This morning I joined hundreds of other people at the official ceremony to name the Equiano Bridge on Riverside. Along with other councillors including Gerri Bird, Hilary Cox Condron, and Neil Shailer, Cambridge Mayor Jenny Gawthrop Wood, and combined authority mayor Nik Johnson, we heard speeches from those involved in the campaign, and saw the plaque unveiled.
This marks the end of a successful campaign started by Cambridge African Network and Circles of Change, Cambridge and supported by The Equiano Society, London, and was a wonderful way to celebrate the last day of Black History Month.
The bridge is named for Oluadah Equiano, born in Essaka – modern day Nigeria – who was enslaved at the age of 11 but eventually bought his own freedom and settled in London in later life. He was a powerful advocate for abolition, and wrote an autobiography. He is generally acknowledged as the first political activist within Britain’s African community in the 18th century.
Oluadah Equiano had several ties to Cambridge through his work with Cambridge-based abolitionists. He married Cambridgeshire woman called Susannah Cullen and one of their daughters, Anna Maria Vassa, is buried in St Andrews Church in Chesterton.
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
The great people at Care4Calais are fighting to stop Government plans to forcibly send refugees to Rwanda, a cruel and inhumane policy that I absolutely oppose.
Apart from the many issues around sending people to a country that they have no connection to, anyone sent to Rwanda will no longer be inside the UK asylum system, so if their application for asylum fails in Rwanda they won’t come back here – they will be sent somewhere else by the Rwanda government.
Yesterday I wore my #StopRwanda t-shirt around Cambridge, and I’ll be working with Cambridge Labour to do what we can to get this plan cancelled.
As an architect and a local councillor I’ve been following the Grenfell Inquiry with enormous interest, and have been appalled by the evidence that has emerged. The implications for the safety of our buildings are severe, and the impact on residents has been enormous – both emotional and financial.
Last July I convened a forum to discuss building quality issues (you can find out about it here on my website), and this month I’ve written an article for Cambridge Architecture, the magazine published by the Cambridge Association of Architects. I’m republishing it here
We should all care about the quality of the buildings around us, whether they are council homes, private developments, schools, offices or civic buildings. Since the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017 attention has rightly focused on concerns about unsafe cladding, with serious concerns about the safety of people living in affected properties, the costs of replacing potentially dangerous materials, and who should pay.
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
I was at the Labour Party conference last week, and one of my highlights was hearing our Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves commit to spending the billions of pounds each year we need to manage a just and rapid transition to a zero-carbon society.
I was also impressed that Rachel said that a Labour government would “scrap the current system of business rates and replace it with a fairer way of business taxation – fit for the 21st century.”
Local shops, for example, from the historic centre to shopping centres like the Beehive or Grafton, or the many local shops on Mill Road, are facing the double challenge of coping with Covid-19 and dealing with the growth of online shopping. More shops are empty; many are struggling. We need to find a fairer way for them to contribute.
Other local businesses, found in offices all across the city, are also feeling the pressure. I know how hard it is, as I have my own architecture business. Some, like the IT, biotech and communications companies, have managed to cope or even improve their performance, but the vast majority have faced hard times and need help now.
The city council has helped, with business rates relief on smaller premises, and even offered additional business support grants between November 2020 and May 2021 for those not covered by national schemes. However, because the rateable value of a shop or office is based on an estimate of the open market rental value a property could achieve on a specified date, the high rents in the city mean that business rates are also very high.
That’s why the new policy announced by the Shadow Chancellor matters. As a city council we can do some things to help, and we can encourage people to shop locally, but it takes action by central government – by a Labour government – to make real change happen so that businesses get the support they need and local government gets the funding it needs.
As we revitalise our city and shopping areas, business tax reform is a key way to keep our businesses viable and help new ones open, with decent well-paid jobs for all.
[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.
The Trumpington Food Hub opened in the pavilion on Tuesday May 5 last year, supported by the City Council, the Trumpington Residents’ Association and Cambridge Sustainable Food, and this afternoon a group of the volunteers who have kept it going every week since will meet on the rec to reflect on what we’ve achieved and how we have worked to look after each other during the last sixteen months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The way the community worked to support those in need, with mutual aid groups coordinated via WhatsApp, the trumpington.info website, and the Trumpington Volunteer Service all emerging to add to the work done by existing groups of all types and sizes, has been a real testament to our ability to care for and look after one another. Over the year we’ve seen prescriptions collected, pets walked, food delivered and all sorts of other support, especially for those who needed to shield during the most difficult periods as this awful disease spread.
Things are a bit easier now, with many of us fully-vaccinated and elements of day-to-day living restored, although we are clearly not through the pandemic and still need to be careful and responsible.
At the Local Election on May 6 Petersfield ward elected three Labour councillors – me, Mike Davey, and Richard Roberston – and Cambridge City Council remains under Labour control with 27 of the 42 seats.
Thank you to everyone who voted Labour. We will be working hard to deliver on the promises we made to all of the people of Cambridge
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.