Cambridge Liberal Democrats publish proposals in run up to the re-election of the entire city council due for May 2021

They published their ideas yesterday (03 Feb 2021)

You can read their proposals here.

Their individual policy ideas are listed as:

  • “Exploring a redevelopment of the Queen Anne Terrace Car Park, primarily for housing
  • Developing an investment programme to refurbish and modernise public toilets, rather than removing them
  • Launching a campaign to promote effective recycling and help minimise waste across the city through public engagement
  • A Children’s Tree programme, in partnership with city primary schools, gifting all year 4 pupils a tree to plant
  • An education campaign to discourage drivers from leaving their engines idling when out of traffic
  • Promoting examples of high standards of sustainability and retrofit in buildings in the city through enhancement of the council’s architectural and design awards
  • Assisting the recovery of cultural events after the pandemic, by keeping rather than closing the Arts Distribution Service
  • Ensuring that any steps towards taking the council’s Customer Services online do not further complicate residents contacting their council
  • Expanding cycling and walking grants and finally recruiting an Active Trade Officer, complementing other initiatives supporting active travel during the pandemic recovery
  • Expanding the provision of water fountains across the city
  • Re-equipping the play area on Scotland Road Recreation Ground, and developing a priority list of play areas for refurbishments across the city.”

One of the lessons I took from standing as/with Puffles in 2014 (you can read our manifesto here) is that you don’t need to get elected in order to get an idea made real. It just needs to be taken on by one of the political parties.

Vote dragon, get dragon.

Above – Vote dragon, get dragon! The dragon slide at Coleridge Rec, commissioned by a very aware council officer and installed the year after the 2014 election.

That’s not to say those ideas will be taken on word-for-word and implemented, nor will you necessarily get credited for coming up with the idea in the first place. But then if, like me you don’t really care who gets the credit, so long as it gets done, that’s OK. It’s the view The Green Party take on its climate policies. I heard the then leader Natalie Bennett – now Baroness Bennett, making that point in Cambridge back in 2015. “So long as someone in power takes them on and delivers on them, we all win. If no one does, we all lose.”

In my case it was an idea for a societies’ fair.

“An activities fair, bringing providers and residents together en masse to inspire people and get the city active and learning”

Theme 4: Lifelong Learning – from Puffles’ manifesto for Cambridge, 2014.

This was worked up into a pilot event called Volunteer for Cambridge in 2015, where the city council commissioned the Cambridge Hub to organise and deliver the event. I made a video medley of the event.

…followed by a more extensive playlist for the even bigger 2016 event, which meant a number of participants could be featured on video, some for the first time. Note the audio challenges of filming in the 1862-era large hall! Which reminds me of one of my more recent proposals to help fund a revamp of The Guildhall site – a permanent Mayoral Capital Fund to seek large donations to pay for new and improved civic buildings & amenities. It was initially rejected by the City Council so you never know, it might be adopted by an opposition party!

What of the Liberal Democrat proposals?

There’s nothing inherently wrong that I can see given my own political disposition. (You can get a feel for what yours might be via the Political Compass if you’ve not given this much thought before). The longer term history of local democracy is that in a number of areas, candidates often did not stand representing political parties. This is because the culture was that local issues affected everyone. For example the state of the streets, refuse collections and street lights. Florence Ada Keynes, the Mother of Modern Cambridge, could easily have stood as a Liberal candidate in the local elections, but chose to stand as an Independent. Her son, the economist John Maynard Keynes, was one of the most prominent Liberal Party thinkers in the inter-war era.

In the case of the suggestions from the Liberal Democrats, there isn’t anything in their list of proposals that would not be out of place in another party’s manifesto.

“Demolish Queen Anne Terrace Car Park?!? That’s a brave move!”

Opened by the late Baroness Trumpington in the early 1970s when she was Cllr Mrs Jean Barker (Cons – Trumpington) and Mayor of Cambridge. Personally I’d keep it until the Cambridge Connect Light Rail system is in place. Alongside my grand plan for a big new concert hall almost next door to the car park.

South of Parker’s Piece, from GMaps here.

Above – you can see how close Queen Anne Terrace Car Park is to the old Cambridge Assessment building, now unoccupied, which is where I want to see a new concert hall built & named after Florence Ada Keynes, who, for nearly three quarters of a century, lived down Harvey Road which is next to it.

Cllr Mrs Keynes (1915) shortly after her election to Cambridge Borough Council for Fitzwilliam Ward. Cambs Collection colourised by Nick Harris Commissioned by Antony Carpen.

In principle, I don’t think we should be closing the old infrastructure until the new transport infrastructure is in place. At the same time, we should already have started building the light rail underground system, a segregated cycle network (that was planned in the 1960s) and moving away from mass consumerism and mass tourism as economic models. You can’t do one without the others – easier said than done it all is though. So the problem isn’t with the demolition in itself, it’s because we haven’t got the alternatives in place. Unfortunately that is something far outside the remit of the city council. As I wrote in 2017, Cambridge cannot have nice things because its governance structure (esp at county level) is a complete mess.

Personally I find the car park a brutalist monstrosity that has no place in a beautiful city such as Cambridge – but then I say that about too many post-war buildings in the city. I’m fine with the principle of the site becoming housing – in particular subsidised key-worker housing. The difference it could make to have in particular newly-qualified healthcare and teaching professionals living there who are employed at local state schools, hospitals and clinics could be significant. There is always the temptation though that the site would be sold off for underused luxury apartments and investment properties on the grounds that the council could use the capital receipts to build more housing somewhere else but further out of town.

“Borrow to invest”

It’s also worth noting that the Cambridge Liberal Democrats intent to borrow to invest given the historically low interest rates local councils can borrow at. See here at the top.

I think they could be more radical about their open spaces plan. They have rightly identified open spaces as an issue – see their short article here. What I’d be interested to hear from are their policies (or even thoughts from individual councillors & candidates on) the following:

  1. The Cambridge Great Park proposals (which would align with the trees for children proposals),
  2. Opening up existing closed green spaces – in particular those that used to be open to the public in times gone by,
  3. Working with colleges to identify under-used green spaces that can be converted into urban parks,

For example below is a screenshot of a part of South Cambridge – with Long Road at the foot of the image, and Hills Road bridge in the top right-ish corner.

Of all of the green spaces you can see above, which of them are genuinely accessible to the public to go for a walk in? The easy criticism to make is that many of the roads that lead off it are full of expensive, detached homes – some of the most expensive in East Anglia. True – but you also have a major segregated cyclepath (segregated from motor traffic) that links the new developments at Trumpington, and soon the villages further on. What chance of opening up some of those green spaces while at the same time securing the properties and also the pavilions that have recently been built, the latter of which justified the securing of the sites?

‘Don’t talk to me – talk to the candidates that want your vote!’

And with people around you who also may have an interest. You can find who is standing in your area at https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/ just by typing in your postcode. If you are a candidate, type in your details (including links to manifestos and social media accounts) at https://candidates.democracyclub.org.uk/. The Democracy Club and My Society are two organisations helping people get more involved in local democracy using online tools – in particular helping people cast informed votes by ensuring voters can read the literature from all of the candidates, and ask questions of the candidates before polling day. What happens in those exchanges is entirely between voter and candidate, and is thus none of my business.

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