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December’s Councillors Report from Bridget and Sebastian

by Bridget Smith on 10 December, 2017

The Local Plan

It is hard to believe that nearly 4 years after our draft Local Plan was submitted to the planning inspector that we are still talking about it as an unadopted draft. However, South Cambs’ is now a record breaker having been in inspection for longer than any other in the country – ever!

To make matters worse the Leader of the Council took it upon himself to issue a letter to all our parish councils to tell them that everything was going well, that the planning inspector was in agreement with the fundamentals of the plan and that its adoption was only a few weeks away. Unfortunately he forgot to consult with the Inspector before releasing this and she has taken huge umbrage and given the council a 5 star telling off for ‘jumping to conclusions’. Whether this will jeopardise the final adoption of the plan or the length of time to final completion is unknowable but it was not a good idea to annoy the person on whom so much rests for securing the planning future of South Cambs.

We’ve mentioned before the utter lack of leadership at South Cambs when it comes to the Local Plan. This was underlined when the Leader – having had a ticking off from the Inspector – then made officers apologise to her – despite his name at the end of the letters.

The upshot is that until the plan is adopted we continue to be deluged with unwanted planning applications all over South Cambs – currently a haven for unscrupulous developers (not all we hasten to add) after a fast buck.

Council Tax reduction for people with serious mental impairment

We wrote a short piece a couple of months ago highlighting how many councils are not advertising the fact that some people are completely exempt from council tax due to mental impairment. Since then we have clarified the situation. In order to be exempt you must be in receipt of one of a number of benefits (this includes attendance allowance) and either be living alone or with one other person. You must have a doctor willing to countersign a simple 2 page form to say that you have a severe mental impairment. This can include dementia and learning difficulties. This exemption is NOT means tested. South Cambs have these forms but you have to be very clear about what form you want when you contact them. We have had people told they were not eligible because they had savings which is not true but was probably due to a misunderstanding about what they were applying for. If you cannot get a form from the Council, Bridget has a few and is happy to help anyone having difficulties to fill it in.

On this subject, there are many people who are not receiving benefits they are entitled to either because they are not aware of what their entitlement is or they are put off by the complexity of the whole process. We refer in particular to Attendance Allowance, Carers Allowance, Housing Benefit and council tax relief. Bridget has been running the local carers group for 20 years now and so knows quite a lot about the system so please do ask! We also have a lot of expertise within the Citizens Advice Bureau who will also help you to complete the forms (which can be very long and very complex).

If you are a carer – which just means that you are responsible for someone’s health and wellbeing on a regular basis and not necessarily that they live with you – then you may be entitled to Carer’s Allowance (which does restrict the amount you can earn) and also to an annual lump sum to help you to cope with being a carer. There are a number of other benefits associated with being a carer such as getting free access to some places if you are accompanying the person you care for.

If you need support with caring for an adult contact Carers Trust https://www.carerstrustcpn.org and if you are caring for a child you should join Pinpoint https://www.pinpoint-cambs.org.uk

You must always tell your GP if you are a carer; at the very least this will get you a free flu jab.

Robinson Court

Bridget attended the November Drop In with the developer of Robinson Court and the South Cambs project manager. A few people popped in but generally everyone was happy with the way the project is progressing. The issue of contractors’ cars being parked in the road has been resolved and the houses are going up at a rate of knots. We are still awaiting details of when the extra car parking bays will be installed in Gray’s Rd and in Avenells Way. The site manager Jonathan is extremely helpful and very approachable so please do contact him if you have any concerns.

Elections

Having had more elections this year than any of us wanted we are going to have District Council elections in May 2018. We have mentioned on a number of occasions that the Ward Boundaries are all being changed in an attempt to ensure that all councillors represent roughly the same number of people. However, we are cutting the number of councillors by 20% so we are on average going to get 20% more people to represent. Gamlingay along with Hatley, Arrington, Croydon, Little Gransden and Longstowe has been a 2 member ward for ages with Sebastian and Bridget being your District Councillors. It is now to become a single member ward and the smaller villages are being split between the Mordens (Arrington, Hatley, Croydon) and Caldecote (Little Gransden, Longstowe).

