On the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review – no Localgov Restructure?


The elephant in the room remains untouched by the report despite welcome measures such as calls for public transport investment, long term market town strategies, and a powerful voice for Fenland, one of the most economically deprived areas despite close geographical proximity to Cambridge.

You can read the report here – click on one of the tiny orange arrows to the bottom right.

The dragon wasn’t impressed by the lack of a clear demand for a streamlined system of governance following years of tinkering with structures on the back of political envelopes.

Cambridgeshire 1945

The above map (dating from 1945) from the history of local government in and around Cambridge from 1959 (which I’ve digitised here – have a look at ***all of the wonderful maps!***) is one of my favourite as it gives an example of what a series of unitary councils might look like. The table below in Annex 1 is actually a very important table as it summarises who has what powers in Cambridgeshire.

180923 Cambs Localgov Powers Table_1180923 Cambs Localgov Powers Table_2180923 Cambs Localgov Powers Table_3

“The review had a huge remit – there was only so much they could have said about governance”

Overall there are 27 recommendations – 14 main ones, 13 subsidiary ones, which for any official report is a huge number. Interestingly it’s the last one – the last of the subsidiary recommendations that may catch the attention of regular bus users in Cambridge (of which I am one – and a founding member of this new group) is that they have called for Mayor James Palmer to use his powers of bus franchising. Many have been calling for him to do this for quite some time – despite the main bus operator, Stagecoach, having big reservations with it. In the grand scheme of things it’ll hit their profits. Andy Campbell of Stagecoach has always been clear at public meetings that he will not run bus routes that are run at a loss unless someone subsidises them.

Above – dragon goes several stages further. And given the current political climate, renationalisation is being discussed not just at national but in local political circles. This from last year at the general election hustings in Great Shelford.

Dan Greef (Labour – South Cambs) responding to a question on nationalisation at the General Election 2017 hustings at Gt Shelford Hall. 17 May 2017.

“Why is governance such a big issue?”

One of the reasons why ‘the business community’ is reported in political circles to favour executive mayors is because there is a direct point of contact to lobby to get what they want or need. The problem is that England has a very long history of having civic mayors. Cambridge has had a mayor (with fluctuating degrees of powers) for the best part of 800 years. Not something to be thrown away lightly. Peterborough too has a civic mayor. Thus there has been confusion with some dignitaries from other countries unfamiliar with the civic leader they are dealing with – assuming that our civic mayors have executive powers (they don’t) and/or mistaking the executive county mayor (currently Mr Palmer) for being the mayor of the cities of Cambridge and Peterborough respectively. (He isn’t). That’s not Mr Palmer’s fault, that’s the fault of ministers who rushed the policy development of executive mayors.

The current set up of local government causes far too much confusion for citizens and businesses – this review could have taken the opportunity to call for structures to be simplified.

Ask any of the business representatives who have been to local government meetings in Cambridge and more than a few will tell you that some, such as the Greater Cambridge Partnership Assembly can make you lose the will to live – especially as they trundle on into their third or fourth hour.

I put it in the context of the nominal hourly rate the individuals around the Assembly table get paid, or would have gotten paid if it were at a consultancy rate. And then asked the question whether politicians and officials had gotten value for money out of all of the people who were around the very large set of tables. Which in part is why I’m not a fan of big meetings that last for ages with lots of people where only one person gets to speak at a time. In my civil service days, 90 minutes was the maximum my teams would aim for, knowing that if they went above 2 hours, people would lose concentration. Given the importance of the issues at stake, not something you want to have happening.

Reducing duplication

There’s far too much of it in the current structure – and as a result it costs time and money, not just for the organisations, but for the media who report from said meetings and for the public who want to keep up with who is saying what. The problem is that the Review has taken the existing structures as a given rather than asking some essential questions as to whether the geographical area for a single county-wide mayoralty is the right one, and whether the current arrangements for scrutiny and accountability with the Combined Authority as is, are suitable in order to safeguard public money.

Separating the party political from the propriety and governance issues

The ballot box thumping the residents of South Cambridgeshire gave the Conservatives at the local elections this year made things a little bit more complicated for the Conservative majority on the Combined Authority – and completely removed the Conservative working majority on the Greater Cambridge Partnership. The latter, for which Cllr Lewis Herbert, Labour’s leader of Cambridge City Council, is the only member of the Board who has been there from the first meeting. Yet he had no say in the creation of the Partnership/City Deal as it was put together when the Liberal Democrats controlled Cambridge City Council.

The Conservatives have chopped and changed their board members, with only former Cllr Francis Burkitt taking a very proactive stance as both a member and a chairman compared with his party colleagues. While I didn’t agree with Cllr Burkitt, nor his party’s policies, he always struck me as a competent chairman, prepared to ask difficult questions, overturn officer advice when it was warranted, and face the media on controversial issues. I got the sense that people knew where they stood with him. In the early days of 2014/15, I felt that Cllr Herbert was carrying along the entire project alone.

The election of the Liberal Democrats with such a big majority on South Cambridgeshire District Council (one that will be there for up to the next four years give or take a boundary change) means that Liberal Democrat Cllr Aidan Van De Weyer, the representative for South Cambs, faces a huge test trying to make the Partnership work with the manifesto that he and his party colleagues were elected on earlier this year.

Finally, recent personnel changes in the Combined Authority by Mayor Palmer have been in the headlines of late, with both Cllr Herbert and the new leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cllr Bridget Smith, calling for an independent review into the departure of the Combined Authority’s chief executive. The question is whether the other leaders of the county’s district councils – all Conservatives, will support such a call. Given what I’ve seen of past meetings, I doubt this will happen. Again, the fault is in the design – the Combined Authority Board being one aimed at getting the leaders of different political parties representing different areas to work together.

Politically polarised district councils

Cambridge City Council has zero Conservative councillors – a constitutional outrage in some traditionalist circles

East Cambridgeshire District Council has zero Labour councillors, and only three Liberal Democrat Councillors – and one independent. The other 35 councillors are all Conservative.

Fenland District Council has zero Labour councillors – despite it having once been a Labour-controlled council in the 1990s. How and why that party imploded remains a mystery.

With the above in mind, is there something about the electoral system that means large numbers of people are not being adequately represented? Whether that’s the 10,000 or so Conservative voters in the general election inside Cambridge City, to the 17,000 voters who voted for Labour in South East Cambridge (covering much of East Cambs DC).

What about retraining of workers?

One of the best articles I’ve read on this issue is by the finance and economics writer Frances Coppola – The Bifurcation of the Labour Market.

“Business re-engagement with the growing “shanty town” of low-skilled, poorly paid and insecure workers is essential for economic recovery. And it seems to me that fostering this re-engagement is the role of government. “

Essentially there is an incentive for firms to poach the skilled workers of their rivals rather than to invest in their own workforces. The growth of the zero hours/gig economy has also resulted in too many people being deprived of hard won workers’ rights such as the right to paid holiday and sick pay.

One of the things I’ve not seen is a comprehensive approach to the retraining of workers – in particular career switchers. In 1996 during my final year at school in Cambridge, our head teacher told us our future was one where there would not be jobs for life, and that we would have to retrain and switch careers. What followed clobbered Generation Y and the Millennials, where grants for further study were scrapped for all but the poorest – who had to go through various hoops and means testing (which are barriers in themselves), and hit them/us with eye-wateringly high debts. Seeing one of my Twitter followers informed that she owed the Student Loans Co over £50,000 was sobering. Knowing that the loan book has been sold off to the private sector isn’t going to help graduates get out of debt. And we’ve not even looked at housing. Yet if the under-40s are supposed to be retraining let’s say every decade or so, how can they possibly afford to incur the costs of it? More loans? It’s unsustainable. At some stage employers are going to have to take on much more of the costs of training and retraining – whether through taxation or other means.

And finally….

It’s a cliche to say young people are our future, but they are. Yet we don’t seem to have a mechanism to tap into what their hopes and fear for the future are. The reason why this matters is because Millennials are the first generation to grow up knowing more and/or having access to far more knowledge than the adults that are teaching them. What are the things that they can teach the adults? What knowledge of public services do they have that adults and decision makers are not aware of? For example the impact of poor public transport services on school/college attendance and future career choices. And we have been here before. Mary Chamberlain’s book on Fenwomen first published in the 1970s has heartbreaking testimony of young women being told they could not go onto study what they wanted to study because the government of the day had cut the bus services from their village. Do we have a picture of how the career and life choices of our children and young adults are being affected by the worsening transport situation?

