Wednesday 3 September 2014

Response to Questions about Snowley Park/Glenfields Approval

A short while ago, I asked a number of questions of Fenland and Cambridgeshire County Council.  I have now had a joint response from them.  In a few days I will comment on that response - I have a number of issues with it - not least that it does not answer the question about the specific measures being taken to make Whittlesey more sustainable - but I will deal with them in a few days.  It needs top be read alongside my blog, which is here.


Blog Question 1
The following planning consents were factored into the highway modelling that was carried out as part of the Transport Assessment for this development:

•      460 homes at Bassenhally Field
•      Sainsbury Supermarket and country park
•      Business Park on Eastrea Road

The Old Nursery site along Peterborough Road was not included because at the time the Snowley Park application was submitted the old nursery site had not received planning permission and so did not meet the requirement specified in national guidance that development which has received planning permission but not yet built should be included within the highway modelling. Likewise the development to the rear of 148 Stonald Road did not have planning consent and so was not specifically included.  However, in addition to the specific sites listed, the highway modelling work also included an uplift of 5.2% on current traffic flows to reflect expected general background growth and traffic growth related to smaller developments not listed above.

Blog Question 2
Local Plan Policy LP3 relating to the spatial strategy and settlement hierarchy guides FDC’s perspective on this.  The overall strategy focuses the majority of growth in the places that have most services and facilities (e.g. the towns) and that therefore has better access.
Whittlesey has regular bus links into Peterborough during the daytime and there are some train services in the evening.    The Local Plan
including Policy LP3 was subject to an independent public inquiry, found sound and the document has since been adopted.

Turning specifically to transport matters, other than Wisbech and March, Whittlesey has a higher proportion of residents travelling by the sustainable modes of transport than anywhere else in Fenland (according to the 2011 Census). In the context of where to locate new development in Fenland Whittlesey is well placed to support new development.

It is also important to note that the County Council, working with partners including Fenland District Council, has developed a Market Town Transport Strategy (MTTS) for Whittlesey which was adopted in November 2012. The development of the MTTS was overseen and endorsed by a Member steering group and sets out actions that seek to address some of the existing transport shortcomings within the town, but also to plan ahead for future developments. The MTTS therefore seeks to address the transport needs for both existing and potential future residents, businesses and visitors to Whittlesey and therefore make the town more sustainable from a transport perspective.

Blog Question 3

As noted above, there is an adopted MTTS in place for Whittlesey. This  sets out a series of transport improvements which will help to improve the transport options to, from and within the town and help establish more sustainable travel patterns. The development of the MTTS was led by a local member steering group with representatives from County, District and Town Councillors and included consultation with the general public in order that relevant issues and schemes could be addressed and included in the strategy.  There is strong evidence through the strategy development process that the transport items are required.

The measures set out in the MTTS seek to address both existing transport needs and those related to future growth and therefore securing appropriate contributions from developers is important to delivering the MTTS.

Planning law is clear that developer contributions must be related to the development and fairly and reasonably related to it in scale and kind.  FDC and CCC therefore need to be mindful of this in securing contributions.  The planning and highway authority can only seek to mitigate development impacts and not require developers to go beyond this and make good other shortcomings.

The MTTS contribution secured for this development was calculated in a proportionate way based on the number of dwellings proposed at this development relative to the existing population. The total cost of schemes in the MTTS relevant to the development were then used to derive an appropriate level of contribution which is related to the scale of development proposed.

However, the MTTS also recognises the importance of improvements being made to the station and this too has been evidenced and endorsed through the development of that strategy.  A separate contribution of £85,000 has therefore been secured from this development towards these improvements.

Finally a Travel Plan has been secured which includes the provision of transport welcome packs and free bus tickets to new residents so that their travel habits can be influenced early on before other habits are established.  Travel planning is a key element within national transport planning guidance, which has been shown to be effective through a number of studies, and CCC therefore continue to promote Travel Plans through the development process.

Blog Question 4

The planning application documentation included a Planning Statement. Appendix 4 of the Planning Statement comprised a Draft S106 Unilateral Undertaking – Comprising the following:

a. 25% Affordable Housing delivered on site.
b. Education
c. Transport – Market Town Transport Strategy Contribution d. Travel Plan e. Public Open Space

The draft S106 set out the applicant’s intentions in terms of S106 contributions and was part of the planning documentation consulted upon.