If anyone would like a postal vote and is not able to request one from South Cambs then Bridget has a few forms available.

Household Crime

This month’s Crime report showed 13 household crimes in this area – 1 in Longstowe and 1 in Little Gransden. Christmas is always a bad time as criminals target houses full expensive and brand new Christmas presents. Take every care to lock your doors, windows and garden sheds and to make sure that car keys and handbags are hidden away at night. If you see anything suspicious call 999 straight away.

We are delighted to have a new PCSO having not had one for a long time. His name is PCSO Alex Giltinane based at Cambourne Police Station.

A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet Upgrade

From 6 March to 23 April 2017, we were consulted on proposals to provide a dual carriageway on the A428 between Black Cat roundabout and Caxton Gibbet and to improve the Black Cat roundabout. This consultation was to seek your views on a range of route and junction options at an early stage of scheme development. Since the consultation, we are told that Highways England have continued to develop the scheme by incorporating feedback and carrying out technical assessments and surveys. They now say that they have recognised the need to incorporate potential changes from the A1 East of England Strategic Study and this will require further analysis to fully understand the implications for the A428 scheme. This means that it has not been possible to announce the preferred route.

We will be updated on progress and next steps early in the new year when hopefully they will share as much detail as possible. The engagement with all affected landowners and stakeholders is ongoing and they will hold a further formal consultation following the announcement of the preferred route. This will give you another opportunity to share your views and continue to help shape the scheme.

Will the Government finally allow us to build council houses again?

Last month, the Government announced extra funding for affordable housing, suggesting that it would enable us to start building council housing again. In the end, the policy was a small extension of existing efforts. While an extra £2 billion going into the national pot for affordable housing sounds good, it will produce at most 15 houses per year per council – no help for the thousands of people on the housing list in South Cambs.

The new Combined Authority has recently got significant, and welcome, money for housing. This is specifically for affordable housing on new commercial developments, effectively a subsidy to developers to improve their ‘viability’. But ‘affordable’ rents are pegged to rental rates in the wider market, so they are becoming more and more unaffordable.

Council housing is more genuinely affordable, but government is failing to enable councils to build their own housing. Last year saw the lowest number ever of houses build for ‘social rent’ (the classification that includes council houses), just 5,380 for the whole of England.

Autumn Budget 2017

Plans announced in the Budget for new homes and infrastructure identified the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc to be made a national priority. Its world-class research, innovation and technology can help the UK prosper in a changing global economy. The establishment of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of eight new Tech Nation hubs, as part of an expansion of the existing scheme As such, transport links along the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford
corridor will be improved by: Completing the rail link between Oxford and Bedford, and Aylesbury
and Milton Keynes by 2030, setting up a new East West Rail Company to speed up work on the rail link between Bedford and Cambridge, £5 million to help develop plans for Cambridge South Station (at Addenbrookes), building the Expressway road between Oxford and Cambridge and – most alarmingly – the commission also calls for several new towns to be created – between
Oxford and Milton Keynes, and Bedford and Cambridge – from smaller scale garden towns of around 10,000 homes through to new city-scale developments of up to 150,000 homes. Eeeek.

New Stadium for Cambridge City in Sawston

At its November meeting South Cambs planning committee granted planning permission for a new stadium for Cambridge City Football Club in Sawston.

The previous planning permission was overturned at judicial review on a technicality. Although it is derelict land (a former tip for Marley’s) the site is in the Green Belt. And although recreational use is allowed use of Green Belt land, the planning policy hurdles are still huge. The committee voted by 8 votes to 2 in favour of the development because of the very special circumstances. Those were predominantly the improvement of the site, with open parkland, the Club’s pitches, and of fulfilling the shortfall of recreational space in the village.

The petition presented at the meeting showed that there is widespread backing for the proposal in the area and from a majority of Sawston residents. This is a fantastic result for the village of Sawston and for the whole district. It is great that the Club is back on track to getting a new permanent home.

