Conservative Nick Hillman – A Vision for Cambridge in 2020


Friday, February 19th, 2010. 3:39am

On Wednesday the 10th of February 2010 Cambridge’s Parliamentary Candidates from the Labour, Green, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties debated their “vision for Cambridge in 2020″ at an event hosted by the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership at B-Bar on Market Passage. Each candidate from the main parties outlined their vision for Cambridge in 2020.

Nick Hillman

Mr Hillman said he found the prospect of envisaging Cambridge in 2020 daunting as he had a background in [history] education and pensions. He joked that when he’d been invited to talk about Cambridge in the 20′s he was rather hoping it was the 1920s not the 2020s.

Mr Hillman said that in the time he had known the city, much hadn’t changed at all particularly in the centre, but away from the city centre he said there had been change, with new builds – “often small pokey flats with limited infrastructure”. Mr Hillman also observed “congestion has got worse in many areas” and “the city centre has become more uniform in terms of the shops and facilities available”. He said he felt some communities across the city had lost their sense of belonging.

Mr Hillman predicted that if we continue on the path we’ve been on then we will face a number of problems by 2020. He said he would mention two, given the time constraints, what he said was:

  1. “Firstly our transport problems will get even worse. We’re stymied by the age and make up of our city in improving transport; we should not make a bad situation worse, I think as a city we’ve been far too relaxed about the appalling cycle parking, and about the accident by the accident rates on the A14, but I guess by 2020 the guided bus should just about be up and running.”
  2. “Secondly by 2020 our overall quality of life will have deteriorated markedly if our region goes on being treated rather badly as it has been by central government. If we take this region for granted then we’ll quickly become a less attractive place to invest and a less safe place to live. When I was visiting Microsoft the other day I said to them – ‘What is it which makes Cambridge such a good working environment for you and your researchers?’ – and I was expecting them to say the availability of credit, or the links with the university, but they didn’t, they said what you hear on the doorstep – the schools; the hospitals; the quality of life. If we want to compete with places like silicon valley than high tech companies have got to be interested in us as a region. I think Cambridge should be at the heart of the technological improvements we need to promote sustainable development and that does actually mean thinking about quality of life issues as well more specific technical ones.”

Mr Hillman went on to say Cambridge needs to take control of its own destiny and listed three things which could be done:

  1. Give local communities more control. Mr Hillman said that if asked less than 1/3 of people say they have any sense of influence over decisions in their local area. Hillmans plan for changing this was reducing the amount of money which is ringfenced (can only be used for a specific purpose) when it is given to local authorities. Another way of giving local people more control he said was giving people powers over things like garden grabbing (building new homes in gardens). And getting rid of the infrastructure planning commission.
  2. Massively improve our transport facilities. Mr Hillman said cycling facilities, the A14 and the bus network needed to be fixed; and called for more thought to be given to a rail link between Oxford and Cambridge.
  3. Targeting skills budget at green jobs and green skills. Mr Hillman said we’re very good in Cambridge at churning out eminent professors, but we’re not so good at turning out skilled technicians.

My Comments on Nick Hillman’s Speech

I agree with a large amount of what Mr Hillman said. I think he’s absolutely right to focus on national investment in the city; which actually amounts to the city being able to retain and reinvest more of the wealth generated here. I think he’s right to criticise the quality of the new-builds in the city, I agree with him that building swathes of small pokey flats with limited infrastructure isn’t what we should be doing. I think he’s right to highlight wrong transport as a major risk for the city in the next decade; though I am less sure what risks to “quality of life” he perceives.

Overall though I found it a rather vacuous speech without much meat to really get to grips with. I am worried that when Mr Hillman talks about green jobs, he, like Tony Juniper is focusing on too much on the domestic economy; and not on the potential to develop and prove technologies in Cambridge which can then be exported, but the next level of detail required to fully get to grips with Hillman’s position wasn’t there. Of course in only five minutes there are limits to what can be said, but “Fixing the A14″ is rather vague even given those constraints; I’m left wondering if he’ll go further than the Lib Dems who want to do the minimum.

I strongly support making planning decisions locally and democratically. I think its terrible that so many councillors in the city feel unable to participate in planning decisions because the law currently leaves them in what they see as a difficult position; unable to both represent their constituents and act “judicially”. I agree with Hillman, the infrastructure planning commission is undesirable and needs to be scrapped in its current form; I think infrastructure planning does at times have to be done at a national or regional level, but I don’t agree that means it has to be done undemocratically.

I’m left with many questions: How practical does he think reinstating the Cambridge-Bedford railway is? What route would it take? and What does Mr Hillman think needs to be done to improve the bus network – More bus lanes? Orbital bus routes? More double deckers?

What’s missing is key too; Cambridge could be quite a different place if students in the universities have to pay substantial top up fees. Mr Hillman was asked during his selection caucus what is views on tuition fees are; he frustrated the audience by refusing to be drawn on his personal views, and saying he was going to wait for the results of the current review. Mr Hillman has said though that if at the University of Cambridge fees were £7,000 per year then students would be getting good value in return.

Mr Hillman didn’t talk about his party; yet a vote for Hillman is a vote for David Cameron as Prime Minister. Something else, other than the tuition fee stance, which puts me off the Conservative party is it’s top-down nature; if a party is going to make any sense it needs to have a grass roots, I’m concerned that’s lacking from the Conservatives, even more so than the other parties.

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2 comments/updates on “Conservative Nick Hillman – A Vision for Cambridge in 2020

  1. Andrew Bower

    Richard,

    You wrote:

    “Of course in only five minutes there are limits to what can be said, but “Fixing the A14″ is rather vague even given those constraints; I’m left wondering if he’ll go further than the Lib Dems who want to do the minimum.”

    Simply on account of Nick not having long enough to get his views across you have assumed the worst and commented on your Zeichner writeup and elsewhere that only Zeichner supports the A14 upgrade. I understand this is not true and that Nick fully supports a proper upgrade of the A14, as I do.

    It is worth remembering that it is “2 Jags, 4 Pads” who postponed the upgrade in the first place on ideological grounds when Labour came into office.

    The Conservatives in Cambridge and the wider area have been consistently in favour of the upgrade for a very long time and you can find countless sources to back this up!

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Thanks for that view of Mr Hillman’s position Andrew.

    It wasn’t only in the introductory speeches that Hillman didn’t really make clear his position on the A14. In the rest of the event questions teased out that Huppert is opposed to substantial work on the grounds he worries it will attract more traffic to Cambridge, whereas Zeichner was very clear that he sees the A14 improvements as a major piece of urgently needed national infrastucture, investment in which will be fantastic for Cambridge and is urgently needed.

    I wasn’t left with a clear impression of Hillman or Juniper’s views on the A14 – I’m only reporting what I heard.

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