What can we expect in Huntingdonshire for 2009? IAN MacKELLAR, The Hunts Post chief political correspondent, who spends all year predicting our civic futures, looks into his crystal ball. SOOTHSAYING is a bit of a risky business when the economy is looki
What can we expect in Huntingdonshire for 2009? IAN MacKELLAR, The Hunts Post chief political correspondent, who spends all year predicting our civic futures, looks into his crystal ball.
SOOTHSAYING is a bit of a risky business when the economy is looking dodgy, but one thing is certain - Huntingdonshire will not stand still over the coming year.
Some things we can be sure about, others we can predict with confidence will come to pass before New Year 2010. Then there are the tricky bits.
Let us get the gloom out of the way. Unemployment is likely to rise in the district, but it is so low now that virtually everyone here who wants to work has been able to get a job. But the market will not remain static. We can expect to see an increase in the number of self-employed people in an area in which 90 per cent of those in work are in firms with fewer than 50 employees.
Forecasting when recovery will come is a mug's game, but current predictions are that it is unlikely to happen in 2009. In spite of the underlying strength of the local economy, it provides goods and services to a contracting wider economy, so some impact here is inevitable.
Nonetheless, innovative companies will continue to innovate to be ready to hit the ground running when markets pick up. There are signs of consumer confidence returning, and even of a (very modest) recovery in house sales, even if prices are still falling. Expert Simon Bradbury, of Thomas Morris estate agents, believes house prices will fall to around their 2004 values in the middle of 2010 before starting to rise again.
Much of the predictable activity will be in the public sector, where the Government can provide short-term stimulus.
Huntingdonshire District Council will reach a bit of a milestone in January, when officers occupy the first of its replacement headquarters buildings in Huntingdon. After that, the rest of Pathfinder House will be demolished, paving the way for a further year's building work on a second office block and a civic suite, which are due to open in May 2010.
February will see local authorities setting Council Tax increases for the bills that go out in April. It is safe to expect increases of just under five per cent, but this does not mean that councils, the police and the fire service will have five per cent more to spend. Inflation has been higher in council expenditure than in the whole economy, and there will almost certainly be an increase in the number of people claiming Council Tax benefit, reducing the tax yield.
HDC has already warned that it may need to review its budget in mid-year in the light of possible sharp changes to its income.
Work to create a light-controlled junction with a pedestrian phase where Kings Ripton Road joins the A141 Huntingdon northern bypass will start in the first part of next year. The £400,000 scheme follows a number of collisions and the death of 16-year-old Warren Hay in May 2006 as he crossed the A141 on foot to get to the playing fields at Jubilee Park.
This year should also see average speed cameras installed on the Forty Foot Bank Road between Ramsey and Chatteris - after a campaign launched following five deaths along the road in six weeks between December 2005 and February 2006.
Other promised road schemes to continued to be processed in 2009 activities - even though physical work on them is unlikely - include the A14, the A428 and a new link road in Huntingdon between Brampton Road and Ermine Street.
The district council has £700,000 from Whitehall to fund design work on the link, a vital part of the expansion of Huntingdon town centre to the west of the ring road. The design is expected to be finalised in the first quarter of 2009, followed by an application for planning consent and an invitation to tender for the work. Construction is expected during 2010. The plan is to halve the volume of traffic on the ring road.
Draft Orders for the £1.2billion A14 improvement scheme, including a new southern bypass of Huntingdon, will be followed by a public inquiry, probably in the autumn.
And expect some progress on bringing forward dualling of the A428 "missing link" between the Caxton and Black Cat junctions.
The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway is scheduled to open in April. The scheme is believed to be £30million over its £116.27million budget, but Cambridgeshire County Council says the overspend will not be paid for by Council Tax payers.
Early 2009 will see the concrete guideway's last stretch laid down on the old railway trackbed between Swavesey and a new 500-space park-and-ride site in Meadow Lane, St Ives. But there will be off-peak disruption in St Ives on Harrison Way, while engineers construct a new junction for the buses to get to and from Station Road.
Still in St Ives, work is likely to begin to restore the Corn Exchange. The 19th century building could re-open as a public venue by the end of the year.
June will see voters going to the polls to elect Cambridgeshire County Councillors and Members of the European Parliament for the East of England. Shortly afterwards, Sir Brian Briscoe's "transport commission" will make recommendations about possible congestion charging in Cambridge City that promises £500million spin-off transport benefits across the county.
The year might finally see the first detailed planning approval by South Cambridgeshire District Council for the planned 9,500-home new town of Northstowe on the site of the former Oakington airfield.
What is certain is people won't be able to go to the cinema in St Neots in 2009. Although planning for a cinema will continue, it is extremely unlikely that work will start until 2010. Instead, it is hoped that this year St Neots Town Council will tart negotiations will Huntingdonshire District Council to secure a suitable piece of land for the multi-million pound cinema.
And we may see mooted privatisation of the management of Hinchingbrooke Hospital finally ditched, as The Hunts Post predicted earlier in 2008.