It’s not a bad day for early Spring: a little sunshine, daffs in abundance and windy; and we’ve got a county council meeting. There’s little of substance on the agenda but there are two motions on Castle Mound which are likely to stimulate some debate.
As usual we start with prayers but they were a first today. First time for a practicing Muslim cleric, Abdsubhann Tarapuri, Imam of the Ely Mosque, and first time for the prayers to trigger a round of applause. The Imam referred to the event in Christchurch and related the almost universal condemnation of it to the idea that anger is thereby brought upon the person responsible and not directly from Allah.
Quickly through announcements (Ely bypass, Chisholm Trail, new (shared with Peterborough) Director of Economy & Place).
Now public questions. The first, from Isabel Lambourne, is about protection of Castle Mound. The answer refers to commitments made by bidders for the Shire Hall site but also says that at present no commitment can be made.
Now the evergreen Anthony Carpen asking about the shortage of exhibition space for the finds coming forward from current developments. He suggests that the Council uses its ‘power of convening’ to bring forward a meeting of ‘the great and the good’ to address this issue. Answer talks at length about storage (in a disused salt mine in Cheshire) but does not address the question.
A third questioner does not show.
There are no petitions so now it’s into the ‘agenda proper’ and the first item is the Council’s pay policy and gender pay gap. To be fair the Council does not have a bad record although there are issues (shared jobs with Peterborough may be unrealistic, the unpaid leave last Christmas was unfair). Approved by acclamation.
Now an interesting one: ‘a’ draft plastics strategy’. It’s a good initiative and I speak to point out that it should be just a start. There is a broader climate change issue which the council needs to embrace. It should show leadership and bring back the practice of considering the climate change implications of all its decisions. It’s a bit of a motherhood motion but good nonetheless. Approved by acclamation.
There are the usual proposals to change the constitution. Can’t we just leave it alone?
The first proposal is a simple tidy up job and is approved by acclamation.
The other two proposed changes appear to be a tad anti-democratic. They are the subject of separate motions which are themselves subject to Lib Dem amendments. These motions reduce the extent to which public questions may be asked and motions moved. The amendments would limit the impact of such changes.
(Now a little aside and it’s a repeat of what happens at most meetings. We have a bit of a ‘points of order’ row. Not great for any members of public who might be present. There are none.)
There are now four votes. Two on amendments (both lost; Tories against, Labour abstains) and two on the motions (both carried; Tories and Labour for, Lib Dems against).
(In the middle of all this the Tories get impatient and ask to go straight to the vote for the second amendment. More ratiness, even a little piety.)
We have a quick detour to change the sub on the Combined Authority and then two motions both relating to Castle Mound. The first is from the Tories and is a bit of a dead parrot motion: it does nothing because it simply agrees to what is being done now (by the Commercial & Investment Committee) but makes no hard commitment to ensure continued free access to the site. Labour and Lib Dem’s speak against it for this reason. I speak to emphasise that we should not allow public access to the Mound to be a negotiation option.
The motion is won 34 (Tories and Indies) to 20 (Lib Dems and Labour).
Second Mound motion makes the point that the issue is about the right of access as distinct from a permissive access. Point is made that this motion is about protecting access to the land versus protecting its value (in the impending negotiation of sales).
Unsurprisingly the motion is lost 31 (Tories) to 12 (Lib Dems) with 10 abstentions (Labour and Indie).
It’s only 1300. Looks like we’ll be finished before lunch.
Agenda item 11 is questions starting with the Combined Authority and this starts with a planted question about the recent £227 million grant from HMG relating to NE Cambridge. A second question relates to a reluctance on the part of the Combined Authority to share papers relating to the CamMetro with its scrutiny committee. Finally a third one asks ‘has the Major heard of Huntingdonshire’? Surprisingly the Leader of the Council and Combined Authority board member defends the higher spend in Cambridge and South Cambs. Finally a Huntingdonshire councillor asks for more consideration to be given to improving transport links east west especially including St Neots.
No more questions and it’s 1320 and we’re out!