Facing up to the cladding crisis

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


Cover of Cambridge Architecture issue 82

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.

Continue reading “Facing up to the cladding crisis”

Thinking about sustainable homes

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

Katies’ Guide to Becoming More Sustainable

Labour Support for Local Business

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.”

How business rates work might seem abstract and unconnected to daily life, but it’s something we are very concerned with on the city council, because it directly affects the amount of money we have to spend (https://www.local.gov.uk/topics/finance-and-business-rates/local-taxation-council-tax-and-business-rates) and directly affects the choices made by the many local businesses that are based here.

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.


If you’re a small business, the current small business relief and any additional relief is on the website here https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/business-rate-relief-and-exemptions

1.5 degrees is too much

[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.

A Year of the Trumpington Food Hub

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.

Continue reading “A Year of the Trumpington Food Hub”

Thank you to all who voted Labour

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

Details of Petersfield results

Details of Cambridge results

Preserving and enhancing our chalk streams

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.

My candidate statement

If you go to the Petersfield Labour website you can read more about me and why I’m standing.

I thought it would be useful to put it here too..


I’m Katie Thornburrow and I’m currently the city councillor for Trumpington Ward, but following the reallocation of large areas of the ward as a result of the boundary review I am standing for re-election this May in Petersfield.

I moved to Cambridge in 1986 to work as an architect. Since then, I’ve built my own architectural practice in the city, with an office on King’s Parade. My job has given me a lot of insight into the need for us to create good spaces for people to live and work in, as well as a passionate concern for issues of sustainability and ensuring a low carbon future. I’ve always been concerned about our food supply and how we make sure that we have good food that is sourced in a local, socially just, and sustainable way, so I did a Master’s Degree on Food Policy.

I was elected in May 2018, when I won Trumpington ward by four votes and became the first Labour councillor there for 73 years, since Edward Andrews in 1945-46.  I’m now the Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Open Spaces, which means I’m responsible for the planning service and for all the parks and other council-owned public spaces in Cambridge.

For me, the most satisfying thing about being a councillor is making a difference to people’s lives, whether that’s something simple like sorting out a bus stop or an overgrown hedge, or something much bigger like delivering Labour’s promises on council homes, congestion, and enhancing biodiversity.  I love the day to day contact with local residents and the sense that I can help in their lives in the short and long term.

When I became a councillor, and then an executive councillor, I decided to reduce my other work so that I could give it the majority of my time. Doing that is a privilege, and I know that many other councillors have to fit their commitments in with their jobs.  This has meant that I can take part in a wide range of activities, and joined a range of council committees including Civic Affairs, Employment (Senior Officers), Employment Appeals, Joint Development Control Committee – Cambridge Fringes, and Development Control Forum, Planning, and the Joint Planning Advisory Group. I am vice-chair of the South Area Committee which includes councillors from Queen Edith’s, Trumpington and Cherry Hinton.  I sit on on the Clay Farm Advisory Board, and  I am a trustee of the Storey’s Field Community Trust, as well as being the City Council member representative on  Natural Cambridgeshire, Water Resources East, and the Future Parks Accelerator Project.

I’m very involved in drawing up the next local plan, which will help decide how Cambridge changes to 2041, helping  to ensure the priorities of Climate Crisis, Biodiversity and Green Spaces, Wellbeing and Equality and Great Places are properly reflected. In Petersfield we have to look after and nurture our open spaces. We also need to deal with traffic congestion and the air quality problems it causes, and I will work hard to support active transport and make the station cyclepoint fit for purpose.

At a ward level, I’m really proud of work to deliver promised allotments on new developments, and managing to reroute a proposed cycle path that would have run directly through the new community garden.  Last March I was able to support the Trumpington Food Hub as it got established, and I continue to volunteer there. I helped to set up and manage the trumpington.info community website.

In planning, I have been guiding the planning team through the process of integration into a shared planning service, and representing Cambridge residents as we prepare the next local plan to set out how development will take place in and around Cambridge to 2041. In my Open Spaces role I am working to  protect and enhance these spaces so that they continue as an important places for our residents, and  increase the understanding and amount of biodiversity in the city and beyond – for example with the very well-received hedgehog campaign.

As a council we have achieved an enormous amount, especially around delivering our promises on building council homes and protecting the natural environment. Under my direction the open spaces team stopped using herbicides on our land, and we have planted over two thousand trees, and created new open spaces and wildflower meadows throughout Cambridge.

I am standing for re-election because I want to make sure that decisions made by local government reflect the interests of everyone, not just a privileged few.  I want to continue to deliver Labour’s promises, and carry on standing up for the environment.  We need find ways to live that balance people’s needs for a good quality of life with the planet’s need for us to live sustainably, and the city council has a key role to play in this

Please note that my brief has now changed and as of June 2021 I am Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Transport, having covered Streets and Open Spaces 2018-2019 and Planning Policy and Open Spaces 2019-2021

Sorting out Clay Farm Allotments

When I became a city councillor in 2018 one of the top items on my list of things to sort out was the delays in handing over allotments in Trumpington from the developers of the new estates to local residents.  Since then we’ve managed to get three out of four sorted – Glebe Farm, Trumpington Meadows and Nine Wells are all now growing local food for local people.

However there are still issues over the Clay Farm allotments, and I’ve just written to Dave Fox at Cambridge allotments to explain what’s going  on.

You can read it here

[the image shows a screenshot from allotments.net with a map of Clay Farm allotments]

The short version: the original agreements between the council and the developers in 2007 and 2010 weren’t properly thought through and the local councillors at the time did not seem to understand the issues.