This was part of the planning information on the Council’s website and therefore available to the public for comment.

In terms of transport specifically, and as noted earlier, the measures set out in the MTTS were consulted upon and endorsed by Members prior to the adoption of the document.

Blog Question 5

The Transport Assessment submitted with the application predicted that there will be an additional 40 2-way vehicle trips in the AM peak hour and 43 2-way vehicle trips in the PM peak hour along the section of Stonald Road heading towards the town centre. This equates to less than 1 additional vehicle per minute travelling along Stonald Road which is unlikely to be perceptible to most users of the road. However, the MTTS includes other measures which will improve the cycle route from Whittlesey town centre to Peterborough which the development’s MTTS contribution could go towards and help fund.

As such on balance CCC officers take the view that the modest increases in traffic that will result from this development along this section of Stonald Road are adequately mitigated by the contribution the development will make to the MTTS. Moreover as part of the development’s planning permission, the developer has agreed to implement a residential travel plan which will encourage residents in the development to travel using sustainable means, this will help to increase the presence of cycling within the town making the cycle routes more attractive and could also help to secure further cycle improvements if it can be demonstrated that the numbers of cyclists in the town is increasing.

Blog Question 6

Peterborough City Council were not consulted directly by the planning authority – this was not a requirement in this case. However it should be noted that Peterborough CC did not object to the principle and scale of development at Whittlesey during the recent local plan preparation stages.    It would be reasonable for the Council to assume that provided the Local Plan targets are not significantly breached and the proposal is generally in line with the adopted Local Plan, Peterborough City Council has no objection.

Blog Question 7

While the link from Stonald Road to the Millennium Bridge will be upgraded later this financial year, further discussions will be held with County Council Cycle Officers to discuss the possibility for further improvements to be made to the North Bank section of this cycle route.

Blog Question 8

The 1,000 housing target for Whittlesey is enforceable, though only under certain circumstances. The 1,000 target was established in the Local Plan using available evidence and through consultation with, amongst others, infrastructure providers such as Anglian Water, Environment Agency, the local highway authority etc.

If at some point in the future a planning application was received which would, if built out by 2031 with all other completions and permissions since 2011, significantly exceed the 1,000 target for Whittlesey then the proposal could be refused as a matter of principle. The argument for such a refusal would be around the fact that the Local Plan tested the evidence and found that it was ‘sound’ to permit 1,000 homes at Whittlesey in principle. It did not test (and hence did not find sound) a higher figure. To approve an application which breached 1,000 homes, therefore, might have implications on the overall infrastructure network at Whittlesey, a matter not tested via the Local Plan process.

However, before such a refusal, the Council would have to take into account wider matters, such as:
(a)    Is Fenland on track to deliver its overall 11,000 target 2011-31? If not, it could be argued that Whittlesey should take more to make up the

(b)    shortfall. If it was on track, this would add considerable weight to refusing applications at Whittlesey (because otherwise the overall 11,000  target could be breached)

(c)    Have the infrastructure providers objected to the planning application which would breach the 1,000 target? If not, there would appear little evidence to suggest that breaching 1,000 homes would be unacceptable on infrastructure grounds, and therefore would weaken considerably the argument of refusing the proposal as a matter of principle

(d) Has the applicant provided evidence to suggest that breaching the 1,000 target would have no material impact on infrastructure or on other matters (such as the impact on the Nene Washes European protected site, a matter which would need determining through the Habitat Regulations Assessment)?
If it has provided such evidence, this would again  weaken the case to refuse permission as a matter of principle.

Thus, the 1,000 target is an important element of the Local Plan, it is an enforceable target, but the Council would have to take in to account a wide range of matters rather than simply refusing in principle a proposal which breached the 1,000 target. As with all proposals, the Council would have to take into account the Local Plan as a whole, including but not exclusively the 1,000 target, before reaching a decision as to approve or refuse a proposal.

The impact of proposed abolition of translation services

I keep blogging about UKIP, but then they keep opening the doors.

The news that UKIP County Councillor Alan Lay wants to abolish all translation services, or make people pay for them is interesting.

