OxCam Arc publishes environmental principles

One of a series of papers published today by the Combined Authority

You can read the papers here for the meeting on 27th Oct 2021.

It’s only nine pages, and is Appendix 1 of item 2.6.

Cllr Bridget Smith (Lib Dems – Gamlingay), the Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council is the lead councillor for the Environment strand of the Arc. She has provided the foreword.

To summarise the principles, they are:

  1. Achieve net zero carbon by 2040
  2. Protect, restore, enhance and create new nature areas and natural capital assets
  3. Be an exemplar for environmentally sustainable development,
  4. Ensure that existing and new communities see real benefits from living in the Arc
  5. Use natural resources wisely

Obviously they go into more detail, and have a number of specifics that stand out, including:

  • Making more efficient use and management of waste and resources, working towards a circular economy with no net waste (Think Doughnut Economics)
  • coordinate action being taken on local air quality management plans (think cross-boundary low emission zones)
  • Promoting and increasing equality of sustainable access to nature (think of inner city areas and housing estates with no large open green spaces, nature reserves or parks – such as North Cambridge)

The big thing that is omitted in this plan for me is what to do with the existing built environment. There’s lots of things about building new stuff sustainably, but if we’re going to have any major impact on more efficient use of water, we need to have a rapid rethink of our pre-existing infrastructure, whether that’s rainwater water harvesting to building lots of secure street-level cycle parks in Victorian-era terraced communities that were not designed and built for motor cars – which had not been invented. The same goes for moving to a system of rental e-street cars, and changing public attitudes around the ownership of motor cars anyway. (They cost a fortune, require huge resources to manufacture from ore mining to construction – to say nothing of the extraction, refining, and transportation of the fuel oil – and spend the vast majority of their time idle doing nothing (though they don’t say this in the adverts)).

How not to do sustainability.

“Everyone shares the burden of a mortgage on this estate. No one has inherited these homes, and no one ever will because they won’t last that long.”

Elliott C. Mason on Brookgate’s redevelopment of Cambridge Station / CB1

If you’re interested in the history of area around the railway station and the people who made it, get hold of Rob Shorland-Ball’s book Cambridge Station. I still think it was a missed opportunity, and the less said about how Brookgate emerged from Ashwells the better. Although if you want more of the detail, read Richard Taylor’s blogpost from 2010 here and make of it what you will.

The quotation I’ve referred to by Mr Mason reflects the short life span of too many of our recently-built (in particular post-war) buildings. We know that build quality has been and still is a huge issue. Our local MP Daniel Zeichner (Labour – Cambridge) spoke powerfully on this earlier this year in the House of Commons – I wrote about it here.

There also remains the issue of water use. One problem that has not been acknowledged is that house buyers are more than able to change water fittings once they purchase a property to one that uses more water. If you have the wealth and have the choice say between a dribble shower and a power shower, which one are you more likely to go for? And yet how much potable/drinkable water is wasted on things that don’t require that level of purity? I was pondering this problem following the appeals from Cambridge City Council and their tree-planting programme – with drier summers and budget cuts there is no one to water the trees. Hence appeals to the public. Yet there are more than enough houses in residential areas that could be retrofitted to have rainwater harvesting systems installed (including storage tanks in their front gardens) that could be used to water trees on the street side. With imaginative urban design installing enough of them could also significantly reduce the risk of flash-flooding – in an era where we’re experiencing a higher frequency of even more intense downpours. We saw how parts of London’s Underground network were hit badly only a few months ago.

Combined Authority to join Water Resources East

You can find out more about Water Resources East here.

In the grand scheme of things, it brings together anyone who has an interest in managing water resources in East Anglia together to ensure limited supplies are managed sustainably, that damage to the environment is kept to a minimum, and that future supply challenges are dealt with in advance. Looking at the state of our chalk streams, it seems that everyone has failed. The water companies, the regulators, ministers, the lot. So having the Combined Authority on the WRE Board means that there is a mechanism by which residents can use democratic processes via the Mayor directly or through their local councillor to the Combined Authority to demand answers from the water companies via the routine meetings that representatives from the Combined Authority will be taking part in. Assuming the members vote for it.

