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Independent and…

May 17, 2012

Independent and Conservative Group Statement to the Annual Meeting of the City Council, May 24th 2012


Cllr Meftah  and Cllr Hipkin declare themselves co-members of the third group on the City Council, the Independent and Conservative group. 


 We have resolved to work together in a spirit of friendly co-operation and to consider together all the major issues that confront the City Council.  Where we can agree we shall vote as a group.  Where we differ, we shall agree to differ.


We are deeply concerned that a hung council raises the prospect of a long period of ineffectual and indecisive government of the city.  Our immediate fear is that the need for deep savings in the revenue budget will be fudged or neglected as the main parties bicker and manoeuvre for advantage.


We call upon the Lib-Dem and Labour Groups to join with us in drawing up a Concordat of basic principles for the stewardship of the council over the next two years.  Proposals for addressing budget deficits should be an essential part of the Concordat and we suggest that groups be required to come up with proposals for savings commensurate with their numerical strength.  Such proposals should be accepted as a starting point for budgetary planning over the next two years.


As members respectively of the Licensing and Planning Committees we shall be diligent in monitoring proposals for the granting and extending of licences to taxis and entertainment venues and for the sale of alcohol throughout the city.   We shall also play an active part in the Local Plan Review to ensure that future plans for the development of the city abandon crude quantitative criteria in favour of a quality and sustainability agenda.  We shall ensure that Trumpington and Castle residents’ views are strongly represented in all determinations of proposals for major developments, such as the possible relocation of the Cambridge United FC stadium.  We shall also argue that S106 money is spent within a specified time span and on behalf of the communities most likely to be impacted by the relevant developments.


To further good governance and co-ordinated development we shall press for stronger co-operation between the partner authorities responsible for the development of the Cambridge sub-region and for a clearer articulation of the city’s interests in all inter-authority deliberations.


As signatories to the formation of the Independent and Conservative group we intend to demonstrate that, when local councillors put people before politics, they can achieve great things on behalf of those they represent.   We call upon our fellow councillors, of whatever party, to   co-operate in a similar way on behalf of their communities.


Cllr John Hipkin  (Group Leader, Independent)

Cllr Shapour Meftah (Conservative)


Why students should vote on May 3rd

April 30, 2012

Councillor John Hipkin gives his view on why voting in the local elections is important for students

The local elections come round again on May 3rd and on past form it’ll be surprising if the student vote reaches 10% of those eligible.  Low student polls do not of themselves mean that students are apathetic when it comes to local politics.  Some are not aware of their entitlement to vote in their place of study as well as at home in local elections and some conscientiously believe that their relatively short stay in the city disqualifies them from voting knowledgeably on contentious and complex local issues. However, most students who don’t vote are too preoccupied with exams or too caught up in their ‘enclosed’ personal and social lives.

I believe that there are powerful reasons why students here should take an interest in the local elections and vote on May 3rd.   Although students seldom stay in Cambridge beyond graduation many develop a strong affection for the city and care about it.  In that connection it is important to remember that the University is the city’s biggest employer and its impact upon the life of the city is pervasive and sometimes decisive, as for example when in the 1970s it celebrated the marriage of research and development and embarked upon the Cambridge Phenomenon.  Today it is involved in major plans for a redevelopment of its many properties in and around Mill Lane, for further extensions to its West Cambridge site and for a massive programme of house building , both for its own key workers and for market buyers, together with community facilities, such as a supermarket and schools, on the University Farm land between the Madingley and Huntingdon Roads.  Its burgeoning high tech industries  make it a powerhouse of both the local and national economies and simply maintaining its position as the world’s leading university ensures that its presence in the city will continue to be felt and felt ever more powerfully for many years to come.  As members of the University, students belong to an institution which is driving the growth and shaping the character of Cambridge and with that membership goes a responsibility to do all that they can to ensure that its influence on the city is benign.

