Which local election candidates want to support light rail for Greater Cambridge?

And who will go public in the run up to the election?

If you’re not already aware, South Cambridgeshire District Council has local elections for all of its seats in May 2022, and Cambridge City Council has elections for a third of its seats – which will be the elected councillors that polled the fewest votes last year in 2021 being the ones up for election.

Some of you will be aware of the proposals from the Cambridge Connect Consortium – which submitted their Light Rail Strategy to the Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson as part of the Local Transport & Connectivity Plan consultation.

Above – you can read their strategy here.

Above – the Cambridge Connect concept for a light rail network with underground tunnels through Cambridge.

Positive support from surrounding villages.

The Cambridge Independent has covered support for a light rail in recent years:

…amongst dozens of articles, opinion pieces, and letters to the editor (which you can still send in).

The four busway plans from the Greater Cambridge Partnership

They are:

…and they all have major barriers and/or significant local opposition. But that’s what the Partnership and voting board members from all three main political parties have gone with. Let’s not forget, the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Board representation was as follows:

  • 2014-2018 – 2 x Conservative, 1 x Labour
  • 2018-2021 – 1 x Conservative, 1 x Labour, 1 x Liberal Democrat
  • 2021-ono. – 2 x Labour,* 1 x Liberal Democrat

*Note the Cambridgeshire County Council representative, currently deputy leader Elisa Meschini (Labour – King’s Hedges) represents the Joint Administration that includes Liberal Democrats and Independent Councillors.

My point being that councillors from all of the major political parties standing for election in 2022 will have voted to progress the controversial busway schemes in the face of opposition campaigns and alternatives. Therefore, from a transparency and accountability perspective, I think it is important that candidates explain why their parties voted the way they did to get to where we are today. Even if it is a single web page on their local parties’ websites that candidates can point prospective voters towards. I’d much rather this than such candidates trying to say they/their parties were against the busways all along. I think a case can be made for the busways – but it’s not for me to make that case because I’ve been backing the light rail scheme by Cambridge Connect ever since it was first published.

“But local district-level councils are not responsible for transport policy!”

The existence of the Greater Cambridge Partnership makes this more than a little complicated due to the presence of councillors on both the GCP Assembly and Board. The former has three councillors from each local council which is supposed to act in an advisory/scrutiny function, which means that a far greater number of councillors from all political parties have been involved than just the voting board members. It also has meant that at the outset, the GCP was dominated by Conservatives in 2014/15, but has had their presence whittled down to just one seat on the GCP Assembly. A reasonable question to ask is to what extent has the party political changes made by the electorates resulted in major policy changes.

It’s also a reminder that local elections require voters to consider far more than just one policy area when voting. For this election in particular, the behaviour of the Prime Minister and his cronies – and the damning headlines of the past few days, may result in normally loyal Conservative voters simply staying at home/not voting in these elections. And who can blame them?

At the same time, local elections nearly always bring in new candidates and new faces into local government – much needed in the current climate, but always nice to see generally speaking. In which case should the new candidates be blamed for decisions taken when they were not involved in local democracy? Or in the case of the younger candidates, perhaps too young to vote anyway? There may also be particularly high calibre councillors who voters may want to keep in office even though they disagree with some of the decisions said councillors have made. Ultimately it will be for voters to decide what criteria they judge the candidates on and what weight/priority they give to each one.

Organising public debates

I hope we get over the current wave in the ongoing pandemic so that April 2022 is full of face-to-face public debates. Even if they have to be in local parks like in the olden days! (See Chris Rand’s guide to organising them). Also, if you are outdoors, you’ll need to think amplification – a portable PA system with batteries, and some sort of gazebo/cover if it’s rainy. Hence why the proposed Library of Things in Cambridge could be useful for such things.

And finally: Candidates should ensure their details and publicity materials are up on Democracy Club’s elections website

“We believe that improving the accessibility of information about local government is core to achieving our vision”

Democracy Club

Maybe there’s scope for creating a Cambridge branch of the Democracy Club that helps arrange public debates and publicity for candidates in advance of local elections.

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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