What are the in-depth and long term issues we can debate for the local elections?

…and where do we find these otherwise buried reports? (Because the transport emissions from village dwellers in a ‘do nothing’ scenario’ for 2030 are frightening).

For me, the most useful thing non-party-political activists can do in elections is to encourage people to get in touch with the candidates standing for election where they live and are registered. Hence https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/ (due to be completed by 11 April when nominations close) is ever so useful as people can find their candidates just from their postcode – along with social media links, videos, and website/manifesto links.

Once the elections are over, https://www.writetothem.com/ becomes important again as a tool where people can use their postcode to find who their elected representatives are and write to them.

Both are also suitable even for those people who are ineligible to vote – either by age or by immigration status. The political and constitutional model we have in the UK under ‘First Past The Post’ is that whoever is elected represents everyone in their constituency when scrutinising the organisation they are elected to scrutinise – whether a council or in Parliament, the Government.

What percentage of the electorate are interested in in-depth reading?

The number is small. For most people, an in-depth examination of the issues, and a detailed reading of published reports won’t be their thing. I’m reminded of some findings from 2008 from the Department for Communities and Local Government which commissioned an extensive research programme for the Communities in Control White Paper under Gordon Brown’s Labour Government. It’s from a report called “CLG Empowerment” by the Henley Centre which I acquired from a Freedom of Information request 8 years ago. It came with the disclaimer: “The results were a useful addition to the evidence pool, and informed community empowerment policy. However, the policy framework has now moved on.”

Above – Engagement segmentation – how interested in community activities are the population in any society in England?

Remember this research was carried out in a *very different* social and political context to today. Party politics in Westminster was settled, the Banking Crisis had not yet exploded, and although we had the Internet we did not have the widespread use of the branded social media that we are used to post-Brexit. Furthermore, there were not the volatile street protest movements that we have seen in recent years.

That’s not to say the segmentation estimates are meaningless. The local political campaigners who do the hard work of door-to-door canvassing might recognise the categories that the researchers in 2008 identified – and can identify a few of their own as well. For example the world of the misinformation-driven protests is one that a re-run of the interviews and research might well identify as a new cohort – one that is actively hostile to anything that the state does, and is actively engaged in online discussions with similar-minded people.

Given that Social Media enables the rapid spread of information and misinformation, where do we find the in-depth research documents that organisations (including taxpayer-funded organisations) commission?

Cambridgeshire Insight is the central repository and research organisation for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough.

Developers and professional service firms are particularly interested in the research carried out. The Document Library here breaks it down into themes.

Above – some of the themes you can explore.

All of our local public organisations need to overhaul how they publish and publicise information available to the general public.

Because I cannot make much sense out of what’s currently there:

So…for much of the time I stumble across things by luck rather than by anything else. This is simply the result of scanning through meeting papers buried in official meeting calendars.

Then there are also

To all of that I’d add

How do you know what to look for if you don’t know what’s there in the first place?

This is why publication online in itself is not enough. Publicity – both at the point of publication and through repeated references back later on are essential. Otherwise important things get forgotten about. Given how understaffed local councils are following over a decade of austerity imposed by Central Government, this will inevitably happen – and has become more and more likely, something not helped by the loss of vastly-experienced members of staff with whom the corporate memory also goes.

“What information do political leaders and council executives need to run a city? What information do backbench councillors, and civic society need in order to scrutinise and debate what happens in their city?’

Because that’s your starting point.

Furthermore, the council leaders and top executives in local government need to know who has powers to do what – especially when things go wrong. We all found this out the hard way with Lockdown following the outbreak of the Corona Virus and the woefully slow response by Boris Johnson and his Cabinet, the Prime Minister missing five meetings of his emergency response ‘Cobra’ team.

There is the day-to-day information on things like traffic congestion and public transport services. Or burst water mains, gas leaks, or power cuts. All of these things are outside of the control of the Leader of Cambridge City Council. Responsibility without power? Instinctively one would think the holder of that post (or that of the Mayor of Cambridge) would be the one with the powers to deal with these things if making international comparisons. It’s one of the reasons why the Mayor of Cambridge has so many international delegations to welcome to the city – some of them inevitably assume the Civic Mayor is the decision maker. In Liverpool it’s even more complicated – unnecessarily so. A civic Lord Mayor, a City executive Mayor, and a wider City-region Metro Mayor.

We know that the structure is a mess and that a series of ministers are ultimately responsible for signing off such botched plans. It’s almost as if they’ve not asked themselves what the easiest structure of local government is for the general population to engage with.

Any documents and studies worth reading?

Cambridge City CouncilBudget report document. A list of opposition amendments are listed in item 6 here.

Cambridge City Council The Cambridge Perspective – A draft Manifesto for Public Art – all part of the Environment & Scrutiny Committee here. (Again – I missed this!)

Cambridge City CouncilHistoric Environment Strategy/Local Plan/Making Spaces for People SPD – debate between the Council and the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, & Cambridge Past, Present & Future, in the Public Questions.

Cambridge City Council – the Cambridge Local Plan 2018v important as it shows what types of developments can be built where.

City & South Cambscouncils’ responses to the Government’s White Paper on planning.

City & South CambsNorth East Cambridge Area Action Plan

City & South CambsDocument Library for North East Cambridge – in particular the technical studies.

City and South CambsTransport Strategy for NECambridge.

City and South CambsRetail statement by planning consultants for NECambridge

City and South CambsCommunity and cultural facilities audit provisionv important.

City and South CambsCultural Placemaking Strategyv important

City and South CambsCambridge Local Plan consultations for the next on from 2030v important as shapes what the future of the city will be like.

City and South Cambs – Local Plan 2030 Initial evidence base findings and development strategy options assessments (November 2020)

There are also some interesting snapshots I’ve taken from a number of docs

I pulled out the retail statement because of the index of multiple deprivation map it has, amongst other things.

Cambridge Connect Light Rail – should we have a Cambridge mass transit system? The Metro Mayor candidates are already setting out their stalls, with Labour & Liberal Democrats rejecting the Conservative incumbent’s plan of the CAM Metro based on futuristic technology of rail-less buses. Below, an indicative map of the Connect Light Rail based on existing technology, which I support.

Below – from the community and cultural facilities audit provision – a number of maps like these are included. Ones for the whole of the city need to be produced and made available to the public at successive public meetings and area committee meetings.

And finally… “Do nothing” on carbon emissions from transport is not an option

P8 of Greater Cambridge Local Plan – Strategic spatial options appraisal: implications for carbon emissions. – part of the big document library for the emerging local plan for 2030.

So if like me you support the Cambridge Connect light rail proposal, get in touch with the man behind the plan, Dr Colin Harris – details here.


Textbook example of what happens if the interested public are made aware of the existence of such detailed technical studies.

“There is no environmental capacity for additional development in the new Local Plan [2030 ono] to be supplied by with water by increased abstraction from the Chalk Aquifer. Even the current level of abstraction is widely believed to be unsustainable”. p17 here.

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