Last night we attended a hustings for the local ward elections for South Cambridgeshire District Council, due to be held on Thursday. We had looked at the literature produced by all the candidates and had been unable to come to a decision. When we heard there was a hustings tonight, we decided to go along and get a close look at the candidates.
Bourn ward is a little odd: it is named after one of the villages in the borough, but over the last fifteen years the villages of Bourn, Caxton, Croxton and Eltisley have been utterly outgrown by Cambourne, where the majority of the ward's population now lives. This has led to a situation where the outlying villages can feel swamped by the brash Cambourne.
This has been made worse by the recent news that two extensions to Cambourne have been announced in the local plan, which will essentially double the size of the settlement. Many of the same people who were against the creation of Cambourne twenty years ago are now against (in particular) the Bourn Airfield development of 3,500 homes, which will essentially join up Cambourne and Bourn. There was not much talk of the other Cambourne West development of 1,200 to 1,500 homes.
This made this local election more interesting than usual. One candidate is the leader of Stop BAD - the group set up to stop the Bourn Airfield development, and he had a number of supporters in the room. There were candidates from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and Greens, although the Labour candidate sent his apologies. There were also two independents - the man from Stop BAD and another independent who was supported by a long-standing well-known Cambourne resident.
The hustings were part of the parish council meeting, and was delayed by what turned out to be a seemingly disorganised election of two people to the council. Two of the candidates were also prospective candidates for the ward, and it was interesting that neither of these got a place on the parish council. The two winners were the two who I would have picked, so I was happy with the result.
The room grew increasingly hot and stuffy as the evening drew on, and the prospective councillors said their piece. There was only one female candidate - representing the Greens - and sadly she did not perform as well as I hoped.
For me, the most compelling performer of the night was the UKIP candidate, Lister Wilson, who honestly admitted that it was probably too late to stop either the Bourn Airfield or Cambourne West developments. His message appeared to be that we need to ensure that the developers are properly managed by the various councils to ensure they deliver what they promise, which has not necessarily been the case in Cambourne.
The Conservative candidate was slightly more hopeful of stopping the Bourn Airfield development, but also expressed the fact you have to be realistic. The other candidates all seemed to think the developments could still be stopped despite the publication of the local plan.
After the initial statements came questions from the public and parish councillors. As I expected, most of the questions were about the Bourn Airfield development. Some of these got rather heated, especially against the UKIP and Conservative candidates who seemed to (realistically IMHO) believe it was unlikely that the developments would be able to be stopped. This seemed a shame, as there are far more issues in the area than just the new developments.
Because the atmosphere was getting heated in more than one way, I tried to ask a more positive question: firstly, I explained that we had moved here for three reasons: access to jobs and good housing, but mainly the fact that Cambourne was a good place to live. Given this, I asked what the candidates believed the positive aspects of Cambourne were, and how they would, if elected, take it forward?
I hate speaking in public, and I was cringing at how my voice sounded. Fortunately they managed to understand me, and whilst all candidates mentioned 'community', for me the best response was from the Conservative, who mentioned the long-wanted swimming pool in his answer.
All in all it was an interesting (if long) evening, and one that has firmed up my votes for both the Cambourne ward and the simultaneous Euro elections. And no, I'm not saying who'll have the crosses by their names ...