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Extinction Rebellion activists disrupt Greater Cambridge Partnership meeting

By Gemma Gardner and Mike Scialom

The Greater Cambridge Partnership’s executive board meeting was temporarily suspended today (Wednesday, February 19) following disruption by Extinction Rebellion activists.

Police arrested one woman on suspicion of robbery in relation to a pass belonging to a member of staff at Shire Hall in Cambridge, which has been retrieved. The suspect was taken into custody in what was the eighth arrest made during the week of action by climate activists.

Extinction Rebellion at the Greater Cambridge Partnership meeting Picture: Mike Scialom (29630285)
Extinction Rebellion at the Greater Cambridge Partnership meeting Picture: Mike Scialom (29630285)

Around two dozen campaigners descended on Shire Hall at around 1.45pm.

One member interrupted proceedings to ask a question, calling for an immediate response when told they could ask the question once the meeting got to that item.

Chairperson, Cllr Aiden Van de Weyer, responded: “We have an agenda and many of the items on the agenda relate directly or indirectly to the climate crisis.”

Proceedings were then halted after drumming by activists led to problems with members hearing discussions.

The say a disabled member of XR was prevented from accessing the meeting in her wheelchair. But GCP said they were unable to accommodate the member of the public safely in the council chamber due to the protest. They said they did offer an alternative location to view proceedings.

The drumming then started again and the meeting was halted 2.40pm.

Cllr Van de Weyer told the room: “The only way we’ll achieve change is at meetings like this.”

The meeting restarted shortly before 3.30pm in a different room.

Amelia Halls, a member of XR Youth Cambridge, said in a statement: “The GCP has sat on £100m and what is there to show for it? An electric bus, the odd cycleway and plans for busways served by diesel buses to connect Cambridge to ‘growth hubs’ like Cambourne. What about everybody else?

“Residents north of Cambridge are totally excluded from the GCP – those living in the rural communities are forced to pay through the nose for bus services that run irregularly, infrequently and often stop before the end of the working day. Cambridge is the most unequal city in the country, the whole county has huge inequalities, and the GCP is just perpetuating this.”

She added: “Most importantly of all, we are in an environmental emergency and everybody should be able to travel easily, quickly and cheaply by fully electric bus. We can’t afford to wait for endless consultations to run their course.”

The action is part of Extinction Rebellion’s youth-led Rebel for Justice protest.

In January, Extinction Rebellion’s local youth wing, XR Youth Cambridge, issued an ultimatum to the City Council, County Council and Cambridge University, stating that XR would create major disruption if the institutions did not agree to its three demands concerning climate and social justice.

One of the demands is that Cambridgeshire County Council works with other relevant regional authorities to provide a plan for a just transition away from an inadequate transport system reliant on fossil fuels.

This includes the GCP as well as the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. The group says that it is time the GCP, in conjunction with the county council and the Combined Authority, used its funding to move rapidly to a transport network which means that all residents across the region can travel easily and in affordable way by public transport.

The group also criticised the recent GCP Citizens’ Assembly.

Nicki Myers, an XR activist who attended the Citizens’ Assembly, said: “Participants were told not to focus on the climate – which we largely ignored. Every group on the final day sent a strong message to the GCP that the wellbeing of residents and the environment (locally, nationally and globally) was of paramount importance – and we felt that the growth agenda wasn’t a priority and even detrimental. The Assembly rejected the GCP's proposal of a metro in Cambridge, viewing it as a vanity project that would cost too much and take too long to build to have any meaningful impact.

“We said that the GCP needed to ‘grow a backbone’ in order to tackle congestion and air quality and provide clean, affordable public transport. The third most popular recommendation was for the GCP to be carbon neutral. However, the Citizens’ Assembly was non-binding so essentially toothless.”

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