Four of of the six Liberal Democrats who are seeking to be the Lib Dem candidate for Cambridge in the forthcoming general election took part, as councillors, in the West / Central Area committee on the 10th of December 2009. The committee which comprised County Councillor Belinda Brooks-Gordon, and City Councillors Rod Cantrill, Julie Smith and Sian Reid, along with their fellow Market, Castle and Newnham councillors, discussed the installation of a new streetlight at “Mud Lane” in Cambridge. The light was being considered as an “Environmental Improvement” intended to light up the path / private road at its junction with Parkside.
This item has apparently been on the West/Central committee’s agenda for years but despite all the councillors agreeing the new light ought be fitted, the committee putting City Council money up to buy and install the light, and City Council officers having obtained permission from the owners of the archway to attach the light to their property it was reported that the Conservative run County Council has refused to cooperate and blocked the proposal.
The meeting was told that the County Council have said that as no ongoing revenue stream for funding the electricity to be used by the light can be identified it cannot be installed.
None of the County Councillors present made any commitment to follow this lunacy up themselves.
Cllr Rosenstiel was the only councillor who showed any serious frustration at the state of affairs. He questioned what the point of the City Council, and the area committee, is if it can’t do something as trivial as get a streetlight up when all the elected representatives for the area agree it ought be installed. Cllr Rosenstiel said he was “very disappointed we can’t get a simple streetlight”.
Cllr Reid was much more muted in her comments, merely observing: “It is very odd that the County Council can’t fund the electric for one extra streetlight”.
Councillors then discussed putting a “revenue bid” into the next round of City Council budgeting. The county council’s streetlight webpage states: “We aim to keep the annual energy costs of around £17 per lamp per year.”
The estimated for the cost to the City Council of installing one the one extra street-light on Mud Lane has been given by council officers as £5,000; and that astonishingly high sum isn’t even a research grant style “full economic costing” taking into “overheads” such as council staff and resources. It appears that whenever public money is being spent on something costs become astronomical; I think we need elected representatives with a better grasp of the value of money.
Council officers recommended that the committee ought remove the light from the project list on the grounds that they had hit a brick wall with the County Council. Councillors disagreed and unanimously decided to keep going, instructing city council officers to continue work on trying to get the light installed.
Not a One-Off
The same problem has occurred in the North of the City, where councillors, particularly Labour’s Mike Todd-Jones, would like to see seven new street lights on the St Albans Road Recreation Ground, near the Meadows community centre. Again the plans have been thwarted because: “revenue funding for the lighting upkeep needs to be identified prior to the scheme going ahead.” *.
Councillors in the North Area even considered solar powered lighting paid for by the council’s “Climate Change Fund” to which the Liberal Democrats had allocated £250,000 in a symbolic gesture but had not spent.
Street-lights are not the only area where the Conservative County Council anti-democratically frustrate attempts to improve Cambridge City; the worst examples are those were the County Council Cabinet step in and overrule decisions made by the Traffic Area Joint Committee.
The degree of pettiness in the relationship between the county and city councils was also seen during another item at the West Central meeting when it was revealed the City Council had not even been made aware of the County’s plans to re-pave the area in-front of Cambridge guildhall; work which was completed a couple of weeks ago.
I don’t think party politics adds anything to local government; these are all examples of what happens when we’ve got a Conservative County Council failing to work with a Liberal Democrat city.