Now the hard part: Delivering on the county’s climate commitments

Hang on – don’t we have to make sure that all of the other policy reports and documents are consistent with these climate commitments? And if not, which one has to show flexibility?

If you’ve got a local government or climate change policy background, have a look at this vacancy – closing date 29 Oct 2021.

I had a look at several different policy reports and listed them here. We’re still awaiting the video from the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Independent Climate Commission’s launch yesterday, but in the meantime have a listen to Rhiannon Osborne speaking about inequalities and the climate emergency from when the interim report was launched last March. She gave a masterclass at the full report launch which I wrote about here. Any initial thoughts or comments? Discuss them with your local councillors (see or ask your MP to write to ministers asking them for a formal response to the Commissioners’ recommendations to central government.

Little interest in light rail

Both the Government’s Net Zero Strategy, and the County’s Climate Commission had little to say specifically about light rail, which is depressing from my perspective. The reason? Air pollution from particulate matter remains a problem in Cambridge, and is only going to get worse with the projected increased economic activity.

“Particulate matter levels in parts of Cambridge are above the [World Health Organisation] WHO guideline values, but below the UK National Air Quality Objectives.”

Cambridge City Council – Air Pollution

That means pro-light rail campaigners like me need to get better at collecting and presenting the evidence bases that demonstrate light rail is better for the environment than buses on thick rubber wheels.

“By contrast, particulate matter has proved more difficult to reduce. PM10 from brake and tyre wear has increased by 23% from 1990-2018, and PM10 from road abrasion has increased by 25%. These two sources together represent two-thirds of PM10 emissions from transport in 2018.”

Dept for Transport – Transport and Environment Statistics 2021 Annual report, p9.

Back in 2017 Cllr Lewis Herbert (Labour – Coleridge) called on ministers to give Cambridge City Council powers to bring in a pollution charge.

Above – from Greater Cambridge Partnership in 2017. (annual average concentration levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (μg.m-3) in central Cambridge in 2017.)

Does the Combined Authority and do local councils have the necessary legal powers to deliver what the Commissioners have recommended?

And if not, then someone with the expertise needs to identify what legal powers the different tiers need in order to deliver what they are charged with achieving. Alternatively, do what I’ve been calling for, for ages: Have a 1960s-style overhaul of local government in England – and have the remit of delivering the required changes in response to the climate emergency as a core component. (I digitised & uploaded the core report – Vol. 1 to the Internet Archive for you to read – it’s a superbly-prepared report that reads well even today)

As I mentioned, it was radical. Breaking up historic counties and focusing on what made economic, social, and political sense at the time, so enabling cities to be well-connected to nearby market towns.

Above – the proposals for a Greater Cambridge Unitary Council – bringing in Newmarket, Haverhill, (Suffolk), Royston (Herts), St Neots & Huntingdon (Hunts as was – pre 1960), and Ely (Isle of Ely as was – pre 1960), into a single administrative unit might have been the impetus to have built a light rail as Cambridge grew. Instead, Haverhill, only 14 miles from Cambridge (and thus affected by Cambridge’s economy, but unable to influence political decision making) remains in Suffolk where the county council responsibilities stretch to the East Coast.

It’s not within the gift of the Combined Authority to demand local government reform

True – that’s something that is ultimately a party political issue and I accept that. With the limited resources they have, the public authorities and local councils can only work with what they’ve got. The rest of us outside of this have the freedom to question whether the political and administrative structures are fit for purpose. I say they are not. Though that’s only after having spent seven years inside the civil service in Central Government, then another decade watching, filming, & commentating on local government meetings and functions. It’s worth noting that the Commissioners have called for significant policy changes by ministers.

Above – from p20 of the CPICC Report.

On freight and home delivery

Although I put a Q to the Commissioners asking them for a stronger commitment on light rail, they refused to move from their recommendation on p22 below (top paragraph). But the recommendations that followed it are radical – banning diesel vans and trucks by 2030 from urban centres.

One of the first steps the authorities could take is to commission Cambridge University to pilot a new cycle or e-cycle-courier-based system. From there, assuming it works and is cost-effective, extend it to large organisations in/around the city with such a need.

Two further steps could include identifying suitable sites close to both motorway junctions and existing railway lines where freight interchanges might be suitable.

On the UK Power Networks, there’s a question on which existing industrial estates might be suitable to have solar panels and wind turbines erected, or even following the example of Swaffam Prior and having an entire village or settlement getting together to procure an alternative / renewable source of energy that does not involve fossil fuels.

“How do you deal with the problem of waste & recycling?”

Have a two-week bin strike Brighton-style, let everything pile up, and then let everyone find out the hard way what over-consumption looks like.

Brighton is a unitary council (I used to live there between 1999-2002) and is currently run as a Green minority council but on a committee system – where the other political parties can outvote them. This is the second time the Greens have had one of their councillors leading the council on the south coast – and the second time they’ve had a strike by refuse collectors. One of the first rules of running a local council is never get into a scenario where your refuse collectors are going on strike – as uncollected bins are one of the first things residents – and voters notice when things go wrong. Note back in the day Brighton used to have an electric tram system. They could really do with one today.


Run regular site visits to the waste sorting centre at Waterbeach, get people to take in the fresh air, and watch recycling rates go through the rood/food waste rates crash through the floor.

Above – on a visit to Waterbeach several years ago with Dr Claire Meade who organised this visit. The stench from the site – in particular from the general and food waste sheds was overpowering.

If we are going to succeed in this transition, people need to see the solutions in action. We’re not seeing nearly enough of this

Some of you saw the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge with Sir David Attenborough at the First Earthshot Prize. One consistent comment online was how delighted people were at seeing solutions – radical solutions being scaled up. This is what we need to see locally – the pioneers such as those involved in Cambridge Carbon Footprint, Cambridge Sustainable Food, and others having their activities mainstreamed rather than perhaps stereotyped as something that affluent eccentrics do.

It’s a big ask, but as Rhiannon Osborne said yesterday, the “You must do this for the environment” arguments can only go so far. One of the next steps has to involve making the more sustainable choices being the easier, cheaper option. That also means listening to people who may feel that they don’t have enough time or don’t have enough money to make the switches. At the moment we know how to make the more sustainable options more difficult – as Cllr Sam Davies (Ind – Queen Ediths) showed us in this blogpost. How are low-paid care workers living outside Cambridge with multiple clients supposed to carry out their jobs with anything other than cars? What happens to the sixth form student who has to catch a bus in every day from their village – but then their bus is either too full or does not turn up at all? (Please support the Cambridge Area Bus Users Group).

Finally, none of this will work if the senior politicians don’t make the structural changes necessary.

We’ve got some tough choices ahead. The Cambridge Resilience Web launched today hopefully means that they are not ones we have to face alone.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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