We get lots of reports that get launched with a big fanfare, but who does the progress checks?
Before I start: Democracy Cambridge on Facebook <<<— Please click here and *Like* (and share!)
This in part stems from my blogpost of yesterday and the problems of local government as it continues to move away from being a grant distributor under Labour in the 2000s to this age of rapid technological and social change along with the financial cuts post-2010 in an era of fragmented public services. That’s to say nothing of Brexit or DonnyT.
Losing count of the number of ‘fire and forget’ future visions for Cambridge
Half of them are probably mine and most of those are past blogposts! I jest. Actually, Puffles manifesto for 2014 was nothing if not a future vision for Cambridge. Does it stand the test of time? Have a look at the manifesto and judge for yourself. Furthermore, the city council has started implementing parts of that manifesto – which me and Puffles think is ***splendid***. The council started with doing an audit of community venues and service provision. They are now consulting on their Community Services Strategy that builds on this – an excellent piece of evidence-based policy-making.
Last week, Cllr Richard Johnson (Lab – Abbey), executive councillor for communities announced the council would be spending £10,000 ‘to explore how best to involve the City’s 12 – 15 year olds in decision making’ (See his press release here). I refer Cambridge’s councillors to the Young People’s theme of Puffles’s manifesto of 2014. The formal details of Cllr Johnson’s amendment to secure the £10,000 is in the document BSR Executive Amendment via this link. (****Why do they bury all of the important stuff?!?!****)
[***Updated to add***]
Cllr Zoe O’Connell (Lib Dems – Trumpington) tweeted the following a few mins ago:
Cambridge Liberal Democrats are calling for the city council to spend £30,000 on democracy engagement with young people, rather than the £10,000 as proposed by Labour. Either way (and I’m not too fussed who wants to take credit), I’m glad that some money is being spent and that the issue is being raised. This marks a significant policy change from this response from former councillor George Owers when he was executive councillor for finance back in 2014.
“In terms of ‘engaging youth’ and visiting schools, I would point out that a) I was the youngest councillor ever elected to Cambridge City Council (21 when elected) and b) schools and young people are a County not a City issue. It’s not a blurred line, it’s the most unblurred demarcation in our two-tier local government system. Why not contact county councillors about these issues?”
You can understand why several people encouraged me to stand for election after reading that reply. It reads strongly now, but this was at a time when I was blogging very critically of the city council generally, and elected councillors were responding with both barrels.
So…that’s 20% of Puffles’ manifesto that the city council are currently working on. On Thursday I get to ask them about air quality and all things green. If Cambridge gets a low emissions zone and/or restrictions on highly polluting vehicles coming into Cambridge, that will bring us up to 30%.
“What about the other visions?”
To try and summarise each one in a single line:
- Lara Allen: “Equality – yay!” But few specifics
- Anne Bailey: Overhaul education – drag out of Victorian age & make lifelong
- Alan Blackwell: Make Cambridge more self-governing but direct privileges to the poor (‘King’s Hedges College, Cambridge’)
- Julian Bowrey: Expand city boundaries & make single unitary authority
- David Cleevely: Cambridge to be even bigger than Julian Bowrey says, with driverless cars & smart tech
- Ben Cowell: Wicken Fen & the countryside is coming to get you!
- Douglas Crawford Brown: 80% of buildings in 2065 around have already been built – retrofit.
- @CambsCC: “East West Rail – yay!” “Bikes – yay!” “Choice of transport – yay!”
- Bob Dennison/Stagecoach: “Buses/multiple person travel pods – yay!”
- Rachel Drury: “Art and science – yay!” “Festivals without pollution – yay!”
- Lynsi Hayward Smith: Skills – do we have them? How will demand/needs change?
- Rachel Jones: My life in a day – at 95
- Peter Landshoff: Old people – more of them (us?) with growing needs
- Lewis Herbert: “Here’s our 2015 manifesto” – does it stand the test of time?
- Ian Lewis: We’ll grow even more than what David Cleevely said
- Theresa Marteau: Smoke-free city, safe booze, healthier population
- Anna McIvor: Sustainable green living FTW.
- Roger Mitchell: Heritage, culture & leisure connected – all green & sustainable
- John Miles: “My bullet bus – yay!”
- Tony Raven: How the bloody hell am I supposed to know? In 1965 no one predicted Facebook!
- Claire Ruskin: Dammit we’re good!
- Jeremy Sanders: University of Cambridge has these needs – which you will deliver on
- Emma Thornton: We have World Heritage Status – yeah, back off parasitical developers!
- Jane Wilson: We’re going to grow our lovely & green centre outwards, not build more ‘nice centre surrounded by suburbia’ units.
Now, all of the above are a mix of tongue-in-cheek, a bit of humour and trying to take the important bits.
24 people will give you more than 24 different visions. All of the people concerned are either eminent in their fields locally and/or are well-connected due to their workplace. If I took you to meet the Abbey People or to Arbury, The St Matthew’s Estate on East Road, the council houses that friends and children I went to school with grew up in, you might get different views of what Cambridge 2065 might be like. Dare I say it, in some fields they might be even more radical than the above-24 because they are not constrained by professional or institutional boundaries. Also, children in particular generally have a better understanding of what the future is going to be like compared with older adults because they are living and learning with the technology in a way that we never did at school.
Why it’s important to look at past predictions of the future
The map below is from 1958 – a study overseen by WL Waide, our county planner on the future of Cambridge as he predicted for 2011 – showing proposed cycleways and secondary schools. The secondary school for Abbey Ward is under construction. There isn’t one for Fulbourn. The second schools for Histon/Impington & Girton haven’t been built. One of the two predicted in Trumpington has just opened, and the one for Shelford has not been planned. Oh – and we never got the city-wide cycle network.
