CAMBS ELECTIONS: How the Lib Dems would tackle Hunts issues

CAMBRIDGESHIRE County Council is currently controlled by the Conservatives with a clear 15-seat majority but, with every one of the 69 seats being contested on Thursday June 4, that could change next week. The present council is made up of 42 Conservative

CAMBRIDGESHIRE County Council is currently controlled by the Conservatives with a clear 15-seat majority but, with every one of the 69 seats being contested on Thursday June 4, that could change next week.

The present council is made up of 42 Conservative councillors, 23 Liberal Democrat members and four Labour councillors.

The election will inevitably be influenced by voters' attitudes towards the MPs' expenses row and the way the parties have reacted to the series of revelations over the past few weeks.

To help electors make up their minds about who to support at county level, The Hunts Post put a selection of readers' questions affecting Huntingdonshire to the four parties fielding multiple candidates.

These are the responses from the Lib Dems.

1. How do you propose to keep Council Tax levels below the increase in the Retail Prices Index (the rate of inflation used for pensions indexing) after the inflationary cycle resumes?

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The Lib Dem alternative budget for 2009-10 and for 2010-11 shows planned increases below those proposed by the Conservative administration. For the current year, our increase would be 2.45 per cent compared to the 3.9 per cent from the Conservatives. It is difficult to predict exactly what the rate of increase would be in the future but we have made it our top priority to keep Council Tax increases as low as possible. This can be achieved by much more rigorous cost-cutting, especially in administrative and publicity costs, and in a more ambitious 'shared services' programme with other local authorities.

2. More public investment goes into Cambridge city than anywhere else in the county. How will you redress that balance equitably?

Cambridge acts as magnet for resources and investment because of the university and its massive potential. We would seek to balance this by directing investment in public transport and traffic infrastructure towards the market towns and Fenland to open up opportunities for controlled growth.

3. What would you do to improve tourism outside of the city of Cambridge?

Promote the attractions of the market towns through publicity and websites, improve transport and access, set up 'packages' to include visits to places outside Cambridge when visitors come to Cambridge as their main attraction. But let's face it - we're not going to re-build King's College Chapel in Chatteris.

4. Would you support a package of Government funded transport investment, as envisaged by the Transport Innovation Fund, that includes roundly �500million for public transport and other transport improvements along with a congestion charge in the morning peak in Cambridge city?

Our position is clear and consistent. We have made a detailed submission to the independent commission and this can be found on the commission website, We await the recommendations of the commission before coming to a final position but, in essence, we would not automatically rule out some form of congestion charging provided that the infrastructure and public transport improvements are good and are in place first. In particular, we propose that Huntingdon should have a park-and-ride on the route of the guided bus, probably near the Hartford roundabout. In addition, when the new A14 is in place, there should be a dedicated bus-lane along the line of the current A14 from Huntingdon towards Cambridge during the morning rush hour.

5. Will you support proposals for a "regional-scale settlement", initially of 20,000 homes, based on Huntingdon and Alconbury, as put forward in the review of the Regional Spatial Strategy?

No. We believe that this would be a serious over-development and destroy the rural character of our area. However, we would not be opposed in principle to a smaller development on Alconbury airfield if this means that we could protect our market towns and larger villages from over-development. There would also have to be significant improvements in travel infrastructure, including a rail link to the East Coast main line.

6. What are your plans to stimulate Cambridgeshire's economy and create new jobs, and what support would you make available to people at risk of losing their homes because of the credit squeeze?

Cambridgeshire's scope for practical help is limited because it has been historically a cash-strapped council. Helping with advice and guidance is something we can support. Our proposal, rejected by the Conservative majority before they later took it up in their own proposals, would have provided a more generous package of support for the Citizens' Advice Bureaux and delivered the help sooner.

7. How would you get St Neots Community College out of "special measures" as quickly as possible to restore to the 1,000 students a reasonable prospect of achieving their educational potential?

It is essential that the whole community gets behind the efforts of the principal, staff and governors to make improvements at the college. If the county council was aware that things were going wrong at the college, both financially and in terms of performance, it should have acted more decisively earlier. But we must now look forwards. Schools can improve if parents and pupils can be motivated.

8. Would you increase the highways maintenance budget sufficiently to rectify the winter frost damage to the county's roads?

The Liberal Democrat alternative budget specifically allocated extra funding for the improved maintenance of roads and pavements. This is one of the most frequent complaints we receive from residents. The costs of existing maintenance contracts must be better controlled so we get more repairs for our money. We would also allocate more funding to speed up the road safety improvements that are widely needed.

9. Will you invest more cash in recycling, including a renegotiation of the contract with the operators of the Buckden recycling centre to provide weekend public access?

The Conservatives' decision to close the Buckden Recycling Centre remains massively unpopular. Their arrogant dismissal of a 5,000-signature petition made many angry. Residents from Huntingdon, Godmanchester, Brampton and Buckden do not wish to waste time and fuel travelling to Alconbury to a less convenient site. The Liberal Democrats are currently in detailed negotiation to see if it would be possible to re-open Buckden to the public at weekends at a small charge.