It is a confusing article, not helped by the fact that after 16 months as a County Councillor Councillor Lay still doesn't know how the council works. Firstly, there is no council meeting on 18th September. Secondly, he has subimitted his comments as a written question, when it does not contain a question at all and, as a result it has been refused. It may yet get resubmitted in a different way, but I doubt it. The crux of this is the on.y text I have is what is in the article - but the crux of it is clearly that we should cease to provide any free translation services.
Of course, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need translation services. But then, in a perfect world:

  • We wouldn’t have to produce leaflets and posters to explain where to turn if you are a victim of domestic abuse
  • We wouldn’t have to put social workers in front of victims of domestic abuse and explain to them that they risk having their child taken away if they stay in their relationship
  • We wouldn’t have to bring in social workers to talk to a child who has disclosed to a teacher that he is being abused at home
  • Our social workers would never have to liaise with their equivalents in foreign countries about social work cases (and that includes us liaising with overseas agencies about British families living abroad)
  • We wouldn’t have to employ staff who have to detain people under the mental health act and explain to their loved ones why that detention is necessary.
(Note: I have had this list double-checked and they are all areas where the County Council would provide translation services if the council staff involved do not have the language skills themselves)

The County Council do have to do ALL of these and more and, unfortunately, we have to do them with migrant victims as well as native English speakers – I am not going to go into the whole immigration debate here, dealing with that is outside of the County Council’s gift. However, the truth is even if, as a migrant, you are a reasonable English speaker, when you are in a situation where your child is threatened with care, or you are dealing with social workers, you are likely to come across unfamiliar language and you deserve to understand every single word that is being said to you.

So the next question is, in these circumstances, if the county Council doesn't fund it, who should pay? Councillor Lay says:

"If interpretation is required, this will be supplied by the county council at a cost to the recipient." 

In this case the recipient is the partner who has been beaten, the abused child, the mentally ill, or families of the mentally ill. Surely he cannot mean they should pay (but that is what he says). So, should the alleged perpetrator pay when they haven't been found guilty? Councillor Lay's thinking is dangerously flawed.

I would suggest that there are a number of reasons why this idea could have come forward. Either Councillor Lay still doesn't understand what the County Council does, or he lacks compassion, or he is being populist. My view is it is a combination of all three.

Now, if there was a motion to council to review the cost of translation services to see if we could cut costs, that would be worth looking at, but it is not what is being suggested. The perfect way of dealing with this would be through a scrutiny review, but unfortunately, UKIP helped get rid of the County's valuable scrutiny function.

I suspect that if Councillor Lay puts his ideas forward as a motion (the correct procedure) it would still be ruled out by the County Council's legal team on the basis that we have legal obligations to provide such services and therefore that the intent is not deliverable.

We have a by-election pending in Wisbech. I hope as many Wisbech people as possible can read this so they can see the sort of heartless, wrong-thinking UKIP Councillor has been elected.

Saturday 30 August 2014

UKIP To Replace Chairman of Adults Committee

Let me make a few things clear before I get to the crux of this blog:

  1. I do not doubt for one second that Paul Clapp has been diagnosed with dyslexia and I wish him nothing but success in learning how to deal with it.
  2. This blog is not about Paul Clapp – the proposal to remove him as Chairman of the Adults Committee at Cambridgeshire County Council has been made and it is for Paul to reflect on that and deal with it. It is true I am not a fan of his, but I will give him the credit for trying as a Councillor and I hope he uses his willingness to work to deal with and overcome this situation.

What this blog is about is the way the UKIP leadership dealt with Paul Clapp’s removal; the way they attempted to soften the blow to UKIP by using Paul’s dyslexia. If I thought for one second that the reasons for Paul's removal was because of a diagnosis of dyslexia, I would be absolutely horrified. Politics at every level needs more people that have struggled in life, whether it be from illness, financial hardship, from disadvantaged background or for any other reason, and it needs those people in positions of leadership – provided they have the talent to deal with it.

It is, however, quite clear that Paul was struggling, and that struggle was IMHO down to a range of factors, including inexperience and a lack of support from the UKIP leadership at the County Council. If you look at the reasons that were put to the Council's Chief Executive in a letter by four group leaders, a few of them could be put down to dyslexia, but the biggest reasons could not – there are plenty of dyslexics with good strategic brains, who can cope with with complex political responsibility (Michael Heseltine is a good example).

