY CUTS
Children’s Centres, providing essential support to young children and their parents, are to be rebranded as ‘Child and Family Centres’ in an exercise to save £1 million. This will involve demoting and amalgamating with some health services and effectively shutting some children’s centres down. There are severe implications for Melbourn and Bassingbourn as outlined in Appendix 2 here.
A consultation runs from July 17 – September 22. Changes have been made on the basis of socio-economic indicators, however there are needy families within relatively affluent localities who will be directly affected. If families who need extra help are deterred from taking it up because of having to travel to get it, they will have more difficulties and there will be higher costs further down the line for schools and social services – so the changes represent a serious false economy which could have been avoided.
This £1 million cut follows the Conservative/UKIP council tax freeze – which was argued as saving the taxpayer money.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Health and Social Care services are required to undertake a ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plan’ – centred around huge cost savings and efficiencies compressed into a short period of time, to run services more efficiently and to save money. Staff recruitment and retention are cited as the greatest risk factor. There are more GPs leaving than entering due to pressures in the profession; a general high cost of living and lack of local transport make low-paid jobs unviable; and Brexit and a better welcome elsewhere for health and social care workers affects the EU nationals who make up 10% of the workforce in local health and social care sectors.
FERTILITY TREATMENT CUTS
In one example of financial pressures on local health services, a proposal is now out for consultation on the withdrawal of certain fertility services, including IVF (excepting unusual medical circumstances). The consultation deadline is July 30. More information and how to respond here.
LARGE SPECULATIVE PLANNING APPLICATION DEFERRED: MARLEY ETERNIT 150 HOMES
After lengthy discussion on all aspects of a speculative planning application for 150 homes on the Marley Eternit factory site at Whaddon Road, Meldreth, the South Cambs District Council Planning Committee voted to defer their decision pending more information on highways matters, but also citing a range of other concerns. The site is outside the village framework and proposes 25% affordable housing, as opposed to 40% as standard (and 100% outside of village frameworks, which would be a legal requirement if the Local Plan were in place). The developer cites the high cost of decontamination on a former asbestos factory site as the reason for less affordable housing; this effectively pushes the contamination cost on to the local community. The site’s fundamental sustainability was called into question, as it would comprise a totally separate new community without any public services. We expect the decision to come back to committee in September or October.
Representations from Philippa and Susan are posted here.
‘GREATER CAMBRIDGE PLANNING’
Yes, your heart may well sink. However, this may be a good idea. What is proposed (subject to decisions made later in the year) is combining the planning teams at South Cambs and Cambridge City. Why? It is envisaged that the new team would be big enough to provide resilience in terms of staff, expertise in all areas of planning and sufficient career opportunity to make it an attractive place to work. It would provide a single service for everyone with all the economies of scale that you would expect on IT, processes and systems and it would have the capacity to deal with everything it is supposed to do, including with the next Local Plan (i.e. the one starting in two years’ time despite still not having the last one in place, yet.) Given that things can’t get much worse (see below) we are inclined to think this is worth further investigation.
PLANNING AT SOUTH CAMBS: DO YOU NEED HELP?
There are big problems with South Cambridgeshire planning service. Having made huge improvements in the past two years in reducing the backlog of applications from over 900 to about 50 it is now creeping up again. We were shocked to learn that if you want to speak to a planning officer about your application, the department is most unlikely to answer the phone and you will be told that you will be rung back in FOUR days. We are receiving numerous complaints, in particular from people wanting permission for business premises, about emails never being replied to, phone calls never being returned and planning decisions not being made within the expected time.
We have brought this to the attention of the most senior officers who are appear aware of the problems and who we have no doubt are doing their best to resolve the problems once they have identified what the causes are. Basically it is about lousy communications and decisions not being made on time. If you are experiencing problems get in touch with Jose and Philippa who will do their best to get things moving for you.
As if the process wasn’t torture enough look at what just popped into our inbox: “Council planning bosses have apologised after an administrative error meant planning permission was incorrectly granted. SCDC have said that once the error was spotted they spoke to the applicant and have now filed legal papers with the High Court for the planning approval to be rescinded within 6-8 weeks. The plans for seven new homes were for Grove Farm in Haslingfield. The error took place after the decision to refuse the application was incorrectly entered as an approval into a computer system. This process has already been changed and additional checks put in place to try and make sure the problem does not happen again”.
LEVEL CROSSING CLOSURE, MELDRETH
In the next round of consideration under the Secretary of State, following Network Rail’s recommended level crossing closure programme, the County Council has concurred with the view locally that the closure order for the Chiswick End/Fieldgate Meldreth level crossing is unacceptable, as the proposed alternative route over the Station Road bridge would put pedestrians at much greater risk. We now await further communication about taking part in the public inquiry.
