Leader’s Blog – Cllr Bridget Smith
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Friday 26 January 2024: Reflecting on Northstowe's brilliant new sports facilities
I was beyond pleased to attend the opening of Northstowe’s new Sports Pavilion on Saturday (20 January). It’s always exciting to see new projects open for the first time (even if the ribbon cutting was with normal sized rather than comically large scissors) especially when the whole community can come together to celebrate. There was an absolutely amazing turnout despite the cold weather and Longstanton Men’s Saturday Team got the first go at the new pitches.
Everyone has been working incredibly hard at South Cambridgeshire District Council, and I must thank the Town Council for working with us, to bring the Pavilion into reality and put in place the first permanent community building for Northstowe.
The new facilities will provide changing facilities for the Western Park sport pitches, the 4G astroturf, the bowling green and the hard surface games area as well as a new clubroom with a fully equipped kitchen and servery. The new bowling green already has inhabitants, with Longstanton Bowls Club relocating to the Pavilion.
My real joy came from seeing how the new Pavilion can be used to help bring the community together in Northstowe. Talking to those who came along, it didn’t take much imagination to see how the clubroom could be used by the community in Northstowe. Spaces like the Pavilion, the temporary community centre, and the permanent community centre, which received planning permission at the end of last year, are so important for building the social fabric of Northstowe. At the opening, I was told about the pioneering spirit of Northstowe, and how evidently residents have come together over the past seven years to build a community from scratch – and I sincerely hope that spaces like the Pavilion will provide more opportunities for that sense of community to flourish.
Friday 19 January 2024: House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee
This week, I had the pleasure of giving evidence on behalf of the District Council Network (DCN) to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee as part of their inquiry into how the UK economy can sustainably adapt to electrification on the path to achieving net zero. Appearing alongside industry experts, I spoke to MPs about how Local Government has such a central role to play in achieving our climate ambitions.
Across the country DCN councils, like South Cambs, are leading on net zero at a local level, supporting renewable energy developments and helping residents cut down on fossil fuels. In South Cambridgeshire, we’re providing this key support to communities – funding parish council schemes for Electric Vehicle chargers or installing Photo Voltaics on the roofs of local community centres. However, current grid constraints are preventing renewables from being connected and residents and businesses from switching to decarbonised technologies. In Gamlingay, the community wind turbine could have been scaled to generated much more electricity if only the Grid had sufficient capacity for the increased generation.
These Grid constraints represent the biggest challenge to the decarbonisation for our local communities. They are stalling decarbonisation works and rollouts of EV charging infrastructure in our local areas meaning that despite the clear desire from residents to act, we are all being held up.
Grid constraints in South Cambridgeshire nearly halted the development of two new hospitals, but thankfully Local Government intervened to put the case forward to the responsible body (in our case UKPN) to bring online two new substations.
The Local Government Association has found that of the over 1,300 renewable energy schemes that have received planning approval and are waiting to be built and just 150 of them are currently under construction. The solar schemes awaiting construction would alone generate around 15,000 megawatts a day, enough to power 1.9 million homes.
We know that local decision makers are best placed to support communities and businesses to decarbonise the Grid. The trust there is in local government and our strong links to local partners will help us deliver this. But we need an established role in delivering net zero as well as the additional powers to deliver and the funding to build up capacity.
I told MPs that councils across the country, just like South Cambs, want to play a full role in the transition to clean energy but need the resources and powers for Local Area Energy Plans to be effective. This would let councils actively take part in shaping the grid investments that are so essential to a secure and sustainable future.
Tuesday 5 December 2023: Oxford to Cambridge Pan-Regional Conference 2023
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking at the Oxford to Cambridge Pan-Regional Conference in Milton Keynes. The aim of the event was to bring together local leaders, business partners and institutions from across our region to have frank and opens discussions about how we can make the most out of the opportunities ahead of us.
In South Cambs, in 2018 we committed the Council to being ‘Green to our Core’ and every decision we have made as a council since then has had to be measured against that priority standard.
At the conference, I spoke specifically on the important role our universities can play in delivering for the region. The Oxford to Cambridge region has the potential to pioneer real change, tackling the climate crisis head on and innovating to safeguard and enhance our environment and make future growth in the region truly sustainable. As a society we are not doing enough and must do more to work with those ‘harder to reach groups’ of people, particularly young people across the region, who are both going to be the most affected by climate change but also can help find those innovative solutions to mitigate the worst of the climate crisis.
I was really moved hearing from young people across the region, who spoke about the impact climate change will have on their future and on their lives. The decisions we make now will have a lasting impact for generations to come and it was heartening that those young voices got an opportunity to be heard loud and clear.
Wednesday 29 November 2023: Local Climate Action Conference 2023
Yesterday, I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with community leaders and parish councillors at our Local Climate Action Conference. Seeing the work our communities are doing to tackle the environmental and climate crisis was inspiring and demonstrated how all of us across South Cambridgeshire can help do our bit.
