What’s going on inside ‘Cambridge’? (The sci/tech bubble) Cambridge-wide Open Day on Wed 14 June 2023

What ‘elephant in the room’ questions could you put to rooms full of people of whose firms/employers much is written about the financial wealth they create for UK PLC?

TL/DR? See https://cambridgewideopenday.com/about/ and sign up here as I don’t want to be the only grumpy town person going! (I’m good at moaning about stuff – it’s all I seem to do these days!)

Actually, I want to take a different approach to being “Mr Grumpious Moanalottis”

…who sounds like a character from a long lost story that’s a cross between something out of Asterix The Gaul and something written by the Monty Python chaps.

“What’s this alternative approach?”

Putting the questions about the negative externalities resulting from Cambridge’s rapid economic growth (in proportion to its size & population) to people who may never have considered (or had the chance to consider) them, and invite them to get involved in the groups campaigning on them.

This stems from events I’ve been to covering the proposed future sci/tech parks along the Cambridge-Newmarket rail corridor, where the promoters and their advisers seemed unaware of proposals such as:

Above Left: CamCycle’s concept diagram of a cycle orbital for Cambridge. Above Right: Nathaniel Lichfield’s conceptual diagram from 1965 on Cambridge’s sub-regional economy with smaller market economies within them.

Both of these sit nicely with the conceptual diagrams of a Cambridge light rail system that goes underground in the city centre approaches, and also the lines exiting Cambridge that Rail Future East have called for the major upgrades of – i.e. almost all of them!

Above left: Cambridge Connect’s plans (see here), and above right: Jonathan Roberts’ proposals for Rail Future East. (Which I wrote about here).

Are you an employee of, owner of, or an adviser to one of the firms based on one of the science or tech parks in/around Cambridge?

Two speakers you can invite to speak about solving your employee transport woes:

The simple reason is that there is not enough housing in and around Cambridge to meet existing demand, let alone future demand to accommodate your staff current and future. If being within Cambridge’s 1935-era municipal boundaries is *essential* to the existence of your firm, then the only way you are going to deal with the eye-wateringly high housing costs is to have a point-to-point rail-based affordable, reliable, clean and convenient transport system. As a number of business representatives have also told me over the years: rich people won’t travel on buses. They will travel on light rail as they do in London.

The structure of Cambridge’s system of governance is not working for our city – and it’s definitely not working for the various business sectors either.

The problem is:

How many of your staff are unable to vote in local elections because of nationality?

How do you encourage your business and social communities to engage in local democracy? How many of them even know who their local MP is, or who their local councillors are? (They can use the postcode of where they live to find out using https://www.writetothem.com/).

“What are the limits to growth? Economic, social and environmental?”

“There is no environmental capacity for additional development in the new Local Plan [2030 ono] to be supplied by with water by increased abstraction from the Chalk Aquifer. Even the current level of abstraction is widely believed to be unsustainable”.

Stantec Report for Greater Cambridge Planning, p17.

What are your contingency plans for when the taps run dry?

Only the Chatteris Reservoir is not scheduled to come on stream until 2037 at the earliest. The last time Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire had water infrastructure capacity issues half a century ago, the authorities simply banned all but the smallest of house building projects until capacity had been increased at the Milton Sewage Works and the smaller works around the city. (I re-found some old documents and articles which showed how bad things got).

“Isn’t ensuring the provision of such infrastructure the responsibility of Central Government?”

Have you seen the state of central government recently?!?

Parliament is sovereign. Advisers advise, and ministers decide. The powers that local councils in England have are minimal. The Combined Authority is limited to applying for handouts from ministers – it is not genuine devolution where lower tiers have greater revenue-raising powers, and powers to take action without continually having to go to ministers for approval.

Provision of lifelong learning as an example of ministerial over-reach

Cambridge desperately needs a new lifelong learning college to enable the retraining of adults that want to switch careers – and do so in a way that does not pile on even more debt than they already have. The problem is getting public funding for such an institution requires ministerial approval. How will you deal with your workforce shortages if you’ve got no local institution tailored towards the needs of older learners given the competition employers face for graduates and school leavers?

“Dr Andy Williams told the Queen Edith’s Community Forum that Cambridge already had a significant infrastructure deficit”

I wrote about what Dr Williams, consultant to AstraZeneca said to a South Cambridge residential audience here. What’s your sector’s contribution towards narrowing that gap?

Before the establishment of the Greater Cambridge Partnership and Combined Authority in 2014 & 2016 respectively, Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire’s social and civic infrastructure gap was estimated (by me) to be over £700million – see my workings here.

At the same time very little was done about the sports, arts, and leisure infrastructure essential for a vibrant city to function. And those facilities must be inclusive. Too often we’re seeing facilities built at wealthy private schools (Such as the pool at The Perse Upper School which I wrote about halfway down this blogpost)

“It comes as no surprise to me that a number of the new and splendid facilities being built are at private schools in and around Cambridge – ones that are not on the doorsteps of large residential neighbourhoods. Take The Leys School Great Hall. Or the recently-approved plans for The Perse School’s new swimming pool where their original proposals for very limited community access had to be pushed back by councillors – alongside their performing arts centre. “

Cambridge Town Owl, 15 Nov 2022

Which is why one big cultural issue that firms looking to establish themselves in Cambridge, as well as those looking to expand in and around Cambridge is this:

**Do you wish to live in an inclusive city or an exclusive city?**

Because if you are aiming for the latter, don’t be surprised if there is pushback from local communities, campaign groups, and from elected politicians. And when it comes to firms not working constructively with democratically-elected councillors, some firms have got form. Such as Brookgate – going to appeal on a large, controversial development in North Cambridge before local councillors could debate it in public at planning committee. One of the biggest civic society organisations in Cambridge, Cambridge Past, Present, & Future slammed the actions of the developer. It remains to be seen what the Planning Inspector, acting under the authority of the Secretary of State for Levelling Up makes of this case.

Cambridge: The UK’s most unequal city. What is your role in reversing the polarisation of our city?

It’s not something our city should be proud of. Donna Ferguson of The Guardian wrote about the inequalities in 2020 here.

“University of Cambridge boasts about how it generates £587million from the impact of tourism, yet the consultants have omitted the impact of an under-funded city council that cannot afford to fund a permanent tourist information centre”

Cambridge Town Owl 20 March 2023

Furthermore, Cllr Sam Davies MBE slammed Cambridge’s wealth-making sectors for failing to support local arts and culture activities. The comparison she makes with the coastal towns of King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth are striking in terms of what their local councils and businesses have been able to put on for their residents. Great Yarmouth is one of the most economically deprived boroughs in England. That they can put on events open to the whole of their town despite the huge economic pressures they face reflects better on the civic pride of their local businesses than the cash-laden firms trying to link their brands to the University of Cambridge who show (Collectively at least) little interest in what happens beyond Senate House, the ancient buildings or the gleaming tech parks – all spilling out onto pot-hole-ridden roads. Private wealth, civic squalor.

At least Cambridge Ahead’s Young Advisory Committee chose to look and take on the problem.

I went to their launch event and met a number of the report’s authors.

Maybe it’s the younger generations who can teach us older and ageing generations a thing or three about sound civic morals and ethics. Because while Cambridge remains the most unequal city in the country, we have no right to lecture other cities or countries in how to do things.

Cambridge residents who can make the Cambridge-wide Open Day

We have a collective responsibility to put these (and your own) concerns about the future of our city to the science and tech sector and call on them to be part of the collective response rather than part of an ongoing problem. We cannot leave it to future generations to solve.

This is our civic responsibility.

Let’s meet it.

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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