Cambridge Area Bus Users’ Group launches with cross-party support


On the formation of a new citizens’ pressure group in support of better bus services.

Over 40 people took time out from the Strawberry Fair / a warm & sunny Saturday to go along to this gathering. (The group is also on FB at Queries to

I was one of them as I am a regular – almost daily bus user. In times gone by I was a regular cyclist, and had I been more aware, would probably have signed up to membership of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign in my teens & 20s.

Young people conspicuous by their absence. Again.

Primarily because of exams and the Strawberry Fair – and inevitable limitations of trying to organise a meeting at short notice. Having raised this at the meeting, one of the autumn actions is to run a series of stalls and publicity events outside the larger further education colleges, and ideally make these stalls annual events to cover the new cohort of students that might be taking long distance bus routes to college and back for the first time in their lives.

Learning from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign

Who are already setting a good example to campaign groups in Cambridge generally.

Active at local festivals

…and influencing opinion in the local media (or raising levels of anger if you are a motorist who doesn’t like cyclists in principle and refuses to be swayed).

For me, it’s the annual recruitment of college students that will make or break the campaign – simply on the grounds that they are the ones who form one of the largest group of users, and at the same time could be the people who, at the start of every academic year could bring their pressure to bear not just on the transport providers but also on local political parties too. Furthermore, there is an incentive on local political parties to be receptive should the campaign group be successful in recruiting, as some of these could be future party members.

‘My issue with Mayor James Palmer is…’

Buses and Park & Ride came up at Public Questions to the Mayor last week.

At the Combined Authority, Fenland District Council HQ, March, Cambs. 30 May 2018.

One of the major concerns from some people was The Mayor not being seen to prioritise bus franchising and bus transport. Part of that was due to the first piece of correspondence being sent by the campaign was before it had been formally constituted. As things stand, over 30 people (myself included) put their money into signing up to the campaign (suggested membership donation being £5 for those that can afford it, but free to those who genuinely cannot).

We dealt with some of the complexities of how broad the campaign should be. For example one or two people were against the proposed Cambridge Metro/underground light rail, in favour of buses, while at the other end is me & Puffles wanting both a light rail underground *and* a fleet of environmentally friendly electric buses serving Cambridge, alongside a decent network of segregated cycleways and footpaths. I said that dragons live for a lot longer than humans, therefore our timeframe is of the order of 100 years+ rather than the 10-30 years spoken by the institutions. After all, if our predecessors had extended, then electrified the Cambridge Tram Network of the late 1800s, what would Cambridge look like today? Thus we agreed to keep things focussed just on buses – acknowledging the need for buses to be part of a wider sustainable transport system for Cambridge.

A strong start

Having that many people rocking up (And not just the ‘usual suspects’) on a sunny Saturday afternoon with such a big local fair on that day shows that there are a core of people who want to take action on improving buses. For all the concern there was over Stagecoach – and their article at on bus franchising, Andy Campbell of Stagecoach East has been on public record saying that Cambridge needs a local bus users’ campaign to support his efforts to improve bus services through increased subsidies from local councils amongst other things. Personally I think it was a huge error not to have him on the Greater Cambridge Partnership Assembly at the start – and his absence (& that of Whippet coaches) remains a problem. This doesn’t change my personal view that the privatisation of buses by Thatcher was a huge error, and that the buses should be renationalised, properly subsidised and properly co-ordinated across council boundaries.


There is a risk that in the process of campaigning, some may see it as open season against whichever political party or political figure they happen to dislike at the time. With Labour running Cambridge City Council, The Lib Dems running South Cambridgeshire, the Conservatives running Cambridgeshire County Council (the highways authority) and Mayor James Palmer although being a Conservative candidate is very much being ‘his own man’ rather than a ‘placeman’ of the county council, means that party politics (internal and external) may not be far from the surface.

To be fair, some councillors from all parties indicated that though they supported the launch, they said due to conflicts of interest they would not be joining the organisation at the start as they saw the campaign group as one for the public by the public, and that they were there to listen to concerns brought up. Other councillors however chose to join. One of the things that the campaign may need to consider in its constitution is protocols on how to manage the inevitable local party interest, and act in a manner that at least tries to maintain the confidence of all of the local parties. This is because at some stage the campaign group is likely to find itself opposing, or at least having concerns with certain policies from each of the political parties in control of the various councils across the county.

Any questions about the campaign should be directed to Richard Wood at









But why?

So I tabled a public question to Cambridgeshire County Council snapping at their heels on the future of Shire Hall very recently.

…because I still have this crazy idea of expanding the Museum of Cambridge onto the Shire Hall site as the county council move off of it. For the record I’m grateful to councillors for clarifying that they are looking at a long term lease that will provide an income stream rather than selling off the site in its entirety.

But what you didn’t see was the amount of spoons used to get up early and be out and about in time to table that public question. And the inevitable aftermath.

That was the day after the election of the new mayor of Cambridge – Cllr Nigel Gawthrope (Lab – King’s Hedges) at The Guildhall.

I was planning on sticking around for the ‘political debate’ on the various party groups’ plans and policies, but with no one wanting to keep the tradition of ‘cross party drinks’ at the Cambridge Beer Festival going, I went home and crashed out.

The crisis of the Mill Road Library Building

At first glance I thought “Oh no – the Tories want to sell off yet another historical asset!” (See the papers here). Looking closer at it, the problem is that the current tenants have not been maintaining this wonderful grade 2 listed building as their lease requires them to. What astonished me is that hardly anyone seemed to be aware of these problems. Hence when it came to the County Council for debate (see the video here), I was astonished that this had come as a surprise to so many.

Above- the Petersfield Area Community Trust (local residents’ association) commenting as I live-tweeted.

Stuck inside a dragon-shaped political box

I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s as if I don’t really get to do much with other people outside of the worlds of history and politics – even less so with people around my own age (mid-late 30s). Again this week I had people telling me how wonderful the work I do for Cambridge is, and how essential it is.

The problem is in our current economic system, it does not enable me (or anyone) to make a living. Therefore as far as the system is concerned, it is not essential. If it was, it would pay. But it doesn’t. That’s not a criticism of individuals – this is a big picture thing – it’s structural.