It is also true that people often find a way of softening the impact of difficult political decisions and I suspect that this is what the UKIP Group Leader, Paul Bullen, was trying to do. But in my view it was a serious misjudgement. My guess is that the decision to blame it on dyslexia and the resultant press release will be widely read by dyslexics and dyslexia organisations and they will be horrified. The message it sends to dyslexics is clear – politics isn’t for you. It’s the wrong message and it is flawed thinking that went in to it – it is a decision that protects the UKIP group in Cambridgeshire but harms the improvement of politics.
I have asked the Council what support has been offered to Paul Clapp – we must make sure that if he wants it, it is there. Finding a way of dealing with his diagnosis will make him a better Councillor and will help the people of Wisbech. I wish him well.

I also want to say that the proposal to put UKIP’s Sandra Rylance in as Chair of the Adults committee is a good one – Sandra will do well.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Not Seeking Re-Election to Fenland District Council

Someone has kindly leaked to the media something that I was going to publicise over the weekend, but that I told some of my fellow Councillors last night - which is that I have decided not to stand for re-election to Fenland District Council next year.

When I took up my new job in May I said I would give that my total focus for three months and then see where I was at- something that was right for my employer, but which also gave me a period to reflect about the extent of my Council commitments.

At the forefront of my thinking has always been Whittlesey - the one thing I will never do is let Whittlesey down.  It is clear that I cannot work full time and serve my Town in the same way I have in the past - something has to give, so I have decided to stand down from Fenland District Council at next year's elections.

I am proud of my record at Fenland District Council and especially the way I have stood up for Whittlesey residents there when I have needed to and I can guarantee that this does not mean I won't make my voice heard there - I most certainly will, but it will be in a different way.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Snowley Park/Glenfields Planning Permission – a few questions

I am still really confused by the decision to grant planning permission at the Glenfields/Snowley Park site. I could ask questions about almost every aspect of it. But, the area I am most unhappy about is highways. I have been putting in some challenge since the planning decision and have not got satisfactory answers.  So, I have decided to ask some questions publicly.

The first issue that really, really concerns me is that it was specifically stated at planning committee that the current approval that is being built out to the rear of 148 Stonald Road was not factored into the highways assessments. This is worrying, not just because of that issue, but because it then begs the question what else hasn’t been factored in.  Residents deserve answers to this and they need confidence that the application was properly considered. So my first question is:

1.       1. What existing planning consents were factored into the traffic statistics?   Specifically what consideration was given to:
a.      The existing approval for 460 homes at Bassenhally Field.
b.      The Sainsbury Supermarket and country park at Station Road
c.       The business park that has approval on Eastrea Road.
d.      The development to the rear of 148 Stonald Road
e.      The old nursery site along Peterborough Road which has now got permission

The second issue, which I am wrestling with is the issue of sustainability.  That is, the expressed need for the planning system to work to make communities more sustainable in public transport terms.  The National Planning Policy Framework has extensive things to say about sustainability and it is clear to me that, from a public transport perspective, Whittlesey is not a sustainable Town.  This is what paragraph 50 of the Framework says:

“Encouragement should be given to solutions which support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and reduce congestion. In preparing Local Plans, local planning authorities should therefore support a pattern of development which, where reasonable to do so, facilitates the use of sustainable modes of transport.”

Let’s be clear where Whittlesey is; our rail service is dreadful, despite our Town being within commutable distance to London; our bus service offers nothing outside of normal working hours; and the green wheel cycle route into Peterborough is not safe at night. It is also true that 80% of Whittlesey residents commute out of the town to work.

The committee report about the Snowley Park/Glenfield development recognised this when it said this:

"It is anticipated that 70% of the trips generated will be by the car driver, 3% public transport, 3% walking and 3% bicycle.”

That clearly states that this development is not a sustainable development – less than 10% of the journeys from this site will be by sustainable methods.  The reason for this is clear, if you live in Whittlesey and work out of Town, unless you can guarantee you will never work outside of normal hours you have to use a car to get to work. For a Market Town the size of Whittlesey that sits within commutable distance of Peterborough and within commutable distance of Cambridge and London - two economic powerhouses. This situation is totally unacceptable, yet we are having development  forced upon us that is clearly unsustainable and adds to our woes.

