Monday, October 10, 2016

Response to Cambridge City Deal Consultation

Below is my personal response to the current city deal consultation closing on 10th October.

I haven’t completed the questions, as they miss the point - the whole package of proposals is misguided. I also don’t think it is helpful focussing consultation on how the changes would affect the individual consultee in their current circumstances - when many people are concerned on how the proposals will impact the future development of Greater Cambridge for everyone. For the record, I usually cycle to work, and most of these proposals will have little or no impact on my personal commute at the moment - but then I am currently lucky enough to be living in housing a short cycle ride from my place of work.

Its difficult to express how hopelessly inadequate I feel the current proposals are to the challenge in hand - which to my mind is to deliver the growth of Cambridge with lots more housing and sustainable transport of a type and quality that will cause existing residents of Cambridge and the surrounding areas to welcome and embrace growth. We need to be able to look back in decades time and be proud of new housing and transport, rather than fear every new housing planning application and its impact on journeys as happens now.

The current proposals do not appear to be directed by the future development needs of Cambridge but by the obsession that someone, somewhere has with using Cambridge as a guinea pig for novel demand management techniques as the only or main tool to tackle future Cambridge congestion. Chopping down trees on Milton Road to build bus lanes, congestion charging, shutting roads, workplace charging - the local Councils have been trying to impose these on Cambridge for decades, and they completely miss the point which is that we need much more new capacity for sustainable transport.

Specifically, my problems with the current proposals:
  • There is not enough linkage between transport improvements and new housing developments. We need to identify more sites for housing nearer Cambridge that can be served by good quality off road public transport, and develop housing there with high levels of quality and quantity.
  • The budget is limited by what the government says it will provide - we should budget what is needed to provide sensible levels of additional capacity, and make the case to government for more funding, or divert more of the uplift in value from new housing developments to building the transport.
  • There is far too much reliance on demand management. These measures will mostly impact those who work in low paid jobs in the City, who cannot afford to live in the City and need to commute in. As such, these measures are grossly socially inequitable. Any demand management should start with real and significant new sustainable transport options. If new sustainable transport isn’t good enough to get significant numbers of people out of their cars, you won’t solve the problem with ever more oppressive demand management. 
  • The value for money of some of the options looks awful (in terms of the incredible costs being discussed for what should be relatively trivial changes such as new bus lanes).
  • The plans are underwhelming in terms of new capacity for cycling and walking, and non-existent in terms of new off road capacity for other public transport. We need to look at where corridors can be identified to build new capacity (be it guided bus, light or heavy rail, trams or other more futuristic solutions) to connect housing to jobs and leisure opportunities. If corridors can’t be created above ground, we need to look at tunnelling.
I can’t recall a previous set of proposals in Cambridge that have attracted such near universal derision as the current City Deal plans - or the scale of significant alternative proposals from third-parties aghast at what is being suggested.

We are living in one of the most economically dynamic growth areas on the planet. Please tell me we can do better than what is being proposed here. You need to go back to the drawing board (ideally not using expensive consultants who appear to have a limited understanding of the Cambridge context).

Friday, May 13, 2016

BBC White Paper

Can any of my friends in politics explain why for the love of god we need to create a new completely-unenforceable offence of watching iPlayer without a TV licence, when there are technical solutions already in use by many many media organisations who have found ways to ensure only those that have paid for their content can watch or read it?

The TV licence is past its sell by date and needs to go now. It is the most regressive form of taxation on the statute book - a single parent on benefits pays the same as Richard Branson (and rather more than the Queen). Hundreds of thousands of people are prosecuted and fined annually for licence evasion - disproportionally women and the less well off. Every single one of these prosecutions occurs because a vulnerable person caves in to a TV licensing campaign of harassment and threats directed at everyone who legitimately or not doesn't have a license - and they self-incriminate. There is no effective way to gather evidence of the offence being committed without snooping into people's private homes and bullying or conning them.

Working on the basis that the government isn't intending to give TV licensing access to everyone's internet history (although scarily with Teresa May in the Home Office its hard to be sure this is the case) - watching iPlayer without a license will be a new offence with no plausible method of enforcing the law. 'Have you watched iPlayer without a licence?' 'Go away its none of your business' would appear to be completely effective. It doesn't need to be against the law - just put it behind a paywall (this doesn't require a new law, or statutory instrument as the government is thinking of doing to avoid debate and scrutiny).

Of course we know why they don't want to do that. For the same reason the white paper came out against decriminalising the licence fee - the number of people willing to pay for it would just collapse - and then how would they find the money to pay the 91 BBC executives currently earning more than the Prime Minister.