There’s more I could write, but I’ll finish here for now.








Do you print out your photographs?


On storing personal photographs with an eye on archiving.

So I got the dragon a new (for us) second hand toy to be distracted by – an A2 printer that was going fairly cheap for what it does.

Poor Eglantyne Jebb looks petrified in the face of Puffles! This print is from the Palmer Clarke archive in the Cambridgeshire Collection – with tens of thousands of glass plates that volunteers are currently scanning and cataloguing. [For those of you interested, I run free monthly talks at the Cambridgeshire Collection on the 2nd Saturday of each month – see here for details].

I went through a spreadsheet that another volunteer had created from the card index to locate a number of very prominent women who were social reformers in the run up to the First World War and in the interwar period. Getting these printed out on A2 photo paper (i.e not poster paper) isn’t cheap. It’s at least £20 a time. Given the number of plates I could order, the potential printing cost from a third party was looking at over £500. At which point it’s far better buying a printer capable of doing the job.

What the detail shows that viewing on screen misses

I don’t know about you, but I prefer looking at historical documents and things on paper rather than on screen. I find I have more time to ponder and contemplate, gazing at a large sheet than having to fiddle around moving a cursor that is distracting to say the least – to say nothing of the screen glare. Surprisingly, some images have come out incredibly well even though they are photographs of small photographs.

Such as this one of Belcher’s unbuilt guildhall in Cambridge. This is the story of why we didn’t get it, but having the ability to print it out means I can give a copy back to the Cambridgeshire Collection that is far more striking than the original photograph we got it from. (The original painting is lost somewhere in the current guildhall).

Ipswich on the other hand managed to build theirs.

“Why print all of this stuff out?”

Some of it is because more detailed, larger prints reveal far more. Coming back to Belcher’s Guildhall plan, this – again from the Cambridgeshire Collection, is a photo of an A2 print I made earlier today. The original newspaper print is about A5, and the descriptions of the rooms are illegible in the latter.


Yet when I printed them out at A2, as the detailed snapshots from my phone show, the room labels magically appear.


The County Court room is more clearly visible as the large room on the left in the image above.


The Committee Room labels are visible, as is the balcony, while we can clearly make out the shape of the council chamber as well.

The printed image does not require another piece of equipment to access it, unlike data stored on a separate device/hard drive.

This was what got me thinking about what to print and where to store the images – both the photographs I take when out and about in Cambridge, and the images I’ve been digitising for my own research – eg newspaper articles.

One of the things with photographs in our local archives is that many of them are quite small. Understandable given the cost of producing them – alongside things like rationing and censorship, especially in wartime.

Humanity and personality getting lost/hidden in very small images

When we opened the first of the large prints I had ordered separately via the Cambridgeshire Collection, We gasped with surprise when the first prints of Eglantyne Jebb came back – as well as the photo of the roof of the old Masonic Lodge that was on Corn Exchange Street.

One of the people who came to one of my history talks is a Mason, and told me that the roof had indeed been saved, transferred to another lodge which, if all goes well we might be able to visit.

“So…size is everything?”

Not quite.

But for the purposes of my research, being able to photograph otherwise delicate newspapers and reprint them in the same large format means not repeatedly pulling out the originals from the archives. Furthermore, with images, as I’ve mentioned there is so much more detail that comes out in a larger format. For example in Eglantyne’s case you can see the freckles on her face just beneath her make-up. At that size she looks so much more human.

“Printing out all of those photos will take ages and won’t be cheap”

I’m not intending on printing out all 10,000+ photos that seem to have found their way onto my laptop since leaving the civil service in 2011. (The large majority of them are actually snapshots of things I’ve found in archives rather than of people and things). It’s strange because I used to hate being in photographs and hated taking them too because I was rubbish at it. There are precious few photographs of me in my teens and twenties around.

Does it bother me? Yes and no. It does because otherwise it feels like the things – even the good things that happened, were lived by someone else in another life. But then it doesn’t bother me at the same time because the people who I shared those experiences with are no longer in my life. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the impact of my mental health problems that I didn’t fully recognise at the various times were more than enough for people to back away. The ‘intensity’ that goes with it is one of the personality traits I hate in myself because I know how off-putting it can be. Unfortunately photos like this from over a decade ago shortly after I moved to London risk becoming meaningless because they lack both context and being part of a narrative or story.


This photo was taken at a ballroom ball at Fulham Town Hall by the former Stardust Ballroom Dancing Company (which unfortunately did not take off despite a strong start, and was liquidated).

But yes, in the grand scheme of things, I think it’s worth going through your own digital photo collections and picking the best ones either to print out on photo paper or get professionally developed (and at a larger-than-standard size). Chances are someone in the future will thank you for it.


Why is the contribution of China during the Second World War not more prominent in popular & military history?


Between 1937-39, the Cambridge Daily News frequently ran headlines reporting the atrocities carried out by invading forces of Imperial Japan. Yet the high level of reporting in newspapers of the time don’t seem to have transferred into popular history. Why is this?

I was in the Cambridgeshire Collection again today, and the big thing I took away was the repeated headlines of news in the Far East of Japan’s war against China that exploded into conflict in 1937 after a very uneasy peace following Japan’s occupation of Manchuria and large areas of northern China in the early 1930s – which resulted in Imperial Japan leaving the League of Nations.

Just as the repeated headlines of the Spanish Civil War (and the paralysis of UK foreign policy in the face of that aggression was something I found exhausting reading earlier this week, the headlines today were just as shocking. What really struck me was that there were several incidents that, in any other time would have led to a military response from the British.


From the Cambridge Daily News, August 1937, in the Cambridgeshire Collection

The third screenshot shows the aftermath of an incident where the British Ambassador to China was injured in an air attack on his car by a Japanese plane. This incident involving soldiers from Northern Ireland was also reported. At the time, Shanghai was a highly-developed city, occupied by a coalition of forces from the colonial powers of the day. Hence why the British were there. And the cartoonist/satirist David Low, spent those same years tearing into the governments of Baldwin and Chamberlain over their foreign policies – the cartoons below coming from this book I found in a charity shop ages ago.


David Low – A Pageant of Politics, 1938

These were serious times – here’s the Mayor of Cambridge visiting a model office at Boots on Petty Cury (The store’s still there give or take some major rebuilding work) which is supposedly resistance to a poison gas attack.


From the Cambridge Daily News, October 1937, in the Cambridgeshire Collection

Above – Ronald Searle satirising events in Cambridge on the week Mayor Briggs visited Boots.

It was also a time when anti-war protests were becoming more prominent – as were the preparations for war following an increase in defence spending announced in the Budget earlier that year.

The thing is…Cambridge was still building stuff


As the photos above via the Cambridgeshire Collection show, work on The Guildhall and a new crematorium continued and a new Synagogue and a new secondary school (Coleridge – today part of the Parkside Federation) were opened.

So in one sense, life carried on as normal, yet in another sense, they were incredibly dark times. As I said to a couple of people this week, how many government ministers of Stanley Baldwin’s and Neville Chamberlain’s pro-appeasement pro-non-intervention governments can you recall? Compare that with Churchill’s wartime coalition.

“What’s this got to do with war in the Far East?”

The best book on this subject area is Forgotten Ally, by Rana Mitter. Note in the title the conflict is listed as being from 1937-45. In popular historical culture some people complain that the USA only refer to WWII being from 1941-45 – i.e. from Pearl Harbour. For other parts of the world, the conflict began far earlier than autumn 1939.

Further more, the war in the Far East was perhaps much more significant for Cambridge than it was for other parts of the UK. For a start, academics fleeing from the dictatorships would end up in Cambridge one way or another. And Cambridge would give them a platform on which they could talk about what was going on. Accordingly, the local newspapers would report what was going on.


The Liberal Party held their national summer school at the University Arms Hotel in Cambridge in 1937, and the last headline speaker was Dr Moritz Bonn of the then banned SPD (Social Democrats of Germany) – and was on the list of persons to be rounded up by the nazis had they succeeded in invading Britain. Searching the digitised list of names, 65 entries return from the search term “Cambridge”. Sobering indeed.


