LIB DEM VICTORY OVER GLARING INEFFICIENCIES IN BUS CONTRACT

Glaring inefficiencies in Cambridge County Council’s Park and Ride contract are to be addressed thanks to the Liberal Democrats.

The move will save money for the taxpayer and could see the sites used more widely as rural bus interchanges potentially providing better services for travellers.

Lib Dems revealed a deal between the council’s Tory administration and bus operator Stagecoach that cut departure charges for Park and Ride buses by 25 per cent for the duration of the contract in return for a freeze on ticket prices.

But after the first year, Stagecoach continued to increase ticket prices above inflation while the departure charge – commission the operators pay to the county council to use the Park and Rid sites – remained frozen at the reduced rate.

Papers released for the Tory-run Cabinet meeting today (Wednesday, January 11) revealed, however, that departure charges have been increased by 25 per cent and further significant rises are planned.

The Lib Dems have welcomed the move but warned that the Tories must now make sure that the operators do not pass the increase on to passengers.

Kilian Bourke said: “The Lib Dems exposed the glaring inefficiency of this contract over a year ago and it is good news that the Conservatives are finally doing something about this.

“They have unequivocally accepted our argument that the levy on the commercial operator should be dramatically increased, and already implemented a 25 per cent hike, although the proposals don’t go far enough. Whatever the outcome, the council needs to make sure any increase is not simply passed on to bus passengers through ticket prices.”

Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet Member for Transport, Susan van de Ven said: “The open access model is the right choice and we have long argued for it. It is the most risk-free option and could potentially introduce some competition into this local monopoly. The Tories have also taken on board our idea of using the sites as rural transport hubs, which is welcome news.”

LIB DEM CAMPAIGNER GIVEN ASSURANCES OVER BLUE BADGE FEARS

Leading Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrat campaigner, Clare Blair has received assurances that national changes to the Blue Badge system, designed to prevent fraud, will not affect existing users.

Clare contacted Cambridgeshire County Councillor, Ian Manning, who represents East Chesterton because she was worried that existing disabled users might have to immediately changeover to new style badges leaving them without their permits.

She said: “It can take a long time to get a new or replacement badge and I was worried that the changes could have meant users having their service interrupted while the new badge was sent.

“I’ve received assurances that existing users won’t be affected and current badges will continue until they expire. For new badge applications the process will remain exactly the same as before although new style badges will be issued. This is good news for all disabled people who rely on their badges.”

The Department for Transport has launched changes to the badges to reduce the potential for fraud and misuse and to streamline administration of the scheme, which is carried out by local authorities. The move will save up to £20 million per year.

Other changes include the potential to increase the price of a badge from £2 to £10, to cover the cost of the new technology. But a decision will not be made on whether to pass this onto users until Cambridgeshire County Council’s Cabinet meets in January.

Cllr Manning said: “I know how valuable these Blue Badges are for people with limited mobility and the thought that they might lose them while the new system is rolled out can be extremely worrying.

“The assurances Clare has been given will put a lot of minds at rest.”

North Area Committee 2011-07-14

The entrance of Thrifts Walk showing how narrow it is

A long meeting on Thursday night (starting at 1830 and running until past 2230) saw several key decisions being taken affecting East Chesterton, as well as further progress on the “community participation pilot” – the change in the way Area Committees are run.

There were essentially two planning applications (the second and third were linked). The first, an application to turn 5 Chapel Street into a small guest house was promoted passionately by the the applicant and was voted through by committee.

Cllr Roman Znajek comments: It’s good to see this beautiful but delapidated old house being refurbished and brought back into constructive use.

Thrifts Walk

The second application, at the entrance to Thrifts Walk, was more complex and was one over which Cllr Manning had alerted residents having read the officer recommendation the previous week. Two residents, and Michael Bond on behalf of Old Chesterton Residents’ Association, spoke against:

Adjacent properties would have their available light reduced
It would increase parking
The change of the type of building represents a loss of function for the area

Cllr Manning argued strongly the case for the nearby residents, explaining to the committee how those residents had paid for the resurfacing of the road themselves and appealing to the committee to not allow over-development to damage this.

Cllr Roman Znajek commented that “The application identifies potential parking areas whilst saying that the site won’t generate extra traffic”: a clear contradiction. Fellow Lib Dem City Councillor Neil McGovern pointed out that the plan would be an intensification of the existing street scene and was not desirable for that reason.

Disappointingly two of the Labour councillors on the committee abstained from the eventual vote which turned down the planning application.

Philip White, Chair of the Thrift’s Walk Residents’ Association commented: “Very many thanks for your interest and support in this matter; with your help we can strive to do the best for our little community and for the future.”

Planning was followed by the still-developing community forum. This, around dispersed tables, discussed community priorities and what affected Health in the community. In response to feedback Chair Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith commented that the advertising of the timings would be made more clear so that it was clear when the open forum would be – and there was potential to make the open forum earlier on in the meeting.

The meeting then moved onto deciding on environmental improvement projects proposed for the 2011/2012 period, which proved somewhat controversial! Lots of proposals, and nowhere near enough money to pay for them all.

Andrew Preston, City Council officer, explained how the County Council have recently announced they will increase the cost of highways projects, but haven’t yet said how much.

A project can’t be funded unless it’s properly costed … and so many of us thought we should defer the decision on all projects (some were highway, some not) until we knew how much they all cost. Otherwise the non-highway projects would have an unfair advantage by at the head of the queue. However, Labour members were keen on pushing their own favoured projects through, regardless.

