I attended Cambridge City Council’s Community Services Scrutiny Committee on the 13th of November where a decision on if the City Council should allow the Strawberry Fair to go ahead in 2009, and if it was to go ahead under what conditions.
The decision made was to allow the fair to go-ahead, specifically the decision was to:
Approve the use of Midsummer Common by Strawberry Fair in 2009 with the following two caveats:
- i. Subject to agreement by the Strawberry Fair Committee to implement the specific conditions outlined in paragraph 3.27 i, ii, and iii
- ii. Officers are required to evaluate the extent to which the organisation of the 2009 event is successful in reducing public nuisance before considering permission for future events and to report back to the July 2009 meeting of the Community Services Scrutiny Committee (for a formal review).
The conditions in full as approved are:
Improvements conditional to the granting of permission to SFC for the use of Midsummer Common for Strawberry Fair in 2009:
a) Increase the number of toilets in discussion with SAG.
b) Ensure toilet facilities are sited at strategic points.
c) Install fencing in areas to be agreed. The distance from housing will be agreed by all parties. The fence is to be positioned so it funnels individuals toward pee pod locations.
d) Publicise the penalties the Police may issue for public urination, both prior to and on the day of the event.
e) Brief stewards and SIA staff to prevent/advise occurrences of public urination
f) Operate a challenge 21 policy at all Fair bars
g) Engage Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) registered personnel supervising the sale of alcohol and Security Industry Authority (SIA) personnel at all Fair bars
h) Work with all agencies to develop and deliver an effective strategy to prevent large quantities of off site sales of alcohol being brought onto Midsummer Common. [Cllr Walker was promised efforts to minimise the use of glass bottles would be considered under this point]
i) Utilise signage at all entry points to advise against excessive alcohol consumption and preventive and corrective actions that may follow.
j) Utilise SIA staff to highlight and address any potential problems of excessive drinking.
k) Promote and support the Police in using the powers provided by Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006.i
l) Promote and support Police powers to confiscate alcohol from under 18s.
m) Work closely with the Police and other agencies to send out a strong message both prior to and on the day of the event to promote responsible drinking.
n) Facilitate an onsite presence for all Council services in the Joint Services Control
o) Liaise with the Council Licensing officer to provide a convenient timetable for submission of films to be shown at the Fair.
p) Co-operate with the Council and the Police with regards to ensuring Council CCTV coverage meets licensing requirements.
q) Liaise with County Council and the Police to enforce the ‘access only’ entrance points to the Brunswick area to prevent unauthorised usage
r) Liaise with the County Council, City Council and the Police to deter camping on Stourbridge Common and the illegal parking of vehicles in the Riverside and Brunswick areas.
s) Continue to reinforce and embed the improvements required by the Council for the 2008 Fair.
t) Promote a greater awareness of the impact of the event on local residents and the extent to which this is an issue in relation to permission for future events.
The issues that have been raised in the officer’s report cannot be addressed by the Strawberry Fair committee alone. It is recommended that appriopriate support from departrments across the City Council is sought and negotiated, in line with resource availability, to include:
a)Cross Council working group from Community Services, Environmental Health and City Services to support delivery of the recommendations with SFC.
b)Arts and Entertainment support for event management, marketing and promotional advice prior to and on the day of the event.
c)Continued support from Active Communities in respect of open space hire, management and premises licence requirements.
d)Continued support from City Services in the following areas:
- Paring services to again liaise with SFC achieve road closures
- Enforcement as appropriate eg. parking, litter
- Streetscene to continue to provide clear up in the surrounding areas on and after the day of the event
e)Environmental Health to support Trading Standards and Police to implement proposals to prevent excessive consumption of alcohol in line with the Council’s duties as the Licensing authority.
The Fair Committee and the Council also rely on support and cooperation from the police in managing many aspects of Strawberry Fair. In order to ensure the smooth running of the Fair on the day we recommend:
- A meeting of police and council with stakeholders take place in January 2009 to address community response issues
- Police Licensing officers work closely with Cambridge City Council Licensing team to ensure that the Licensing objectives are fulfilled in the lead to to and during the event.
The Council Officer introducing the report, Debbie Kaye stated that usually a decision like this would be made by officers only, and said that in the past this decision had been made without reference to councillors. This time, due to the high profile, a decision to refer the decision to the executive councillor had been made. The officer explained that the council permit the fair to operate via an “agreement of hire” in respect of the common, which is accompanied by an “event control document”.
Following the introduction from the officer, the Executive Councillor, Julie Smith was asked to discuss the item. Cllr Blencowe (Labour) objected to this as it was a departure from the usual way the committee operates – holding the Executive Councillor to account.
Cllr Smith said she felt there was a need for the nature of the event to change, she said she had received about 150 emails, 140 from supporters of the fair and about 10 from objectors, only 3-4 of whom had wanted to refuse permission for the fair outright. She noted that it was not really 150 vs 10 as a number of the 10 had been representing groups such as the Friends of Midsummer Common.
Cllr Smith said she felt there was a need for better co-operation involving the council and police. She reported that she and Cllr Blair had been to see the police and following that meeting had come up with some amendments to the proposed conditions which were brought to the meeting.
Cllr Blencowe complained, both about the manner or the Executive Councillor’s involvement in the discussions at the meeting and the fact it appeared that the Liberal Members had come to a decision before the meeting on what they were going to do. Cllr Smith again put on a mock – “affronted” face and denied this. Other opposition councillors complained they had not been involved in the process of working up these proposals with the police, and Cllr Smith apologised to them. It emerged that the fair committee had not been consulted on the newly proposed conditions either. I think everyone was right to be annoyed with the attitude of Cllrs Smith and Blair who appeared to be enjoying their collusion in not allowing people time to consider their proposals before the meeting.
