The future of Huntingdonshire

The recently-elected Joint Administration for Huntingdonshire District Council is asking for ideas – see What this post examines is Cambridge’s future in relation to Huntingdonshire, and how to ensure one does not impose on the other, but rather that there’s a shared decision that benefits both.

“Now! My ideas for your district are…!”

…is not the way to go about it.

I learnt enough in my local government policy days about the limitations of trying to micro-manage things from the centre. The last Labour Government reached the limits of that way of working.

For those of you interested in a contemporary look at central-local government relations, have a look at this fairly recent (2018) study that arrived today.

Another reason is Huntingdonshire has a long history separate to that of Cambridge. So much so that Huntingdon’s borough charter of 1205 pre-dates Cambridge’s borough charter of 1207 by two years.

Above – a detail from a British Railways Map from the early post-war years.

The structure of the old shire councils – brought in as a result of the Local Government Act of 1888, was pretty much as below until the 1960s. The Isle of Ely County Council had its headquarters in March,

A more detailed look at Huntingdon in the 1950s can be seen on the digitised maps of the National Library of Scotland here – mindful that the Earl of Huntingdon was at one time held by the King of Scotland prior to the unification of the crowns of England and Scotland.

It was only in the 1960s that the old Huntingdonshire County was merged with Peterborough for local county governance purposes – as Cambridgeshire was merged with Ely. I still haven’t gotten my head around when “Cambridge County,” or “Cambridgeshire County” was and wasn’t used. But the point is that Huntingdonshire has a long history.

That’s not to say there weren’t moves to abolish the county as an administrative unit in the past – this from the Redcliffe Maud Report (the Royal Commission on Local Government 1966-69) proposed a Greater Peterborough and Greater Cambridge Unitary Councils

Above – the full proposals that explain the above are here. (It’s a long read!)

So one of the questions for Huntingdonshire is whether it would be happy to be part of a unitary council centred around either Cambridge or Peterborough, or whether it could see itself as its own unitary authority given that the expansion pressures of the two cities may well force the issue of reorganisation within the 30 year timeframe of

Another issue is whether the towns of St Neots, Huntingdon, Godmanchester and St Ives see themselves as part of Cambridge’s regional economy – as identified in Lichfield’s study of 1965, and in John Parry Lewis’s study of 1973

Above – Huntingdon, St Ives, and St Neots depicted in relation to Cambridge around half a century ago.

In fact, the travel-to-work patterns may have already answered those questions for us – this from Cambridgeshire’s Economic Assessment Profile‘s 2008 travel to work data

Above – CEAP 2008 p5

It’s not just the adults that commute either – it’s the children and teenagers to some of Cambridge’s schools and sixth form colleges. When I started my A-levels I was shocked to find how far some of my fellow students travelled in every day – 6am starts were the norm for some of them while I could be up at 8.30am and be in class at 9am. But we’ve ended up in a situation where there is an over-concentration of further education places in Cambridge – and South Cambridge in particular, that needs rebalancing. Not least so that more teenagers have more choice of courses and subjects closer to home. It’s one of the reasons why I think in the very long term, at least one of the large sixth form colleges and one of the private schools should be moved out of Cambridge City to the new towns outside.

“How do we ensure there is more, better choice and higher quality teaching and facilities at any new Huntingdonshire college that results in much shorter journeys for college students?

Above – that’s one of the questions I hope that councillors and residents discuss. It may mean expanding an existing institution, or it may mean building a new one from scratch. In which case, The School That I’d Like studies come into their own – and children and young people can be invited to help design institutions fit for their generation and beyond.

There is a risk that future transport systems become a one-way magnet, drawing people, jobs, and wealth away from Huntingdonshire into Cambridge. How do we avoid this?

This was my thinking behind the concept of looped light rail lines that share some of their lines with each other as they head westwards out of Cambridge.Could some involve re-opening old railway lines? If you’re interested in Light Rail, the LRTA produces Tramways and Urban Transit which comes with membership, (or alternatively you can buy back copies here or on E-Bay). “Buses Magazine” is normally in WHSmith.).