Forward Gamlingay Employability Drop in Sessions

Forward Gamlingay has now run 2 drop in sessions for adults and young people wanting to get work or change their jobs. Help with CVs, letters of application, job searching and maximising your professional on line presence have proved very helpful for a number of people. We are delighted to learn that these sessions will continue to run in the New Year.

Planning

In year 2016/17 South Cambs spent £250,000 on Appeals. The council estimates it will be £500,000+ for this financial year due to the many 5 year land supply Appeals. This creates a number of problems. If we continue to lose appeals then we risk being ‘designated’ which mean that we have our powers as a planning authors taken away from us and applicants can go straight to the government planning inspector to have their applications decided. So there is a great disincentive to refuse applications both because of the cost of appeals but also because the risk of losing appeals could have the disastrous consequence of designation. The frustration of this for us as local councillors and for our parish councils is that it is nigh on impossible now to get controversial applications taken to the planning committee meeting at which we and supporters and objectors get to have our say. Most decisions are now made behind closed doors by civil servants.

Green End

The Green End Site in Gamlingay has been on the market now for quite some time and finally we know that a developer is interested in buying it. Representatives from Campbell Buchanan came to a public meeting at the Eco Hub to present their early thoughts and very draft plans. We are encouraged that this is the company responsible for The Maltings which I think we all agree is a very successful and sensitive development in the heart of the village. The feelings at the meeting were that the outline plans which had been approved by South Cambs were, to put it bluntly, awful, and that there needed to be a lot more work done to make this a development which would create a really good place for people to live. There was a lot of discussion and the Campbell Buchanan Reps went away with a lot to think about and a lot of ideas. It is really important to engage early on in the process with developers in order to ensure that we get what is best for Gamlingay and we are pleased that they share this view.

New website for those seeking jobs in early years childcare

Cambridgeshire now has its own website for job vacancies in early years and childcare.
eycJobs tries to address recruitment challenges faced by providers. It will bring together vacancies, careers advice, and support and information for providers on recruiting and retaining staff and can be found at https://www.teachincambs.org.uk/eycjobs/.

Hoarding
Do you know anyone who is a hoarder? Hoarding is a serious and complex issue that goes far beyond simple untidiness. It is a recognised mental health condition requiring careful treatment. Hoarding is a widespread issue affecting between 2% and 3% of the population – approximately 1.2 million people in the UK.

People who display hoarding behaviours excessively collect items such as newspapers, books, clothing, and in some cases rubbish, rotten food and animals, resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter. This in turn can cause serious health problems, structural damage, pest infestations and serious risk of fire.

Since 2014, over 50 households in South Cambridgeshire alone have had assistance form the Council. In more serious cases, it can sometimes lead to emotionally distressing enforced clearances. If you discover someone displaying hoarding behaviours, you can find help and practical advice at www.helpforhoarders.co.uk or contact South Cambridgeshire District Council on 03450 450 063. Alternatively you can contact the Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service on 0800 917 9994 or http://www.cambsfire.gov.uk and visit the ‘home safety’ pages.

Community energy fund plugged in

South Cambs has set up a £55,000 grant pot to help community buildings across South Cambridgeshire become more energy efficient and reduce energy. The Community Energy Grant Fund will allow community groups to bid for funds from March next year.

Organisations will be invited to bid for funding for initiatives ranging from insulation and lighting and heating controls for community buildings, to the installation of electric vehicle charging points.

The new scheme will provide £55,000 each year for parish councils, charities, voluntary groups, sports and social clubs and not-for-profit organisations. The maximum yearly grant will be £3,000 per organisation to make sure that the fund is distributed across a wide range of projects throughout the district.

The scheme will be funded from the business rates it retains from new renewable energy generation sites within the district so it can return some of the benefits from large scale renewable energy sites to the community.

Got a problem? Issue? Something you’d like to discuss?

Your Councillors are here to help you. Please do feel free to contact us with comments, questions, problems or complaints. We hope we can help but if we can’t we are likely to know someone who can! *****************************

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