Cambridge: Political Squabbles
Cambridge is famous for having extremely argumentative politicians who seem
unable to get anything done in a sensible timescale. This isn't a new phenomenon
- it was the same in the Middle Ages.
Recent examples include:
Stop The Squabbling
This was the Cambridge Evening News headline
on 29-Aug-1995 and the article presented a range of views:
In 1998 even trying to choose a memorial for Princess Diana, something which might seem
to require good-will and consensus, resulted in a series of rival suggestions:
a rose garden on Christ's Pieces (the likeliest to happen), naming the proposed
Wintercomfort shelter under Elizabeth Bridge and naming the new Parkside Pools.
- Coun. Kevin Southernwood (leader, Labour)
Squabbles between political parties are in
danger of scaring away vital business investment. He appealed for better
understanding between parties. "The Liberal Democrats do seem to specialise in
opposition for opposition's sake. It was especially clear over the whole
Parkside pool issue. They seemed to just be dragging things out and wasting
time, which is something that could hurt Cambridge. The private sector gets put
off when they can't get things moving, especially when the delays are caused by
in-fighting between councillors." "It would be terrible if business people
started to approach Cambridge with trepidation."
- Coun. David Howarth (leader, Liberal Democrats)
He said Coun. Southernwood was talking "complete rubbish",
accused him of hypocrisy and claimed Labour's mismanagement was the greatest threat to investment.
"I suppose you would be wary of investing in the city if the administration is
this incompetent. It's extraordinary of Labour to say that they want more
co-operation when they have deliberately kept all the council committee
chairmanships with the help of the Tories."
- Coun. Sonja Froggett (Mayor, Conservative)
She said "this wrangling doesn't help at all.
I know one or two developers who have been put off by it all. But it was the
Liberal Democrats who killed off the Market Square
and put Parkside Pool in
jeopardy, so they are no angels. Both parties are to blame for putting off
business which we badly need to remain a thriving city."
- Black Horse Relocation and Management Today
published a survey placing Cambridge as the third choice for relocation, behind
Bristol and Oxford. The survey was of more than 500 chief executives, chairmen
and managing directors. They cited the high quality of life.
The rose garden was indeed built, in Summer 1999, for £10,000 of public money.
The consensus from the likes of the letters page of the CEN seems to
be that it's ugly and that the money (if spent at all) should have gone towards
something she appeared to care about, such as a children's charity.
So much for democratic accountability.
CEN Opinion column, May 1971:
Planning has become a game in Cambridge and the county - an expensive,
self-defeating game which has caused the players to lose sight of the fact that
people's homes and jobs are at stake.
...As quoted by P.B. Kerridge, who asks So what is so different 25 years on?
In the city, traffic chaos, over-crowded shops, high rates and prices,
rising unemployment, poor public transport and large chunks of neglected property
are all the result of many years of inaction and mismanagement.
See also Lion Yard/Petty Cury
and The Kite.
The controlling Labour councillors decided to spend £46,000 in 1996 on improving
PR, appointing 2 officers, and having senior politicians & managers trained.
The opposition parties said the money should be spent on real services
such as bad pavements and late-night buses.
Labour countered this by citing LibDem councils such as Colchester
spending more than this on PR.
Anyway, by December 1996 a Head of Communications and a Press Officer were appointed.
A year later they won an award from the Institute for Public Relations for Excellence
in Public Communications, based on the successful media campaign
around December 1996 highlighting homelessness in the City.
(CEN 12-Dec-1996, 6-Oct-1997).
In July 1995 the developers of the small exhibition site between Lion Yard and
the Corn Exchange threatened to take legal action if their entertainment complex
bid was rejected by councillors.
The company was given permission to develop the site as a nightclub in 1990
and agreed to pay £500,000 for the land.
The council deferred the decision instead.
Roger Quirk, of developers Urban Leisure of Billericay, agreed with Coun. Southernwood.
"Nobody can make any decisions. The decision [..] was put back for more reports."
The sticking point is that touring groups at the Corn Exchange need a decent-sized
area for parking their large lorries - currently this area, with no clear alternative site.
However the City Council has extended parking permission for lorries for another two years (CEN 30-Apr-1996).
Roger Quirk again threatened to sue to recover an estimated £150,000 in detailed planning costs.
The Council allowed negotiations for the possible sale of the lease on the site to begin.