Above – from the Cambridgeshire Collection, the visit by Professor Peng Chun who managed to evade invading Japanese forces before heading to Europe to speak about the war in the Far East.

1937 Resolution following Prof Peng Chun talk in Cambridge.jpg

Above – the resolution passed by a number of societies in Cambridge in October 1937.


Solidarity between Indian and Chinese students in Cambridge in 1937 – even before the Second World War, and even before the First, Cambridge had a number of students from India and China studying at Cambridge University.

The Fall of Singapore in 1942

The final reason why events in the Far East are significant to Cambridge in particular is because the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Cambridgeshire Regiment were sent on a doomed mission to defend the so-called Fortress of Singapore in early 1942. Newspapers of the late 1930s reported on the large military spending on Singapore, but to little effect it seemed. Diverted halfway through their voyage originally to the Middle East, and having received limited training for mobile warfare, they were thrown into the jungles of Malaya and the siege of Singapore before being surrendered by General Percival in what was possibly the biggest defeat for British and Empire military forces in its history. One of the soldiers captured was Ronald Searle. And as this article recalls, many did not survive the horrors of the prison camps.

The war in Burma

The Chinese played an incredibly important role in the fight against Imperial Japan – the figure I’ve seen quoted at various points is that the Japanese army had over a million soldiers stationed in China at the time of the surrender in 1945. The front on the China- Burma-India borders was where British and Indian forces – and also the 15,000 soldiers of the 82nd West African Division which included Nigerian soldiers who had smashed the Italian fascists out of modern day Somalia in the East African Campaign. According to this from the BBC, over a million soldiers from across Britain’s colonies in Africa were mobilised to fight in the Second World War. Not an insignificant amount of personnel. The jungles of Burma were scenes of some of the toughest fighting of the war.

“That being the case, why were they forgotten?”

Before the days of the internet you had people on TV coming out with stuff like this. Fair play to Richard Wilson aka Victor Meldrew (who during his national service in the 1950s was stationed at Singapore) for calling Manning out. I still remember one or two ignorant fools from my college days praising the latter even though we slammed him for his bigoted views. (As well as being factually incorrect, but by then the damage was done – it’s much harder to correct a lie after it has been mentioned on prime time TV). This was just one example.

The other issue perhaps was Cold War politics. The Government of China recognised by the UK and the USA was the regime led by General Chang Kai Shek and his nationalist movement, the KMT. His wife, known in the media as Madame Chiang Kai Shek, was a very fluent English speaker, and one of the most famous political figures of her day. This is her speaking to the US Congress.


Following the invasion by Japan, the conflict between Chang Kai Shek’s forces and Chairman Mao’s communists was halted. However, in 1946 it broke out again and by 1949, the latter had taken control of mainland China while the latter withdrew to the island of Taiwan, where it remained under American protection. As far as the US Government was concerned, the government in Taiwan remained the official representatives of the Republic of China (as opposed to the People’s Republic of China we are familiar with today) until President Nixon’s policy change in the early 1970s.

Thus in the decades that followed, it could have been that praising the efforts and sacrifices by nations under communism was ‘not the done thing’ as far as the British Establishment was concerned. Ditto perhaps with countries that were seeking independence from the UK. Personally I’ve not even scratched the surface of what the reasons might be. But it’s certainly an area worth reaching for a new generation of historians.

“Isn’t all of this just re-writing history?”

Not at all – because the history that I am talking about has already been written at the time. When it was written, it wasn’t called ‘history’, it was called ‘news’ and was written by journalists. All I’m doing is re-telling the stories as opposed to coming up with something new.

And for me it’s a reasonable question to ask fellow historians why the news reports of the time – the repeated news reports over an extended period of time – have not made it into the popular history books given the number, frequency and extended time frame those reports were being published in the newspapers of the time.



The Cambridge Folk Festival, and time in the archives too


On experiencing the 2018 Cambridge Folk Festival with a limited number of spoons, and hiding from the heatwave in an air-conditioned archive/library.

At the 2016 Cambridge Folk Festival two years ago, I made this video with a phone and a selfie stick.

It was slightly different this year because my music collective We. Are. Sound., which contains a large number of fans of the US folk band Darlingside (who were headlining) had organised to let us take over the vocals on one of their songs at an unannounced short set in one of the bars. It went something like this:

Those in the audience who were not part of our collective were pleasantly shocked and surprised to hear us all harmonising given that we’d not sung along with the few other tracks they had played. (We’d prepared for this and had sung it in a previous gig).

180805 Darlingside_2

Judging by the band’s reaction after they handed over to the audience after the first line, I think we did OK.

Following that, I slouched in a chair to listen to Kate Rusby and Eddie Reader and Friends.

…but unfortunately Reader didn’t sing the song that propelled her to Number 1 in the music charts in 1988. All together now: ***It’s got to beeeeyeeeeyeeeeyeeee….. Perrrrrrrrrrfect!***

The one artist who held the audience spellbound was Janis Ian

…and if the Folk Festival organisers and producers can do a deal, they’ll get a soundtrack to her song 1776 at the Folk Festival released online.

“…Because it could never happen here”

One woman and her guitar – who even had us all captivated with her monologues between songs. In particular the challenges of being in a same sex marriage in an era of Donald. [Standing on the US-CDN border: “The form says to state marital status – what should I put?” “Well, you’re married aren’t you?” “Well, over here I am, but fifteen metres over there, I’m not”]

Having to plan everything in advance in micro-detail

I can’t see myself ever having the health to manage a full festival anywhere. Hence only booking for this day. But it still meant having to think things through in a level of detail that most other people probably take for granted. This was the first year I took a chair with me because I knew I’d not cope on my feet all the time. That and feeling like a cheapskate borrowing other peoples as I did 2 years ago. As it turned out, the chair I bought and brought with me was used by others in and around my music collective, me crashed on someone else’s as we did a slow-motion merry-go-round picking up ice creams, beers and other things over the afternoon.

The sky did spoilt us at times though.

Organisers also opened a multi-tap water fountain on site given the heatwave. I sort of wonder how we all coped at previous festivals. I remember the 2004 festival being particularly warm and sunny with Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy headlining at an event that some more hardcore goers felt lacked ‘real’ folk music.

The band I’d like to have seen this year were First Aid Kit

…but the truth was I just didn’t have the stamina. That said, this year the music was incredibly loud – so loud that I could clearly hear Patti Smith banging out Because of the night from my bedroom window the night before Sunday’s fun and games.

Monday morning in the archives

I had the best sleep in ages – I hope this bodes well for when I have my wisdom teeth removed in 12 or so hours time from writing this. Impacted and one with more than deep roots, I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but they want out.

Given the weather forecast, I chose to stay in the Cambridgeshire Collection all day – it took me about four hours to browse through six months of newspaper reports from 1936. Turns out local artist and author of St Trinians, the great Ronald Searle, had covered a previous heatwave in Cambridge.


From the Cambridge Daily News, in the Cambs Collection, June 1936

You can find out more historical treasures in the collection on the 3rd Floor of Cambridge Central Library – or click here. I’m also hosting a group visit to the collection on Sat 11 August – see here for details. (I hope the worst effects of wisdom teeth removal will have worn off by then).

In part as a result of the heatwave, my broken laptop, the summer break from local democracy, and having a much clearer picture of the history of Cambridge the town compared to two years ago, I’ve increased the intensity of the research that I’m doing – this being the longest session I’ve managed thus far. Remember normally I can only function for a few hours a day.

One piece of [historical] bad news after another – it’s grinding

Because some headlines behind events from my GCSE in history in the mid-1990s read very very differently when you read the newspaper headline in an original newspaper of the day.

360307 Nazis occupy Rhineland headline CDN 1936

When I read through each front page minute-by-minute one after another, the sense I got was one of a government of the day absolutely floundering in the face of the aggression from the dictators. Not least because the one thing ministers knew, the people did not want another war – and the latter made sure MPs knew about it too.


This was one of many meetings in Cambridge at the time – remembering that in Cambridge at the 1935 general election, over 40% of voters had voted for the high profile pacifist Labour candidate Dr Alex Wood  in what was a safe Conservative seat at the time.

