by Hazel Smith on 22 April, 2011
This year I have been shadowing the Environmental Health portfolio, which has continued to be interesting.
The introduction of the new blue bins for recycling went well in October and residents are now recycling more than before, with more people participating. Most areas of South Cambs have blue bins – it is reported as 100% but Traveller areas like Chesterton Fen (in our patch just south of the A14) are left out. We are promised that they will be encouraged to recycle through some small bring banks being set up on Chesterton Fen Road in the next few months.
The next step is to remove the recycling bring banks for those materials like glass, cans and tetrapaks, that are now collected at the kerbside. In their place at the Tesco Recycling Centre we are expecting to have a ‘media’ recycling bank for CDs, DVDs old videos, tapes and books. These South Cambs bring banks will also be taken away from the Milton Country Park car park.
There are problems with shredded paper littering the streets after blue bins are collected, and people are now told to put the shreddings into an old envelope to stop them blowing about in the wind.
The work to clean up the Hauxton agrochemical works site seems to be going well, with much less odour over the winter months. They expect to complete the clean-up in the autumn this year, and the whole site will the be monitored for 6 months before being assessed to judge if it is fit for developing as a housing area.
Chesterton Fen is the largest area of Traveller plots in South Cambs. Most pitches have full planning permission, and there are just 2 areas with 3-year temporary planning permission at Sandy Park and West View. These comprise around 28 and 17 individual pitches respectively. Their planning permissions both come to an end at the end of April 2011. They are both on the list of sites suggested for Travellers to live in in the South Cambs Gypsy and Traveller Development Plan Document which has been through 2 rounds of consultations but has now been stalled for about 18 months.
The lack of a completed Plan Document does leave the Council area vulnerable to unauthorised encampments, as the Council needs to show that it has a strategy to provide enough legal plots for local Traveller families when it turns down planning applications for more. The Council has just agreed to 2 new temporary planning staff to get this document under way again.
There are quite a few different council departments doing targeted work on Chesterton Fen, many of them parts of the City Council or County, and we have started having a liaison meeting to keep everyone informed. We now have a new Parish Councillor, Michael Perkins, who lives there.
4 years ago, I organised a petition to Anglian Water for a mains sewage connection to the Travellers area of Chesterton Fen Road, as outflows have caused lots of environmental problems down there beside the River Cam. In January 2010 the request was turned down and I submitted an appeal to the Environment Agency. The appeal for a sewage connection to Fen Road, Chesterton is due to be decided in late April or early May. Even if the decision is favourable the work will still not be done until at least 2015. In the meantime, the environmental problems continue: the ditch at Grassy Corner is extremely smelly, and neither the District Council nor the Environment Agency has found an answer to this. There was a meeting at Cambourne this week with all the interested parties and the Conservators of the River Cam will be digging out ditches beside the river during the summer to try to improve the drainage there.
The litter problem from fly-tipping at the transformer site near the A14 has been improved recently. About a dozen young people serving community service sentences worked there for a few days, and cleared up a lot of the mess right along the road.
Back to the village of Milton:
The Section106 legal agreement that needs to be agreed and signed before the Rowing Lake planning permission can be issued, is awaiting attention at the SCDC legal dept, but should soon be agreed.
There have been 2 applications to build a house between the first semi-detached house, and the flats (Lea Court) near the Post Office in Coles Road. I opposed both of these and they have been turned down by South Cambs and also by an inspector at appeal.
The other application of note is the Retirement Village behind Milton Hall. This site has permission for 101 houses (including North Lodge) but we now expect an application for general needs housing on the site, which we expect to include 40% or 32 affordable houses. The existing permission also includes recreation land to be used by village clubs, or a cash alternative to put towards sports pitches elsewhere.
The concrete batching plant at Cambridge Road beside the cycle bridge is causing a nuisance: planning conditions are being breached and planning enforcement officers are in contact with the operators of the site.
This listed building beside Milton Hall was to be brought back from near-dereliction as part of the retirement village plans. After an order from the SCDC conservation department, some necessary repairs have been carried out to stop it deteriorating more.
The Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust is running the park on a long lease from South Cambs, and now that the Visitor Centre has plenty of space for Café Diem and some offices, it is beginning to stand on its own feet financially. I was pleased to be able to take a part in opening the ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Festival’ at the Park last year. There were some misgivings about this becoming an annual event as it could easily grow too big for the limited space available on the Park, especially if lots of Travellers incorporated it into their journey home from the Appleby horse fair the previous weekend, as some did last year. It may be staged again as an occasional event at the Park, but not this year. The programme for summer events in the Park is now available.
The budget-setting meeting at Cambourne was nothing like the ones at the City Council and County Council, both of which were the subject of large and vociferous protests at the cuts being introduced. We had just 2 people in the public gallery. South Cambs had to cut so much 7 years ago when we were first capped by the government, that there is little left to cut into. The council is good at holding back on recruitment when cuts need to be made, but of course this leads to officers covering for absent colleagues, and poorer service in some departments. The planning service has really suffered in the last year. There are far fewer and smaller grants available for village needs now, and the Community department has ceased to exist, rolled into the New Communities department, which spends developer contributions from major housing developments on community infrastructure. The specialist Climate Change officer has had to take on general duties in New Communities, and his part-time assistant left at Christmas and has only just now been replaced.
This group was formed as part of the follow-up to the Milton Parish Plan. We organise litter picks and have done specific projects with the help of the Sustainable Parish Energy Partnership, an initiative from the South Cambs Climate Change officers. We acquired 15 energy monitors, which have now been lent out to pupils through Milton School. The teacher in charge wrote, “The energy monitors have been very well received. The School Council have been returning permission slips from their parents and collecting them. Those who have set them up and are gathering information are very excited about what they are discovering.”
You may have read that the Council has to give up over half of the rents from its Council Houses to central government. This is due to a notional ‘Housing Debt’ owed to the government for historic funding of council houses by councils who have retained ownership of their own Council Housing. At the moment, South Cambs is a debt free council but this ‘notional debt’ means that the Government is insisting that we take on £205.5m of this housing debt in April 2012 – South Cambs will take on the most debt per house of any council in the UK.
Currently the government takes over 55% – £11m – of council house rents each year. When we take on the debt we get to keep not only this rent but also 100% of the sale price of council houses (should anyone ever buy one again!) where currently the Government takes 75%. We also would use the rent that currently goes to the Government to fund the debt loan, over about 30 years. There is a big risk that interest rates might rise during that period, so a fixed rate would be preferred.
My petition against the bus cuts now has over 334 signatures on it. When I presented it to the County Council cabinet in March, I argued there that the cut to the number 9 bus to Milton in the evening should be postponed at least for a year so that the impact of completely removing Milton’s Citi 2 could be taken into account. The number 9 to Milton might not need a subsidy if it were the only bus in the evening. But the County Council were not prepared to change their plans.
I have been helping Anna Bradnam, who has been organising a survey on a couple of evenings to look at the usage of the buses which have been cut by both Stagecoach and the County Council.
On Friday 8th April there were 154 people using buses within Milton which would not be running 2 weeks later. We talked to many people waiting at the Tesco bus stops, and there were a lot of interesting stories of journeys to work which will now not be possible. It is just not true that the cut to the evening services will impact on leisure travel only, as Andy Campbell stated at the public meeting. We will write up what we have found and submit a report to the County and Stagecoach, and to Tesco’s who are very much affected by the cuts.
I have learnt that some other parish councils are considering whether to pay a subsidy for the buses to continue, out of their own funds.
Tesco: there is a new manager now in place. I plan to meet with him in the next few weeks.Leave a comment