The Equiano Bridge

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 crowd gathers for the plaque unveiling

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.

Find out more at the Equiano Bridge website
http://equianobridge.org.uk/ and at the Equiano Society website at https://equiano.uk/

Take care over the next few days

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

Labour’s budget for planning and transport

As the executive councillor for planning policy and transport I had the opportunity to share our budget proposals for the next financial year at the Council Meeting on Thursday February 24.

You can find full details of the meeting here: https://democracy.cambridge.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=116&MId=3965

and we will be meeting again on Thur March 3 at 6pm – there’s a live stream too https://democracy.cambridge.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=116&MId=4204

Here are the notes I spoke from – some of this was cut to make sure I kept withing my allocated five minutes

Notes from Council Meeting

I’d like to begin by reflecting on what we have done this year as officers, elected members, and staff, to keep this local authority running and deliver One Cambridge, Fair For All.

In my area of Planning Policy and Transport we have achieved so much.

Continue reading “Labour’s budget for planning and transport”

Planting Trees at Logan’s Meadow

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.

Visiting a Building Site in Petersfield

Since I became a ward councillor for Petersfield I’ve been getting to know the area again, as it has changed a lot since I last lived here over two decades ago. One of the most obvious changes has been the growth in office buildings, especially around the rail station, and so I’ve made a special effort to talk to developers and builders, and to visit sites where I can.

This morning I was at a new office development on Station Road, and got to see the building from basement to the roof – wearing all the appropriate safety equipment, and carefully following the site manager’s guidance of course.

Katie and a Crane

I wanted to know more about traffic management plans and how the developers/builders used them, to see if there are ways we can improve things.. I also asked about how residents contacted the contractors with issues regarding noise, dust, and deliveries and how they could work to minimise disruption.

This is important because works to demolish buildings and to excavate for basements can be very disruptive for residents. How things are planned and how residents are kept informed can make a big difference.

Some contractors are very good at this – joining residents groups with regular updates, leafleting homes nearby before disruption is expected, responding quickly if residents and businesses asks for quiet periods or extra protection, and we can encourage this best practice

While there I also learned about the recent concrete availability problems, and saw even more evidence of workers moving to EU countries where there is significant demand for their skills. We can’t do much about this at council level but it’s important we understand the wider framework within which development takes place in Petersfield and across Cambridge.

I hope the people I talked to on site appreciate the interest that we take in what they are doing, and that it helps them understand more about the city and about the needs of residents who have to live with the building activity and the buildings themselves.

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.

Building Quality Forum

The Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017 alerted us to unsafe cladding, but there are many other concerns about the quality of the buildings we live and work in. As a councillor, I want to know more about the situation, and about what we might be able to do about it.

So on Friday July 22 I’m bringing together a group of experts with a panel of councillors to find out more, and discuss what might be done

You can register for the panel on Eventbrite, and read more about it here on my blog.

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”