Table your public questions for the latest council meetings on the Greater Cambridge emerging local plan 2031-40

Start sending in your public questions – once you’ve read the meeting papers. Of which there are lots!

Cllr Sam Davies MBE (Ind – Queen Edith’s) informed everyone about the publication of the papers earlier today.

The two district-level councils are working together on a co-ordinated local plan (they have a shared town planning function with one department covering two councils.

It gives everyone (in Cambridge at least!) a week extra to digest what is a lot of dense material, so if you are part of a campaign group or residents’ association – or even just a collective of acquaintances, feel free to share out the scrutiny tasks and come up with public questions. Cambridge City Council’s guide to committee meetings (including asking Qs) is here.

“Is there anything significant?”

Yes. And no. Depending on which way you look at it. I’ve recorded a 10 minute video that tries to cut through the issues as succinctly as my fatigue-raddled mind will allow, but I have a habit of rambling. I am my own harshest critic at the best of times.

Above – some thoughts about the city council’s papers on the future of Cambridge, that they published on 04 January 2023 for their meeting at The Guildhall on 17 January 2023 at 5.3opm.

The water crisis – item 7 of the meeting papers

See the papers here, scroll down. Normally the bigger the file size, the more likely it will have pictures, graphs, charts, and diagrams in – which make for better screen-grabbing and social-media-sharing.

The issue that will hit the headlines is the inconsistency between when new water resources will come on stream (2035 at the earliest), vs when the new local planning period will start (2031 – at which point expect shovels and machinery to be ready to roll!). The problem is that we’re already a water-stressed region. Which makes the papers on all things water at item 7 of the meeting papers all the more interesting for reading.

What You Can Do if you live in or around Cambridge – in particular within the Cambridge Water catchment area.

  1. Email your Member of Parliament via
  2. State what issue you are writing about after the greeting. (eg “Water resources in Cambridgeshire / Water stress vs future housing development in your area”)
  3. State what your worries/concerns are, and how this is/will affect you
  4. Ask your MP what his opinions are on the issue
  5. Ask your MP to write to the minister responsible on your behalf asking what actions the Government is taking to deal with the concerns you have raised – and whether there will be any policy changes as a result, or any interventions by ministers with water companies, regulators, and developers.
  6. Sign off, confirming your home address as that will confirm to the MP’s staff that you are one their constituents and that they have a constitutional responsibility to represent your concerns to ministers. Because Ministers are accountable to MPs in Parliament, and MPs are accountable to their constituents irrespective of voting records or party political preferences. You doing this – especially for the first time, is democracy in action. The more of you in your area that do this, the more your MPs will take note.

In the meantime…

The emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan 2031-40 at item 6

You can view item 6 here – scroll down and note the link to additional papers.

Again, the council officers raise a host of issues that are worth taking note of. You can discuss them with your local councillors ( mindful that the local elections are coming up in four months time.

For those of you who are particularly passionate about a local issue, see the guidance on how to stand for election to a local council, by the Local Government Association here. For those of you that live in Cambridge, see their guidance here. Some parties have more competition for candidacies than others. Others might bite your hand off if you offered to stand for them. For those of you wanting to stand as an independent candidate, see Flatpack Democracy here. Or get in touch with independent councillors on the councils that represent you. In Cambridge we have Cllr Sam Davies. [Sam [.] Davies [@] cambridge [.] gov [.] uk] who might be able to give you some advice (but cannot deal with constituency issues *unless* you live in Queen Edith’s ward. And then only on issues that Cambridge City Council is responsible for. In our two-tier system in Cambridge, different councillors are responsible for different things – see the list of county councillors here.

Vote dragon, get dragon

Some of you may remember that I put myself up for election in the form of my social media avatar Puffles the Dragon Fairy almost a decade ago. I wrote a mini-manifesto made up of ten themes. I’ll leave you to be the judge of how well (or not) the issues I raised were taken on by councillors. But with 89 votes, we beat UKIP!

Above – clockwise from top-left: Puffles with Cllr Lewis Herbert – still a Coleridge ward councillor after all these years, with the only candidate to have shared a hustings platform with him in the past decade! (You can watch the video of our exchanges here! Note standing for the Green Party was the late Simon Sedgwick-Jell, who was Leader of the Labour Group and former City Council Leader in the early 1990s – pioneer of the Cambridge Green Bike Scheme long before ‘Boris Bikes’ were a thing). Top-Centre: with Cllr Anna Smith – who in 2022 took over as Leader of the Labour Group and Leader of Cambridge City Council from Cllr Lewis Herbert. Top-right, Puffles’ campaign stall, and bottom: The Coleridge Dragon – the slide at Coleridge Rec that the council installed a year after Puffles’ election campaign. I sometimes say next time I’m going to dress up as a concert hall and stand for election under that label – see where that gets me!

“Is it worth standing for election?”

Not if you’re only intending on being a ‘paper candidate’. That’s my take. Furthermore, anyone who is prepared to ‘take to the streets’ on any issue could consider putting their name up for an election just to get a feel for what it’s like being cross-examined by the general public where you live. I found it to be a very sobering, humbling, and yet inspiring experience because I learnt just how passionate so many people were about so many different things, how much talent there is in and around our city – and how our broken political systems fail to reflect this. Hence I tend to cut more slack for councillors than most because, as the introduction session from council officers in early 2014 showed me, a decent councillor is likely to spend around 20 hours a week on council business. Which explains 1) why there is a chronic diversity problem in local democracy, and 2) how much scope there is to improve the entire system so that councillors can focus more on the long term important issues, and deal with the genuinely urgent ones as they arise.

So…yes, challenge yourself., make an introduction video (see these examples from four different political parties that I made for the 2017 county council elections – all follow the same template) …and be prepared to take unexpected questions from the public.

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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