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

Celebrating Co Farm and supporting Cambridge Sustainable Food

I had a wonderful time last night on Marmalade Lane celebrating the fantastic produce from Co Farm and the work of Cambridge Sustainable Food, with a vegan feast made by Sam Dyer and Alex Collis with help from a number of volunteers

The plant-based menu used food grown by Cambridge’s first Community Farm, and after the meal we heard from CofarmCambridge Sustainable Food and K1 Co Housing.

Eating outside, wearing masks where necessary, and looking after each other, we all felt safe to enjoy a great community event

Thanks to the wonderful Hilary Cox Condron for the photos- I was having too good a time to take any!

A group of people sitting at a table outdoors with an awning and lights. Katie is at the centre, in a red dress
Katie and Hilary looking at the camera and smiling broadly.
Alex Collis in a kitchen with two plates of delicious food
The menu for the evening:
Persian mint cordial
chard and cream cheese puffs
roast pumpkin with hazelnuts and smoked oil
Savoury baklava wirth co-farm salad
celery leaf, fennel top and carrot top salsa verde
brown sugare apple pavloval with pistachio caramel

The last few days of campaigning

The local elections are on May 6, and the Labour teams are still out around Cambridge talking to residents, delivering our leaflets, and working for your vote. I was delivering in Glenalmond this weekend, and I’ll be out in other parts of Petersfield today.

To find out more about how we’re delivering for communities here Cambridge  take a look at our manifesto online at https://cambridgelabour.org.uk/manifesto-2021/

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.

Do We Really Want to ‘Build Build Build’?

Almost all sectors of the economy  are struggling as we adapt to living with a deadly virus. Perhaps telecommunications is doing well, but manufacturing, engineering, hospitality, arts and construction are all suffering, either closed or falteringly starting up again.

The big wheel of commerce has stopped, but we need people back in their jobs, not least because the social support systems that offer help when in need have been dismantled and kicked away by over ten years of austerity. 

So it seems we are going ‘build, build, build’ our way out of trouble. And in order to make this possible planning laws will be changed to allow developers to build homes more quickly under ‘permitted development’ rules that mean councillors like me, who sit on planning committees, will have no say.

Really?

Continue reading “Do We Really Want to ‘Build Build Build’?”

My background

I was born and raised in Hong Kong to British parents, moved to UK to attend university in 1980 . and I have made this country my home and raised my family here, having moved to Cambridge to work as an architect after graduation.

I have had my own architectural practice for thirty years, working on social housing, older buildings and private homes.  I have always been interested in the connection between architecture, cities and food, and in 2013 I studied for a Masters degree in Food Policy at City University in London.

My grandmother was interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Hong Kong for four years with her three children, including my mum who was four when they were rounded up. During that time they lived in one room shared with another family.

Growing up I heard many stories of that time, when they had no medicine, were cut off from most of the outside world . and had very little food. I heard how that time brought the family together and how the Christmases in the camp were so special as each year they realised they were still together and alive, part of a community that was working together in dreadful circumstances.

Understanding what they went through, and how it was family, friends and community that got them through has been important to me throughout my life, and has driven me to do all I can to support others.

Trees and Water

It was a real pleasure to listen to students who had marched from Shire Hall to the Guildhall yesterday to highlight the need for more trees and to deal with our water crisis as part of an event organised by Cambridge Schools Eco Council, and I’m pleased that it got coverage in the local press. 

While I did say to the students that we wanted their help planting trees, it’s not that we won’t be putting the. on council land- we just don’t have *enough* council land. And I think that comparing Cambridge to the whole of Essex is a little misleading…

I’m looking forward to the forum on the water crisis that I’ve convened for next month. Although the report says I’m doing this as part of my work as Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Open Spaces this isn’t the case- it’s just something I’m doing as a local councillor. The report will be available for the council and everyone else to use to help decide what we can do to deal with this important issue, but it’s not a formal City Council document.

Cambridge Independent: Screenshot of article 'Trees and Water: Youth Strikers look to Cambridge Council'

The article is on the Cambridge Independent website.

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