And remember that the writers and participants of the time did not know about the storm clouds ahead – though even as early as 1936 even the advertisers were predicting war.


From the Cambridge Daily News, in the Cambs Collection, May 1936

Remember it’s not like you can go up to people and organisations and say:

“I don’t know why you’re doing all that now – World War 2 is going to break out in 1939!”

This also means remembering that it was hard for people to predict the technological advances even in the near future, as well as the social and cultural changes.

Cambridge town continues to progress

Even with the dark clouds looming in 1936, Cambridge still kept on progressing.

Motor traffic was becoming such a problem that we finally got a borough parking scheme.

360323 First Car Parking signs in Cambridge 1936

From the Cambridge Daily News, in the Cambs Collection, March 1936

Below is the opening of Cambridge’s first animal clinic on Covent Garden off Mill Road – an address I walk past fairly regularly.

RSPCA Clinic Cambridge

From the Cambridge Daily News, in the Cambs Collection, April 1936

Below – the approval of Cambridge Airport – which would also play a support role in the Second World War – and thus become a target for single plane raids hitting East Anglia.

360206 Cambridge Airport Approved

From the Cambridge Daily News, in the Cambs Collection, February 1936

Trying to differentiate between an item that’s an entry into a list of historical dates to one that is part of the story of our city

All of the above historical items were from a six month period in the Twentieth Century. Think of what the rest of the story of Cambridge the town holds.

Furthermore, the article on the funeral of Millicent Fawcett’s husband, Prof Henry Fawcett, who died in 1884 while Postmaster General always gets me thinking about historical ‘what ifs?’ For example if Prof Fawcett had been elected MP for Cambridge borough in 1863, and/or if he had lived for another 30 years instead of dying in his early 50s. Part of me likes to think we’d have got universal suffrage far earlier, and could have had the prospect of Eglantyne Jebb, MP for Cambridge in a 1910 general election. But Cambridge’s loss was the world’s gain.

Getting some old negatives developed.

These are thumbnail images I’ve created from a couple of stunning portrait photographs of the founder of Save the Children, Eglantyne Jebb.

These had been tucked away in the Cambridgeshire Collection where they hold the archives and stacks of undeveloped negatives that are waiting to be catalogued by the volunteers working their socks off on this. Note the list of photographers of times gone by here. Having recently discovered the existence of the card index and the archive of negatives, hopefully we’ll be able get some developed and put some on show.


A long term vision for local government in England


Asking where politicians and political parties stand at a time where the structure of local government is long overdue an overhaul

For those of you who have been following my historical research on Cambridge the town, the structure of local government comes up time and again. Modern local government as a provider of public services first came about with the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, with the creation of modern day county councils under the Local Government Act 1888 – following which the citizens of Cambridge have remained under the thumb of their rural compatriots, holding back the development and progress within the town following centuries of oppression from Cambridge University authorities. Or so we would believe. Actually it’s a lot more complicated than that as institutions and individuals within them have on many an occasion defied the stereotype.

When Cambridge Borough made its first bid for freedom from the county in the run up to the First World War, it was Conservative MP for Cambridge, and later fascist sympathiser Almeric Paget (later Lord Queenborough) who made the case for Cambridge to become a ‘county borough’ or a unitary council. It was the Liberal MP for what is now South Cambridgeshire (but back then Cambridge County) Edwin Montague, then Undersecretary at the India Office (a major department of state in the day) who – speaking on the private members bill concerned, made the case against. See my blogpost here.

Fast forward to the mid-1970s and Conservative politicians in Cambridge made the case against their rural party colleagues for Cambridge to become a unitary council. Instead, through the deft move of pen and paper, schools and libraries transferred permanently away from the city council to the county council, and the Liberal and Labour councillors in the former have been complaining about the sell off of city public services to fund Tory tax cuts ever since.

The current broken structure of Cambridgeshire

Several of you may have seen this or various versions of, by Smarter Cambridge Transport.


Governance of Cambridgeshire following the signing of the Greater Cambridge City Deal.

Now the county’s Local Enterprise Partnership has since been wound up after National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee investigated financial issues raised by North East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay. Never a good idea to get on the wrong side of an MP who happens to be a Treasury Minister at the same time.

The current structure of local governance and government in Cambridgeshire has not been the result of extensive research, but rather party political expediency. 

My personal take is that institutionally, the Conservative hierarchy sees Cambridge as an aristocratic inheritance and the current situation where not a single elected Conservative councillor holds a local council seat inside Cambridge City represents something of a constitutional outrage that His Majesty The King should do something about.

But it’s not just the Tories that are capable of doing stuff like this. Back in 2009, Labour made a botched attempt to take the cities of Exeter and Norwich out of the orbit of their county councils. Botched because the civil service at the time (and I was in the department concerned) refused to sign off the plans because of value for money concerns. The Permanent Secretary at the time had to ask for a ministerial direction in order to absolve himself and his civil servants from responsibility over the policy’s value for money. When a Permanent Secretary does this, this is a big red button that alerts Parliament to start investigating and scrutinising the policy in a very big way. You can see why Labour wanted to proceed – the 2010 general election was only a few months away. In the end, Eric Pickles took over and stomped on the plans. And started a huge program of cuts that we still have the legacy of.

We are over eight years down the line from that general election, and today local councils are making the news over their risk assessments and contingency plans over Brexit. At the same time we are living in a world where local councils are expected by ministers to deliver what they deliver with a lot less – and also to cut back on as many activities as possible. Ultimately this has led to the sorts of problems that Conservative-run Northamptonshire County Council now faces, where it is struggling to deliver on public services and is effectively a failing council. Years of voting through minimal council tax rises have come home to bite. As things stand, all new expenditure by the council has been banned with the exception of spending on statutory services – where the council is required by law to provide a service. The reason why it matters to Cambridge is because Cambridgeshire County Council has a shared services agreement through this LGSS vehicle. Could problems in Northants hit Cambridgeshire?

“Where next for local councils?”

Cllr Stephen Canning asked this in his blogpost here. The paragraphs below make for interesting reading.

“The very definition of a council service also needs to be reviewed to ensure that in the 21st century it meets up to both the expectations its future consumers will have on it and the changing way they’ll wish to access it.

In a hypermobile world a static council with its obscure functions and processes, its opaque structure and its endless forms is not an organisation that ‘Generation Z’ will want to transact with. Services will need to be redesigned and redefined from the front end to the back end.”

The first thing to be clear about when any politician talks about a state institution and policies for it, are what their political principles are for that institution. The reason being is that it is from those principles that the policies flow. At the most extreme ends of the political spectrum of public service delivery are minimal state at one end, to the monopoly provider of cradle-to-grave public services at the other. As a Conservative councillor, it’s fairly safe to say that Cllr Canning doesn’t subscribe to big state municipal socialism! As he makes clear in his blogpost, the challenge he sets out for local councils is primarily as a service provider for those in most need.

The bit where Cllr Canning is very much a pioneer is with how local councils can use new communications and computing technologies to inform decisions made on service delivery. For example using social media in civil emergencies (eg snow storms closing schools) to using big and live data (for example with live bus times sent straight to mobile phones via apps).

Why I have issues both with big state and also with minimal state mindsets

In part, I’ve found out the hard way and have seen close hand how both models of public service delivery are struggling in this tech-rich age we’re living in. That’s also not to say that *Oooh! There is a third way and it’s over here with the Liberal Democrats!* is the answer.

The overarching problem with the big state model is that the incentive creates a culture of dependency on whoever is the provider of the money – in this case The Treasury. Until there is some sort of devolution of tax and revenue raising powers set out in law that don’t require the continual sign off from The Treasury, local councils will forever be looking over their shoulder or hesitating to commit to interesting projects because they want to cover themselves financially if anything goes wrong. Furthermore, too many decisions end up tied up in a tier of management where staff at a lower tier in the hierarchy are waiting forever and a day for a senior manager to sign something off when in reality said senior manager should have either delegated the decision or not have gone on an empire-building mission in the first place – thus tasked with too many responsibilities.

