Cambridge City Council – Oral Questions – October 2011


Friday, October 21st, 2011. 2:16am


Cambridge City Council Chamber

Cambridge City Council Chamber

I observed Cambridge City Council’s full council meeting on Thursday the 20th of October 2011. The following oral questions were answered:

Q1 Costs of Police and Crime Commissioner Elections

From Leader of the Labour opposition Cllr Herbert to the Leader of the council, Liberal Democrat Cllr Reid :
What will the extra cost (a) for Cambridge city and b) across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, of postponing the Police Commissioner elections from May to November 2012 and does she support this separate election date initiated by the Liberal Democrats Home Affairs lead in the House of Lords?

Cllr Reid, responded to say that the identifiable costs would be met by the Home Office in a block grant. Some of this would be paid up front, with the remainder, if any, paid after the event.

The East Cambridgeshire District Council chief executive is to be the returning officer.

The costs of running the election within the city of Cambridge will be £60-70k.

Cllr Reid said she wasn’t able to estimate for the county.

Cllr Reid said she was: “sorry these elections are taking place at all”.

Having not got an answer to part of his question Cllr Herbert provided it himself. He said that the cost of the election Cambridge and Peterborough would be £400K. He said he agreed with Cllr Reid, the elected police and crime commissioner was a “totally flawed concept”.

Cllr Herbert said Cllr Reid had not addressed the part of his question referring to the fact the decision to spend £400k in this manner was result of a Liberal Democrat intervention.

Cllr Reid responded to the follow up stressing that she thought Police and Crime Commissioners were “unsatisfactory” and noted they had not been tried before. Cllr Reid said she hadn’t followed the details of who did what when in the developing of the legislation. (Councillors jeered in disbelief at this)

Cllr Reid said that she was aware of the arguments for holding the elections separately – that just one election would allow the public to focus. The timing she said was so it would be after the Olympics and the police would not be distracted during the event.

Q2 Seymour Court Housing Development

From Councillor Moghadas to the Executive Councillor for Housing Cllr Smart
How are you addressing the clash of interests between meeting the functional housing requirement, balancing the council budget and ensuring the design of the Seymour Court site meets the full needs of the community and enhances the street landscape?

Cllr Smart responded to say that the mixed tenure model the council has got is designed to address the points raised in the question.

Cllr Smart stated that: “Functional housing will be covered by the fact all new homes will ‘level 4′ code sustainable houses”. 2/21 council flats will be fully wheelchair accessible. She said analysis will be carreid out of local need. The property is near shops and local facilities so will be suited to older people , is hoped those in near vicinity will be tempted to relocate.

Cllr Smart said there are 250 households in “this position” [Older People who might want to relocate?] in the Romsey / Cherry Hinton Road area.

Clr Moghadas followed up to say she was “talking on behalf of a number of residents in terms of appropriateness. She said 21 “flat units” were proposed and plans for 9 family homes had become 15 which had “squeezed the land space”. She also spoke of a “4 story monolithic build”.

Cllr Smart pointed to a related written question response which she said revealed some proposal for redesign, which she said she hoped would go far enough..

Cllr Smart added: “Planning will always look at overlooking, appearance etc.” and noted Seymour Court is not too far away from Mill House – quite a big building – depends on how you define the area [if you're saying four stories is too high for the area]. Cllr Smart said we are short of land in the city, have to make best use of the land. Cllr Smart repeated her hope a new better design would be recieved.

Q3 Stars on Bins

From Cllr Owers to the Executive Councillor for Environmental and Waste Services Cllr Swanson.
What is the precise reasoning behind the “Gold Star” bin scheme in terms of reducing household waste and increasing recycling.
Cllr Swanson replied to say Gold Stars apply to 140L bins, the small ones.

The idea is two fold it:

  1. To raise public awareness that other households have reduced waste. The aim being to make waste reduction a social norm
  2. To advertise the availability of the smaller bins and point to further information sources

Cllr Swanson said there was evidence some people respond more to visual example, and the stars were a low cost drip drip approach.

She said 16 small bins had been ordered in the 21 days before the press coverage of the gold stars and 40 in the 21 days after it.

There are currently 59 bins with gold stars in the city.

[On Twitter during the meeting Cllr McGovern offered a prize of a pint of beer to anyone who could find them all].

