We all care about the Cam and the chalk streams that supply it, and we all know that no plan for the future of Cambridge or the greater Cambridge area can go ahead without some solution to the water crisis that we face – itself just one aspect of the much wider climate crisis.
This is something I’ve been arguing for years, and in 2019 I organised the first major meeting about water in the region. Since then, it has been acknowledged by all the local councils and MPs from every party, and widely reported (as here in the Cambridge Independent).
So it’s a real pity when we see members of one party misrepresent the steps that we are taking as a City Council to do something positive to improve the quality of the Cam, put pressure on the water companies and the Environment Agency to take action, and raise awareness of the importance of our water supply.
The Sunday Times (9 July) has a breathless report that Michael Gove is thinking of building a quarter of a million new homes in Cambridge, in order to turn the city into a ‘tech leader’, and that he will send a planning ‘hit squad’ over to ensure that annoying irritations like ‘eco rules’ don’t get in the way of his brilliant plan.
Apparently this will help to ‘fix England’s housing crisis and unleash growth in the life sciences and technology sectors’.
Let’s ignore for the moment that the chances of Gove still being Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities after next summer are very slim – indeed it is unlikely that his band of failed Tories will be anywhere near ministerial office.
And let’s ignore for the moment that the ‘tightly guarded’ plan, which goes under the mysterious code name ‘Cambridge 2040’ (I wonder what it could be about…) seems to consist of some under-researched aspirations and a briefing to a friendly newspaper in a desperate search for positive headlines.
What would it take to actually deliver such a plan, assuming we wanted it?
The City Council has received an application to completely remove the three mature plane trees on St Matthew’s Piece opposite 191-193 Sturton Street, an application which I, along with other local councillors and residents groups, oppose. Although the application claims that the trees are causing subsidence and structural damage to the houses, there is no clear evidence that this has happened, and certainly not enough to justify the removal of these important trees, which are an integral part of the local area and much-loved by all of us who use St Matthew’s Piece.
Although they are on land owned by the St Matthew’s (former Howard Mallet) Centre they are covered by tree preservation orders and fall inside the Mill Road conservation area, so they cannot be cut down or pruned without an application to the Council. In fact, this is the second application about these trees. A request to cut 5m from each tree, 22/0271/TTPO, was refused on 1st August 2022 due to lack of evidence that they were causing damage.
Now that the application has been received the council has six weeks to make an assessment. As well as considering if the reason for the proposed works are valid, the council has to assess the trees’ contribution to the visual amenity of the area, and whether the proposed works would adversely affect the appearance of the trees and/or the visual amenity value of the locality.
The technical term ‘visual amenity’ considers how the height, shape, shadows and colours of the trees contrast and complement the streets and surrounding buildings, something especially relevant to mature trees like these in a built-up area. it also covers the ways the trees change through the seasons and how that enhances the area. And it can also include the contribution made by the birds, bats and insects within the trees.
It seems clear to me, and to many others, that the amenity provided by these trees is substantial, especially to the many children and families who enjoy using the space and its playground,. They form part of only three significant open space areas in Petersfield, which is mainly residential streets. They contribute to a green oasis within this urban setting, with significant cooling effects, and are home to a range of birds and bats.
We should also remember that they are part of the history of Cambridge. The land that forms St Matthew’s Piece was bought in 1891-2 because the “provision of open spaces was one of the best provisions they could make, not simply for the health of the town but for the morality of the town” and a resolution for the establishment of a “recreation ground” was passed, in the interests of the 2,000 children in the “immediate neighbourhood” was made. It was opened in 1898, and it needs to be protected so we can continue to benefit from this wonderful area.
Because these trees are so important, I wanted to speak out before the planning committee discusses the application. That means that I will not take part in the discussion and vote, even though I’m a member of the committee, as all members are required to consider applications during the meeting, and making my views known in advance would compromise that.
We’ve been planting lots of trees around Cambridge, and we want them all to thrive. But in this hot period the ground is dry and they are suffering.
So I’ve started filling old plastic bottles with water and taking them to some of the trees in the area – and it would be great if more people did the same. There are signs on the ones that our tree officers think are most in need.
