Saturday, 28 January 2017
Blogpost is getting old and so I have moved my blog, which I started in 2008 when I first became a councillor. Click here to go the new fresh site or search www.councillortopping.com
Thursday, 5 January 2017
Congestion charging is in the news again, as a solution to the traffic problems that beset Cambridge City. I've been talking to local residents - young and old - of South Cambridgeshire about this.
There's a pretty universal view that Cambridge traffic queues need to be tackled, especially because of the pollution levels in some parts of the City. But I haven't found any great enthusiasm for a blanket congestion charge, and a good deal of reservation.
I could not personally support a tax that selectively penalises district residents, and exempts the City,
In terms of looking after the best interests of South Cambs people, congestion charging cannot be limited to those journeys that start from outside and go into the City. It would have to apply to all journeys - the pain would have to be equally shared.
Otherwise a congestion charge would be divisive and replace the "Town vs Gown" of previous centuries with "Town vs Surround".
The data are not brilliant, but if you look at travel to work stats, car use to get to work seems to be about the same - in other words while there is a lot of cycling in Cambridge, there are also a lot of car journeys that start within the City.
A congestion charge only works if you have the public transport infrastructure to provide a viable alternative. I wouldn't dream of driving in London because the buses and the tube are so good. But a City the size of Cambridge (120,000 people) can't make an underground or a tramway pay, unlike cities like Nottingham or Edinburgh.
The clincher for me is that a congestion charge would hit hardest ordinary people in South Cambs villages who have to get to work in Cambridge. They would be the ones queuing in the cold to get on the bus. And at the moment public transport just isn't good enough to get from most South Cambs villages into the City.
So if not a congestion charge then what?
There isn't a painless fix on this, and one of the challenges for the City Deal is to find the answers to this "wicked" problem. Of course if I lived in Cambridge I would say why am I paying a congestion charge because I live here? So we need to pump prime improvements to the transport system, in a phased approach. A start would be getting rid of the charges at the park and ride facilities which have seen drops of 40 per cent in usage. If we want Cambridge to be a smart city, charging people to park and ride isn't.
Tuesday, 27 December 2016
Sunday, 18 December 2016
I attended the first meeting of the new Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority as one of its members. The Combined Authority is the new body that will work with the Mayor (after he or she is elected in May)to deliver the results of devolution for the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The Authority takes powers and money from Whitehall, to run things more locally, and that includes roads and transport. Devolution offers the chance to bid for further funds for large scale infrastructure programmes. I have written to the acting chair of the Authority to say that we must bid now in the next round of funding talks with government in early 2017 for cash for improving the A505, to make it safer and to ensure that the road can cope in the future with the even greater volumes of traffic that we predict will use the road. Parish councils have done their best trying to get improvements at dangerous junctions, working with the county councils. Heydon and Thriplow parish councils have put in bids, and I have worked with them in particular. But this is an infrastructure ask way above the pockets of a parish or even a county council. The recent spate of accidents, including one deeply saddening fatality, together with fatal accidents in recent winters, mean this has to be tackled. I attended a meeting with three of the biggest science clusters in the area and they said their staff put the difficulties of getting to work each day as their main concern. Local people know that even a small accident or hold-up on the A505 means that the road becomes a giant car-park from as far back as Flint Cross through to the Abingtons, just before the A11 junction. The road is already the busiest in the area that the Highways Authority is responsible for. It was designed to take about 16,000 vehicles and is regularly running with 21,000. We know that growth in the area is not now in the centre of Cambridge, it is here in the south of the county, as the hi-tech and bio-tech science parks grow. The first step would be funding for a major survey to set out what is possible, so people have options in front of them.
Tuesday, 13 December 2016
Thriplow Parish Council has been busily applying to get a slew of green space and local heritage designated as Assets of Community Value, under the 2011 Localism Act. The green, the cricket meadow, the smithy, the village hall, and also land to the north and west of Heathfield have all been so designated by the district council.
This means that should the landowner seek to dispose of the land or the asset there are restrictions on what they can do and there is time to enable the local community to challenge and also to make a bid for the asset. Given the number of village pubs under threat in the district this is a sensible move - just gives the community the chance to organise rather than be presented with a fait accompli.
Very pleased to see that BBC Regional News for the East this evening covered the issue causing much concern in small but perfectly formed Hinxton. The news reporter interviewed parish chair Willie Brown about his concerns on the impact north of the border of a proposed development at Great Chesterford just a few hundred metres south of the county border in Essex. The news item reported that at the moment all the options are paused, according to Uttlesford District Council.
The scale of the proposals means that there will be a major settlement with a high degree of impact on the roads and infrastructure in Cambridge.
Sometimes you need a simple story like this to bring home and explain the issue of infrastructure deficit that we face in Cambridgeshire and south Cambridgeshire in particular.
Friday, 9 December 2016
Parish councils are hearing about plans to build a service station of some size next to the M11 and Duxford air museum.
The intended location is at the south-east quadrant of the junction, opposite the Airspace hangar on the airfield, on the east side of the motorway. Access will not be directly from the M11, but via the Junction 10 roundabout, the A505, and probably a small stretch of Hunts Road.
All the facilities normally available at an MSA are intended to be provided, including a drive-through coffee shop and possiblyincluding a small budget hotel. The hours of operation will be H24. The opportunities for local employment were emphasised, and Moto expressed concern for the welfare of drivers increasingly subject to stress in today’s taxing conditions. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
They also claimed that:
- the objections that caused the rejection of the year 2000 proposal are no longer relevant, as there is now no requirement to demonstrate need; market forces alone will decide.
- Neither is any minimum distance between MSAs specified.
But we know there are now much tighter restrictions about air shows and safety.