Cllr Owers followed up to ask if there were plans to bring in another measures usually associated with children, such as a “naughty step” or detention. He pointed out family houses or groups of shares had no chance of earning a gold star. He finished his remarks with a rather combative “Respond to that!”.

Cllr Swanson said a big advantage of the campaign was the amount of media coverage, she said this gave the council another chance to talk about reducing the amount of waste produced.

Q4 Homless and Vulnerably Housed

Councillor Cantrill to the Executive Councillor for Housing, Cllr Smart.
The council commits significant resources to supporting and helping the disadvantaged within Cambridge particularly those who are homeless and vulnerably housed. This is welcomed at a time of hardship for many people.
Could the Executive Councillor for Housing indication what actions we are taking to help people progress towards a more stable life?

Cllr Cantrill declared an interest as a trustee of Wintercomfort.

Cllr Smart responded to say: “We do actually do quite a lot , if there are other things we could be doing let me know”.

She said the council took a homelessness grant from the Department for Communities and Local Government to “alleviate and tackle homelessness options”.

Cllr Smart said the council did work on many areas which help prevent homelessness, such as providing debt, money and legal advice.

The council provides bespoke employment advice from those who are homeless / vulnerably housed.

On rough sleeping the council has a dedicated team who are “tackling it at great length”.

Cllr Cantrill followed up asking; “What are we doing for those who’s lives are particularly chaotic and those who suffer from chronic exclusion?”.

Cllr Smart said there are specialist service for those who are chronically excluded. The council of is running one of three pilot services in country for tailor made support for those who fall through the net at almost every place they go and don’t get services they need. Cllr Smart said the service was delivering encouraging results and the council plans to extend it beyond its intended termination date of December.

Q5 Holy Trinity War Memorial

From Councillor Dryden to the Executive Councillor for Arts, Sport and Public Places, Cllr Cantrill.
In March 2008 I first asked the question to the council if we could reinstate the Holy Trinity War Memorial so it could be brought back into use for residents and visitors to Cambridge. In June 2010 it was finally agreed by the City Council that there was money now available to carry out this work so the War Memorial could be open to the public. We are in October 2011, how near are we now to opening up the Holy Trinity War Memorial to the general public?

Cllr Cantrill replied to say many members worked with officers to get funding to refurbish the memorial, but the work was complicated by the presence of a red ceder tree.

Cllr Cantrill said that in order to do the work there is need for: “Action taken against the tree”.

Cllr Cantrill said Cllr Dryden wanted to just fell the tree, but he was keen to take more care over the decision.

Cllr Cantrill said that following “extensive consultation” the council’s planning committee had recommended the tree be felled
The council’s community services committee had then recommended it should be felled.
The church locally referred the decision to Lambeth Palace, who came to the conclusion the tree should be felled.

Cllr Dryden responded to say he didn’t anticipate any need to fell the tree. He asked for the proposed date of work starting. He accused Cllr Cantrill of being very slow to make a decision, even one this small.

Cllr Cantrill blamed the church for the delay saying “God takes slightly longer”. A councillor heckled to say God had made the world in seven days.

No start date, or end date, for the work was provided.

Q6 CCTV Monitoring

Councillor O’Reilly to the Executive Councillor for Community Development and Health, Cllr Bick, (Who is also responsible for community safety and policing)
Is the Executive Councilor concerned that ending the live monitoring of CCTV at certain times could lead to an increase in crime during those hours?

Cllr Bick said he would be concerned if a rise in crime was expected. He said though that on the evidence and specalist advice he had accepted this was not predicted.

Cllr O’Reilly followed up to say the perception the CCTV might be monitored was likely to have a role in preventing crime and said it was silly to publish hours CCTV might not be monitored.

Cllr Bick replied to say he made no apology for openness. Cllr Bick said press reports contained “assumptions and deductions” and the hours remain to be determined and would vary with time of year and around events etc.

Q7 Consultations

Green Councillor Wright to the Leader, Cllr Sian Reid
What did the council expend on consulting the public in the council year May 2010 – May 2011 and on which areas of council activity? How is the effectiveness of such consultations assessed?
Cllr Reid said this was a very broad question and the bulk of the council’s consultation was statutory, on planning matters. There was also some in other areas eg. Open Space Management. She said she didn’t include staff and informal consultation.