Chalk streams are one of the most important water features in this area. They are a globally rare habitat in Northwest Europe and an important habitat to the UK – our equivalent of rainforests. They are hugely important for supporting biodiversity, as they support a wide range of flora and fauna including freshwater sponges, brown trout, and mayflies.
So it was a real pleasure to work on a restoration project for Cherry Hinton Brook, along with Ruth Hawksley of the Wildlife Trust, Cambridge City Council, Friends of Cherry Hinton Brook and other environmental activists.
We met at the Daws Lane bridge to reshape the bank and improve the flow of water by restricting the brook in some areas, returning it to the state it was in before the area was developed.
In 2019 I convened a forum on the water crisis facing the region (you can read our full report here on my website), and we highlighted the importance of the chalk streams, so it was great to get my hands dirty – and my feet wet – helping improve them.
The work was covered by BBC Look East and you can see the report here
As we go into this extremely hot weekend I hope that everyone will take the high temperature seriously and look after themselves. I was in Cambridge in July 2019 when the temperature reached 38.7 degrees and it was almost unbearable. It could be 40 degrees next week.
These sorts of extreme weather events, like gales or high temperatures or snow, are a consequence of the changes to the world’s climate we have made, and as long as we carry on putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere it will get worse. That’s why our net zero targets matter – we must do all we can as a local authority
I thought this advice from the ITV Weather presenter Chris Page’s Facebook was very helpful.
This is what Chris wrote:
Let’s clear a few things up about this Extreme Heat Forecast. This is not “just summer”.
The average summer maximum temperature here in the UK is 23-24C. Temperatures in some parts of the country are set to be 16C higher than that.
This is not hype. The Met Office Red and Amber Extreme heat warning have been issued for a reason. Temperatures here in the UK rarely get above 35C and even then, in the past we have seen a steep rise in heat related illnesses and death.
We are now forecasting higher than that. Much higher. Possibly 40C. Not only will this impact our health but also the UK’s infrastructure.
Roads will melt. Railways will buckle. Wildfires will happen. Power networks will see an increase in demand and so will the water network too where in some places there are reduced resources already.
The temperature at night will not drop below 20 degrees and in some places it could hold up into the mid-twenties. If your body can not cool down, you will suffer and could see problems such as heatstroke or heat stress. Please brush up on what to do if these circumstances arise and what to look for.
If you’re an employer, you should be considering not sending your staff to work especially if they have to use public transport. And if you’re an employee, you should be asking your employer what to do in this hot weather.
It’s common sense stuff. Stay well hydrated. Try to stay out of the midday sun between 11-3pm. We need to look after each other and check on those who live alone.
One last thing. Yes, people do go on holiday to temperatures higher than this and yes other countries do cope in this heat. Often, these people have either grown up with this heat and are used to working in it or if they’re going on holiday, it’s a choice they make and often air conditioning is available in countries where high temperatures occur.
For us, everyone in the UK, we do not have a choice and a lot of us don’t have access to air con. This dangerous heat is coming. Listen to the advice and you’ll be OK. Try and stay cool.
Oh and finally. If you’re going to take the micky saying its ‘over-reacting’, you’re not looking at the bigger picture, please keep it to yourself and don’t tell me you survived 1976 either. That wasn’t as hot as this and you’re not as young as you were then. Stay safe! X
Logan’s Meadow is an open space on the flood plan in East Chesterton that used to be sports fields and is now being turned into a nature reserve. And today I joined Friends of Logan’s Meadow and the City Council’s tree and ecology officers to plant two out of the planned 244 trees.
It was such fun and great to catch up with some wonderful people in this exciting space.
Plans for the meadows started about two years ago, when I was executive councillor for open spaces. I’d come along to a meeting to update local residents about a funding bid I had made for improving vehicular access onto the meadow. Our ecology officer Guy Belcher felt that access was important to really begin to consider ways of improving and expanding the nature reserve. The residents had similar inspirational ideas and it was a truly serendipitous time that we came together and the council could find funding for some key elements.
Since that meeting the project has come along driven by the energy of the residents and great council officers, and with an occasional nudge from me when I was the relevant executive councillor. And it has all happened so rapidly, when all the restrictions of the pandemic are considered.