So, my next questions are these:

2.      2. Do Fenland District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council accept that, in terms of transport, Whittlesey is an unsutainable location. If not where is the evidence it is?

3.      The committee report for Snowley Park/Glemfields mentions a tiny contribution to the Market Town Transport Strategy,, a questionable scheme of offering new residents a few free bus tickets and a contribution to Station improvements.  Where is the evidence that this will work and what evidence that proves this will work was presented to committee?  Do they accept that it is not good enough to accept money without evidencing what it will be used for and how it will make the Town more sustainable.

4.      4. What public consultation was carried out that specifically described the proposed contributions so residents had an opportunity to challenge and make alternative suggestions?

5.     5.  Do officers accept that Snowley Park/Glenfields development will put more traffic along Stonald Road on the route into Whittlesey Town Centre (which is the recognised cycle route that extends the green wheel into Whittlesey). Do they accept that putting more traffic along a route which does not segregate bicycles makes that route less sustainable! Not more?

My next point is about consultation with Peterborough City Council. I am glad to say we are moving towards a situation where Kings Dyke crossing is going to be sorted. That is great news.  However, that is increasingly becoming only part of the story. Whittlesey people know what happens when more cars are forced onto the A605- we see the results every year when the North Bank and Wash Road close – and one thing we must do is make sure that we don’t force more cars to use the North Bank – the deaths and serious incidents of last year are all the evidence you need for that.  What we, as residents, know is that the problem is increasingly about both Kings Dyke and Stanground.

Given that we know Whittlesey residents are likely to work in Peterborough and that, for the most, they are going to drive, it goes without saying that more housing in Whittlesey means more queues at Stanground, making the commute from Whittlesey increasingly impractical and making life for Stanground residents increasingly difficult, and more importantly adding to, not reducing, greenhouse gas emissions – a specific requirement of the NPPF as outlined above.

6.     6. What consultation was carried out with Peterborough City council about the impact of this application on Stanground?

7.      7.  What discussions have taken place about improving the cycle route along the North Bank to make it navigable at night?

My final point is about housing. Fenland’s draft Core Strategy identified that Whittlesey should have only 1,000 new homes in the period to 2031, largely because of our poor transport infrastructure – a decision that was supported by an inspector.  We are already reaching that limit and the last time I challenged about it, I was told there was nothing they could do to enforce that 1,000 limit.  They have to find a way.

8.      8.  What method are Fenland going to use to make that housing limit enforceable?  If they can’t what are they going to do to give us a sustainable transport system.

I am pretty sure if I thought longer, I could ask more questions, but I think the responses to these will ensure we get the gist of whether there was adequate thought about the impact of this application on Whittlesey or whether our current unsustainable transport position has been properly considered.  I will make sure both senior planners at Fenland, and officers at Cambridgeshire County Council are aware of this blog and I will publish the responses.

Monday 26 May 2014

State of the County - Children's Services

If someone really wanted to make mischief, they could point to children’s Services as a reason why the County Council needs committees – because it has an unsatisfactory OFSTED report hanging over it; they would be wrong and absolutely mischievous to do so though. Children’s Services is in a good place in Cambridgeshire with huge leaps and bounds having been made in the last few years.

The OFSTED report (two years ago now) came about for two reasons – one because of a high number of agency social workers in one team, which the Council had already addressed prior to OFSTED visiting and because of IT issues. The truth is the widely held view outside of the County was that the judgement by OFSTED was harsh but, in typical fashion, the County Council chose to take it on the chin and use it positively instead of fighting against it (and we could have challenged it). Certainly on my visits to Social Workers before I handed over leadership of the Council, the IT problem had become less and less of an issue. There are still huge leaps and bounds to be made around IT and social work, but they revolve around sharing of data with the wider public sector in order to better raise awareness of the vulnerable children’s circumstances – and that is a National issue, not a Cambridgeshire one.

We have not been afraid to be bold in Cambridgeshire, a few years ago we began a move to a different model of managing social work (known as the Unit Model) and it has been a huge success, not least because the structure allows for sharing of knowledge around casework. I sat in on a weekly meeting of social workers where this was happening and it was incredibly powerful.

