Melbourn Parish Council, County Councillor Report October 2017
Children’s Centre closures: The proposal was to remove £1 million spending on children’s centres, then refined to £900K, which would result in a large number of closures, with detail on a revised service yet to be worked out. Melbourn could be OK if the necessary services are offered at a consistent time and venue, but that remains to be worked out. As a representative also of Bassingbourn, which will experience a deep loss of service and has almost no public transport links, I couldn’t vote in favour of the proposal. And in the rest of the county there are many examples similar to Bassingbourn.
Consultation responses by early years professionals have been highly critical of the widespread loss, with long-term implications for child and family support and development. At the council meeting, a number of prominent professionals addressed the council: the director of Romsey Mill children’s centre; a retired County Council social services officer with decades’ experience of children’s centres; chair of governors at Homerton Early Years Centre; and the headteacher of Caldecote Primary School – made compelling arguments about the dangers of the proposals. The Conservative group argued that the cuts are necessary and will result in a better service, but details have not worked out. It must be understood that Cambridgeshire’s policy of freezing council tax is almost unique in the country, and has significantly worsened Cambridgeshire County Council’s ability to fund public services. The Children’s Centre cuts result directly from the most recent freeze.
The result was a clear decision by the council’s ruling Conservative group in favour of the recommendation to cut services, with everyone else against. It was especially disappointing that the expert opinion presented by a range of highly qualified professionals made no impact.
County Council Area Champions: I received an informal response and a formal response to my question to the October County Council meeting, ‘Why have I not yet heard from my Area Champion?’
The formal response is on the County Council website under Council meeting agenda for October 17, item 16b. The informal response I received from the chairman of the new ‘Communities and Partnerships’ Committee, who created the Area Champion roles, alluded to his personal need for greater remuneration to justify his work load. He now receives £18,372 per annum just to chair this new committee, on which the five Area Champions sit, each paid a Special Responsibility Allowance of £5000 to carry out these special roles. The vice chair is paid £7927. This is now the council’s most costly committee to convene, and the value it brings to the council and its job of delivering public services is not clear.
The letter the parish council received in response to its query was composed and sent by an officer. A number of different paid officers are involved in helping to field the work of Area Champions. This letter refers to County Council’s agreement of these new committees and the Area Champions. I spoke out and voted against the relevant motion, as did many others.
Deposits on third party-funded Highways projects: As you know, this accounts for any works not covered by the LHI scheme. This has been refined somewhat. There are now two categories of projects for which a deposit is required, one requiring design and consultation (£500 deposit) and one that needs no design or consultation (£250). The fine print isn’t quite clear and I’ve asked for more information. Please note that officially the policy refers to ‘Privately Funded’ schemes but I’ve pointed out that of parish councils are public bodies levying a precept.
Cam Vale Bus User Group: A meeting was held in Meldreth on 27 September. Nearly 30 people attended from the wider area served by our subsidised bus service, all without private transport. The 128 operator, Royston and District Community Transport and the County Council attended. The situation for people dependent on bus services is one of increasing fares and pressures on viability of services. Both the County Council and the Combined Authority are proposing to conduct Bus Reviews but these are not aligned.
Melbourn-Royston walk/cycle link: Much good cross-border work is taking place with businesses, local authorities, and councillors, with a strong consensus of opinion that a safe off-road link over the A505 and down the A10 would benefit many people and take pressure off the roads.
The Local Enterprise Partnership, which is responsible for allocating government ‘Growth Deal’ funding for various projects associated with business and enterprise, indicated that it supported the project and was prepared to provide financial support to the cost of the bridge, which would be situated in Hertfordshire, conditional on a collaborative funding arrangement including the private sector. Since then, local businesses have made pledges of financial support, and earlier this month Royston Town Council made a pledge of £30K to match the first local business pledge made by AstraZeneca at Melbourn Science Park. The next step is for the Greater Cambridge Partnership to consider funding the path and the Local Enterprise Partnership the balance of the cost of the bridge. Both organizations have significant government funding that they are required to spend within a fixed time frame. Employees at Melbourn Science Park will be making the case to the key meetings.
