I thought it might be useful to offer a roundup of just some of the more significant news stories this week that will affect us. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions about where it’s all heading …
1. The Budget
There was nothing in the Chancellor’s Budget speech that was specifically relevant to Cambridge, but there were important statements in the supporting documentation picked up by local journalists Mark Williamson and Ben Schofield.
‘The Oxford Cambridge Cooridor’ (no longer arc) gets singled out in the supporting life sciences bit of the Budget – ‘the government will set out further details for supporting growth in this area in due course.’ https://t.co/d1Khq5xmxY pic.twitter.com/RymzFVmoTQ
— Mark Williamson (@markrwilliamson) March 15, 2023
I don’t suppose anyone will be remotely surprised about the references to “supporting growth”, “plans for strategic economic growth” and the intention to “maximise economic opportunity”. Let’s now wait to see what’s considered acceptable collateral damage (environmental, social, democratic) in pursuit of these goals.
2. The Ox-Cam Arc Mk2
Meanwhile, following the quiet dropping of the toxic ‘Ox-Cam Arc’ branding, this week saw the launch of the shiny new Oxford Cambridge Partnership:
Leader of the City Council, Cllr Anna Smith, talked about her commitment to the project at a Westminster Social Policy Forum event. I would love to be able to summarise for you what she said, but tickets for the event were £99 (online) or £199 in person. Hopefully residents will also be brought into the conversation – for free – before too long.
3. The Employment-led housing strategy
Given all the emphasis on Greater Cambridge’s ’employment-led’ housing strategy, it is let us say – intriguing – to see another site originally identified for housing in the 2018 Local Plan now being approved for commercial development:
Bear in mind that, according to Cambridge Ahead’s most recent housing survey, the deficit relative to employment growth is increasing:
So how creating more employment space where we were supposed to be building houses helps with this is anyone’s guess.
4. Development around Cambridge North station
This week has provided a fascinating insight into the operating practices of Brookgate, the developers of the CB1 site at Cambridge railway station, as they now take on the same role at CB4, around Cambridge North station. To offset the possibility that their latest application is turned down by Planning Committee, they have already submitted a pre-emptive appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. RIP any pretence of local decision-making.
5. The water situation
The latest Environment Agency data confirms that rainfall this autumn/winter has not been sufficient to restore our depleted water resources. “The majority of East Anglia hydrological areas remain in drought status” as we go towards the summer.
6. Tree planting failure on the upgraded A14
This headline probably speaks for itself:
7. Cambourne–Cambridge busway vote
The decision to progress the GCP’s busway plans will be taken at the County Council on Tuesday. Setting aside the compelling environmental arguments which are laid out in this article in the Cambridge Independent, I do wonder if any councillors are going to challenge the GCP’s complete silence on how passengers are expected to continue their onward journey from the termination point of the busway (Grange Road) into the city centre. This is truly a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
8. Anthony Browne MP moving on
Following last year’s boundary changes, MP for South Cambridgeshire (including Queen Edith’s), Anthony Browne, has decided he will stand in the new constituency of St Neots & Mid Cambridgeshire at the next General Election, rather than run again here.
9. And finally…
At 4.45pm on Friday 17th March, I received an email invitation to a GCP event:
Yes, your city councillors are given six days’ notice by the GCP of a briefing and an opportunity to “ask questions” about two major cycling projects which will have a significant impact on our neighbourhood. If it follows the same pattern as the Sawston Greenway’s briefing, we will be told that there is no possibility for us to actually input to the plans before the consultation is run. It is a pointless exercise in paying lip service to local democracy. I have complained. I don’t expect it to make a jot of difference.