City Councillor for West Chesterton

Cllr Richard Swift - City Councillor for West Chesterton
Contact Cllr Richard Swift

Background: I was born and brought up in Crawley in Sussex, where my mother was a life-long State Registered Nurse and my father was an electronics engineer. I attended Hazelwick Comprehensive School before studying art and history of art at Reading University and the Courtauld Institute in London. My political consciousness really started in 1980, when, fresh from art school, I joined with thirty other visual artists to convert a derelict factory into Chisenhale Art Place in London’s Mile End, one of the most deprived parts of the country. For forty years the Chisenhale outreach programme has promoted social contact and arts involvement for local residents, with the gallery showcasing international art exhibitions. In 1995 I moved with my young family from Mile End to West Chesterton in Cambridge where we still live. My children went to Milton Road School and Chesterton and Impington Community Colleges. I currently work as an art teacher part time, and I have been an active member of Cambridge Labour Party since first moving to the city.

Cambridge City Council under Labour has worked hard to address the effects of austerity and the cost-of-living crisis, and to promote decent affordable housing and a sustainable environment. Cost-of-living support includes funding for food vouchers and food hubs, energy grants, discounts for Council Tax, and advice on managing debt. Careful budgeting has enabled us to maintain key provision in public services while extending the real living wage. In Housing, we have constructed a new generation of 500 eco-council homes, as well as offering accommodation for every rough sleeper, and arranging resettlement for refugees from countries including Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine. We are also actively addressing the Climate Emergency, implementing practical steps towards achieving a zero carbon City Council by 2030, tackling the chalk stream crisis, and extending provision of green public space and herbicide reduction to sustain biodiversity.

Last May I was elected as City Councillor for West Chesterton standing on four pledges: 1. Expanding Green Initiatives, 2. Taming Mitcham’s Corner, 3. Tackling Food Insecurity, and 4. Making Public Transport and Cycling More Attractive. Here’s my update on delivery:

Expanding green initiatives in response to the Climate Emergency led me to join the Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee which oversees the City Council implementation of green policies. I am also a member of the North Area Committee, and a Conservator of the River Cam. Prior to becoming a councillor, I worked with councillor Jocelynne Scutt and the Local Liaison Forum on the green aspects of the Milton Road Redevelopment, and supported councillors Richards and Scutt in their successful bid to secure preservation of, and public access to, Castle Mound in perpetuity: a major win for the public. As a councillor, much of my time is spent working with residents to prevent inappropriate planning applications. We have also set up the Green Gilbert Road WhatsApp Group, with the aim of restoring the pavement at the south-eastern end to its 1930s heyday. Your West Chesterton Team has also been busy making improvements to Jubilee Gardens along the northern bend of the river. The gardens now have full wheelchair access and additional park benches: perfect for a picnic, meeting a friend or reading a book – while gazing across the river to the lock gate and Jesus Green.

Taming Mitcham’s Corner has been an environmental dilemma for as long as most residents can remember. The 1960s redesign converted a staggered crossroads junction into a racetrack circuit, which has been great for cars and lorries, but a disaster for residents, pedestrians and cyclists. Last Autumn, we organised a meeting with a representative from the Greater Cambridge Partnership to restart the Mitcham’s Corner Development Framework which had been on hold since 2018. In essence, this would restore the original street pattern by closing the northern sections of the circuit, thereby enabling the creation of a central green public space, with new mixed housing on the former Staples site. Next, we organised a public meeting with the Friends of Mitcham’s Corner and representatives from the Greater Cambridge Partnership, City and County Councils. Now is an auspicious time to transform Mitcham’s Corner, with community cohesion, active travel, and biodiversity for the first time given precedence over the transport lobby. Please consider joining the new Mitcham’s Corner Group on WhatsApp. The idea is to have a funded design ready for when the Milton Road Redevelopment is completed in 2025. In the meantime, long overdue high-quality resurfacing of Mitcham’s Corner has been completed.

Tackling food insecurity is a major priority for me. I am a member of the Cambridge Sustainable Food team, taking food donations from supermarkets to the depot in Abbey for distribution to food hubs around the city – including Akeman Street, Church of the Good Shepherd and Meadows Community Centre. In West Chesterton I have started two Food Collection Points at Milton Road Library on Ascham Road, and the New Chesterton Institute in Holland Street. I also volunteer at the Community Drop-in Centre at Milton Road Library started by local resident Christine Montgomery. To extend resident understanding of food insecurity we arranged a public talk at Milton Road Library by the co-founder of Cambridge Sustainable Food, outlining the rise of the Food Justice Movement and the Cambridge Food Poverty Alliance. In Cambridge the big three are Cambridge City Food Bank (for short term emergencies, requiring vouchers), Cambridge Sustainable Food (for voucherless long term food security), and CoFarm (the large-scale organic fruit and vegetable community farm located off Coldham’s Lane). I support the Free School Meals For All campaign as an important and cost efficient way to dramatically reduce food insecurity, both at county and national level.

Making public transport and cycling more attractive has been the most challenging of my four pledges. I sit on the Planning & Transport Scrutiny Committee where the City Council works on ways to reduce traffic congestion, improve the buses and cycleways, and address concerns over pollution and environmental sustainability. In connection with this, the Greater Cambridge Partnership has proposed a Sustainable Travel Zone, which includes a component commonly referred to as the Congestion Charge. This has caused significant public concern. In December we organised a public meeting for West Chesterton residents to directly question the Greater Cambridge Partnership leaders about their proposal. From this meeting – and dozens of doorstep discussions – three main concerns have emerged. 1. Affordability: many residents have told us that £5 per day per car or moped is unaffordable during the cost-of-living crisis; 2. Unintended Consequences: local small businesses have told us they are already struggling and would have to close due to higher delivery costs and lower footfall; 3. Charge Gate Confusion: where and when and how? These legitimate concerns need to be weighed against the common desire for a transformed bus service and the contribution it could make to congestion reduction and environmental sustainability after the two-year bus subsidiary ends. But, on balance, my own position is that I am unable to support implementation of the Congestion Charge in its present form. With regard to cycling and active travel, I am keen to extend the provision of segregated cycleways to the whole of Cambridge, especially on dangerous junctions and roundabouts.

Working with Cllrs Jocelynne Scutt and Sam Carling as the ‘West Chesterton Team’ over the past year has been exhilarating. With my friend and colleague Jocelynne stepping down as city councillor to expand her international work alongside academe and practice, Sam and I are very much looking forward to working with longstanding West Chesterton resident Rachel Wade who is putting herself forward for election in our ward this May. Together, we will work with residents and community interest groups at local, constituency and national level to keep the community at the heart of West Chesterton.

Richard Swift
Richard Swift
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