As for the problems with minimal state, you only have to follow the news feeds from charities and/or campaigning groups working on the front line – such as food banks – to see the state that too many people find themselves in. You also run the risk of creating ‘sinks’ where people who need the most help are effectively put, and thus those areas not surprisingly find themselves struggling to cope with issues of multiple deprivation. Eglantyne Jebb spent her Cambridge years dealing with these issues before going on to found Save The Children. Personally I have issues with us going backwards in the opposite direction to which Eglantyne, Florence Ada Keynes, Clara Rackham and the women heroes who made modern Cambridge were taking our town in.

The evolution of Eglantyne’s political principles also make for interesting reading – she arrived in Cambridge as a soft Conservative, became a pro-suffragist Liberal and left Cambridge as a co-operator at a time when the Co-operative Party were not in alliance with the Labour Party. (The party still exists – with a number of MPs standing as Labour and Co-operative MPs – one of whom, Meg Hillier, chairs the Public Accounts Committee).

“What about this vision of local government?”

I was at a meeting at Shire Hall today with some interested parties sorting out all things buses in and around Cambridge. (I’m a founder member of the new Cambridge Area Bus Users’ Group as I use buses almost daily, so it kinda makes sense). The one thing that was clear to me at the end of the meeting was how laws passed by Parliament to change the way local councils did things, were actually making things worse for bus users rather than better. Stagecoach Group is the main bus provider in and around Cambridge and being a private company won’t provide bus services on routes it sees as, and says are unprofitable, unless subsidised. But we have no way of interrogating their claims as they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (and even if they were, would be able to claim such data as being commercially sensitive). Hence the feeling in the room was for campaigning to persuade Mayor James Palmer to use his powers to franchise the bus network. (He’s still considering it last we heard – hence the formation of the bus campaign group).

Cambridge – the country’s most unequal city

It’s not a title we’re proud of, but the cutting of public services and the inability of local councils to tap into all of this wealth being supposedly generated are really not helping things. What’s the point of having this reputation of being this jewel in the economic crown if we can’t use nearly enough of the wealth to clean our streets properly, build decent recycling facilities (An incinerator? Really??!?), or deal with our century-long problem of traffic on roads?

What sort of support to civic life should local government be providing?

Again for me this comes back to what your individual principles are. The sense I get with Cambridgeshire Conservatives is that local councils have a minimal role in this, and instead local councillors can support whichever named charities they choose at traditional fund-raising nights. At the other end of the scale, you’ll find politicians in other parties who may well say that some charities should not need to exist – for example food banks – because the properly resourced welfare state should be ensuring that everyone has enough to eat.

Should local councils be supporting things like ‘the arts’?

A very easy target – the arts world luvvies, scourge of the tabloid press for being privately-educated liberal-leaning champagne socialists! And yes, the media and the arts have more than a few issues as well when it comes to inequalities and access.

One of the first people to try and deal with this in modern times was someone in Florence Ada Keynes’ circle – the poet Rupert Brooke, who was best friends with her younger son Geoffrey – later Sir Geoffrey Keynes the surgeon.

***Oh Rupert! The romantic war poet who was so tragically taken away from us!***

Yes – The Archers commissioned a statue in their garden in Granchester where Brooke wrote poetry – and invited Mrs Thatcher to unveil it in the company of Andrew Lansley.

***Oh, how splendid!***

Rupert Brooke hated the Tories.

***No he didn’t!***

Yes he did – he campaigned against them in the 1910 general elections – finishing one diary entry with the phrase “I hate the upper classes!”

***Rooopert you traitor!!!!***

According to Etonian Hugh Dalton, another close friend of Rupert Brooke, had he lived he may well have joined the Labour Party after the war – as Dalton did, later becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer after unsuccessfully standing for election to Parliament in Cambridge.

***I can’t believe Roo B. was a red-flag-waving, rich-man-taxing, big-state building socialist!!!***

Heartbreakin’, innit?

“What’s this got to do with local government again?”

Rupert Brooke wrote something about the arts and local government that everyone has forgotten about. Or never knew about. Until now.

“What did he write?”

This: Note who wrote the preface


Essentially Rupert Brooke makes the case that the arts should be much more accessible to the people, should be funded by local councils (he gave this lecture in 1910 – in the days before really big modern centralised departments of state, although the transcript wasn’t published until 1946 by Sir G.)

So, Rupert Brooke’s vision for local government had a big place for rate-payer-subsidised arts.


And recall it was the older brother of Sir Geoffrey Keynes, the economist Lord Maynard Keynes, who set up The Arts Council while he was in The Treasury. Two years after Sir Geoffrey published Rupert Brooke’s lecture on Democracy and The Arts, Treasury gave powers to local councils to spend money on the arts. This took place shortly after Keynes had overseen the construction of The Arts Theatre in Cambridge, which was happening at the same time as his mother, Florence Ada Keynes was overseeing the construction of The Guildhall in Cambridge on the opposite side of the road. One of the most controversial public building projects in Cambridge’s history.

Now, Florence Ada Keynes had a vision for local government in the face of the big problems of her day, and was incredibly influential in making huge, if sometimes painfully slow progress in achieving it.

The challenge for political parties – in particular Labour – is to come up with a clear vision for the future of local government *and* how to achieve it. Otherwise they risk making the same mistakes Tony Blair made in the late 1990s, bypassing local government and instead trying to control things from the centre by forming a new generation of non-departmental public bodies. Such institutions are just as easy to get rid of as they are to create. What is much harder to do (politically at least) is to take away the freedoms from local councils that have previously been granted. Can you imagine a future government getting rid of the Mayor of London as an institution? It would take a huge political crisis to agitate a minister to do that.


What do local councillors and politicians want to be remembered for?


Going through archives for Lost Cambridge, I’m stumbling across a huge number of names. But who are the ones that stand out, and why? For those of you currently holding elected office, what do you want historians of the future to recognise you by?

The three most prominent names of long-gone former councillors in Cambridge until very recently, are:

  • Kelsey Kerridge
  • Alex Wood
  • Howard Mallett

“What do they all have in common?”

They all have community centres named after them. Actually, the old Howard Mallett centre has had a chequered history and has since been taken over by a private arts and dance school.

180726 CambridgeCommunityCentresMap

But as venues go, we’re not very good at naming them after civic figures. And even if when we do, the stories behind the people named all too often get lost to the sands of time. (On Storey’s Field, Edward Storey is who that is named after).

The multi-talented Dr Alex Wood of Cambridge Labour Party was given the honour of having Cambridge Labour’s HQ renamed after him. It’s a name many will be familiar with who spot the election imprints on Labour’s election leaflets in Cambridge, but in the grand scheme of things most won’t know much about someone who in his time was one of the most high profile politicians in town during the first half of the 20th Century.

The civic titan that is Alderman Kelsey Kerridge features in this blogpost.

720703 Ald Kelsey Kerridge

Nails. Hard. As. Alderman Kelsey Kerridge, who we named a big sports centre after – because he raised much of the money for it. A county-standard sportsman in a number of disciplines before he took over the family building firm.

The women who made Modern Cambridge

I’ve written about this growing list of women heroes here. (With a host of links embedded). The slogan I ran with when I first stumbled across their stories was this:

“Learn their names

Recognise their faces

Be inspired by their actions, and…

Match their impact”

(See this from a few years ago)

It’s to our city’s shame – especially one that sells itself on its history – that we’ve left so much of it untouched. How many of us knew that Gandhi visited in 1931, going on a morning walk along Coe Fen at 5.30am? Or that his adversary Winston Churchill packed out the Cambridge Corn Exchange several years later in a call for conscription? Or where between them all a certain Major Clement Attlee drove through the snow in an open-top motor from London to Cambridge to verbally thwack the fascist leader Oswald Mosley out of the Cambridge Union?

It’s all in Citizen Clem.

The thing is, if we’ve forgotten some of these really big visits from three of the most prominent men of the 20th Century, what hope is there for remembering local councillors and other civic activists? In part, it’s in the councillors’ own hands, but Cambridgeshire County Councillors – or rather the ruling party (in this case the Conservatives) have chosen to run the archives service at its statutory minimum – as they confirmed in response to this public question from myself. I was in the Cambridgeshire Collection today and they have a wealth of documents and items in there that are like civic gold dust. But they need more funding and they need more of us to take the time to go through what they have.

