Susan van de Ven

Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Bassingbourn, Melbourn, Meldreth and Whaddon Learn more

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Meaningful vote?

by Susan van de Ven on 16 March, 2019

It was only via a press release that I learned of the County Council’s endorsement of East West Rail Route Option A, running through Bassingbourn – published even before the relevant committee had met to form a view and vote on the matter.

I’m very grateful to parish council representatives from Bassingbourn, Whaddon and Meldreth for joining me at a meeting of the Economy and Environment Committee at Shire Hall on 14 March to give our views. The committee’s debate seemed to take in all the points that we – along with those of speakers from other parishes – had put forward.

One committee member said that the report read like a report prepared for the East West Rail Company, not for a council committee with the interests of Cambridgeshire residents as its key priority. The officer who had prepared the report stated that none of the five options met value for money tests and emphasized that the report was a narrow appraisal of a railway track only, without any consideration of development issues. The potential closure of multiple rights of way was acknowledged with concern. Some councillors indicated they would support Route A but gave no reasons.

It seemed possible from their discussion that the committee might decide that it was not appropriate to endorse any of the options, given the argument that a private railway company is taking the lead on what is in fact a planning matter – the creation of a new town, to justify a railway alongside it. Absence of infrastructure planning, lack of flood risk and environmental assessments, and the adherence to planning processes that exist precisely to protect the integrity of new development, were all discussed in some detail.

And yes, as local people know, Bassingbourn Barracks is already spoken for – perhaps the East West Rail Company was not aware that this is an active MOD site with ambitious plans for redevelopment as a training base for British troops heading for deployment overseas, as I’d seen for myself the day before on a tour of the site.

The committee then voted 5-3, with one abstention, in favour of endorsing Option A. This was difficult to understand given the debate that had just taken place.

Prior to the meeting, a parish councillor had raised a query as to whether the Chairman of the Economy and Environment Committee, Cllr Bates, had a conflict of interest, as he had been Chairman of East West Rail for many years until recently, and is still a member of the East West Rail Consortium.

The County Council Monitoring Officer’s advice was that technically the Chairman was allowed to participate in the meeting so long as he made it clear that he did not come to the meeting with any bias or predetermination. Those of us who attended the meeting felt very keenly that for the sake of transparency and avoidance of doubt, not participating and certainly not voting would have been helpful. The Chairman had not contributed his views to the debate on the recommendation, but led the vote in favour of it.

You can look up any county councillor’s register of interests here: https://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/…/cou…/county-councillors/

My own response to the East West Rail consultation can be found on the preceding blog.

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