King’s Hedges by-election for summer 2023

A by-election so soon after the local elections in difficult circumstances for what is normally a safe Labour seat – will any Independent candidates stand for this one?

29th June 2023 if Phil’s got his calculations right.

The contemporary local history of King’s Hedges by Messrs Rosenstiel and Edkins show King’s Hedges as being a solid Labour seat with the exception of the chaotic end of Gordon Brown’s time as Prime Minister – Cambridge voters tending to dish out ballot box punishments in local elections to the party/ies in government.

When King’s Hedges Ward was created in the mid-1970s (we’re actually overdue the creation of additional ones given our population increase within existing municipal boundaries!) the seat was solidly Labour for the best part of 30 years.

…then following the 2005 general election the Liberal Democrats – then in control of the council, started encroaching into the previously safe Labour wards of Arbury and King’s Hedges, having somehow removed Labour from their Romsey stronghold a few years earlier. These gains were followed by the swift reversal in fortunes following the national party’s decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, after which one seat after another fell every year – resulting in Labour taking political control of Cambridge City Council in 2014 – just after the Greater Cambridge City Deal (negotiated by ministers with the then Lib-Dem Controlled City Council alongside Tory-led South Cambridgeshire District & Cambridgeshire County Councils). Hence my continual reminder that Labour inherited an agreement with central government that they didn’t play any part in negotiating – but that they also couldn’t really pull out of given the £sums involved.

Fast forward a decade or so and that same City Deal – and the Greater Cambridge Partnership responsible for delivering it come hell or high water – is now causing problems at the ballot box.

The only way that Labour was able to stop a ‘back from the dead’ Cambridge Conservative Association from picking up council seats was in effect to concede that the GCP-proposed Sustainable Travel Zone incorporating future congestion charging, did not have popular consent from the people. From where I was watching south of the River Cam, the whole proposal seemed officer-led with only two elected councillors – Labour’s Cllr Elissa Meschini (King’s Hedges on the County Council – and deputy leader of that council too) and her city counterpart Cllr Dr Dave Baigent in Romsey who were both GCP board members up to the local elections just gone. Cllr Baigent has since been replaced by the Leader-elect of the City Council – Cllr Mike Davey (Labour – Petersfield) – returning to the longstanding convention (in Cambridge at least) that it is the leader of the city council who should be the representative on the GCP Board.

The by-election was the result of Alex Collis resigning from both the city council and from the Labour Party shortly after the local elections (you can read her statement here). This is a by-election that the Conservatives will be targeting given their increased vote share – a swing of over 15% from Labour to Conservatives, the second highest in the city behind Cherry Hinton. Both Labour & Conservatives have started campaigning already.

“Will any independent candidates stand on an anti-C-Charge platform?”

People could ask David Sumerfield who nearly won Castle Ward. That said, the electorate made their point about the GCP in the earlier election. Surely in this by-election the residents of King’s Hedges deserve more from the candidates than simply the position on the congestion charge – something that the candidates that won in the recent local elections all made statements conceding that the proposals could not go through as planned. So you could have a ‘split the Tory vote’ candidate on the ballot paper, but how much publicity could a new independent candidate generate in such a short space of time? Certainly not myself. For a start I’m not familiar with North Cambridge in the way you’d want an independent candidate to be. Any independent would have to come from in/around the area. Secondly, the resources needed to run a campaign that lets the electorate know you exist are substantial – as I wrote in this blogpost.

What is King’s Hedges like?

For that you’d have to ask the people who live there. That said, you can read the City Council’s profile of the north Cambridge wards here.

Above – North Area Ward Profile 2019 – which covers Cambridge City Council’s North Area Committee.

Furthermore, you can read the report by Cambridgeshire Insight on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation from 2019 here. The darker the blues, the greater the level of poverty and multiple deprivation. Immediately you can see neighbourhoods within both King’s Hedges and Abbey wards scoring highly, while just a few miles south west you can see the different world of the University Dons in Newnham ward reflected by the much paler shades.

Above – snapshot from Cambridgeshire Insight IMD 2019

And yet on the other side of the old railway line (now the guided busway) that forms the distinctive straight line on the northern edge of King’s Hedges Ward is the Cambridge Science Park owned by Trinity College.

Above – from G-Maps here showing Milton Parish in South Cambridgeshire, which has both Cambridge Regional College and Cambridge Science Park in it.

The inequality between the people and firms on the science park vs those that live in King’s Hedges is excruciating and reflects badly on our city. Architect Charlotte Stuart wrote about how to overcome that divide for her MPhil – and also spoke about it at a Cam Commons event which I wrote about in this blogpost – scroll halfway down. As a long term plan, councillors may want to get in touch with her.

All candidates should consider the case for large leisure & sporting facilities to serve King’s Hedges residents

I wrote about the case for a new North Cambridge Swimming Pool here – located on the north-eastern edge of King’s Hedges Ward where a motor garage currently is located (mindful that ***the sale of new petrol & diesel-powered cars will be prohibited*** by the Government from 2030).

Above – from G-Maps here, the location is at the red balloon icon.

Mindful of the proposals for the North East Cambridge Area Action Plan which given its scale will have to have significant community facilities in it, my take is the EMG site is within walking distance of the second most economically deprived ward in Cambridge (Abbey ward being the most economically deprived), which means it’s within walking and cycling distance for many of the children and residents. At the same time it also serves the North Cambridge Academy, Cambridge Regional College, and is on several of the major bus routes into and out of Cambridge including the guided busway. Strategically it’s got everything going for it. The question is how to find the money for it. This is really where Cambridge University and its successful science park spin-offs should be contributing – even to the extent of developing new or making use of existing technologies to heat the water using waste heat from the various air conditioning systems in the science park buildings.

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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