Cllr Manning proposed a compromise option of a month’s delay followed by an extraordinary NAC meeting to make the decisions when we knew what all the costs were going to be. Labour members opposed this, so Cllr Andy Pellew, Lib Dem County Councillor for Kings Hedges and Cllr Znajek both proposed minor amendments to the schemes that the Labour members wished to put through, which reduced their costs.

Water Street Bollards

In particular, Cllr Znajek proposed a successful motion to replace the vandalised wooden bollards at the junction of Water Street and Water Lane by metal bollards which would  resist demolition by certain motorists who think it’s their right to charge down Water Street regardless.

The alternative proposal was to spend a lot more money on a landscaped permanent closure of Water Street. This might well look attractive to some people, but it would also block emergency access to that end of Water  Street. By closing off a sweeping view it would be unattractive in other peoples eyes. Its expense would mean it would compete against other, perhaps more desirable, schemes, and it would probably be turned down, thus leaving Water Street unprotected against speeding traffic.

Whippet Guided Buses to stop on Milton Road

Milton Road will get a new bus service once the Guided Bus starts running – scheduled to start on 7th August.

Whippet bus timetable

Whippet coaches have agreed that their hourly service along Milton Road will stop at the Arbury Road/Union Lane junction.

The Monday to Saturday services will start at 0816 and run until 1816 southbound taking 10 minutes to get to the city centre and a further 9 to the railway station where they will stop. Northbound, the buses will stop every hour from 1003 until 1903 taking 5 minutes to get to the Science Park and a further 20 to get to St Ives via Histon, Oakington, Longstanton and Swavesey. On Sundays, services are very 2-3 hours starting after 10am and finishing before 7pm.

Click here for the whippet timetable.

On Tuesday, Cllr Kevin Wilkins, County Councillor for West Chesterton, met Peter Lee, the Director of Whippet Coaches to welcome the news and discuss details.

Mr Lee agreed that Whippet buses would stop at any stop along Milton Road not just Union Lane. This is very welcome news – but County Council officials are believed to be unhappy about this!

All the buses (with green, euro 5 engines) will have the widget that means they show up on the real-time information signs at the busstops and on various mobile phone apps.

Cross-company tickets will be available so that passengers wishing to transfer to a Stagecoach bus for example in the city centre will be able to do so.

Despite repeated requests, Stagecoach have no plans to follow suit with stops on Milton Road.

Well done, Whippet: if you think this is a good decision please contact Peter Lee on whippetcoaches@btconnect.com to let him know!

County Council Libraries consultation meeting – Milton Road

County Cllr Kevin Wilkins, Cllr Damien Tunacliffe (West Chesterton) and County Councillor Ian Manning (East Chesterton) tonight all attended the latest County Council consultation meeting on the future of the library service.

Presentations were given by Christine May, acting head of the service, followe d by a Q&A session with Rod Craig, Director for communities and adult services.

There were a varied range of informed questions from a packed St Laurence’s Church audience.  It was clear that that suspicion lies with the choice of a County-wide trust to run the service and with the idea of volunteers – Cllr Manning commented “I was impressed to see such a range of passionate and informed views from our local community:  it must be clear now to the Tory controlled County Council that they can’t get away with the current rather ill-thought out proposals – so badly thought out that they managed to get the location of Shire Hall and the Central Library confused on a map!”.

Your local Lib Dem Councillors will be working with community groups to help save your local libaries.

MP presses minister over Chesterton Station

Cambridge MP, Julian Huppert, the ex-County Councillor for East Chesterton, has been further pressing for a station in our ward (see also http://eastchesterton.mycouncillor.org.uk/2011/03/15/chesterton-station-comes-closer/ ) :

House of Commons Deputy Leader, David Heath may visit the possible site of Cambridge’s £20 million Chesterton Station after congratulating MP Julian Huppert for making an “extremely strong case” for the project on Tuesday.

Mr Heath said that if he comes to Cambridge over the next few weeks, he would be delighted to see the site for himself.

His comments came after Julian urged the government to support Cambridge’s bid for £10 million from the regional growth fund.

County Cllr Ian Manning commented “Further to the City Council’s support for a station in our ward, lobbying by our Lib Dem MP is making the dream closer to a reality and shows the benefits of having Lib Dems both locally and nationally.”

He said that Chesterton Station would be “an important strategic interchange that would cut journey times for the vast majority who work in the north of the city”

County Council full council 29th March

Today was the latest meeting of the Cambridgeshire County Council Full Council.  Here is a summary of some key points affecting East Chesterton residents –

  • The Liberal Democrat group proposed an amendment to the local transport plan ( http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/transport/strategies/local/) taking out the support for the guided bus – the Conservatives voted this down.
  • Whilst we (the Liberal Democrat group) find some good things in the plan (a bid for Chesterton station for example) it simply does not match up with the Conservatives’ budget – nothing was achieved in the previous plan and the budget means less will be achieved by this plan – therefore we abstained.
  • Several points about the bus cuts:  in particular Cllr Macguire was unable to say whether the mega rider service was good value for money as he has “never used it”.
  • The Lib Dem group had a motion to delay the cutting of the City Centre shuttle bus by one year  to allow the option of securing funding from external sources such as developers to be explored.  The Tories voted this down – unbelievable!
  • After the latter vote the Conservative chair allowed a re-vote because two senior cabinet members “pressed the wrong button” – something we have asked for in the past and been denied.
  • A rather surreal waste of time at the start where members were asked to individually declare whether they had bus passes or not – this wasted at least half an hour of councilor and officer time.  Something Cllr Manning will be chasing up in future.

Cllr Manning fully expected the Conservatives to keep on with the folly of the guided bus and support it, however he had hoped that they could have supported the saving of a vital city bus service.