Furthermore, I was also asked to film a large political event outside of the county – being told that the organisers were desperate but unable to pay me. This would have involved a fair amount of expense on my part just getting to the venue. Sorry ladies and gentlemen but I’m no longer prepared to pay my own way for an unpaid filming session, no matter how important you think it is.

“D’ya want to meet up for a coffee to talk things over?”

This came up in a previous blogpost here. In the grand scheme of things, I’d rather do something different – more active, more exciting and something that collectively we can talk about long after the event.

And that’s part of the disconnect.

The fallout from my mental health problems and lack of proper treatment over the past couple of decades (again as discussed here) has been that people who I would have liked to have stayed in my life have moved on. Accordingly – and this is really upsetting for someone with a strong interest in local history – there isn’t a single person in my day-to-day life who shared any of those experiences in the different phases of my adult life:

  • Year out,
  • university on the south coast,
  • post-graduate years,
  • civil service and dancing years,
  • London, and
  • my post-civil service years.

The thing is, much of what I’ve said above, I’ve already written in previous blogposts – like this one last month. Or perhaps this one from last November.

Is this how it’s going to be?

Because that’s kind of what I’m reconciled to. Again, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogposts, the problem is structural. Funnily enough, this came up on RTE Radio in Ireland today when they were discussing the results of the Repeal the 8th Referendum. Just listening to who was saying what was an education in itself. Though those on the side of the church establishment were coming out with increasingly bizarre explanations as to why their side performed so badly. eg. longer commutes meaning people are living more individualistic lifestyles and thus are moving away from the church therefore they didn’t vote according with the church’s wishes.

The Irish vote and how it resonated with me

I was watching Ed Byrne on The Road to Santiago not so long ago. Like me, he had to go to church as a child. His comment on how he felt all of that time was wasted every Sunday morning when he says he could have been doing something constructive like playing a sport, learning a musical instrument, or learning a new language, was one that really touched my heart. He had something to say about the referendum too.

Breaking away from that sort of institutionalisation is never easy – not least because it also meant breaking away from people who you’ve known since childhood. Yet as I said to myself at the time, I could no longer live a lie. The more I read about the institution at university – the first time in my life I had access to a large library and also, the internet (this was late 1999), the less I wanted to have anything to do with an institution that discriminated against so many.

Which is why the above really struck a chord with me – a new generation had struck back and crushed an oppressive institution and an oppressive mindset and had made history.

The above by @Stavvers also explains why I felt ever so disconnected to the Remain campaign. The two options (Leave or ‘Call me Dave’s deal’) did not reflect my views at all. Also, there is one person in this photograph who I could not bear having the dragon in the same photo.

Both campaigns were largely driven by men. The footage from the Irish referendum campaign is strikingly different.

We never got the sense from Remain of “What is going to improve if we vote for you?”. I get the sense that the #RepealThe8th campaigners have torn up the old rule book. Good.

It doesn’t solve the disconnection problem though.

Can the County Mayor work with the Greater Cambridge Partnership to deliver a splendid and sustainable public transport system?


I remain convinced that Cambridgeshire needs to be split into three unitary authorities, but given where we are, what does the future hold for the Greater Cambridge Partnership?

The call for three new unitary councils in Cambridgeshire to replace the county and districts was backed up in the Cambridge Independent by Edward Leigh of Smarter Cambridge Transport.

We are awaiting the results of the review of local governance to report back to the Combined Authority. In the meantime…

Rail minister Jo Johnson probably didn’t know what hit him when County Mayor James Palmer rocked up to Transport House with the message that 2025 was far too late to deliver South Cambridge Railway Station.

Mr Palmer is right – it needs to be delivered far sooner – it should have been delivered ages ago – before the building work around the railway line to London had even started. I don’t think I’ll ever know why it wasn’t built.

This is one of the reasons why community campaigners and activists can save a lot of time with a laser-like focus on the ultimate decision-maker. Getting a minister to make a public statement on who is responsible for what can be very helpful. Just who was responsible and at which points, for South Cambridge getting into this state?

That’s assuming the minister is competent enough not to set up a system of administration that is a complete mess.

Above – this is no way for a supposedly great city like Cambridge to be governed.

“So, when are we going to get our light railway underground that the Mayor promised Puffles then?”

In early 2018 I tabled a public question to Mr Palmer – stating that I still stood behind the principle of a light rail underground for Cambridge and surrounding areas, despite the doubts of others.

I still remain convinced that this is the case for Cambridge given the time horizons we are looking at. I’m looking at the next 50-100 years, far longer than the ones envisaged by ministers in their existing frameworks. Also, dare I say it, Mr Palmer is probably one of the very few politicians in the county who could actually deliver such a project. However, the risk he faces is potentially alienating some of the people and politicians whose support he will need in order to deliver it. This was the big mistake the Greater Cambridge Partnership made in its first two years – it turned people who could otherwise have been ‘critical friends’ into hostile opponents. It cost South Cambridgeshire Conservatives dearly at the recent local elections.

Liberal Democrats take over South Cambridgeshire District Council

They control two thirds of the seats and will hold them for the next four years unless there is a massive overhaul of the structure of local government inside Cambridgeshire. Note the list of new outside appointees here (item 12). This also means that Cllr Aidan Van de Meyer takes the South Cambridgeshire seat on the Greater Cambridge Partnership.

One of the first things he announced was this:

…which made Cllr Lewis Herbert’s comments interesting in his debate with Mr Palmer.

Have a listen and judge for yourselves.

Earlier today, there was an astonishing series of tweets from the Greater Cambridge Partnership.

Bus franchising – when?

One persistent criticism opposition politicians have made of Mr Palmer is the lack of movement on bus franchising and on Park and Ride.

The statement below is from the Executive Councillor for Communities on Cambridge City Council.

Indeed, the managing director of the Whippet group has called on the Mayor to use his powers.

And prior to her victory at the South Cambridgeshire elections, Cllr Bridget Smith, the new leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council for the Liberal Democrats, said the following:

Will they meet to thrash things out?

Cllr Herbert and Mr Palmer confirmed to Dotty McLeod on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire that they met on a weekly basis. I get the impression that despite their disagreements, they know (& I’d like to think are both mature enough as civic leaders) that having a blazing row on the radio wouldn’t serve anyone as they still have to work with each other.

