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”

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

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.

Planting the Turing Tree

One of the most important activities I am responsible for as the executive councillor for Planning Policy and Open Spaces is  the Cambridge Canopy Project, which is planting 2,000 trees across the city between 2019 and 2022. 

This is part of a bigger European project to roll-out ‘green infrastructure’, or natural solutions, to make cities more resilient to the likely impacts that will be brought about by climate change.

This week we hit two milestones –  the 1,000th and 1,024th trees – so it seemed fitting to make an occasion of these milestones and celebrate accordingly, and I’m really pleased that we are going to commemorate one of the city’s best known residents in the process.

The 1,000th tree – a magnolia ‘Galaxy’ – was planted in Stourbridge Grove, adding spring colour with its large pink flowers, and today (Jan 29) we are planting the 1024th in Christ’s Pieces. This will be the Turing Tree,  named for the mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing. 

Continue reading “Planting the Turing Tree”

Labour’s Campaign for Mayor

The Labour candidate is Nik Johnson, and he has my full support and backing – you can find out more about him and how to support him on his website at https://drnikjohnson.co.uk

Here is what I wrote in support of my candidacy.

I’ve been a Cambridge City Councillor since 2018 and I am looking forward to standing again for the council at the next election, in May 2021. 

However I have also put myself forward to be the Labour Party candidate for another election taking place at the same time, the election for the Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority.  

The combined authority was established in 2017, with a wide range of responsibilities including promoting local economic growth, developing transport infrastructure, housing – especially affordable and council housing, skills and apprenticeships.

If I am selected as Labour candidate I will propose policies for the Combined Authority that the region and each of the seven local authorities will benefit from, and if elected I will deliver these policies, honestly and transparently.  

As an executive councillor in Cambridge I have been working on the shared local plan for Greater Cambridge. As an architect I know that the new plan has the potential to transform how we build new homes and communities. At the same time, I have the vision to improve how we provide spaces to support existing and new businesses and organisations. 

As we develop our plans together, we need to be mindful to reduce our carbon footprint and ensure that we all understand the consequences of our decisions. As a Labour Mayor I will stop the Combined Authority making things worse and take actions to control our negative effects on the climate and biodiversity crisis.

As a Labour Mayor I will commit to build new homes, create opportunities for jobs, and make sure every young person has an education that is right for them. The next generation need homes to live in, jobs they will enjoy, and infrastructure that supports them.

We don’t just need more homes, we need great new homes, particularly Council homes.  To be serious about climate change, we also need a plan to improve what we already have.

And of course we need to acknowledge that Covid 19 has forced us to adjust our living, working, and learning patterns. My manifesto will be visionary in reacting to the new situation whilst tackling inequality, and promoting infrastructure and a working transport system.

If selected by Labour to stand for Mayor you can expect to hear a lot more about my plans.

The Last Six Months

The period since March has been among the most challenging any of will us ever have known.  I know how much the pandemic has affected my family and my work, and I hope that everyone has been able to cope.  My sympathies go out to everyone who has been ill, or who may have lost loved ones.

Like many of you I have been busy doing what I can to support those who have been badly affected, in Trumpington Ward and across Cambridge. 

I worked with residents and other councillors to set up the trumpington.info online hub to share information and provide a focal point for volunteering

Katie in a mask and visor at the food hub
Katie in a mask and visor at the food hub

After spending time working at Abbey Food Hub I initiated a similar offer for Trumpington, which has been open in the Pavilion since May 5, initially for two afternoons a week but currently on Fridays only. Over the last twenty weeks we have provided hundreds of families with access to much-needed food. The Food Poverty Alliance has used funding from the City Council and Cambridge United to buy food from Fairshare, and we have also had generous donations from local businesses and residents. 

Life on the City Council has been very different as all our meetings are now online. This has had the welcome side effect of making them more accessible to councillors with caring obligations, and I plan to make sure that we retain online access even after we go back into the Guildhall.

I am now the City Council lead for a local action group seeking to establish whether the ‘doughnut economics’ model would be useful for our long term planning. Doughnut economics combines the ideas of planetary and social boundaries to provide a framework for sustainable development shaped like a ring doughnut.

This is an idea that has been growing in importance and has been adopted by many cities around the world, including Amsterdam. I believe it offers us a way to plan for a sustainable world, and will be one of the ways we will come through these difficult days.