The University’s political involvement in the city is also at work in a number of less obvious ways.  Consider, for instance, the University’s decision to allocate all the key worker housing on the North West site to post doc students with none available for non-academic staff such as those working in maintenance or in administration.  Is this policy, proposed by the University and approved by a planning body of which the city council is a principal member, fair and reasonable?  Many colleges are seeking to sell off their playing fields to developers and any college minded to do so can try to persuade the planning authorities to let them do it.  But what would be the impact of large developments on these precious green lungs, and what of the loss to students of conveniently located recreational facilities?

There are many city-wide issues of particular concern to students.  For example the city spends a million pounds a year on CCTV  but many of its cycle routes are  ill-lit and poorly maintained. Have they got the balance right?  Increasing levels of crime in the city centre, particularly crimes of violence and crimes against women, also impact heavily on the student population. 

I hope student voters will not by-pass these local issues on May 3rdand use the local elections as a convenient means of punishing the government for its record on fees or for its controversial overhaul of the NHS. The time to vote on those contentious issues will be at the General Election planned for 2015.  Meanwhile there is enough going on locally of interest to students to warrant their taking a full part in the elections on May 3rd.

Councillor John Hipkin represents Castle ward (where more than 50% of voters are students) and is the only Independent on the City Council.  He is a former mayor of the city.

Castle to declare its Independence on May 3rd

April 26, 2012

John’s Eve of Poll Message:

‘You can spoil a city by bulldozing its historic buildings but you can also
ruin it by over-rapid and careless expansion. If we don’t resist the
government’s ‘presumption in favour of development’, the volume
developers’ insatiable appetite for profit, and the main political parties’ love
affair with growth, Cambridge could almost double in size within a
generation. If that happens I fear the results will be a shapeless and
sprawling city, unbearable strains upon an already inadequate
infrastructure and suffocation of the city’s historic centre. Of course
Cambridge must take its share of new housing, especially affordable
housing, but not at the expense of the unique character of this still lovely
John’s message to Castle voters has been warmly received. ‘I have personally called on
well over 1000 voters since my campaign began’, John says, ‘and the reception I am
getting is truly encouraging. People are fed up with fruitless arguments between party
politicians. The challenges facing Cambridge are far too important to be the subject of
inter-party bickering. Councillors should see themselves as community representatives
and not as servants of a party. The crucial question for voters is: Will the city benefit
from having a strong Independent voice within a council dominated by party
politicians? I think the answer to that question must be a resounding YES!’
‘The party politicians have tried to characterise me as a maverick, but on every
issue that I have spoken out on, including the over-ambitious expansion plans for
the city, the impact of massive developments upon Castle communities, the need
for more family housing and for a cleaner and prouder city centre, I have had the
support of residents. I shall go on speaking out for the things that matter to local
people. Please help to make that possible on May 3rd.

Give John your support on May 3rd by voting Independent

It’s Decision Time for Castle

April 26, 2012

What should you consider in making your decision?

This is a local election. The time for registering support or opposition to the government will be at the next general election. Don’t let this election be hijacked by national party politics. There are too many serious local issues at stake. Local government needs more community councillors: people who live in the ward, have lived there long enough to know what the local issues are, and who are committed to the long-term welfare of fellow residents. Castle is facing greater development challenges than any other part of the city. NIAB and the University scheme will bring in up to 15000 new residents. Northstowe,
Waterbeach and an enlarged Cambourne will also impact on our side of the city. To
tackle change on this scale we need councillors who understand the planning process
and can use it to protect all that makes Castle a pleasant community to live in.
‘Localism’ must mean giving neighbourhood groups a greater say over local planning
issues, anti-crime measures, the cleanliness of public spaces and such amenities as
parks and recreation grounds. Localism must not be exploited by developers pushing
profit-driven ‘local plans’ which lack community support. A careful watch must be kept
on how the new ‘presumption in favour of development’ works out in practice.
The next four years will be hard ones for local councils. So we cannot justify spending
scarce resources on council self-promotional ‘publicity’, ‘clubby’ area committees, skyhigh
top officer salaries and inflated executive councillors’ allowances. Any spare cash
should go to bodies like Citizens Advice Bureaux and homelessness charities.

Having thought about it what should you decide?


Why the University defines ‘key worker housing’ too narrowly.