June sees a number of important public meetings where we will get a feel for how the three political parties are going to work with each other. These next meetings are:

  1. Combined Authority and the Mayor – meeting at Fenland District Council’s HQ on 30 May in the town of March.
  2. Combined Authority overview & scrutiny on 01 June in the same venue.
  3. Greater Cambridge Partnership joint assembly on 14 June at Cambridge Guildhall
  4. Greater Cambridge Partnership board on 04 July again at Cambridge Guildhall

Lets see how the next few weeks progress.


As Cambridge colleges expanded along with Cambridge University, so the space available for townfolk and visitors shrank


How spaces, buildings and facilities previously open to Cambridge townfolk has been reduced over the decades as a result of colleges and Cambridge University expanding its functions. Is it time they gave some back to allow for wider pavements?

In my studies of Lost Cambridge, one thing that comes up time and again is the loss of buildings and spaces that were previously available and open to the public.


From the Cambridge Seven Hundred by David Poole, the above is a map of Cambridge prior to the foundation of the colleges. Professor Helen Cam’s authoritative History of Cambridge the town covers the violence that characterised the early conflicts between town and gown – one the King ended up favouring the latter, as Professor Cam writes in the medieval Cambridge chapter.

The period of history that most interests me is the period from when Florence Ada Keynes arrived in Cambridge – in the late 1870s. Fortunately for me, Charles Henry Cooper wrote the excruciatingly detailed Cooper’s Annals of Cambridge (volume 1 digitised here) which came to an end in the 1856 as it hit the present day of the author (the final volume, 5, digitised here).

The importance of hotels and inns as public meeting spaces

The story of three important hotels in central Cambridge that are no longer with us reflect what has happened over the past century or so.

  • The Hoop Hotel
  • The Bull Hotel
  • The Central Hotel

Clockwise from top left, the Hoop Hotel (via Cambs Cricket History), The Bull Hotel (in Spaldings 1913 via the Cambridgeshire Collection) & the Central Hotel (via the Museum of Cambridge).

The Hoop Hotel in the first half of the 19th Century held numerous political meetings and candidate selection meetings, as the report via the British Newspaper Archives, below shows.

320629 Meeting Hoop Hotel candidate selection 1832

In the early 20th Century we find the Cambridge Labour Party holding a meeting at the Central Hotel on Market Square.

130314 Cambridge Labour at Central Hotel

….which would also become an entrance to the central air raid shelter completed in 1939.

390915 Air Raid Shelter Cambridge Guildhall Central Hotel

I’m assuming that wine is still stored in there!

390915 Air Raid Shelter Cambridge Guildhall Central Hotel_2

In the case of the Bull Hotel, it became popular with US servicemen in World War 2. It later became a college to train service personnel – as page30 of this Alumni Cambridge publication shows.

Shortly afterwards, the building was incorporated into St Catherine’s College next door, and ceased to be accessible to the public.

The old County Hall – now part of Christ’s College

One road that has huge potential to become something wonderful is Hobson Street. I can’t see that happening until we get underground tunnel mass transit that would enable the pedestrianisation of more of Cambridge. At the moment the road is mainly a bus and taxi thru-route.

Yet as this post shows, in 1913 the old county hall was completed to give the Cambridge County Council a new home. After the First World War they would find that these premises were too small as the demands of wartime increased the scope of the shire councils. Prior to the construction of County Hall, a methodist chapel stood on the site.

St John’s College clears the west side of Bridge Street

St Johns College Bridge St 1903

The above map of Cambridge in 1903 shows St John’s College and the town buildings to the north/north-east of it.

The main road running north west to south east is Bridge Street. The Western Side of Bridge Street used to contain homes, workshops and a pub or two. In the late 1930s it was all cleared to make way for the large 1930s-style buildings that are there today.

391007 StJohnsBridgeStreetNewBuildings

Thus another part of Cambridge that was part of the lives of townfolk was taken out of their access for ever.

Crowded Cambridge

One of the things that I’ve pondered in the face of Cambridge’s transport issues and the ‘tourist hell’ of the summer that makes the place not a nice place to go to with the crowds, is how to expand the pavements.

What many residents and those of us that grow up here tend not to see is the inside of the colleges. With all of the old, high walls out of habit you just walk past them and not take much notice because until very recently, the culture of Cambridge University and its colleges was that townfolk were as welcome as the bubonic plague. If you were not a member then you were not welcome. (Yes, I have had that said to my face and over the phone in my late teens/early adult years). But that’s nothing compared to all of those small businesses that got their businesses repeatedly trashed by badly-behaved undergraduates over the centuries. Turning around centuries of ill-feeling is not going to happen over night.

Should the Greater Cambridge Partnership and other transport funding pots be used to buy up some of the college and private land aside the main routes into town so as to widen the pavements?

Below is one of the gardens of Sidney Sussex, which I took upon leaving a talk hosted there.


On the other side of the wall on the right hand side is Jesus Lane, and on the left is Sidney Street where Sainsbury’s is. 

Given how crowded the other side of the wall is, and how narrow the pavement is on Jesus Lane, I can’t help but feel that the pavements could be widened and these walls moved back without significantly reducing the beauty of this space.

Opening up some of Cambridge’s hidden gems through pavement widening

The high wall on Jesus Lane puts off people from walking down the pavement that actually leads onto one of Cambridge’s finest historical buildings – All Saints Cambridge decorated by William Morris. I wrote about it here. Would wider pavements and better signposting help sustain a masterpiece that, fifty years ago was at risk of demolition as church congregations collapsed? (Something I wrote about here).

There are other areas that can be considered – Emmanuel College’s front gardens and the walls either side of Emmanuel Street. Jesus Colleges walls on the north side of Jesus Lane. Widening the pavement on the King’s College side of King’s Parade by narrowing the area of the grass lawn – parts of which used to have buildings on them! Even the land clear by St John’s mentioned above could be used for pavement-widening.

When I look at it from an issue of fairness, I compare how many people benefit from the existing set up vs how many would benefit from the pavements being wider. Take the wall of the garden of the Master’s Lodge at St John’s that backs onto Bridge Street. Would it be more fair for the public that walk up and down Bridge Street to widen the pavement and move the wall back, or more fair on the Master of St John’s to keep the wall where it is?