“What do today’s councillors and politicians want to be remembered for?”

This is something I’ve started asking given the huge changes that are happening to Cambridge at the moment. Unless we all perish in a future inferno the warning signs of which we’ve been given over the past few rainless weeks.

One of the things that I’m trying to get my head around at a local level is remembering to read, write, and comment as if from beyond the grave in a time many decades, if not centuries from now. As I go through the old archives, I’m always reminded that a fellow human or three, being from a completely different time, made the effort to ensure that I could stumble across the various documents fortuitously. How do I ensure I do the same for people who I will never know? This is one of the reasons why I find conduct like this, and also conduct like this, to be crimes against history. And for what?

In terms of local councillors, below is the councillor history for Coleridge – the ward that me and Puffles stood in back in 2014. It’s from the late Colin Rosenstiel’s website, now being kindly maintained by Keith Edkins.

180726 Coleridge councillors 1945-69180726 Coleridge councillors 1976-2004

Click here to see a better view.

Note three men from prominent business families were all Conservative councillors – Kelsey Kerridge as mentioned above, Donald Mackay (Mackay’s on East Road), and Harold Ridgeon of Ridgeon’s. Then something happened in the 1980s that led to the collapse of the once mighty Coleridge Conservatives in Cambridge. The late Colin Rosenstiel gave this explanation back in 2001.

“Isn’t trying to be ‘remembered’ all a bit ‘grandstanding’ and all that? It’s just not the done thing.”

I seem to recall Tony Blair talking about the need to cement Labour’s legacy just before he got involved in Iraq – but it’s only a vague recollection.

One of the things that I’ve learnt from the civic figures of the past is this sense of ‘civic duty’ that seemed to flow in the veins of all of them irrespective of political party. For some reason we don’t see nearly as much talk of the importance of civic duty as perhaps I read in newspapers of old. I dare say that the trend of publicising and marketing around ‘corporate social responsibility’ (all too often tarred with the label of ‘greenwashing’ or other) has perhaps taken some of the shine off of those who didn’t seek the limelight but just got on with working hard in their communities and in return were remembered and commemorated by them. In Cambridge for centuries it was plaques in churches that were often a means of doing this.

The other thing is that most people don’t choose to become local councillors. Given the amount of work it involves and the amount of abuse you get back, it’s not hard to understand why. It’s one of the consistent themes over the decades and centuries.

At the same time, for those who occupy public office – in particular those that have had to fight for their seat, the electorate tends to have a way of dealing with those who continually grandstand while doing little locally. It’s very hard work just trying to stay still, let alone trying to deliver grand schemes. Hence one of the reasons why you don’t see the local press full of stories of councillors and candidates coming up with deeply-thought-through big schemes. And in any case, where’s the money going to come from? Because my idea for a Mayor’s Civic Fund (See my last blogpost) was dismissed at the last council meeting.

Cambridge City Council full council of 19 July 2018 – Public Qs

“Is the responsibility on local communities to push for who they think should be commemorated?”

It’s one of the reasons behind the local blue plaques scheme that now covers Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire. I declare an interest in that I’m on the committee that scrutinises nominations. Because successful ones are celebrated in civic ceremonies, as we did when Cambridge’s first woman MP, Anne Campbell, unveiled the plaque for Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

It might be worth rephrasing the question and asking existing local councillors to suggest which former councillors in their area were/are inspirations to them. That way more of us might learn more about the work that more recent former councillors did.

A Permanent Cambridge Mayoral Fund


How successive Mayors of Cambridge could potentially raise large sums of money for large individual civic projects alongside the two named charities chosen by each new councillor elevated to the mayoralty each year.

Some of you will have seen this photograph of Mayor Gawthrope holding court as part of the Memorial Remembrance Ride for ex-service personnel.

I hope someone in the council is saving these photos for the county archive as they will be civic gold dust for local historians in 100 years time! When someone writes a school play on Cambridge’s civic history, who will get to play the part of our motorcycling mayor?

Cambridge City Council put together the guide here with brief summaries of past Cambridge Mayors since 1835. For those of you familiar with my historical research on Cambridge the town, I have written about the first two women mayors – Eva Hartree (1924-25) and Florence Ada Keynes (1932-33).

It was the latter of the two, Florence Ada Keynes, who founded an unemployed workers fund at the height of the depression. She made it clear in her inaugural speech at The Guildhall that something was going to be done about it.

“We in Cambridge are fortunate in having a smaller proportion of unemployed than most other places. But something like 1,300 men and women standing idle in this town constitute a serious situation, bringing grievous loss to the workers and waste of the resources of the community. I hope and trust that during my year of office we shall adopt every sane and reasonable method we can devise to mitigate this situation.” [From ‘Mrs Keynes elected Mayor‘ in 1932]

The snapshot below from the Cambridgeshire Collection is from February 1933

330203 Florence Ada Keynes Unemployment Fund Mayoralty

Given the large number of unemployed labourers at the time, the council used the money to employ men directly on council projects to improve local infrastructure – this article mentioned improving paths across Coldham’s Common, and carrying out remedial works and levelling sites in preparation for public building works.

85 years later and Cambridge has a shortage of workers in the construction sector

The nature of local government – in particular its relation with central government – has also changed. It’s very unlikely you would get a fund of a similar nature off of the ground. We also have the Cambridge Community Foundation in place which has a number of funds that cover what the Mayor’s former fund used to cover regarding unemployment. We also have organisations such as Form the Future that looks for volunteers to stop forward for specific half-day and one-day events to help young people in their career choices. At a general level, there is the Cambridge CVS, who have recently opened their new premises in Arbury.

“So…why do we need a new fund?”

This is not so much about needs but about going beyond the basics. And it’s not easy to make the case for a long term fund for large civic projects like museums and concert halls when walking through Cambridge today you see so many homeless people by Cambridge’s shop fronts. This video by Cambridge University students Joe Cook and Abdullah Shah that interviews people from across town and gown is an excellent introduction to inequalities in Cambridge.

“A choice to look”

The issue certainly isn’t under control by any means – dare I say it, it is now beyond the powers, finances and the competency of Cambridge City Council due to restrictions on their competencies from successive legislation from Parliament. Homelessness is political, and the solution requires movement from Whitehall – which means lobbying your local Member of Parliament. (Yet another reshuffle in the post of Housing Minister doesn’t bode well in what has been a shambles of a day for the Government with so many ministers resigning over Brexit).

“You didn’t answer the question – why do we need a new fund?”

For me, this is about financing the under-funded civic buildings that help our city function. It is also about generating the finances to pay for things that Cambridge either currently does not have, or has but doesn’t serve the city as well as it could.

Furthermore, the fund is also paying for things that go beyond the basics – that might be described as luxuries in some cases. That’s not to say community projects and pieces of art funded through developer contributions to local councils could not be better used or better spent. (See the Cambridge football monument here, shortly after its unveiling). Given the money being spent on new housing, it may also give extra funding for where new sites are acquired, and/or help in the acquisition of land needed for new community buildings.

Would the site of the old Ridgeon’s depot be one that could benefit from a permanent mayoral fund?

“You just want a big fund to get lots of money from wealthy people making lots of money in Cambridge to pay for your massive concert hall and civic museum!”


“No really – you do!”

I know. (See my concert hall proposals here, and here, and on creating a large civic museum of the city here) But what such a fund could do is provide a very visible alternative to donors giving money to Cambridge University.

Sam Davies above made the point in response to an article I found about one of Cambridge’s greatest modern day philanthropists, Sir David Robinson.

180112 Sir David Robinson Obituary CEN.jpeg

Robinson is a very distant relative by marriage of mine – one of his nephews married my mother’s late sister just before I was born. A Freemason according to this article, it mentions just how generous he was with his wealth – in particular in Cambridge. At the same time, he never sought publicity – preferring to make his donations anonymously.

Having a Mayor’s Permanent Fund provides a single central point for people who want to donate to large projects that benefit the city as a whole. And there are more than a few things that Cambridge is either not making the most potential of, or needs an expanded version of an existing facility given the planned large increases in its population.

A civic museum of the city

When you see that Oxford’s civic museum is incorporated into its magnificent town hall (see here), while Cambridge’s is the re-branded Cambridge and County Folk Museum housed in a disused pub (a very magnificent and ancient disused pub, but still), you can see the difference between the two.