New tubs at Meldreth Station: Hopefully by the time you read this, new tubs will have been installed and planted. Network Rail had volunteered to carry out the task of installing the new weather-proof tubs, with volunteers ready to do the planting. Unfortunately, Network Rail was unable to do this properly. Thanks therefore to Govia Thameslink who stepped in and carried out the task. Thanks also to the Meldreth and Melbourn volunteers who waited patiently for almost two weeks for this to be sorted, and to Philimore Garden Centre for helping to organize all the contents. We should also thank the two Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award volunteers who have been working throughout the summer to keep the tubs well-watered. The grant which the Community Rail Partnership received from the Association of Community Rail Partnerships for replacing the tubs requires a public launch event, and this will take the form of a tea party to be held at Shepreth Station on October 28, 2PM.
Eight-car trains from November: While the new Thameslink timetable doesn’t come into force until December 2018, new eight-car trains will begin running in November, gradually working their way to standard. Due to platform extensions on the Cambridge bound sides at Shepreth and Foxton only, all trains at Meldreth will have selective door opening, as will south-bound trains at Shepreth and Foxton. We are told that this will be clearly announced by visual display and verbal announcements. The design will be a metro tube style, with advantages and disadvantages.
Public Inquiry, proposed level crossing closure: County Council Rights of Way officers and lawyers are being deployed to fight Network Rail’s plan for the closure of the level crossing south of Meldreth Station Road vehicle bridge, which forms part of our local public rights of way network. A 20-day public inquiry is scheduled to commence on 28 November, and Melbourn residents are actively involved. It is hard to escape the irony that one cash-strapped public body, the County Council, is spending precious resource defending public rights of way against another public body, which didn’t have enough funding to extend platforms on both sides of the tracks at Shepreth and Foxton, and not at all at Meldreth.
For Information – Community Rail Partnership: Community Rail Partnerships (CRPs) receive support from the Department for Transport and have access to grants for community projects, for example the Melbourn Community Edible Gardening project at Melbourn Primary School. CRPs should be consulted on transport-related projects, for example the rural travel hubs project. The Meldreth, Shepreth and Foxton CRP is an overarching group with a strategic outlook, and the Rail User Group sits under it to deal with day to day train service issues.
While we are often working in frustration on rail related issues, the parishes benefit from what the CRP has been able to secure and keep in place: 50% student rail discount for sixth formers (a unique arrangement nationally), greatly reduced parking charges, continuation of the booking office, and according to British Transport Police a significantly lower rate of crime and anti-social behaviour than we would expect at a station of this size. We have good lines of communication with the rail industry and arrangements with local business that reduce the number of cars needing to access the station.
Given that the train service itself will greatly increase from next year, with new problems and opportunities, the CRP seems important to maintain. Therefore, as you will remember, last year funds were raised toward the establishment of a part-time paid post in order to ensure a viable and sustainable endeavour. The CRP decided to establish a community interest company to provide an accountable financial and legal structure. To this end, South Cambs District Council (which is a member of the CRP) has provided professional advice in the establishment of a CIC, agreed to initially host the CRP paid post to ease the administrative burden, and to contribute £5K per year for two years toward the post, which will top up the funds committed by Meldreth, Melbourn, Shepreth and Foxton Parish Councils and Govia Thameslink (£700 each). The CIC Articles should be signed shortly, and the part-time paid post will be advertised next month. The CIC has three prospective directors: Chairman of the Finance Committee at Melbourn Village College, Chairman of the Governing Body at Melbourn Primary School, and Chairman of the Finance Committee at Foxton Parish Council. At the same time, the CRP’s terms of reference will be refreshed to reflect these changes. Working in cooperation with parish councils is fundamentally important and an invitation to join the partnership will be sent out as soon as all these administrative jobs are completed.
Hopefully, these changes will make the Community Rail Partnership a well-supported and sustainable endeavour that brings benefit to the local community.