My take is that as Cambridge continues to expand – in a large part driven by Cambridge University and its colleges, the greater the pressure there will be on existing landowners to free up some space for the widening of pavements.




Mental Health Awareness Week in and around Cambridge


Some thoughts on last week’s social media posts, and more, from a number of local institutions on all things mental health and their Stop Suicides campaign. (Naturally, TW: Suicide).

Cambridgeshire County Council posted this:

…and Cambridge City Council had this:

…with a separate Twitter account set up for the campaign below

…with the statement below from Cllr Richard Johnson of Cambridge City Council

…and the reminder of NHS 111 option 2.

“What was achieved?”

So long as one life has been potentially saved, it was worth it. It’s one of those campaigns though where you can’t really measure or quantify the impact of (or attribute the impact to) a specific campaign.

Trying to make sense of such a campaign when in an extremely low point

…which is where I still am emotionally. (In part explained by this, because I really don’t want us to miss this incredible opportunity for local town history).

Actually, my own issues are long in the making and are very deep-rooted. No week long campaign in anything is going to make any difference. I wrote this blogpost five years ago, and in the grand scheme of things from where I’m looking locally, fuck-all has changed. Hence having a sceptical, if not cynical mindset through the lens of a depressive trough of late.

“Well, I’d ask”

“Fuck-off would you!”

“No – really, I would”

“And then what?”

“Well…we’d make sure you got the help you needed”

“If the help that I needed was available and accessible, I’d have gotten it by now. But we haven’t. Because Andrew Lansley, Jeremy Hunt and austerity.”

“Well…I’m still here to listen”

“No – you really are not – no one is, because you all have your own lives to live, jobs to do, bills to pay, and other people to look after. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver – it’ll only make it worse.”

And thus we go around in circles

Given the repeated underfunding of the NHS by Conservative and Conservative-led administrations, and having seen the impact first hand inside one of the best units in the world for its field of medicine, responsibility on that side lands with ministers. Which means that conversations on that front with me go nowhere.

As I said to a friend last week, part of my problem – and dare I say it for others, is the structure of our economy. I remember pondering in my final days at sixth form college – wondering what life would be like without having to go to this big place surrounded by lots of people – more than a few who I had known for over half of my life. Six months later and working in an office with the same 18 people day-in-day-out, I asked myself whether I could survive such an environment for my working life – to which the answer was ‘No’.

The lack of mental health provision (and other indirect support) has very real impacts on our lives

I can list in my mind the various points in my life where the lack of provision in something by an institution had a catastrophic impact on my life’s path. One of the big ones was housing – and how as students in an over-heating housing market in Brighton full of substandard housing, my old university just left us to it while the then vice-chancellor was making speeches about how tuition fees needed to rise. I’ve never forgiven Labour for what they did on higher education policy. I still haven’t now. The other two parties in England have gone on to make things even worse. So who do you trust?

I’ve lost too many friends and potential friends over my mental health issues, so actually I don’t want to risk talking about things incase I lose any more.

This is another impact of the lack of mental health services locally. For all of their adverts, my local NHS mental health trust simply referred me to a six week course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy because their organisation rules said that this was the only treatment on offer. This is also where what might be stated on an organisation’s website doesn’t match the reality out there. In particular:

  1. I don’t have a named GP despite the promise by Jeremy Hunt in 2014 here. At my surgery you see the next available one – which over the past 18 months has often been a locum/cover GP.
  2. I never had a named co-ordinator when I was with the local NHS mental health trust, even though their website says everyone treated by them does.

Again, having been inside ‘the system’ in the civil service, I throw all of my blame at ministers who brought in such disastrous policies for our health services. Most of the people on the front line are doing the best they can in the face of very poor political leadership.

“So…don’t you talk to anyone about mental health?”

I try not to – it’s easier that way. And to be honest, I’d rather not spend quality time with people talking about miserable stuff – I’d rather have us doing something that for example takes advantage of the wonderful sunshine that we’ve been having of late, as opposed to ‘meeting up for a coffee to talk things through’. I appreciate the offer & the sentiment behind it, but I’d rather go to something like a comedy, theatre or music performance/concert somewhere.

Also, the impact of mental health on my physical health means travel and transport are huge barriers – far more than perhaps people realise

The most exhausting bit of anything I do is the getting there and getting back. For whatever reason, using public transport is draining. Part of it is the sheer noise of the bus engines. (This is despite using noise-cancelling headphones). Something I hope the new Cambridge Bus Users Group will be taking on at their meeting on 02 June, amongst other things (their FB page is here).

A sense of “It’s too late to turn things around” for me

It’s been over six years since I was last able to work full time. A recovery should have happened by now – shouldn’t it? All those articles in the papers about how people ‘recover’ from mental health crises says so – doesn’t it? It’s one of the reasons a week before the mental health awareness week, a post from a similar campaign on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome struck a familiar chord.

I still have much of my formalwear from my dancing days – though I fear the trousers no longer fit. I tried a pair that I thought would fit but they felt unfamiliarly tight around my waist. 15 years ago I took part in a ballroom dance event at the London Southbank Centre that lasted from about lunchtime through to very late in the evening – a good 12 hours. It felt like we were all dancing for most of that time give or take an outdoor picnic. I ended up with bruised feet for the next two days. I can’t see myself ever matching the levels of fitness I had in my early-mid 20s. (Though if anyone’s interested in the Madingley Hall Summer Ball, grab me).



Leisure and climate change absent from Cambs economic review


On some worrying absences in the interim report from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review.

The interim report is at the little white and orange icon at the bottom right.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) gets its remit from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, This was created by the then Department for Communities and Local Government – now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Their Plain English guide to the combined authority is here.

“Who are the commissioners?”

They are listed here.

“Why are they asking for our views?”

See here – the deadline is 08 June 2018.

“Why Cambridgeshire and Peterborough?”

It’s slightly out of scope, but they put this map into the document.


Now, the LEP is pretty much defunct after an investigation by the National Audit Office over how public money was being spent. I’m still not clear what this means for the areas outside of Cambridge given the smaller boundaries of the Combined Authority. Now, past historical studies on Cambridgeshire’s economy have been done *using different county boundaries*.