Cllr Reid said effectiveness was assessed in a variety of ways, and where the council consulted with tenants there were independent external verifications.

Simple assessments of number of responses could be done in relation to other consultations.

Cllr Reid said she hoped qualitative judgements on consultation quality were made when reports on consultation results were reported to committees.

Cllr Wright followed up to urge tightening or improving the council’s proceedures. She said information given to the public doesn’t’ seem to give enough of background to enable an adequate response to be provided. Cllr Wright said despite no extra funding being available “we can improve”.

Cllr Reid said it was good to hear members are evaluating the consultation process when it comes to committee. She said disappointed to hear of Cllr Wright’s experience relating to a conservation area consultation (this one?) and in her experience conservation area consultations were good.

Cllr Reid said she accepted the need to do things better all the time and offered to set up meeting between Cllr Wright and relevant officers to work through issues.

End of questions taken at the meeting

Q8 City Centre Management


Councillor Bird to the Executive Councillor for Customer Services and Resources, Cllr McGovern.
Why does the city centre management not work better with City Councillors when they take issues to them?

I would like to ask what is happening to stop the preventing sprawling street cafes expanding far that they block both pavements and A Boards which causes problems for the wheelchair pushchair access.

Commendably Cllr McGovern tweeted a link to his prepared answer during the meeting.

a) I have contacted the Head of Tourism and City Centre Management to try
and determine any particular incident, but with the information
provided, I was unable to find a specific incident that is being
referred to.

However, I, and the City Centre Management team apologises if some
councillors have the perception that issues are not dealt with quickly
when they are raised with them. It is a small team of 3 people working
over a 7 day period which has been affected by long term sickness over
the past 12 months and more recently by short term illness. In addition
some of the issues raised often require in put from the County Council
as the highways agency which can delay a response.

In recognition of these resilience issues the department is currently
investigating the introduction of an electronic Market system. A key
objective of this will be to improve the efficiency of back office
processes thus freeing up time for this team to focus more on
operational issues and the development of the Market.

The Head of Service will remind all staff of the importance of
acknowledging emails from councillors promptly and of keeping
councillors informed throughout the progress of investigating and
dealing with any issues that have been raised.

b) I refer Cllr Bird to the written answer provided to Cllr Herbert at
the Council Meeting on the same subject matter.

This response appears to reveal Cambridge market is administered via a non-computerised system at the moment.

Raw Documents

After the meeting I commented to the meeting’s chair, mayor, Cllr Nimmo-Smith, that he had not ordered written answers to unreached oral questions be provided. (Cllr Price made this point during the meeting, but the Mayor did not respond to it). Cllr Nimmo-Smith gave an assurance that any answers which were provided via the council would be published. He also gave a commitment to join me in campaigning to have some formal process for dealing with the unanswered oral questions agreed. (With the Mayor on-side that ought to be a campaign with some chance of success!)

When I first observed the council the oral questions were oddly not considered part of the formal council meeting and therefore not even minuted, they now, following lobbying, and a bit of activism, are both formally part of the meeting, and minuted.

The minutes though are, based on past form, unlikely to be as full and rich as the above article (unless the officer writing them wants to save some time and copy and paste what I’ve written in, which they are welcome to do, with attribution!).

2 comments/updates on “Cambridge City Council – Oral Questions – October 2011

  1. Rosemary Jones

    Regarding the proposed felling of the Western Red Cedar Tree in Holy Trinity Churchyard, the Council still seems reluctant to ascertain the accuracy of accounts about this species being noted in both Mediterranean and Asian mythology as the guardian of the passage between life and death, and it’s relevance to graveyards and war memorials in the UK and in other parts of the Western World – one cemetary in Alabama being called ‘the Cedars’.

    In East Anglia, Geldeston’s St Michaels has a single cedar tree adjacent to a war memorial, and All Saints at Kirby Cane has three such trees, and there muat be many more examples in this area because of the proximity to Cambridge, not only a seat of contemporary learning but also of religious knowledge passed down through the ages.

    Unfortunately, the tree’s religious significance continues to be overlooked by the City Council, and to the extent that they are still not questioning a tree officer’s undermining of the tree heritage status, which resulted not only in Councillors voting to fell it, but also in the subsequent contamination of the evidence on which the Ely Registry made its decision, also to fell the tree.