Oxford has a castle – a proper castle with battlements and turrets – but ours was dismantled by the colleges for re-use in college buildings


Oxford Castle and Prison: No nonsense imposing edifice that looks like a castle and prison (Photo by Geograph)


Cambridge Castle: A muddy mound with a crumbling gatehouse – by the 1700s.

Oxford Castle Map

The site of Oxford Castle – which like Cambridge has a castle mound. It has two trees on the top and so may be bigger than Cambridge’s one

Cambridge did have a proper castle-shaped castle – once.


Cambridge Castle, above from a bygone era

But then the early colleges ‘acquired’ the stone from the castle for use on their own buildings – or so the legend goes. As a result, by the 1700s, we were left with a crumbling gatehouse which was demolished to make way for a prison.

Cambridge County Jail

Cambridge County Gaol – from the Cambridgeshire Collection

…and The old Assizes Courthouse

Shire Hall Court House 28543 Photo

…which the old County Council demolished despite objections from Cambridge City Council. A car park replaced it.

My proposal is to rebuild and enhance the old courthouse and castle site for a civic museum that tells the story of the city. But I cannot see it happening without some sort of long term fund with the backing of successive Mayors, High Stewards and Lords Lieutentant. For those of you on Twitter, the three civic figures all have corporate Twitterfeeds at:

Essentially my plan brings together the restoration of parts of the castle, the expansion of a civic museum to tell the story of the city, and the creation of a few more cafes and restaurants to help meet an anticipated growth in numbers. (Note the plan also includes a possible underground light rail stop as a means of extending the King’s Parade tourist trail over the road from King’s Parade, the Round Church, over the Great Bridge/Magdalene Bridge, over the junction to and passed Kettles Yard.

A revamped Guildhall

When you look at how small and pokey the old Guildhall used to be, and the fact that 80 years had passed before Florence Ada Keynes was able to get building work going, you can understand why she wanted to get cracking on the thing. (Also, she was in her 70s so had good reason to). Yet the townsfolk were horrified by the design that we got – on the outside at least. Read the metaphorical kicking her committee got in the 1930s. The problems her opponents had is that they had no alternative that they could all unite behind. She got it built just in time for the outbreak of war in 1939.

The guildhall we didn’t get because Mayor Horace Darwin (son of Charles, the botanist) didn’t win support from councillors and a referendum of local rate payers.


A very rare find in the Cambridgeshire Collection – a photo of John Belcher’s painting of his planned guildhall in colour. We’re still trying to find the original which we believe is in the vaults somewhere…unless a very skilled artist wants to repaint it?

All of the above requires big money – far more than can be raised through local taxation and developer contributions. But as things stand, the town does not have the institutional structures to solicit donations to pay for such things. Can the Mayor of Cambridge change this? Over to you!


What are the ‘easy wins’ for improving bus transport in and around Cambridge?


Because bringing in bus franchising or going full #CommissarPuffles and nationalising the buses is not something that is going to happen overnight.

This follows on from my previous post about being dependent on public transport. By ‘Easy win’ I don’t mean that the implementation itself is necessarily easy in the current context, but that the difference the passengers will notice could be significant when considered in proportion to the amount of additional money thrown at the problem.

Separate entrances and exits on new buses like London has

I cannot understand why Cambridge buses don’t have separate entrances and exits to buses like they do in London. The additional seconds in delays caused by waiting for everyone to get off one by one adds up to delays in bus journeys, putting the timing of the bus journeys out of sync. Given that buses are replaced in the course of business, is this something the county mayor James Palmer could request, if not require for new buses?

Buses that auto-switch-off while stationary. 

Because Cambridge has air quality issues and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tweeted to local bus companies to tell their drivers to stop spewing out diesel fumes unnecessarily. (Future electric buses will hopefully get rid of this).

Improving ‘real time’ information – and being clear on their apps when they are showing real time vs a paper timetable in electronic form

The basic principle here is managing expectations. What I’ve noticed at my local bus stop where I catch buses to the station and into town is that far fewer people are seen waiting around for ages for a bus when the realtime bus timetable is working. A few minutes before a bus arrives and people will show up.

Improved bus shelters – including ones with important and/or community information

The more busier bus stops could easily be adopted by local community groups to maintain notice boards. The problem with current designs of toughened glass stops is that bar the two large advertising boards on one side, there’s nowhere for bus timetables to be posted. Furthermore, ones stuck up on nearby lamp posts are in such a small font that those who have sight problems may not be able to read them. Important for those communities where people may not be smartphone natives too.

The principle of such community notice boards is to put such things up where people are waiting for something. Health centres are another. Interestingly, the director of Stagecoach bus services in Cambridge, Andy Campbell, has said he’d welcome the formation of a bus users campaign group (now formed with the Cambridge Area Bus Users Group) has nowhere to put posters up where their most interested potential members are guaranteed to be: at bus stops.

Asking the bus drivers where the problem points are, how to improve routes and where road surfaces need repairing

I’m not aware that there is systematic communication between the bus drivers and the county council on identifying where repairs need to be made, even though tools such as https://www.fixmystreet.com/ exist.

Asking on an annual basis where service demand exceeds supply in areas of high bus demand.

The first speaker, Lizzie Ford, is now at university, but a couple of years ago she was at college in my neighbourhood. This is her experience of buses from rural areas into Cambridge, and how it impacts her.

Stagecoach and the county council should be interviewing school children that use buses, and in particular, further education students dependent on increasingly infrequent buses from their towns and villages.

The Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough should set up a bus users’ forum

Even one for young people who are disproportionately more likely to be users and affected by issues with buses. If the Mayor agrees in principle to set up such a forum where colleges themselves elect student representatives, the Mayor should agree to convene that forum once a year – early on in the academic year, to meet everyone from across the county. Further gatherings should be hosted by the transport lead on the combined authority and relevant councillors and officials from Cambridgeshire County Council until the county has sorted out a better structure of local government. County councillors should also be put on notice that they will be expected to support young people and bus users in resolving issues raised by the forum.

Smart ticketing that works across different providers, and for multiple journeys.

They seem to have it in London and other parts of the country, why not Cambridgeshire?

Co-ordinating bus services with other transport services (eg trains) and  organisers/providers of major events – such as football matches. And having additional empty buses ready to join services when delays are easily predictable.

It almost goes without saying for example when there is an expectation that there will be service delays. The Citi3 always gets delayed when there is a home game for Cambridge United. Yet the overall service level need not be too disrupted if a couple of empty buses were waiting along Newmarket Road in one of the many car parks there to step in as the crowds gather.

Furthermore, there has to be a better way of publicising and integrating one-off bus services for day-long events at places such as Wimpole Hall Farm or Milton Country Park so that fewer people need to drive to such places, as well as opening them up to those of us that don’t or cannot afford to run a car.




What is it like being dependent on public transport?


Because buses are in the news following Prime Minister’s Questions today

…even though some say Mr Corbyn should have demanded the resignation of the Work and Pensions Secretary following a damning letter from the Comptroller General and head of the National Audit Office. But it was buses that led the way. And the figures don’t make good reading.

Cambridge and South Cambs have formed a new local bus users group for anyone who uses buses that travel in and around Cambridge.

Led by Richard Wood, anyone interested in getting involved can contact the group at https://cbgbususers.wordpress.com/contact/ as just over half a dozen people are now forming an executive committee. They are also affiliating to the national Bus Users campaign – see their back catalogue here. For those of you who are regular bus users, now would be a very good time to get involved and shape the organisation – one which politicians of all parties have said they hope becomes as influential as the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. And the reason why this matters is demographics – regular bus users tend to be economically less well off. (Otherwise they’d drive…wouldn’t they?).

Since my mental health crisis in 2012 I’ve stopped cycling regularly, and as a result go pretty much everywhere by bus. I use them almost daily unless I don’t want to/don’t have a reason to go into town – whether for meetings, rehearsals, visiting archives or just running errands.

When you become dependent on something like buses, you end up shaping huge parts of your life around them. For example it might be which choice of supermarket to go to. Only one of the large supermarkets is reasonably served by the bus route on my road. i.e. the bus stops inside the supermarket premises fairly close to the entrance and exit. All of the others are ruled out.

