I’m not sure where to start at the moment with all the issues I have over local politics. But let’s begin close to home, at Monday evening’s city council local area committee meeting. There’s a video by Richard Taylor below of the item in question, if you want to see for yourself, but I’ll summarise the sorry state of affairs.
Over the weekend we’d discovered that in order to complete the Hills Road cycle lanes down to Addenbrooke’s, the council is proposing to close that section of Hills Road to traffic for five months later this year. This was to be revealed, possibly as a fait accompli, at an exhibition about the scheme at Addenbrooke’s on Tuesday. So it was a very fair question from resident (and Queen Edith’s Community Forum chair) Sam Davies to ask councillors when they found out about this, and via what means?
Here are the responses:
Councillor Tim Moore (Queen Edith’s) – “Sam Davies …kindly let me know”.
Councillor Nick Avery (Trumpington) – “I read about it in the newspaper today”.
Councillor Russ McPherson (Cherry Hinton) – “I found out about it today as well”.
Councillor Amanda Taylor (Queen Edith’s) – “I was advised at about the same time as you, Sam, by the County Council Project Officer Vanessa Kelly”.
Councillor George Pippas (Queen Edith’s) – “I heard about it today as well, I got an email from …Vanessa”.
Councillor Mark Ashton (Cherry Hinton) – “I found out earlier (today) from the leader of the City Council, but it’s the County Council which are doing this”.
Councillor Zoe O’Connell (Trumpington) – “I’ve just checked my email and I’ve heard nothing. This isn’t the first time they’ve pulled this kind of stunt”.
So we have one of the most significant road closures in memory coming up, and our own councillors don’t have any warning about it – and clearly haven’t been consulted. Just who is running the show here?
Councillor Moore said that the situation was “a nonsense”, which was partly due to “the project planning mechanisms which the County Council don’t use”.
Councillor Ashton described it as being “unbelievable, bearing in mind the number of issues we’ve had” (regarding previous overruns). Of the County Council officers, he said that “we’ve had to drag them down here to speak to residents – sometimes they haven’t even turned up when asked – and to do what they’ve done shows a blatant (dis)regard for residents and for councillors. We should point out that we do not accept this kind of behaviour. Residents have voted for us to stand up for them and be advocates, and we can’t be advocates when people for some reason believe they can just send an email out on the day and say this is what’s happening”.
A County Council officer has since responded to me (below), for which I am grateful. But my question is this: who is running the show here? The project is being run by the County Council. For us, as residents, the County Council is Councillor Taylor (and a couple of others from Trumpington and Cherry Hinton who never seem to say much). So how can something be announced without Councillor Taylor’s involvement? Who is in charge? Who works for whom?
Surely we elect Councillors to direct the Council officers what to do. But it seems to be that salaried County Council officers think they’re the ones in charge. It’s out of control, as it is with the City Deal, where a couple of County Council officers seem to be dictating what projects are investigated, to much public disquiet. It’s not good enough, and I’m sorry, but South Area Committee’s response, to get Councillor Pippas to write a strongly worded letter to these people, is insufficient.
Thursday 19 January, 3pm
I have received the following explanation from Vanessa Kelly at the County Council. Emphases are mine.
In light of comments you make, you may be interested to know that all Queen Edith councillors were informed of the road closure 6 days before the South Area Committee meeting (by email).
The project team had to delay contacting local members because of ongoing discussions with the Signals team, Stagecoach, the Ambulance Service and the 3 main contractors to ensure the road closure was workable for all parties.
Cherry Hinton and Trumpington councillors were emailed information about the road closure on Tuesday 17th – with hindsight we should have informed them at the same time as their Queen Edith’s colleagues, especially given the timing of the SAC meeting (Monday 16th). Queen Edith’s, Cherry Hinton and Trumpington councillors received a further briefing yesterday outlining the scheduled programme, setting out the rationale for the road closure and giving additional information.
Monday 23 January – some Twitter reaction
— Phil Rodgers (@PhilRodgers) January 22, 2017
— Tim Ward (@TimWardCam) January 22, 2017
.@CambsCC officers seem to have blithely assumed that Councillors couldn't possibly have any input on whether the scheme was workable.
— Phil Rodgers (@PhilRodgers) January 22, 2017
— Zoe O'Connell (@zoeimogen) January 23, 2017