And this was in the days when car was king!
“Are there any principles that stand out?”
Yes – a number. At some stage collectively we’ll have to grasp the nettles, get stung and keep going…or change direction if the stings are too painful!
Governance, controls, structures, systems and processes
The boring but essential stuff. Get this wrong and we can forget about everything else. The thing is there will always be a tension between what businesses want (i.e. a single point of contact and a single decision-maker) vs what residential communities want (i.e. a something that stops the local authority from allowing stuff they don’t like from being built in their neighbourhood). Part of the conversation – that Julian Bowrey quite rightly examined, was on the nature of civic governance our Cambridge of the future should have. Personally I could only see a mayoral model working if an elected legislature around it had real teeth and powers to it – including the ability to veto deputy mayoral appointments and to direct the mayor to undertake specific actions (or block the mayor if necessary).
A civic culture
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about the wealth of talent Cambridge has. So why are we blessed with the most mediocre of new building designs and see so little of the scientific, engineering, artistic and cultural talent transferring across to local public policy and party political fields? One of the things I continually challenge our city over is improving our democratic culture – hence launching Democracy Cambridge on FB so that at least people are made aware of what meetings are happening and when across our institutions – compensating for a lack of a single institution to manage all of this.
What institutions and facilities are needed to anchor things like improving health and a strengthened civic culture?
The segregated cycle network is one. Not building gated communities everywhere is another. I tear my hair out over the inconsistencies between what the likes of the Town and Country Planning Association come out with vs what the developers design and build in and around Cambridge. At least it’ll be easier to retrofit the bland facades of the etch-a-sketch designed buildings in and around Cambridge Railway Station with green walls – long after the developers and their financiers have run off with their ill-gotten gains from gaming the planning system.
Clusters – do they work for sports as well?
For me, the Newmarket Road ice rink currently in the pipeline after 30 years of waiting (I’m so getting myself a pair of ice skates to learn to skate properly – so long as the rink is on a bus route, even though I’ll be nearly 40 by the time it opens!) is a huge opportunity to build a multi-purpose sports village at the other end of the city. When I look at the maps of the city, and the predictions of the likes of David Cleevely and others, we’re going to need to plan that infrastructure now. That also includes the proposed rowing lake at Milton Country Park – if only to protect the fauna that gets killed by boats. Ducklings and cygnets are regular victims of rowing crews on a very crowded river.
Transport – beyond local
If we’re going for a city of over 200,000, more of that expansion is inevitably going to be in the east. I’ve given my preference of moving the Marshall’s Airport out to Mildenhall, linking it to Cambridge by rail along the old rail link, then having it extending out to Swaffham, circling Norwich (linking the University of East Anglia and Norwich Airport by rail) and out to Great Yarmouth. Thus it gives Cambridge a direct rail link to the seaside – and also to Great Yarmouth which is currently one of the country’s most economically deprived towns.
I can imagine a few people who wouldn’t mind living by the seaside if it meant a commute to Cambridge of less than an hour and fifteen minutes on a single train. Basically if you’re going to talk of Cambridge as a regional centre – and many books from over the decades and even over a century ago use similar language, then the transport infrastructure has to match that. Again I’d think radically for this. My Cambridge-Mildenhall-Norwich-Gt Yarmouth line would be an extension of East-West-Rail, which I’d have extending out to the Welsh Coastline in the far west. I’d reopen the rail link from King’s Lynn to Hunstanton for those that want a quieter seaside stay. In the even more longer term I’d look at a line extending out from Wisbech to Boston, Lincoln, Scunthorpe and terminating at Hull. By that time I’d like to think you could be running services that could get you from Boston to Cambridge within an hour, and from Wisbech in half an hour.
“Those are big distances and not cheap”
At the moment my only barrier is ambition. Some ideas will chime with people, others won’t.
“Like that concert hall?”
Ah – a new massive concert hall for Cambridge – which I wrote about here with a specific site. It got local newspaper coverage and proved to be quite controversial (see here) but I’ve chosen to respond to the comments and brickbats thrown at my ideas rather than let the negativity reign supreme. Reach for the stars – because although you may only reach the tops of the trees, the view is just as nice.
“And the castle?”
We used to have one in Cambridge
From http://www.ecastles.co.uk/cambridge.html though I can’t pretend it’s the most accurate representation!
There’s this one too via https://www.antique-prints-maps.com/acatalog/Cambridge_antique_prints.html
It stemmed from an exchange with Norwich Castle
They kept their castle, why didn’t we? More to the point, if Cambridge ends up with a unitary authority, that leaves a vacant Shire Hall that could easily be turned into a hotel, and having a rebuilt castle acting as a big extension to the Museum of Cambridge. My thinking on this is that you’d make the castle to be expanded in scale (sort of like the modern ‘Mini’ cars vs their 1960s originals) that could also be home of the city/county archives, rather than in the big warehouse at Ely that’s planned.
Remember it was the gaming of our planning system that led to proposals for the county archives being at Cambridge Railway Station (the old mill silo – see pg3 of this) being dropped. ***This should have been our new historical and cultural centre***
but instead greedy developers hoodwinked the city council and instead we’re getting a bland block
…that will be useless to everyone except the London commuters that live in it – and the landowner collecting rent.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, we can come up with all of the wonderful ideas in the world, but while ministers and senior politicians allow developers and their paymasters to behave like this, ideas is what they will remain.