April 26, 2012

The University’s NW development promises to be good but it could be improved in one important respect. As things stand, all the key worker housing on the site is allocated to short term visiting academics with none going to maintenance workers, gardeners, administrative staff and other full-time manual and support personnel. This is a mistake. The new community would be better balanced and socially fairer if the definition of ‘keyworker’ was broadened to include a proportion of long term non-academic staff. The city is in dire need of more affordable housing and the University should play its part in addressing that need. I will continue to press them on this important issue.

John Hipkin’s priorities

April 26, 2012

• Protecting Cambridge: from excessive and shoddy growth.
• Watching out for Castle. I want to make sure the University and NIAB schemes
bring real benefits to existing and future residents
• Helping residents’ groups & associations take full advantage of the new localism
• Making top quality developments, like Accordia, the norm rather than the exception
• Protecting green open spaces, such as sports and recreation grounds, from
• Pressing for more social housing to help the thousands on the needs register. But
insisting that affordable housing should be of the same quality as market housing
• Better bus services for those living in the city as well as for those commuting in
• The Cambridge Cycling Campaign and the completion of the Chisholm Trail
• Homelessness charities, such as Wintercomfort for the Homeless, at a time of real
crisis for those living rough or in poor accommodation
• Citizens’ Advice Bureau, busier than ever helping with debt and housing problems
• Cleaner Cambridge Campaign doing its bit to keep Cambridge streets and the Cam
• Cambridge Past present and Future, a vigilant environmental campaigning group
• Cambridge Retrofit, an iconic and innovative project using Cambridge to set the
template for energy demand and carbon reduction in communities throughout the UK
• Access restrictions to traffic in more areas of the city centre, other than public
transport, and emergency and disability vehicles
“A selection of causes I will speak up for and support in the Council.”

Are Independents powerless?

April 26, 2012

Are Independents powerless? 

A recent letter to Castle voters from one of the parties suggested that, as an Independent,
I can have no influence on local issues. Here is what local residents say to that:
I believe you DO have an influence and that the local parties need someone to stand up to the
party line every so often. It strikes me that the party line is usually for the benefit of the party
and not for local residents.

I believe political parties have too much influence in local government. In Cambridge we need more
members of the council who speak their own minds, and whose extensive experience of local
government and the vagaries of planning and planners allows them to see through and round
smokescreens to the real issues. We are lucky to have you as councillor, and I very much hope you will
be re-elected.

Being free from the strait jacket of party politics gives you a greater opportunity to think
about, and respond, to a wide range of issues on behalf of those who elect you.
Independents are free from the whip of the main parties, who consider they have some
kind of strength in numbers. Sadly this approach can make them introverted, looking for
party interests first, rather than being open to the electorate.
Good luck with your campaign. You can be confident that you’re admired for your
openness, integrity and willingness to be of service all those in Castle.
You are not constrained by party lines, being free to join with other councillors in supporting the
proposals you do agree with.

When I glanced through the letter in question I just laughed – they must be
really worried!

And this is what I say: The political parties know that I am in touch with local opinion on a
number of key issues. They also know that when I speak, I speak for those same people. I
urge voters to ignore the siren voices of the political parties and to vote for someone they
believe will work for them.

Why we need Independents on councils

April 16, 2012

John explains why Independents help improve the performance of councils

To get things done by local councils it helps if groups of councillors agree policies and stick together to achieve them.  I do not oppose political parties in local government.  Indeed a council made up entirely of Independents would be disastrous.  But in the same way that a dish often tastes better when seasoned, a council works better when some of its members are outside the party system and retain the right to publicly oppose policies or expose abuses. 

Often Independents can usefully publicise practices engaged in by all parties, such as when they agree the way to allocate allowances to their own party advantage or pay over a part of their publicly funded council allowances to finance political activities.  Political parties also collectively promote a culture of political bickering or grandstanding  which achieves little but wastes precious time and scarce council resources.  A good local example of this is to be found in the so-called Area Committees which are talking shops, usually attended by all local councillors and a handful of regulars, but which cost the ratepayer thousands of pounds a year in hall rentals, amplification charges, officer time etc. 