TRAIN TIMETABLE CONSULTATION
The Thameslink timetable consultation is live until July 27. We’ve known for some time that Foxton, Shepreth and Meldreth will be getting twice-hourly trains throughout the day, and that rather than terminating at King’s Cross they will run through St Pancras and on to Gatwick. Commuters have raised concerns about longer journey times on some services. It has been pointed out that the timetable is hugely complex; one small change affects everything else. You can respond here.
CITY DEAL REBRANDING
The Greater Cambridge City Deal is now called the ‘Greater Cambridge Partnership’. That means that the new Shepreth-Melbourn pedestrian/cycle path is already of vintage branding, having been one of the few pieces of infrastructure actually created under the City Deal.
HARSTON PEDESTRIAN/CYCLE PATH WORKS COMMENCING LATE JULY
Work to create a 3-metre-wide pedestrian/cycle way through Harston, with significant redesign of Harston High Street, commences at the end of July and will take up to 32 weeks. This will be a period of significant disruption especially for Harston residents; the end result will be a much improved and segregated traffic system. Meanwhile, this is an opportune moment to encourage drivers heading to Cambridge to use the A1198/A603/M11 or the A505/M11.
The funding for this project comes directly from the Department for Transport as part of its ring-fenced ‘Cycling Ambition’ grant programme that aims to generate modal shift away from car use. This transformation will link up the Melbourn-Shepreth and Shepreth-Foxton-Harston pedestrian/cycle paths and provide a continuous route into Cambridge.
The Fire Authority has received an indication from the Police & Crime Commissioner that he would like to be the Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner which would see the end of the Fire Authority and invest all the decision-making process into one person. We think this is another erosion of the democratic process. If there were sound business reasons for it we’d be more inclined to be supportive. The Commissioner argues that the taxpayer would save £100k per year on Member Allowances. True, but there is no mention of how many bureaucrats would be needed to run the Authority. Secondly he argues that the ‘estate’ (i.e. police & fire owned stations) could be rationalised. Also true – and already happening. The public consultation is already running – search for the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Fire Authority or the Police & Crime Commissioner.
Following the devastating fire in London, South Cambridgeshire has advised that the District Council does not own any tower blocks or flats. Our flatted stock is predominantly low level with some medium rise blocks in Sawston. None of the blocks has been clad with external wall insulation. In May Safesmart Limited, specialists in fire risk assessment, was commissioned to carry out a full fire safety inspection of our blocks and sheltered housing communal rooms. The inspection concludes this month with a full report and the Council will take any action that is recommended.
THE LIBRARY PRESENTS
Cambridgeshire County Council’s Community and Cultural Services have been awarded funding from Arts Council England for a four year programme of arts events and activities in libraries, beginning in 2018, called ‘The Library Presents’; and is in line to receive a £694,980 grant which will enable a program of performances, book festivals and workshops across the County’s libraries. The Council will work to transform library spaces for these activities and bring a professionalism to the experience without losing the familiar friendly and welcoming elements which make such a positive difference to our participants and audiences.
A wide range of art forms will be included – dance, classical, folk and popular music; visual arts activity with exhibitions linked to workshops and possibly a digital ‘trail’; poetry, digital arts; theatre performance, comedy and spoken word. Needless to say the County will be relying on the involvement of Friends Groups and volunteers, as well as the staff, to deliver a programme that takes arts into the heart of our communities, breaking down the barriers and reaching out to each and every corner – rural and urban – of the county.
COMMUNITY CHEST GRANTS
A reminder to all that these small District Council grants are still available – more information here.
CAMBRIDGE MOSQUE OPEN DAY 16 JULY
We are delighted to have been invited to the Abubakar Mosque, Mawson Road Cambridge, for their Open Day on July 16, 10-4, to learn more about the work of the mosque in the community. This includes school visits to the mosque, as taken up not too long ago by Melbourn Primary School. Please contact us if you’d like us to put you in touch.
DROP-IN ADVICE SURGERY
There will be no drop-in surgeries during the August summer holidays, but please contact any of us any time if we can help with any matters of concern. Drop-in surgeries resume in September: first Mondays of the month at the Melbourn Hub Café; second Mondays at The Limes Library Café High Street Bassingbourn. Both run from 3-4PM – no need to sign up; just come along.
ANY ITEMS WE CAN HELP TO RAISE?
We would be delighted to address any concerns you may have, or help raise awareness of issues affecting our community via this newsletter.
WHAT WE STAND FOR
The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. Learn more about or join the Liberal Democrats here.
Susan, Philippa and Jose
Susan van de Ven, County Councillor for Bassingbourn, Melbourn, Meldreth and Whaddon
Philippa Hart, District Councillor for Meldreth and Shepreth
email@example.com, Tel 01763 261255
Jose Hales, District Councillor for Melbourn, Heydon and the Chishills
firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel 01763 221058
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