While we were together I also learnt from Tony Ava from the Friends Group about some of the many reasons that people came along to plant a tree or two, for example n remembrance of loved ones who had connections with Cambridge, to be part of this community project happening now, and for future generations
By 3pm on Sunday the 244 trees will be planted, each labelled and attached to a stake with a hessian cord. And the best possible growth that we could wish for – for trees, woods, ecology, nature and community has started.
Today is a lovely, sunny autumn day, and I had a long walk with a good friend, the wonderful artist and County Councillor Hilary Cox Condron, discussing all things sustainable. Everything from hedgehogs to the emerging local plan, and what we can do as local politicians (or not) and in our own lives too.
Hilary is going to start to make her home more sustainable and I’m going to give some advice, starting with measuring what the footprint is first – actually measuring up the home and using the utility bills – then look at reducing energy 20% every year.
A few years ago I wrote a guide to making homes and buildings more sustainable, and I thought it would be worth sharing with Hilary and anyone else, so I’m publishing it here
[Image shows the shadow of Katie and her phone, as she takes a picture of dry grass on the hottest day recorded so far in the UK, in Cambridge in July 25 2019. ]
On Monday that Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Sixth Assessment Report, looking at the the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, and it made chilling reading, as this report from the BBC makes clear
I was invited onto BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to talk about the report with Chris Mann
I’m angry because we knew this was coming and we know what is needed – we have to live resilient lives and act in emergencies, we have to adapt our built environment, and we have to make hard choices in order to make sure that our planet remains one we can live on.
The last Labour government put in place a Code for Sustainable Homes, which called for zero carbon homes and the recognition that water neutrality was necessary in water stressed areas – but these forward thinking policies were abandoned by the Tory-LibDem coalition between 2011 and 2016 and we are still waiting for replacement regulations to reflect the dire situation we are facing.
In the face of this global crisis, what we can do as a local authority can seem insignificant, but it does make a difference, and it offers an example for others.
We are working hard to do what we can to deal with the climate emergency, and our priorities for the next Local Plan include Climate Change and Biodiversity as well as Wellbeing and Tackling Equality. Our aspirations for the Plan go well beyond all current regulations, and we will do whatever we can to assure new communities are sustainable, ensuring that we are “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (this is taken from the National Planning Policy Framework NPPF 2021, paragraph 7).
The City Council has put in double glazing and sealed external doors in all council homes, and have started on a programme of external insulation, loft insulation and solar PV as part of a retrofitting programme. We are working with local organisations like Cambridge Sustainable Food, Cambridge Carbon Footprint, Transition Cambridge and other to transform the way we think about food, waste, recycling and reusing materials, and much more. And we are working to make sure that Cambridge is a net zero council by 2030, and we will work to help our residents, local organisations and businesses to do the same. Some of the other things we are doing are:
A 6 month trial of giving free advice to residents on options to reduce energy use in homes latter this year.
Actively encouraging new opportunities for sharing of tools and re-using materials, including starting a library of things in the central library.
Listening to residents wanting to start community gardens and more food growing.
Working towards having the best possible local plan for sustainable development and communities.
Looking at more opportunities for food growing including more meanwhile growing areas and talking to local farmers.
Preparing a transport and movement strategy for the whole city and for all living in and around our city. Including tackling pollution, congestion, and provide more opportunities for walking, cycling, and public transport.
Starting a trial of electric community cars
None of these will solve global heating, none of them is enough – but they show that we are serious about what we can do here in Cambridge, offer ideas for other people to adopt, and demonstrate that we are willing to change the way we live.
We believe that we can make a difference – but at the same time we will be campaigning for governments and the large corporations that are responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions to change the way they work too.
In 2019 I convened a Water Crisis Forum which was attended by representatives of many local organisations, as well as Anglian Water. That forum, and the hard work of many organisations that care about water like the Wild Trout Trust, FECRA, the Wildlife Trust, Cambridge Eco Schools, and Cam Valley Forum, managed to put concern over the local water supply on the news agenda, and made people more aware of the threat to our precious chalk streams from over abstraction of water from the chalk aquifers.
I’ve continued to talk and campaign about this issue, and have followed up on the report we issued last February.
In this video (which you can watch by clicking the link) I talk about biodiversity, and the chalk streams. Labour is committed to doing more to help, so please vote for your Labour candidate on Thursday May 6.