This is why consultant writing such documents really need to look through the history books.

Cambridgeshire’s administrative county boundaries are not set in stone (these differ from the ceremonial boundaries here). Over the past 150 years in particular, they have ebbed and flowed depending on the political circumstances of the age. 1889 is an important year because it was the foundation of the modern county councils. The thing is, Cambridgeshire as an administrative county did not include Huntingdonshire until the mid-1970s.

Cambridgeshire 1945

The above, from the Cambridge History of Local Government 1834-1958 was a proposal for reform of local government in 1944. Note how small some of the district councils were. There were several attempts to make Cambridge what we would call a ‘unitary authority’ over the past 100 years – starting in the run up to the First World War. The main reason why this didn’t happen was because politicians outside of the city feared that this would impoverish rural areas. Given recent votes on Cambridgeshire County Council, the fear from councillors inside Cambridge City is that the rural votes are impoverishing everyone with repeated votes for cuts to services inside Cambridge City despite city residents repeatedly returning candidates calling for council tax rises in every single city division. Hence why in late 2017 I stated that Cambridgeshire County Council should be abolished.

Cambridge and the Isle of Ely Council

Just before the last reorganisation of local council boundaries and responsibilities, this interesting document was published. The following images are from the Cambridgeshire Collection.IMG_7064


What makes this interesting – and links it through to today, are their assessments on all things leisure.


In the CPIER interim report, Leisure, Sport and Recreation is pretty much absent – surprising given how large a part of our economy it is, and how essential it is to the living, wellbeing and health of people.


The above is also an interesting map given the increasing demands on water, and also because of the plans submitted for both the North-of-Cambridge Rowing Lake here, and also more locally to me, the opening up of the East Cambridge lakes.

The above used to be a major cement works in Cambridge until the late 1980s.


It’s all very well having the economic growth, but where can people get away from the incessant noise of multiple internal combustion engines and electric motors?

“Why should the lack of content on climate change (in an urban context) and leisure be a concern?”

On climate change, because we risk building houses and industry that are not fit for purpose in the face of a changing climate – one where we already have water stresses, in particular in the north of the county.

Looking at the images firms use to ‘sell Cambridge’ to the world, open green spaces feature prominently. Ironically many of those open green spaces are off limits as they belong to one college or another. Given the very high land prices, there is a huge incentive on developers to build on every single blade of grass. Hence in my view the invention of the term ‘pocket park’ – things that I despise as they are too small to really enjoy – being in too close proximity to buildings to relax and having no space for games.

Pocket parks versus Cambridge’s parks from previous generations.

Let’s list some of them in South Cambridge:

  • Cherry Hinton Rec
  • Nightingale Avenue Rec
  • Coleridge Rec
  • Romsey Rec

All of these were 20th Century creations with civically-minded politicians, locals and businesspeople who made these happen. The earliest of these, Romsey Rec, was in part the result of the work by a very prominent businessman, Arthur Negus. This by local historian Allan Brigham explains. What was the industry that Mr Negus was involved in? That’s right, he was deeply involved in the building trade. Yet despite the pressure to build on the land in East Romsey – and you can see just how closely built together the terraced houses were, he and others managed to secure a large piece of land for a park – as at Coleridge, Nightingale and Cherry Hinton.

“Which businessmen and businesswomen are going to make the case for large open spaces for free public parks?”

Or do we risk building the slums of the future with all of this growth?

Cambridge hero Eglantyne Jebb (who founded Save The Children) told us of the impacts of poorly planned and designed housing in her ground-breaking study of social issues in Cambridge.

EglantyneJebb in MahoodLinda

Hero: Eglantyne Jebb who wrote the first social scientific study of poverty and multiple deprivation in Cambridge’s history – followed up with a progress check two years later. We got improved quality housing in Cambridge because of her.

It wasn’t just Eglantyne either – it was these women as well. I’m looking around Cambridge and beyond to see where the next generation of women are who will transform city and county for the better – and for the many, not the few. Because the shutting out of social housing from the Eddington development by Cambridge University is a slap in the face by Cambridge University dons to the people of our great city. This is why it is essential that governance and civic essentials are not forgotten in the push for growth.

Questions for further consultation

They are on P27 of the document

CPIER Qs.jpeg

Looking at the questions above, a few things stand out:

  • On 2) Does the target of doubling ‘Gross Value Added’ have any civic legitimacy?
  • On 3) How will the north of the county avoid the risk of unharvested crops rotting in the fields due to a shortage of seasonal workers? What investments will they have to make to improve wages and living conditions to attract more people, and what impact will this have on food prices?
  • On 4) My anecdotal experience of The Grafton Centre was that it was Stagecoach’s removal of the bus routes down East Road that killed it. Because of poor signage and having to cross a busy road, the bus routes from South Cambridge to The Grafton are much less visible. 20 years ago, it was ‘the place to be’.
  • On 4) continued, long term sustainable, reliable and affordable transport are essential for existing and new leisure facilities. Bus transport will make or break the Cambridge Ice Rink due to open at the end of 2018. Who has leverage on buses in Cambridge to ensure that they properly serve leisure facilities – including country parks?
  • On 5) One easily missed area is the retraining of adults who are switching careers. The review needs to cover this group of people (of which I am one) whose skills refreshers may need to involve far more than a specific job, but adapting to a world that has moved on in leaps and bounds since they/we left school.
  • On 7) Again leisure seems to have been missed out. Is it better for firms to club together to pay for and subsidise leisure facilities that are open to all, or for each office block to have its own private gym? Does membership that is not open to all create resentment in local communities? (For example the Frank Lee Centre at Addenbrooke’s that, as a child I used to go to due to parents working at the NHS, but today I am no longer eligible).
  • On 8) Lack of available premises – and affordable premises is a huge problem for small scale community enterprises. Take one of the finest women’s sports clubs in Cambridge – the Rollerbillies – who need a large indoor space to train in. The old warehouse space they used to have access to has since been demolished. As a result, they have to fight to book the over-subscribed large hall at the Kelsey Kerridge – the result of another builder who became a councillor.
  • On 9) The wealthy have to get involved in community events and campaigns just as Florence Ada Keynes, Mayor of Cambridge and the Mother of John Maynard Keynes did. Florence got our guildhall built after 80 years of failure by the men on the council, while her son Maynard was building the Cambridge Arts Theatre. When will we see more civic-minded actions from those making their fortunes from brand Cambridge re-investing some of their wealth into the civic heart of the city just as John Maynard Keynes did? It wasn’t just an act of charity either – their works provided employment for many too.
  • On 10) see Smarter Cambridge Transport, Cambridge Connect Light Rail, and the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Short-medium term gains are from segregated cycle routes and electric buses. Also, consultations with young people going to college on increasing service provision is essential. Ditto consulting those who don’t use buses but who could be persuaded. What are the barriers? Information? Reliability? Safety? Affordability?
  • On 13) all of the powers are with the Treasury, and due to Brexit there is not nearly enough policy capacity or political imagination to devolve funding and tax-raising powers to a competent municipal council the likes of which we see across the EU & North America. Do visiting politicians and dignitaries think the ceremonial mayor has far more power than s/he actually has?