    Though the officer in question is no longer at work, and the Councillor, who chaired the meeting and made his casting vote on her evidence, is no longer a councillor, the corruption – making unsound – continues through the proceedings.

    No one in the Council seems willing to give the early 20th Century City Fathers their due that the tree was so accurately planted that even now its trunk is still inches from the railings and its roots still well contained by a hefty root barrier between them and the Memorial.

    Anyone can see this, the Ely Registry recognise it, the roots go in a different direction as the City Fathers required them to do.

    As it is, The Ely Registry, despite the visual evidence, also defered to the officers’ mistaken opinions, and the Council are now waiting for the Ely Registry to formally approve the felling.

    Having killed so many healthy trees in the last three years, it seems Councillors are unable to be anything other than bent on killing the ‘Tree of Life’ itself, saying that the Church has decided this, and as if the fault did not originate with their own officers’ misunderstanding and omissions regarding
    the circumstances.

    It is entirely understandable that the Councillors should want to restore the War Memorial as soon as possible, and heavy work loads were probably the reason why the relevant officers could not give their full attention to what they were dealing with in order for the truth to be established, could not research why the tree was there. Instead they chose the quick fix approach, fitting their reasoning to the intended result.

    But, religious tradition apart, and in these climate change days – according to the International Energy Agency it is likely that warming will be irreversible in 5 years time unless we drastically and immediately change our ways, at least the Council should appreciate that this particular tree is the only one sequestering at such an efficient rate on this main road all year round, and, for that reason, at least look at the option of pruning it or moving the War Memorial a few yards back in the Churchyard, and to a quieter and less polluted position.

    Curiously, the Ely Registry objected to this latter proposal on the grounds that it would mean turning the War Memorial the other way round.

    More rationally they queried how such a relocated restoration would be funded, seeing as how the War Memorial Trust do not fund relocated restorations unless the memorial is under threat, and the Council application for funding presumably didn’t make this point even though officers say the tree’s roots are threatening the Memorial’s structure.

    What was not highlighted by either the officers or the Ely Registry in their deliberations is the Territorial Army’s offer of voluntary work, though it was mentioned at the first meeting about the tree. Obviously, this offer, if accepted would put the funding requirements in a different light. Unfortunately, the costings for the three options, felling, pruning and moving the Memorial further back – are not available, and on the grounds that working them out would be a waste of officer time since the decision to fell the tree has already been taken.

    Felling and removing a tree of this size costs about £1K and removing the two phone boxes further away should the Memorial stay were it is,probably about the same (this is required by the Ely Registry’s Judgement). Moving the Memorial a few yards further back and adding some railings should not amount ot more than either of these proceedings.

    One thing is certain, the evidence and omissions used to justify this tree’s demise would not stand up in a court of law, which is why I have written a letter to the European Court of Justice laying out the problems people have experienced trying to get truth to bear on the situation. (The Court is looking into why environmental justice is too often unavailable in the UK due to its price, and the residents who asked the Ely Registry to look into the proposed felling were not able to ask for the Judgement to be reviewed because they couldn’t afford to be in a position to do that – something Christ would probably not approve of either).

    Not wanting to make mistakes, I have asked the Council to check the facts in the letter before it is sent, but so far there has been no response probably again because of the officers’ workload.

    Whatever the truth about the tree and its position in mythology and religious tradition, one thing is certain – all the passers by who answered the question ‘would you prefer this tree felled or pruned’ said ‘pruned’, and despite that the Council seem to be saying that they have consulted ‘extensively’ and presumably, though this is not explicit, implying the consultation went their way of thinking.

    Why we are having this tustle at all beggars belief because normally if a decision is made on questionable evidence, that decision, like the evidence, is reviewed. No problems.

    The Council does have a statutory legal officer, and he is now looking at the evidence, and hopefully we can soon all feel better about it when a planning meeting addresses what should happen only this time with the correct rather than incorrect evidence to go on.

    It also beggars belief that anyone would want to fell such a magnificent landmark tree when it gives so much pleasure to so many people, being the only greenery visible down Sidney Street all year round, and when there is an alternative and there is an offer to fundraise if there are any additional costs to implement it.

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