More council meetings – Full Council for Cambridge City Council

The papers and motions are now up – you can read them here. I’ll be popping in to ask my tabled public question which asks the City Council to either to digitise, or grant the public permission to digitise and to upload to the Internet Archive copies of their past planning documents and reports that have been officially archived at the Cambridgeshire Collection and/or the County Archive in Ely. Cambridgeshire Tories moved the archive out of the city so this small city of ours with a global reputation can’t even store its own official archives, and all of its transport decisions are taken outside of the city at institutions based either in Ely or Alconbury, both historically outside of the original Cambridgeshire County Council area as established in 1889/89. You can almost see me making the case for a unitary council again!

South Cambridgeshire running Cambridge residential forums

For those of you who live on the western or north western edges of the city, see the details from South Cambridgeshire District Council here. Our original town boundaries date from the mid-1930s – before we got city status from The King in 1951.

Above – the most recent map of ward boundaries.

Cherry Hinton burst its boundaries in the 1980s, followed by King’s Hedges and now Castle. The next to follow if it hasn’t already is Abbey ward. Hence my contention that the boundaries need changing – possibly adding more council seats to the city council through the addition of another council ward or two. Otherwise we end up in a situation with city residents being affected by the decisions of a city council but having no means of holding that city council to account because the headquarters of their own council is out in Cambourne.

“When do we get our new look transport plan?”

Not today.

The Mayor’s refreshed forward plan indicates it’s likely to be after the Board has met – for the Transport Committee of the Combined Authority meets on 08 November 2021. (You can see their meetings calendar here). Public bodies are normally expected to publish meeting papers and reports at least a week in advance to give members and the public – and journalists too, time to read and analyse what’s in the reports.

Where you’ve got packs of meeting papers that go into hundreds and hundreds of pages all written to a standard you would expect at a university undergraduate level, the process of taking all of that information in, then formulating what questions to put and where, takes time. And is mentally exhausting. I’ve been on both sides – writing and putting the papers together during my civil service days, then trying to make sense of them both as a member of the public and also for a couple of years as a school governor since then. Hence the more people can get involved, and the better we get at sharing the scrutiny load, the better.

Talking of transport meetings, the County Council has also got their own Highways and Transport Committee meeting on 04 November 2021. Expect Mill Road to come up again given the Mayor’s previous comments, and also revelations about the compromised consultation on maintaining the closure of Mill Road Bridge to general motor traffic – one where members of a Conservative pro-cycling campaign (They do exist!) did some excellent detective work and were able to identify which responses came from the same ISP address – indicating multiple submissions of the same preference. Which should not have been allowed. Some of the members of that campaign group are part of the all-parties-and-none Mill Road For People campaign group – which has their aims on their webpage.

Chances are I’ll have further questions to put to the County Council (either strategy & resources, or the full council) on the archives and the Cambridgeshire Collection in relation to the emerging local plan, and getting more of the historical reports – esp those produced in their name – digitised and published as part of the plan’s background papers. But I don’t want to be everywhere at once.

In the meantime, if you don’t know who your local councillors are, look them up! https://www.writetothem.com/

We know our democracy is malfunctioning. You only have to compare the Covid death rate in the UK to the rest of the EU. And if that wasn’t enough, Lord Puttnam spelt it out for us in sobering terms recently, as I wrote in Indifference. So for those of you who have not done this before, drop your councillor an email, introduce yourself as one of their constituents, and ask them a couple of questions on what they’ve done lately, and any local issues that you are concerned about. They have to attend late night meetings on cold rainy evenings in November to ensure things like bin collections happen. It’s not all glamorous! And if you are regularly in touch with them, next time a friend or acquaintance is complaining about anything political, give them the https://www.writetothem.com/ link. Because if you don’t do politics…

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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