That’s enough for now, but I may come back to some things before the deadline.

Do Cambridgeshire Conservatives want to sell off the Castle Hill site?


Is it theirs to sell off in the first place? (No).

“Shire Hall would be sold off, but the report does not specify a future use. Previous ideas for the site include turning it into a hotel.”

So writes Josh Thomas in the Cambridge News here.

I tabled this public question to county councillors recently on the future of the site on the back of this blogpost on expanding the Museum of Cambridge.

Cambridgeshire County Council full council 17 Oct 2017 – my Q is at the start.

Cllr Paul Raynes (Cons – Soham) is quoted as saying:

“I will make sure Mr Carpen’s suggestion is taken into account [regarding the possibility of expanding the Museum of Cambridge onto the Shire Hall site where the old court house that the city council didn’t want demolished in the 1950s, once stood”

The problem is that the county council’s papers for the commercial and investment committee:

  • Excluded the general public (so even if I could have made the meeting, I wouldn’t have been allowed in)
  • Make no mention of my proposals despite the promise at a public meeting of the full council recorded on video by Cllr Raynes.

Personally I’d have preferred it if executive councillors had told me where to go, that they were going to sell off the site to the highest bidder who had committed to employing the popular Brookgate team, demolish everything and allow the new owners to build luxury apartments to buy-to-leave foreign investors and have the towers painted royal blue. At least that would be being honest that money is the only thing that matters in the 21st Century. It’s the dashing of the hope that hurts.

“Who paid for its acquisition?”

It’s a spurious argument but I’m going to make it anyway: The site used to be a prison, and before that, a castle. A few of the older colleges ran off with the castle stone before the county gaol was built – and where we used to have public hangings. We know this ***because I have read the transcripts*** and have summarised the last one that took place before the law was changed. (I read proper old newspapers so you don’t have to!)

When the Home Office decided it didn’t need the prison anymore, the old Cambridgeshire County Council (based on smaller boundaries) bought the site and built Shire Hall on it in the 1930s.

Cambridgeshire 1945

From a very old Cambridgeshire County Council publication made for the boundary review of 1964 (there was one in 1944, and 1973/4 as well – so we are ***long overdue one***) historic Cambridgeshire contains the red and blue shaded areas – Cambridge County, and the Isle of Ely. (I’ve digitised the whole book for you to read here). Essentially the ratepayers of Huntingdonshire did not pay for the site when the county acquired it, so therefore councillors from that part of the world shouldn’t get a vote disposing of the site.

“That’s a spurious argument”

I know.

But just as Conservatives regularly accuse Labour governments of running out of other people’s money to spend, Labour activists accuse Conservatives of running out of public assets to sell off or privatise.

My point is that the site could not only provide a stable revenue stream for county council services, it could also meet some of the business demand for hotel rooms, provide a heritage attraction on an existing heritage site – which could help protect an existing historical monument (Castle Mound), and help create a buzzing food/restaurant quarter by adding at least two new establishments to the ones already there, and at the same time help extend the tourist trail over the River Cam over the Great Bridge to the top of the hill.

“…Which is a much more compelling argument”

Precisely. What annoys me is that despite having gone through all of the proper processes, my suggestions haven’t even been dismissed, just ignored. It makes me wonder what the point of it all is.



Can Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats work together to solve Cambridge’s transport problems?


And not just the city, but in the districts that surround Cambridge as well

The Liberal Democrats won two thirds of the seats on the new South Cambridgeshire District Council last week. The scale of the collapse of the Conservatives was huge, and makes the next few years more than interesting for those of us local democracy watchers.

New mandates

It wasn’t just South Cambridgeshire that had elections, Cambridge City Council had elections as well – but only for a third of their seats. See the results here. Castle Ward went from Independent to Liberal Democrat (by 25 votes) while Labour snatched Trumpington (formerly Mayor Jean Barker/Baroness Trumpington‘s ward) by four votes. I can imagine there are a few people in those wards kicking themselves over not getting out to vote.

Cllr Lewis Herbert was re-elected without the distraction of Puffles around – and interestingly the total number of votes cast in 2018 was lower than in 2014. But unlike South Cambridgeshire, Cllr Herbert didn’t face any opponent campaigning over City Deal/Greater Cambridge Partnership issues.

Multiple mandates for single projects?

The new representative for South Cambridgeshire District Council on the City Deal/Greater Cambridge Partnership Board is Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer. South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats sent out the press release as below.

So that’s at least one major project that will need a complete rethink by the Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership. The first meeting of the joint assembly is on the 14 June at The Guildhall, Cambridge. All welcome.


South Cambridgeshire Conservatives collapse at the council elections


The scale of their collapse, and the size of the victory by their Liberal Democrat opponents in South Cambridgeshire caught many – myself included – by surprise

The eleven councillors that remain standing on top of the pile of political rubble that was the great institution of South Cambridgeshire Conservatives might well be wondering what hit them at the elections on 03 May 2018 – a set of elections that saw all council seats up for election under the 4-yearly model of elections they have. In Cambridge City, we have council elections in three of every four years – and a further election for the county council in the gap.

Overnight, the Conservatives went from having 36 councillors to their opponents’ collective total of 21, to having just 11 councillors to 30 councillors from the Liberal Democrats, with 2 for Labour and 2 independents. Note the restructure of South Cambridgeshire District Council meant there were fewer wards, and more multi-seat wards.

