Councillors to set the City Council’s budget – along with a vote opposing the proposed closure of Cambridge Magistrates Courts. Plus some updates from the other forums and organisations that have powers over the city. (And a bit of civic history)
More scrutiny of local democracy in Cambridge awaits – so for those of you that can afford to, please help cover my costs if you can.
Quite often the exchanges go on late into the night as the ruling Labour Group put their proposals to the vote, along with an alternative budget from the opposition Liberal Democrats Group. See the agenda here. There’s also a debate on the proposed closure of the magistrates courts – something I personally oppose, and wrote a blogpost about here.
Public Question Time
You can table a question for this meeting – see the council’s guide here. It’d be great to see some new faces cross-examining the council on the decisions it has made – whether in support or opposition.
Greater Cambridge Assembly
Less than seven days later is another City Deal/Partnership Assembly – scheduled for 28th Feb – see here for details. At the last pair of meetings of the Assembly and Board, the Partnership Board voted to back the recommendation for the Cambridge Autonomous Metro scheme as reported by Josh Thomas of the Cambridge News here. It’s caused some controversy locally given the lack of time the Assembly had to scrutinise the report. On 21st Mar in Cambridge is the corresponding board meeting – which is scheduled for Shire Hall.
Combined Authority and the Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough
We’ve had the first two public questions put to the Mayor at the last meeting in Cambridge.
The video of the full meeting is here. (minus a couple of administrative issues following the dissolution of the Greater Cambridgeshire & Greater Peterborough LEP). One thing that also caught my eye was the proposals to extend the M11 up to Peterborough and beyond to Hull. As some roads enthusiasts have pointed out, we’ve been here before. Personally I prefer the Yes Prime Minister legend that the M11 was built because the Department for Transport once had a permanent secretary who went to Cambridge and thought the journey back to college dinners could be improved.
Keep tabs on the Combined Authority’s meetings here.
Cambridgeshire County Council – what should be done with Shire Hall?
I’m assuming this will come up at the next full council scheduled for 20 Mar. My hope is that councillors won’t sell off the site. Should they choose to move out, I hope that at least part of it can be turned into a heritage site, accepting that the existing Shire Hall building makes for a prime candidate for conversion into a hotel. A similar plan has been suggested for another former civic building – the old police station on Regent Street.
Why is Cambridge selling off so much of its civic family silver?
In the grand scheme of things this is one of the results of seven years of austerity and public spending cuts. The way the administrations since 2010 chose to wield the axe was to cut the central government grants to local councils, and let the councils decide which services should be cut. My take is that most councillors didn’t go into local democracy to cut services and make public service worse. One other thing the coalition did was to bring in ‘local referendums’ where local councils wanted to increase council taxes beyond the minimum that ministers stated. So far I can’t think of any local authority that has won such a referendum, let alone proposed one.
Losing both Shire Hall and the Magistrates Courts would, for me be a serious setback to civic life in Cambridge. Even more so the ministerial pretentions that Cambridge is this wonderful global city. A global city that cannot even administer justice for ‘petty crimes’? Really? And having a county council with no civic presence in Cambridge, the city from which the county gets its name? It stands in stark contrast to the plans for a new set of law courts / legal quarter on Castle Hill suggested in the 1950s below, and the 1960s.
Above – from the Cambridgeshire Collection, proposed new law courts on Castle Hill
That said, it’s not the first major county council building that has been sold off and taken out of public access. This is the old County Hall.
It was completed and formally opened in 1914 (despite the carving of the year at the top of the building)
The impact of the First World War saw the huge increase in the public sector and of state-funded public services. As these were delivered primarily through local councils, the county council found itself with new premises that were too small. Hence the building of Shire Hall on the Castle Hill site in the early 1930s. County Hall is now part of the Christ’s College estate.