Four members of the public spoke. Mr Baxter, the chair of the Friends of Midsummer Common spoke first. He said one aim of his organisation was to encourage events on the common, but that he also wanted to “ensure there was not too much nuisance to local residents”. I had pointed out to him before the meeting that under his leadership, in front of Councillors his organisation was appearing to be more moderate than it was under the leadership of Geoffrey King, but that their constitution still says their aim is to ensure events: “cause no nuisance to local residents”. While I support his more moderate approach, I feel until his whole organisation reforms and takes the more moderate view they will lose credibility. This was one of the many points I made to the FoMC immediately following their inaugural open meeting (which I attended) at which the constitution was adopted. They have not held an open meeting since.
Mr Baxter said there was an excess of drug taking and underage drinking at the event. He wanted the fair to become a fenced event, pointing to the Beer Festival and the Folk Festival as successful fenced events in the City. Mr Baxter said, as others had, that the culture of the fair needed to change. He said he understood that the police prefer trouble makers on the common rather than releasing them into the town (and areas surrounding the common) following an early closure.
Mr Dick Baxter finished by saying he wanted “protecting the residents in the Brunswick area” to be given a high priority, he wanted more fencing. He noted the conditions as they stood at the start of the meeting required a fence only to the end of Brunswick Walk, the conditions now require vaguely – fencing as agreed – given how this decision came about following Mr Baxter’s representations it can be read to mean fencing continuing significantly beyond Brunswick Walk, I would have thought all the way along North Terrace.
Mr Nick Levine, another member of the Friends of Midsummer common spoke next. He said he lives on Victoria Road and said this year there had been no problems on that side of the common. He fully supported Mr Baxter’s call for the extension of the fencing along North Terrace. He suggested the local off-licenses and “supermarkets” engaging in bulk sales of alcohol need to be tackled but accepted it was difficult to enforce.
Simon Mullan – who has been involved in the fair since 2002 and who now directs the film festival element of the fair spoke to the committee. He talked about the beneficial effects of the fair on the local community. He said ARU students, those from local colleges as well as ordinary Cambridge residents need a forum for their film making activity. He told the committee the fair had an area dedicated to arts other than music, and a kids area where the performers and the majority of the crew are under 18. He also said there were a number of spin-out events throughout Cambridge.
Julian Argent, the chair of the Strawberry Fair spoke next he said there had been a fair every year since 1974. He said the event would fill the entire common with free entertainment, that it involved lots of local people and was self-funding. There was he said an ongoing dialogue with the residents, council and police and that this year there had been a focus on anti-social drinking and public urination.
Mr Argent spoke primarily against the early closure option which was being considered saying it would:
- Result in chaos and disorder.
- Financially cripple the fair.
- Be disproportionate as he said there was no need for drastic action.
- Not be a viable option for the fair, if imposed it would result in the fair not happening.
Mr Argent also said he would be happy with the conditions (though he had not seen the amended ones Cllr Blair had just introduced) and he said he was prepared to deal with them.The councillors now had a chance to speak, ward councillors (and adjacent ward councillors) Cllrs Bick, Wright and Boyce were invited to participate in the committee’s deliberations.
Cllr Bick said, in response to the fair’s past: “Effort is not the same as results”.
Cllr Wright said she had been a member of the Green party and had been involved with their stall on the fair for twenty years. Now though, as councillor for Abbey Ward and a resident of Mitcham’s corner she had another viewpoint too. She wanted the licensing committee to see what they could do about the local shop at Mitcham’s corner. She noted a change in atmosphere at the event at around 17.30. Cllr Wright referred to the fair’s origins as she claimed an alternative to May Balls, a “people’s event”, now she said it had become “a massive police operation” both at the event, and in respect of British Transport Police at the station, she said that this went against the libertarian principles which she associated with the fair to such a degree that she was now against the fair and if she was on the committee she would not support allowing it in 2009.
Cllr Boyce focused also on the shops at Mitcham’s corner, he said he along with other ward councillors would be meeting with shop managers trying to negotiate improvements in their policies, saying he would tell the managers that he would be pushing for a review of their licenses if they were not cooperative.
Councillor Knightly noted the fair was now much bigger than it had been say a decade ago. He asked if the growth phase had ended. Officers could not answer, and the representatives of the fair were not able to speak again to clarify. They had at a recent west-central area committee said they had no expansion plans, and when I suggested to the chair he could try and pass a note up to the committee to clarify this he said there was no need as it was obvious – and the common is only so big and there was no room for a bigger event on there than the one they hold now.
Cllr Levy made an odd suggestion that the requirement that no-vehicles on the site move before 10pm might be contributing to the fair running late. He wondered if removing this condition would have the effect of making the fair run down earlier. The fair supporters in the public seating area looked incredulous.
Cllr McGovern spoke in support of the fair, stating it gives focus to groups such as Romsey Mill. He suggested the fair was a victim of its own success. He was opposed to an early closure as he was not convinced it could be controlled and thought there was a real risk of problems spilling out into the city. He said he supported the proposals to move towards true partnership between the fair, council and police.
Cllr Al-Bander spoke in favour of changing the culture of the fair, he hoped that the involvement of the council’s Arts and Entertainments staff would be used to that end.
Cllr Walker was concerned about glass being brought on to the site. She asked for condition h) to be modified to include preventing glass bottles being brought on site, the condition was not amended but her concern noted and she was promised it would be considered.
The committee then voted to allow the fair to occur in 2009, subject to the above conditions.
I have another article on the Other matters discussed at the November 2008 Community Services Scrutiny Committee.