And it was all over the local papers

…with much more yellow/orange political paint spilling out everywhere – and even a dash of red added to the new purple patch in Cambourne, west of Cambridge City. The red blob is the seat of Bassingbourn, held by Labour – which also has a strong and politically stubborn Green Party contingent too.

“So Prime Minister, how much of an impact did your racist Go Home vans and your unlawful deportations of Windrush citizens and the shambles of your Brexit policies play in the collapse of your party’s presence in the glorious economic and intellectual powerhouse of South Cambridgeshire?”

This incident a week before the polls didn’t help matters.

Accordingly, the local media couldn’t ignore it.

The candidate concerned was immediately suspended and denounced by his fellow Conservatives, and in the end did not get elected. But this combined with the headlines around Jeremy Corbyn in my view only sought to drag democracy through the mud to the point where no one wins. Labour activist Rachel Megan Barker in London spells out in raw and sobering detail how the Labour vote was understandably hit.

The problem for all political parties in this era of social media is they are unable to control social media pages and blogs that proclaim to be aligned to one party or another, yet still get tarred by it. I’ve seen examples from across the political matrix. No established political party has got a completely clean pair of shoes when it comes to foul and abusive language online – or worse, in politics.

“Woz it Brexit wot lost it?”

It certainly had an impact. 2 years ago, Heidi hosted a number of packed out meetings with hundreds of concerned constituents. The below was one of them.

Heidi Allen MP at South Cambridgeshire Hall, Cambourne. 02 July 2016.

But it was not the only issue – and it’s lazy political reporting to assume this was the only issue. As with local elections, the ‘surprising results’ indicate something much more local as an issue. In this case, it has been a series of controversial developments from the Government-sponsored Greater Cambridge Partnership – the former ‘City Deal’.

Protests against the proposed Cambourne-Cambridge busway by residents from villages on the western edge of Cambridge, and Newnham ward in Cambridge.

With the majority of the voting seats on the Greater Cambridge Partnership Board and Assembly going to Conservative councillors, they are the ones who can outvote everyone else. Hence they have gotten the blame. The leader of Cambridge City Council, Cllr Lewis Herbert, representing the Labour Party, don’t have councillors in any of the wards in and around Cambridge that are negatively affected by some of the proposed big infrastructure projects in South Cambridgeshire, so there is no political price for them to pay.

A textbook ground operation by the Liberal Democrats?

In party political circles, opponents of Liberal Democrats accuse them of playing very dirty in their campaigning tactics. The internet is full of accusations from even a simple online search. Not being close to the ground this time around, I can’t comment on what happened in the villages. However, although the headline from last year’s county council elections was the Conservatives regaining their political majority, in the South Cambridgeshire area, it was the Liberal Democrats that got the most votes.

…which was true, though the margin of their lead was under 80 votes!

Yet given how the Conservatives were tearing each other to bits over Brexit, and furthermore in complete political turmoil over the Windrush cases that ultimately led to the fall of the Home Secretary, the background music for the Conservatives nationally was not good.

Furthermore, the print press was making a very big deal about potholes in the road. This was despite the launch of the county council’s ‘dragon patcher’.

But not everyone was convinced

And with the Conservatives running the district council, county council, county mayor, county police & crime commissioner and being in office in Westminster & Whitehall (with DUP parliamentary support), there was literally no one else to take responsibility for the state of the roads.

Sarah Cheung Johnson, who came close in 2017 was victorious in 2018 for the Liberal Democrats. Furthermore, they had the people on the ground to deliver party literature.

“Didn’t Labour do anything?”

They did – but for whatever reason it didn’t seem to pay dividends despite a noticeable increase in campaigning in Waterbeach, Fen Ditton, Fulbourn, Histon, Impington and Cambourne. Only the last of the three returned a Labour councillor.

Working out what the seat spread would have been under proportional representation is not so straight forward due to the presence of multi-seat wards – where each ward can have more than one seat representing it. For example ‘Fen Ditton and Fulbourn’, and Cambourne respectively had three each. But bundling all of the votes together and dividing them by percentage share gives this:


Compare the above with the actual results of:

  • Lib Dems – 30
  • Conservative – 11
  • Labour – 2
  • Independent – 2

In Cambridge, both the Greens and Conservatives took 20% of the vote at Cambridge City Council. Neither polled any seats.

With elections every four years, the Liberal Democrats have the chance to sink some very deep political and community roots – but there are some traps ahead

With political power comes political responsibility. The Liberal Democrats will also have to select representatives for the boards of the Combined Authority (part of the county mayoral infrastructure – which they opposed on principle), and the Greater Cambridge Partnership (which their counterparts in Cambridge City when in power, along with former MP Julian Huppert helped negotiate). That means – as is likely – that Cllr Bridget Smith becomes leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, she will also become a board member of the Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership and will be much more influential on what future infrastructure projects get built.

It also means that Cllr Smith and Cllr Lewis Herbert can *outvote* the now lone Conservative on the Partnership Board. It’s been a bit of a poisoned chalice with very few Conservative councillors on the county council seeming enthusiastic participants on the Board. Former Councillor Francis Burkitt who stood down from his seat on South Cambridgeshire District Council at the elections, was much more proactive both as a member and a chairperson. From a ministerial perspective I can imagine that there is a massive political incentive for them to scrap the partnership in its entirety and fold it all into the administrative infrastructure of the county mayor – currently held by Conservative James Palmer. I can imagine Mayor Palmer would welcome such a move – not least it would get rid of another tier of local administration. However, the systems of accountability for the county mayor are far too weak. It remains to be seen what the Mayor’s review of local government infrastructure recommends.

Supporting people not just in the bad times, but in the good times too


A campaign that came 20 years too late for me, but is worth pondering if you know of someone in a similar situation struggling with mental health problems


Via this and other tweets from the campaign. Nearly 5 years ago, I wrote an article that asked:

“So we’ve raised awareness about mental health, what’s next?”

The article is here.

The past few weeks have been a big struggle, something that I’ve tried to keep at arms length from everyone. It’s become easier that way. Otherwise all you become known for is being that depressed kid. Or so it has been on my side for the best part of a quarter of a century.

