Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert – A Vision for Cambridge in 2020

Friday, February 19th, 2010. 4:36am

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.

Julian Huppert

Mr Huppert began by saying: “The future of Cambridge is clearly something which matters personally to me”. Interestingly when speaking about how he had been involved in shaping the city he didn’t refer to his own role as a County Councillor for around a decade, but instead chose to highlight the fact: “we as the Liberal Democrats took control of the city council in 2000″. He listed some of the city council’s achievements in this time citing “improving the recycling rate from single digit percentages to over fifty percent” and “improving the energy efficiency of homes by about 40%”. Mr Huppert said the Cambridge is a very special city, describing it as a “city of learning” and saying “we have two great universities here”.

Mr Huppert decided to talk about “Green Jobs”, saying that in Cambridge we are well placed to both look after the economy and the environment and the two are not mutually exclusive. He spoke about the potential for high tech spinouts involved in green technologies to prosper.

Comparing his experience standing in Cambridge with his last Parliamentary attempt in Huntington he implied people in Huntington didn’t care about their town saying there were no well attended hustings events like this one held during his previous election campaign.

Turning to Cambridge’s problems Mr Huppert said he’d spent a while trying to find somewhere to live himself and said: “there’s a clear housing shortage in Cambridge, it is too expensive for most people to live in most parts of Cambridge and people are very clearly being driven out of the city”. Proclaiming “we have to do something about that” Mr Huppert suggested the solution was “providing housing near Cambridge”. It may have been notable that he said “near Cambridge” and not “in Cambridge”. He went on to say he wanted to see Cambridge as a compact city; yet the Liberal Democrats have been supporting sprawl all around the city’s edges. Huppert said the policies in the past had been for housing in the surrounding villages and further away and claimed this was one of the things which had led to the traffic problems which we have now and said “we need housing locally” so that people have other alternatives to travelling by car. I found Mr Huppert’s statements frustratingly unclear and vague; he appeared to be trying to appease all groups. His speech left me unsure if he supported building the extensions to the city, if he supported the building of the new town of Northstowe and if his “alternatives to travelling by car” amounted to a guided bus taking people from Northstowe far as Kings Hedges before hitting the city traffic.

Speaking about the “right sort of housing”, he spoke of David Howarth’s attempts to give local councils more planning powers enabling them to insist on more affordable housing and more environmentally friendly housing. He spoke proudly about the fact that the city extensions were including 40% “affordable housing” and pointed to the fact the North West Cambridge (University) development will involve homes being built to a high sustainability standard – claiming rather nonsensically “these are houses which will be 100% energy efficient”. While not a physicist, Mr Huppert does work at the Department of Physics of the University of Cambridge, I’d have thought his colleagues and students would have something to say about the 100% efficiency claim, though it is terminology which is now used by legislators and in the energy efficiency code 5 guidance.

On transport Huppert said: “we need cleaner, greener, techniques”, claiming he had campaigned for better walking and cycling facilities and saying cars too had to be considered and made “better for the environment and relieve the congestion as well”.

Wellbeing and happiness was the subject Huppert addressed next. He said his vision for Cambridge was a city “where people want to be here”, “where people want to live work and study here, we want a city which is in harmony with its environment and not depleting resources unnecessarily and we want a city right at the forefront of green technologies and green jobs both nationally and internationally”.

My Comments on Julian Huppert’s Speech

I think it is really important that new homes we build are practical and affordable places to live. Julian Huppert is supporting energy saving efforts in new developments which I think will store up problems for the future. The house building standards he promotes encourage the creation of dedicated wind farms or combined heat and power plants for new developments. I certainly wouldn’t want to own a house on a development when there may be a legally enforced whip-round for funds to maintain the private power-station or wind farm associated with it. If a private company invests in the energy supplying technology how will selling the power or heat be regulated? I am very concerned about the lack of competition; I wouldn’t want to buy a house were I was tied to one energy supplier with a monopoly. In blocks of flats or developments owned by the same landlord these approaches make more sense. I don’t think we should be doing creating either of those situations – blocks of flats on the edge of the city or a distinct university enclave on the North West Cambridge site. What we need is integrated developments combining homes of various types as well as other developments.

While I agree with the genuine attempts to make homes efficient, in order to have the biggest impact nationwide both on the new developments and in the rest of the city will come from things like major tidal energy schemes – which have the potential to produce significant fractions of the country’s energy, completely independently of foreign imports which we cannot not rely on. David Howarth was very anti-nuclear power; another technology which gives us the opportunity to both keep the lights on and improve our energy security. Julian Huppert makes no comment on his website on this key aspect of our future energy supply.

While Huppert stressed the success, in Lib Dem eyes, of requiring the new energy standards at the university site a few years before they’re intended to become mandatory for all new builds he didn’t address some of areas where the Lib Dems haven’t done as well as they’d hoped in relation to the development such as ensuring similar amounts of urban green space as the rest of the city enjoys, or addressing problems with the city extensions; such as placing homes close to noisy roads.

As with the other candidates I think Mr Huppert was very careful not to say anything which would alienate sections of the electorate so he kept it rather bland.

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One comment/update on “Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert – A Vision for Cambridge in 2020

  1. Bell

    You are so on the money in stating this. I am one of those people who you could label a sceptic. However, it is always nice to find another blog related to my main interest of cycling.

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