Local parties are also frequently tied to their national parties and back policies laid down by their national party bosses rather than answering local needs.  For example, City Councillors who have for years defended the party line on centrally imposed house building targets or regional assemblies will not today deny that they were costly mistakes. However, at the time they were adamant in their insistence of their benefits.

Perhaps my strongest objection to parties in local government is the way in which a few powerful party bigwigs control and manipulate the many fellow councillors who are content to be told what to think and how to vote. I call them ‘lobby fodder’.  I left the Lib-Dems in 2006 because they couldn’t tolerate my propensity to speak my mind and to think outside the box and since leaving them I have been able to breathe intellectually and politically.

Of course a lot depends on how skilfully and usefully an Independent councillor uses their ‘freedom’.  For my part I see my role as highlighting issues of public concern in the hope and belief that they will consequently be raised in the order of party priorities.  I do this through the pages of the local and national press (who have published over fifty articles reporting my views since the last election), through private discussions with fellow councillors, away from the whips, and by persuasion in the various committees and forums on which I have a voice.  My greatest concerns have always been on planning issues and I think it fair to say that my voice on the Planning Committee is respected and often heeded by members of all parties.  So it simply isn’t true to say that as an Independent I don’t have influence.

In the meantime the campaign for my re-election goes on and I am pleased to be able to tell you that we are heartened by the response we are getting.

A Mini-Manifesto for May 5th

March 7, 2012

A friend recently asked me what I would stand for when seeking re-election on May 3rd.  Well here are a few of the policies I favour:

1. The quality of Cambridge is more important than the growth of
Cambridge so there needs to be larger emphasis on good design and sustainability.
2.  A unified authority to run Cambridge and its surrounding
sub-region so that we can plan the development of the region
3. Development and infrastructure are interdependent so no development
without assurances of commensurate infrastructure.
4.  An elected Mayor to give the enlarged city the leadership and
dynamism it needs (not a self-serving job description!)
5.  More Independent councillors.  Unchecked party politics is an
impediment to good government at local level.
6.  A better exploitation of Council property assets.  Turn the
Guildhall into a five star hotel, for example.
7.  More family dwellings; a lower proportion of one and two bedroom flats.
8.  Strengthen neighbourhood groups and residents’ associations.  Give
them support and money to run services such as parks currently
managed by the City Council.
9.  Keep the city centre cleaner and better managed for the benefit of
all.  Commercial interests are not the only ones that matter.  Curb
punt touting and public space grabbing by eateries and shops.
10.  Rebrand Cambridge as a high calibre tourist destination.

The Future for Cambridge is Now

March 5, 2012



What kind of a place do you want Cambridge to be twenty years from now? Much as it is today or as it was at some point in the past?  The greenest city in the UK?  A busy, bustling, lively metropolis in the making?  A powerful engine of the UK economy?   A museum city like Venice?  So many possible visions of what its future shape, scale and character might be and the time is fast approaching when the dreaming has to stop and the realistic forward planning must begin.


How often do you hear questions like  ‘How did that ever get planning permission?’ or ‘When are they going to sort out the traffic?’ or ‘Why are they cramming so much into the city?’ and the point at which these questions are asked is often too late since the planning policies governing such issues were decided years before and are embodied in the Local Plan which is a legally binding account of how the city will be allowed and encouraged to develop during the Plan’s lifespan.


Councillors are already thinking seriously about the whole range of issues and options which Cambridge confronts and which, once considered and adopted, will collectively constitute the city’s Local Plan for the next twenty years. And in 2012 the Council will begin a series of public events designed to engage the wider public in the discussion of Cambridge’s future.  I want to encourage you to reflect on what is at stake as the new Local Plan comes into being and to express your views on what needs doing to safeguard Cambridge’s future.

The timetable for the completion of the Cambridge Local Plan is set out below:

Stage Dates
Preparation and completion of evidence base Spring 2011–June 2012
Issues and options consultation June–July 2012
Draft submission plan consultation February–April 2013
Submission July 2013
Examination November 2013–January 2014
Adoption April 2014

For more detailed information about the Cambridge Local Plan see committee report item 11/20/DPSSC.