A new “City Centre Partnership Board” is being formed help run the historic core of Cambridge City Centre.
Cambridge City Council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny committee meeting on Monday 17th November decided to appoint the Executive Councillor for Customer Services and Resources, currently Cllr Cantrill as a director of the new board.
Emma Thornton, Head of Tourism and City Centre Management updated councillors on progress towards establishing this new group which will take on City Centre Management from April 2009. The new board will also eventually take on responsibility for promoting tourism.
Cambridge’s South, West and East Area Committees, but not the North were consulted on the plans. I cannot see why residents and councillors from the North of the City should not have a say in how the city centre is run. It has been reported that the chair of the North Area Committee declined the invitation to participate in the consultation. Councillors at the East Area Committee stressed the importance of the new partnership considering Mill Road.
Cllr Herbert asked Emma Thornton for details of the proposed make-up of the new board. She was not able to reply and instead of answering the question just read out a couple of irrelevant sentences from her report saying:
The City Centre Management team, with the support of local solicitors Hewitsons, are in the advanced stages of drawing up the Memorandum and Articles for the new organisation. These are the legal documents which are required to set up the new partnership as a company limited by guarantee.
Cllr Herbert said he had heard the plan was for the directors to consist of just the one City Councillor, ten retailers, a Cambridge University representative and a representative of the Colleges of the University of Cambridge, and was concerned this would not provide a balanced view. (Surely the University would be expected to represent the colleges’ interests, and what about the other University!) Cllr Cantrill questioned where Cllr Herbert was getting his numbers from; hardly a robust riposte as it was Cllr Cantrill who ought to have been able to provide a definitive answer as to the proposed make up of the board. Previous discussions (September 07, July 08) suggested two City Councillors and an officer, at director level, on behalf of the County Council. Cllr Herbert asked about Community Representation. I was impressed by Emma Thornton’s reply to this, she said: “I see councillors as community representatives”, that’s a sentiment I support wholeheartedly. Cllr Herbert expressed concern that we were ceeding responsibility to large national retail companies.
Emma Thornton went into a bit more detail, describing a structure whereby any companies with an interest in the city centre would be able to become “members” of the new board, and as such would get a vote on a one member, one vote basis. In terms of directors of the partnership board it had been decided that an (as yet unidentified) independent retailer would chair the board and that there would be only one representative of the large national retailers and only one representative of the large shopping centres, despite the officer said, as we now have three in the City Centre.
The meeting’s chair, Cllr Taylor asked Cllr Herbert who he would like to see as a director representing the community. Cllr Herbert said there was a wealth of expertise and plenty of interested people, one way their skills could be harnessed he suggested was by involving residents associations. Cllr Cantrill, while supportive of the role of residents associations cautioned that different associations in the city have very different aims, and were not representative of all residents. I strongly agree with this statement and have been complaining about the excessive weight the city council places on representations from such organisations.
Cllr Bick asked how ward councillors would be able to have an input. Cllr Cantrill replied that the council’s representation would be via him, or the holder of his office. Seeing Cllr Bick wasn’t going to be happy with that response he added he would: “explore ways in which ward councillors can participate in sessions where members interface with the board”.
Emma Thornton then appeared to remember another proposed director of the new board, a representative of the “professional services sector” in the city. She said the solicitors Hewitsons, who were drawing up the group’s founding documents were to be appointed as a representative of this group. There appeared to me to be a potential conflict of interest here particularly as Emma Thornton had said Hewitsons were performing the legal work for a very reasonable rate, perhaps they are being rewarded with a directorship of the new board?
The activities of the board will be funded in the same way as city centre management activities are currently funded. The majority of the money comes from retailers and landlords in the City Centre. Funders include Prudential, Goodmans, Cambridgeshire County Council, Land Securities, Stagecoach, the University Bursar’s Committee, John Lewis, Boots, and Marks & Spencer. The City Council provides about 15% of the cash funding but also provides institutional support including office space.
The hope is that releasing city centre management from the council will encourage even more private investment and improve the speed of decision making resulting from the release from local government bureaucracy.
I did not feel councillors had enough information on the proposed structure of the new board, particularly with respect to who was going to make up its board of directors to properly discuss this item. I think the concern that this new structure could reduce city residents’ ability to influence, via their elected representatives, how the city centre is managed is a real one.
The council are looking for a more catchy new name for the organisation rather than “City Centre Partnership Board”.