Highlighting a couple of schemes that were particularly exciting and I’d love to see more of in the future:
- Steeple Morden Parish Council have installed a new community electric vehicle charger point. This fantastic scheme, which was part funded by our EV Charge Point Grant, is helping to remove EV blackspots and making EVs more accessible for people without off-street parking. Thank you to Malcolm Bird for coming to speak to us and I’d love to see more parishes following in Steeple Morden’s wake.
- Alison Giles from Natural Cambridgeshire spoke to us about Girton Village’s local nature recovery plan. Alison spoke about her work engaging with young people and how people can get involved in their communities’ work to support nature on their doorsteps. These brilliant efforts show how we all can make a difference and I implore everyone to look into the work your parish or town council is doing and see how you and your family can get involved in protecting nature.
Thank you to all the other speakers and everyone who came along to share ideas and work together for a greener South Cambridgeshire.
Tuesday 14 November 2023: Diwali celebrations in Cambourne
It was the nicest possible way to spend a Saturday night to attend the beautiful Diwali celebrations in Cambourne at the weekend. The community centre had been stunningly decorated and everyone was dressed up in their finery. They even found a sari for me to wear. We had absolutely splendid entertainment from traditional drumming which got everyone on their feet dancing (including me) to Bollywood and traditional dancing. My evening ended with a delicious meal, though I think every one else continued to party until very late. A more welcoming community you could not imagined. It was my first Diwali and I hope it is not my last. Thank you very much
Thursday 5 October 2023: At the cutting-edge at CMR
It was a pleasure and extremely interesting to visit CMR Surgical in Ely yesterday. This is a company that leads the way in medical robotics devices. It was another clear example of the leading role that our region plays in one of the world’s most advanced and important industries.
This company aims to help patients and surgeons by producing incredibly sophisticated, portable robots that are used during surgical procedures – with a focus on minimally invasive during surgery. Minimally invasive procedures help aid recovery and outcomes for patients. These precise machines are also important because they are portable too. This is so important because despite all our technological advances, I heard how there are 270 million operations carried out worldwide every year but still one million deaths owing to surgical error.
We heard how the UK has an excellent reputation for start-ups but is less good at ensuring all those start-ups mature and develop into established, world leading companies like CMR. As a country the UK clearly needs to be more focused on turning innovation into real-life outcomes.
The company is also extremely aware of its impacts on the environment; I heard how it aims to send zero waste to landfill, doesn’t use any bubble wrap and 40% of their workforce get to work using public transport, by walking, cycling or in an electric vehicle.
A hugely interesting day – and our role is to ensure we are providing the space and opportunities locally for companies like CMR to start-up, develop and benefit people locally and around the world.
Friday 12 May 2023: New electric buses for Greater Cambridge
Finally the start of the bus improvements for Greater Cambridge with the launch of 30 all electric buses at a cost of £17mil. Look out for them travelling to and from all the Park and Ride’s. They are a lovely comfortable ride and will play a massive part in reducing our transport related carbon emissions and help improve our air quality.
Friday 17 March 2023: A visit to Ouse Fen
It was lovely to meet up with the RSPB team this week. They are doing the most inspirational work at Ouse Fen Nature Reserve to restore a massive site to nature rich wetland. This exemplar project is being run with Hanson and the County Council and is the largest project of its kind in Europe. Even while material is still being extracted from the quarry, bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers are populating the parts that have been restored. There are 19km of trails to walk and you can see for yourselves where the sand and gravel is being removed and get a sense of the scale of the wetland that will eventually be there for future generations to enjoy. Much of the routine maintenance is done by local volunteers and the local community continue to be heavily involved in the site’s development. What excites me most of all is the potential for this model of partnership working between the private sector, local authorities and the a national charity to be rolled out across the country thereby greatly improving our landscape and bio diversity.
Wednesday 8 March 2023: International Women's Day
It was a huge privilege to be asked to speak today at the Local Government Association’s Women’s network on International Women’s Day. I focused on how our four day week trial at the Council could help to support women (and men) with caring responsibilities. There was a very interesting debate about how women’s progress through employment hierarchies can still be impeded, and a long conversation about how we deal with ‘micro aggressions’ which for many of us are a daily occurrence. These can so easily be normalized but which should be routinely be called out.
Monday 13 February 2023: MAGPAS Air Ambulance Future 50 Appeal launch
It was a huge privilege to attend the launch of the MAGPAS Air Ambulance Future 50 Appeal on Friday at their new, and nearly completed headquarters, at Alconbury, in the presence of their president, HRH Princess Anne, the Princess Royal.
HRH Princess Anne unveiled a plaque dated just before the passing of The Queen which reminded us why this celebration was postponed.
We were taken on a guided tour of the fantastic new facilities, that will even include a family room where patients can meet the clinicians who most likely saved their lives.
The Charity must raise £6 million every year but the work it does is absolutely invaluable - and as one of the speakers said, you never know when you might be very grateful for them being there.
We were able to talk to supporters, volunteers and staff all of whom were absolutely passionate about what they do.
The highlight was when the helicopter, just returned from a mission, landed on the grass outside the pavilion at Alconbury.