In May 1999 a fresh plan for a nightclub was proposed by
Albert Gazeley's property company, this time for the
former Job Centre building next to the empty space.
The adjacent Fisher House C.U. Catholic Chaplaincy was the main objector, claiming
a nightclub was an inappropriate use next to a pub
(The Red Cow), a major entertainment venue (The Corn Exchange) and
the Lion Yard shopping centre (with Fifth Avenue nightclub).
After all the years of wrangles, a nightclub plan from Chilthorne Properties for this site was approved in January 2000
and the club is supposed to open later on in 2000.
[See Grafton Centre Nightclub.]
The City's Transport Subcommittee gave top priority to a much-needed
pedestrian crossing close to Coleridge Community College in Radegund Road,
after a campaign by local people and
championed by local councillor Jeremy Benstead (CEN 5-Mar-1996).
LibDem councillors Colin Rosentiel (Market) and David Howarth (Castle) then called an extra
meeting of the Subcommittee (with associated expense) as they wanted
crossings in their own wards (Castle Street and Maids Causeway) to be higher in
the list than Radegund Road, effectively blocking its go-ahead.
They produced statistics to show their sites are more dangerous,
though the roads already have crossings.
The Radegund Road crossing was about 14th in the County priority list.
David Howarth was quoted in the CEN on 12-Mar-1996 & 29-Mar as saying the Labour group
voted down the proposal for the Castle Street crossing at the joint Traffic Managers
meeting and a few days later claimed in a Labour Castle Ward newsletter that the crossing was their proposal.
They had supported it at earlier City Council meetings.
He reckoned the Labour group caved in to County Council colleague pressure - that
less money should be spent on crossings for the City.
He claimed the proposed site has the worst accident record of any of the proposed sites.
Labour Councillor John Ratcliff responded by denying any caving in and any knowledge of the newsletter.
County Councillor Chris Bradford (LibDem) explained the situation as follows in a CEN letter on 2-Apr-1996.
Crossings are ranked in priority according to a formula.
At the City Council level this made Castle Street second (with the worst accident record in the County)
and Maids Causeway fourth (with equal second worst accident record).
The Labour councillors voted according to formula priorities.
When the full list was to come before the County Council, Castle Street would have ranked third and
Maids Causeway seventh. As there was money for seven crossings this year, both should have been approved.
However Labour Councillors substituted two lower-ranking sites in the actual list presented, ones
with lower accident rates.
The Labour side said they realised they couldn't have all the crossings so voted as seemed best
and in any case the City can only recommend.
The LibDems put a motion of censure to the City Council regarding Labour Councillors
John Ratcliff (chairman of the Environment Committee) & Kevin Blencowe (chairman of the Transport Subcommittee).
The motion alleged gross incompetence in that they let party political concerns override their civic duty.
The motion was defeated 19-18 with 3 Conservatives abstaining (CEN 19-Apr-1996).
A year later Castle Street again came top of the priority list but the Joint Traffic
Management Subcommittee voted to leave it off the list for the next funding year.
Some people point to the reduction in traffic due to the
Bridge Street changes.
The LibDems spent days surveying Romsey Ward pavements and sent a report identifying at least 40
broken and dangerous points to the City Council, which acts as the County Council's agent
for maintaining City pavements.
Labour Ward councillor John Ratcliff criticised their action, saying they should have sent the
report to the County Council, even though it's the City Council who'd have to act on it.
He went on to claim the main problem is that County Council LibDems (then in charge) wouldn't provide enough money for maintenance.
One of he great characters of recent Cambridge City Council politics:
long-time Labour group leader (when Labour ran the City) and instigator of the infamous
Green Bike Scheme.
He also pushed through the Mill Road cycle bridge project for £1.9M.
He withdrew from Cambridge politics after the May 1995 elections and
in March 1996 left the Labour Party (CEN 15-Mar), citing dislike of the
New Labour under Tony Blair.
Castle Hill has a crossing at the bottom, only about 15m up from the major junction with Chesterton Lane etc.
Maids Causeway has a crossing at Fair Street, the crossing point for Midsummer Common.
It's a trial site for one of the three designs of PUFFIN crossing - ones which cancel a
request-to-cross if the person has gone.
The designs are:
- "radar" sensors above the lights - as here (though the sensor for Fair St. is pointed in the wrong direction!)
- sensors under the pavement
- infra-red sensors at about ankle height