Choice of evening classes

Before my mental health crisis I completed a basic certificate in teaching for adults at Cambridge Regional College.  It’s something I’d recommend to anyone looking to go into consultancy where you are delivering workshops. The problem I had was getting there and back in the days before the Guided Bus. I’d lose two hours in the day simply getting to college and back from South Cambridge. It was exhausting given that it was such a short distance. Cycling wasn’t realistic either because of the huge number of junctions and the road traffic in general. Again, this was before the completion of the Chisholm Trail. As a result, courses ‘north of the bridge’ for me have been out of bounds due to my limited mobility.

Getting to council meetings

I’ve been able to film and report from council meetings across the south of the county due to the generous support of fellow community activists with cars who have driven me out to places like Cambourne (which for whatever reason built all of the houses before building in a decent transport system and infrastructure to serve the town). In extremis I have caught the bus to Cambourne and back, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The service is infrequent and does not stop outside of South Cambridgeshire Hall. Whoever planned the place stuck the hall at the end of an anonymous business park at the back end of nowhere – perhaps awaiting the next phase of development. But as things stand, I can’t see the local council’s headquarters (South Cambridgeshire District Council) as being that buzzing civic centre of a building that local residents are proud of. I have a longer moan here.

A night on the town?

When you’re on a low income, you simply don’t have the luxury of catching taxis. Instead you’re looking nervously at the clock for the time of the last bus close to your house, followed by the last bus to not so close to your house but walkable if you’re not too nervous being out and about alone that late at night. (I have an anxiety disorder). So sticking around for a drink or three after a film or show is simply not an option.

Going to that community event hosted in a place that’s not near any of the bus routes

It’s why I stopped going to some of the city council meetings that cover part of my neighbourhood – councillors insist on holding East Area Committee meetings at venues where there are no bus links. A few years ago I’d be cycling to those meetings, but because of my health I can’t really do this anymore.

Costs are not cheap if you are on a low income

I’ve lost count of the times the machine has told me my top up card has run out and I have to put more money on it. It’s all the more frustrating when you see more affluent pensioners from other parts of the country using local bus services for free while locals have had to face ever-rising fares. Before reminding myself that this is a political decision designed to divide the masses and that under #CommissarPuffles the buses would be nationalised and free for everyone, paid for by the magic money tree that bailed out the banks.

“What’s the difference between using and not using a bus route?”

For me, 20 mins between each bus is about the maximum that I would tolerate for a daytime service. Anything more than that and anecdotally I can see why such bus routes are empty.

Part of the problem seems to be the lack of discussions between bus operators and communities about what the services should be. It’s all very well asking those of us who do use the buses, but given that we want to get more people onto buses rather than on individual motor transport, aka cars, asking people what puts them off (and what would encourage them to change their habits) is something that needs doing, and doing continually.

How buses can make or break not just a business, but an entire shopping centre

In my anecdotal view, it was Stagecoach wot broke the Grafton Centre. I don’t have statistical evidence to prove this claim, but if you look at the buses that served the purpose-built bus station off East Road in the mid-1990s, lots of bus routes stopped there. Today, not a single frequent ‘Citi’ route uses that bus station. The Citi 3 passes along Newmarket Road to the north of the shopping centre, but there are no clearly marked paths linking the bus stops to the centre. One of the bus stops has a huge tree growing by it, whose roots are winning the war against the pavement. If you are going shopping, the last thing you want to do is to cross a busy road in order to get to the shopping centre. There is no traffic calming on what is one of Cambridge’s historical major roads.

In mid-1995, The Grafton opened a large extension to a big fanfare – the big attraction being the new WBros Cinema complex which made the one where The Regal is look very run down. In those days, The Grafton was the place to be. We’d used to hang out there as teenagers did in those days. There was nothing for us in what is now the Grand Arcade. But they took away the buses and ever since then, the range and standard of the shops has adjusted accordingly. For example there used to be a branch of Heffers, along with at least one record shop (remember those?), and a handful of higher end high street fashion stores. Today, the centre has lost its main anchor, BHS, and has too many empty shop units – which has resulted in the makeover it is currently going through. But unless it sorts out the buses issue, I think it will struggle.

Strangely enough, I can’t help but think that they should have replaced the old BHS with a very large bookshop that could have served Anglia Ruskin University over the road, as well as the communities that continue to use the Grafton Centre. Could that have encouraged the diversity of shoppers while at the same time providing access to families on lower incomes with access to affordable children’s books?

All those diesel fumes

Sitting by bus stops while too many drivers leave their engines idle – especially in this heat – is doing my throat and lungs no good. A problem as I’m singing in a concert on Saturday. The sooner we get electric buses for Cambridge (and elsewhere) the better. But basically I’ve got bored of tweeting to Stagecoach about drivers leaving their engines on while not moving for minutes at a time – especially on roads that have big air quality issues.

“I don’t like sitting next to strangers on the bus”

Weird Al Yankovic wrote a song about that a few decades ago.

You may recognise the riff from somewhere.

The point is a sound one from a personal safety perspective. Although I can’t recall having been targeted by anyone hostile on a bus, testimony from women posting their experiences on social media shows that harassment both on buses and at bus stops is a major barrier to them using buses. And if it’s not safe enough for women, it’s not safe enough for any of us. What could a community response look like to make public transport safer?

“Are things going to get better for buses?”

Not in the short term. Local councils are primarily responsible for local transport policy, and they have no money to subsidise bus routes.

As the Public Accounts Committee reported earlier, local government is in crisis.







Playing with maps – an alternative cycle route for Mill Road


This is why I like community events that play with maps and encourage locals to come up with their own solutions for local traffic issues on their doorstep. 

You may have seen the headlines of the Mill Road Sink Hole. It turned out that this tiny little thing was hiding a huge hole underneath that went up to the shoulders of one of the workmen working on it.

It ended up blocking the road in the middle of a heatwave, and as a result, cars were temporarily banned, making Mill Road something of a haven for pedestrians.

Playing with Mill Road as a case study

Given how unlikely it is for Mill Road to become pedestrianised this side of an underground light rail, I’ve played with the idea of a segregated cycleroute parallel to Mill Road – which looks something like below.Slide1

You can click on G-Maps to see the original.

Now, such pieces of infrastructure are not without controversy and will be very strongly opposed by those most affected negatively. In this case, the largest opposition may come from those living on/around St Phillip’s Road who might become concerned about fast-moving cyclists cycling at great speed in a pedestrian area.


From the eastern end by the Cambridge which Cllr Dr Dave Baigent and friends are working on opening up the lakes to the public (see their report here), the ecisting cycle path (“The Tins”) links up the old village of Cherry Hinton, and a number of employers (including a large gym) along Coldhams Lane. A cyclepath could be built from Brookes Road and cut through the dentist’s car park at the back, before heading onto the Brookfields healthcare site – and provide extra footfall for the Edge Cafe charity cafe.


The challenge once we get to St Phillip’s Road is getting cyclists to keep their speed down as it is a straight road. But it is do-able.


The biggest piece of new infrastructure needed is a foot and cyclebridge over the railway line. But this would take a huge amount of cycle traffic off of Mill Road – which is not the nicest of bridges to cycle over, and is also a bridge that in my opinion needs widening anyway. The bridge on the western side would skim the edge of the new Mill Road Depot development, reducing dependency on the car to get out and about.


From the northern edge of the Mill Road depot site that the bottom-right of the picture above, the path heads along Hooper Street, past a couple of pubs and eateries before linking up with the existing cycle route down Gwydir Street, through to Norfolk Street and then onto East Road and Burleigh St. It is possible to link the path to Anglia Ruskin’s entrance by the Mill Road Cemetery, but this would require the purchasing of part of some people’s back gardens, which is not so straight forward.

This gives an idea of the sort of exercises that the Greater Cambridge Partnership should have done in detail, bringing transport planners together with residents across the city and beyond, asking them where they needed to get to, and what their ideas were for building new non-car routes. At the same time, it also enables specialists to discuss with residents what the likely problems and barriers are likely to be – in particular those that residents might not be aware of. (For example contaminated land from industries long gone – as is the case with the Mill Road Depot which is having part of the site decontaminated before homes are built on them).