‘Is there a mate missing around this table?’

At a close relative’s wedding recently, we put up lots of photos from the past of the bride & groom. With the latter, there were guests who he’d known from secondary school, college, university and work. In a couple of the photographs there were a group of people in it who also were around the same single table that day – spanning that 20 year time gap. All bar one person. That one friend of theirs who I knew in childhood was always the quiet one of the group. A few years later I discovered he suffered from depression, & seemed to withdraw into his shell. The last time I saw him was many years ago, still just as quiet, working part-time as a delivery driver for the same store that the best man had worked at for again, a quarter of a century.

With the joys of social media, a long lost friend from school who I recently bumped into at a local gig I was filming at, had one of those automated posts/photographs posted on her timeline for all to see. It was of a similar event as above, only the missing person from that group of friends was me. At first I wondered what it would have been like if I was there, but then I realised that such was the passage of time that had passed, and the life experiences, that the people we were 20 years ago were not likely to be the people that we are today. Even more so when at that same gig, one other lost friend from that time said there were many things from the mid-late 1990s that he really regretted. He’s not the only one.

Why I wouldn’t – nor couldn’t walk back into people’s lives from my past

Essentially too much has changed – certainly on my side, to make the assumption that I or anyone could simply waltz back into people’s lives like that. Also, there’s a part of me that wants to let sleeping demons on all sides remain undisturbed.

Devastating consequences of not having the institutional mental health support in place when I needed it.

College, year out, university, post-graduate years, inside the civil service and beyond the civil service, I can think of at least one specific instance where I needed comprehensive support from the NHS and local agencies, but didn’t get it. On each occasion, friends at the time understandably took big steps back, and in the end we all went our own ways. When you’re going through such crises the experience is incredibly energy sapping for the person experiencing it directly, and also those who are there supporting, or caught up in the metaphorical crossfire. Furthermore, we can’t expect those perhaps closest to us to provide that support network when they are involved in, or perhaps worse, part of the cause of an individual’s mental health problems.

When your poor mental health becomes a real disability

Which is where I have been for quite some time, made even worse with my heart problems since Christmas. I’m back in hospital on 01 May to find out what the full diagnosis is – something I should have had ages ago but had to be postponed due to waiting lists. I can’t pretend to have been the greatest fans of the current and former health secretaries but my time in hospital made it clear to me that the buck stopped with the pair of them, in office since 2010.

When you can only function properly for a few hours a day

Every so often you might hear me post ‘am running low on spoons’ which relates to the concept of Spoon Theory. (Also explained on video here by Christine Miserandino who coined the concept). Basically it means that all the stuff that you’d like to do becomes impossible. It has become even more acute this year while I am on so much medication and am in this weird sort of ‘heart limbo’.

Although it might look like I’m out and about doing stuff, what people don’t see are those random pains in and around my chest that have me panicking as to whether this is another possible heart attack coming on. My GP assured me it was much more likely to be muscle pain from somewhere else. But what’s causing these dull pains that I hadn’t otherwise been experiencing. The worrying alone is exhausting.

How much coffee can one drink?

Another day, and another coffee shop opens in Cambridge. Or another convenience supermarket. Much as I like the Co-op, I think it’s sad we don’t have the old large co-op of old. But having done my first bit of work experience with them, the historical values of the movement were completely absent from the place I spent two weeks in the mid-1990s in. But then, meeting up for coffee with friends is always good, isn’t it?

Well, up to a point.

A couple of very longstanding Twitterfriends put this far more succinctly than I have ever done, and was based on their own experience. They both said they always found it was them doing the organising for things that they went out and about to, but, for whatever reason never really found that reciprocated by others. Essentially they said, they were ‘outside’ the immediate inner circle of friends of the people they socialised with. Thus were never automatically on the ‘invite list’. This has been my experience for most of my adult life. It was only when I was doing the same shared activity with the same group of people over an extended period of time (evening classes in the mid-2000s) that this was not the case.

Becoming a part of each other’s lives through automated processes?

I stumbled across this article recently about an academic study from the USA on friendship.

“Hall found that it took roughly 200 hours to achieve best friend status while it took 50 hours to move from acquaintances to casual friends and 90 hours to progress from casual friends to friends.”

Now, given the number of hours I’m up and about is curtailed by poor health, you can see one of the challenges I face. Furthermore, having spent the past 7 years in freelance world and not working with the same group of people on a shared task with common goals has also had a huge impact. At a macro level, the rise in both self-employment and zero hours contracts was discussed in this Trade Union Congress paper.

Again, with the exception of the mid-2000s, I’ve not been in a position to be able to do anything on a regular basis with a large group of people for many years. Even less so now with the state of my health. It takes me back to when I was doing my A-levels which was probably the last time I was interacting with lots of people on a daily basis. My biggest regret from those days being choice of A-level subjects. I should have done politics and history rather than geography and maths.

The problem I find is that the only time I ever see people out and about (i.e. the time I have enough spoons to use) is in a ‘working’ context. Normally at a public meeting of sorts. Therefore conversations are all too often ‘work’ related, or in my case ‘political’. And politics is draining. Political activists at the best of times can be very intense people. (I should know – I have to live with myself!) For everyone else, such people are best dealt with in small doses – mainly at election time!

“So, don’t you want that coffee then?”

Much as it’s always nice to talk, I’d rather do something else with more than one other person that involves leisure – something that makes life worth living. Also, something where you know you’re being invited because people want you there, not because they are doing you a favour by putting up with you because you’re going through a bad time. At the same time though, I’m also realistic enough to acknowledge our collective social patterns of work simply don’t allow for that sort of living.

We’re all busy people!

Actually, by the time you hit your late 30s, people the same age are settling down and having children. Having seen how much work is involved bringing them with close relatives every weekend if not more, I know in my heart of hearts that health-wise I could never bring up my own. On 3 hours a day? You must be joking!

In the meantime…

I spend my daylight hours continuing what I can with all things and at the same time sort of saddened that I’m not in the place healthwise to take the project forward in the way that I’d like to. Because there’s so much more to it I’ve yet to discover. Today’s discovery was this front page from the British Newspaper Archive.

321230 FlorenceAdaKeynesTheVoteFrontPage321230 FlorenceAdaKeynesTheVoteP2