Above – public transport magazines! Because you want to make informed decisions! (Useful for scrutinising council and combined authority decisions too!)

Below – one of the loops I suggested from previous blogposts

Above – Cambridge – Ely – Chatteris – Ramsay – Alconbury – Huntingdon – St Ives – Cambridge

The Huntingdon – Cambridge component that is currently guided busway could easily share a line with a Cambridge – Huntingdon – St Neots – Papworth – Cambourne – Cambridge light rail loop.

What the above effectively does is incorporate the controversial Cambourne-Cambridge guided busway into an extended light rail with an underground through Cambridge as proposed by Connect Cambridge Light Rail – only dramatically extending the latter to St Neots and beyond to make a further light rail loop.

Above: Cambridge – St Neots – Wyboston Lakes – Sandy – Wimpole Hall – Shepreth (wildlife park) – Cambridge Biomedical Campus – Cambridge.

Given the learning from the busways, having a wide cycleway that serves as a service access road provides potentially easier active travel links to the villages. There is the further question of how to ensure safety for late night users.

Furthermore, having those loops means much more interconnections between places. This increases the likelihood that some employers may want to relocate to where the lines share stations. Furthermore, it makes it far easier for people in Cambridge to head out of the city to visit local attractions without needing to drive there. In the case of the new developments, this is a chance to build new attractions that the region simply does not have. For example the ones that you sometimes see adverts for that are ‘only X-hours drive away from Cambridge!’ Yeah…have they seen the price of petrol and what’s happening to the planet lately?

Inspiration from past buildings and industries to shape the future?

Huntingdonshire – don’t do this:

Above – case studies of what Cambridge screwed up over the past few decades. Your local libraries should be able to access it for you

St Neots used to have a lovely corn exchange – sadly it burnt down in 1929.

Above – From Illustrated London News in the British Newspaper Archive, St Neots Corn Exchange

What sits on the site now is far more ugly, boring, and anonymous. In my opinion anyway. Could part of the future of Huntingdonshire involve going through your library’s archives of old buildings and unbuilt building designs to see which ones can be used and improved upon for new facilities? Are there any buildings that could be the inspiration behind a new public building?

“What changes are going to be forced upon us as a result of the climate emergency? What is your collective response?”

I found this book on planning for the motor car at Plurabelle’s Bookshop, a second hand bookshop/warehouse in Cambridge near Cambridge United FC’s Abbey Stadium. It examined things like active travel and public transport too. When Parliament legislates to ban the sales of new fossil-fuelled cars, and knowing that there are not enough rare metals for 1-2-1 replacements, what will happen to things like car parks in town squares? Is it worth planning ahead for them now, or to wait until the legislation comes through?

We’ve just been through two heatwaves and a drought – actually, we’re still in the latter because the sprinkle of rain we had today isn’t nearly enough to quench the parched fields. What changes to rural and urban environments will we all have to make to save water and use less energy? What systems will we need to put in place for lifestyles that have less of an impact on our environment? These were explored in a radical book way back in the 1970s called Radical Technology.

Above from Radical Technology – will we see more collective and communal gardening in the future?

Is there an entrepreneur out there who might be willing to open a Centre for Alternative Technology (similar to the one in Wales) in Huntingdonshire that not only demonstrates and teaches people about new, more sustainable technologies, but enables them to stay on the site for residential stays so that they can experience living with the technologies before considering whether to install them in their own homes and communities?

Ultimately it’s up to the residents and communities of Huntingdonshire – as it should be. Hence I won’t be submitting a response to the consultation; it’s not my patch. What I hope this blogpost does is encourage people and politicians/councillors to think about how Huntingdonshire can work with Greater Cambridge to the benefit of both. And that will mean financial investment from Greater Cambridge (as well as policy and administrative flexibility with cross-border issues and projects) being invested in Huntingdonshire in order to get facilities and infrastructure built that we can all benefit from.

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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