The big danger with Social Care in the County is around political responsibility for safeguarding. The law requires that Councils who have responsibility for Children’s Social Care must have a politician designated as Lead member for Children. In the past this has been the Cabinet Member – and in that role he has taken political responsibility for the safety of our children, liaising with outside bodies, with the Chair of the Local Safeguarding Children’s board etc. that person is also the politician whose neck is on the line if safeguarding procedures fail. Under a committee system you could argue that this is the role of the Chairman of the Children’s committee – but is it? How can someone take personal responsibility for safeguarding when they have no executive authority? If there are issues, it would be difficult to hold them personally to account when they are only allowed to act on the will of the committee. The public would absolutely want clear accountability if the system failed, what they will get is a cloudy and unclear response - it will come across as politicians dodging accountability rather than taking responsibility. More importantly, that personal accountability really sharpens the mind and thinking of the Lead Member for Children – the lack of it has the potential to have the opposite effect.

Luckily, Cambridgeshire has the professional leadership that will ensure this does not become an issue – but that is now, what about in two, three years time as personalities change? I have still not seen anything that assures me this has been thought of in the transition to committees. Understanding and dealing with this so that the drive and innovation continues is something I believe the new Children’s committee will have to look at urgently.

Let me be clear, it is a sad fact that any Local Authority that is dealing with vulnerable children will face circumstances where awful things happen. That in itself should not be a reason for a witch-hunt, it is the underlying reasons for those awful events that matter. When I was Lead Member for children, Cambridgeshire had a number of child deaths, they are horrible to deal with – but there were two aspects that were important to me – the first is to find out why something happened, the second is to make sure that if there are lessons to be learned, they should be. One benefit we had in Cambridgeshire, to be fair, was political opposition that took a responsible attitude – that must continue.

Child deaths and serious incidents involving children are horrible to deal with. I can remember, even as Leader of the Council, receiving a telephone call about such an incident and being in tears when I put the phone down. That is one of the reasons that Children’s Social Workers are probably the profession I admire the most. They are a great, hugely conscientious group who take on massive responsibilities. I wish the public and the media would admire social workers more


Saturday 24 May 2014

UKIP Chair of Adults Committee claims people with mental illness should not be Councillors

A few days ago Wisbech Town Councillor Steve Tierney, whilst participating in a Council meeting, tried to film UKIP Councillor Alan Lay who had turned up in his capacity as a County Councillor to address the meeting. The mayor of Wisbech (wrongly in my view) asked Steve to stop filming, Steve, of course, complied with the request and stopped.

As Steve has reported on his blog, that incident has resulted in three complaints to Fenland District Council's Monitoring Officer. That in itself is astonishing. But even more so is the wording of the complaint from UKIP County Councillor Paul Clapp, which includes the following line:

"if this is how Cllr Tierney gets his kicks then in my oppinion he is mentally ill and should not be a part of Wisbech Town Council."

Councillor Clapp has recently been appointed as Chairman of the County Council's Adults Committee, which will have responsibility for dealing the Council's services to vulnerable adults, many of whom will have mental health issues. I do not consider his comments to be appropriate in any sense (even if they are expressed as an opinion). It demeans mental health as an issue and also bizzarely includes a suggestion that someone with mental illness is not fit to be a Town Councillor - should someone with such a view be chairing the Adults committee?

Let me be plain here. If, when I was leader of the County Council, my Cabinet Member for Adults had used this quote, I would have sacked him. Unfortunately, the new system at Cambridgeshire does not allow the leader to do this.

I accept that Cambridgeshire is under a new system of governance now. But everyone involved in that system has to also accept that the move to committees is controversial and therefore, in the early stages, everything possible should be done to ensure public confidence in it; I cannot see how the public can have confidence in an Adults committee with Councillor Clapp as Chairman, he should resign. If he doesn't he should be told to resign by his group leader.

I have submitted a complaint about Councillor Clapp's comments to the County Council's monitoring officer. Inevitably submitting that complaint leaves me open to "tit for tat" accusations. But this is not about that, I have complained because I have serious concerns about a misunderstanding of the seriousness of mental health in our country. Left unchallenged, this sort of inappropriate language from people who should know better heightens that misunderstanding.