A new “City Centre Partnership Board” is being formed to help run the historic core of Cambridge City Centre; it is to be be launched on the 1st of April 2009 as an independent public/private sector partnership operating under the name of “Love Cambridge”. Currently only scant details of the make up of this new board are in the public domain. The council have not yet published the proposed make-up of the board, though my previous article on this subject states what was proposed as of November 2008.
More details are expected to become available shortly as a presentation for independent retailers is to be held on the 2nd of February and one for residents on the 9th of February, both at 6pm at the Gonville Hotel. The residents’ meeting has not been publicly advertised by the council, but notice of it has been sent to residents associations, I have also passed it on to a number of other groups within the City. I am not aware of any presentations to other groups such as the professional services sector.
I have written to Cambridge’s MP, David Howarth, on the subject of the new City Centre Partnership Board saying:
The directors of the new organisation are currently being appointed and it has been decided that one of the directors is to be a “residents’ representative”. In my view no-one is better qualified for that role than the local MP. I think that having Cambridge’s MP in that role on the board, at least in the period during which the organisation is being established, would strengthen it immensely. 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 which your presence could alleviate.
The current proposal appears to be that representatives of the professional services sector, residents, and independent retailers will be appointed by the council – rather than by those it is proposed they represent. We have already seen an dodgy looking arrangement where solicitors Hewitsons have been offered a directorship, supposedly representing the professional services sector, apparently as a reward for drawing up the legal framework for the new board at a very reasonable rate.
As well as the professional services representative (John Dix of Hewitsons) being appointed with no reference to his “constituency”, it appears that the Hotelier’s representative (Shara Ross, Manager of the Hotel Felix) and the independent retailer (Ian Sandison) have all been appointed by city council officers rather than by those they represent. It has already been revealed that Mr Sandison is to chair the new board of directors, it is not clear if the independent retailers meeting on the 2nd of February will result in them being invited to appoint another of their number as a second representative.
City Councillor Rod Cantrill (or his successor in his role as Executive Councillor responsible for the city centre and tourism) has been formally appointed to represent the City Council by a decision made at the November 2008 Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee. The City Council’s director has been appointed properly, though I would question why there is only one.
I think the board of directors would be strengthened by the presence of individuals representing established groups in the City, such as
- Cambridge Retail and Commercial Association
- Cambridge Chamber of Commerce
- Students’ Union Representatives
- Cambridge Cycling Campaign
- Central Ward Councillors from the City Council
- County Councillors
- Market/Street Traders
- Residents Associations
However if all these groups were represented at director level the group would become too large to be effective.
If there is to be a board director who is selected by the residents associations then I believe they ought be called the “residents associations’ representative” not “residents’ representative” reflecting the fact that residents associations do not represent all of the city’s residents.
If the MP doesn’t consider it appropriate to serve I would like to see an independent director acting as a representative of associations of residents, and of individuals whose role wold be to stay in touch with the various groups in the city and present their views to the board as appropriate. While some of the other members of the board of directors will be city residents themselves, their primary interest and perspective will arise from their employment or other role.
At the City Council’s January 2009 Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee a report on City Centre Management was on the agenda, it briefly mentioned the City Centre Partnership Board, but gave no substantive update on progress. No councillors raised any questions on the report and they moved straight on to the next item with no discussion.
While the council’s recent letter to residents’ associations stated:
The key objective of the proposed change is to strengthen the existing model and to provide a structure, which will enable all stakeholders to have a say in how the city centre evolves.
The reason reasoning behind the change presented to councillors in November was more concrete, I support the aim of the organisation as presented then which was to free the city centre management and eventually tourism functions of the City Council, which are predominantly not publicly funded, from local government bureaucracy. If this can be achieved without too much loss of democratic influence over areas which ought be under such influence and does, as anticipated, result in more private investment into projects which benefit the City Centre – then it will have been worth setting up this new board.
I would be encouraged if, when the details of how the new board is going to be run are released, we find it is to meet in public, and voluntarily make itsself subject to the Freedom of Information Act. I am surprised that no councillors have openly insisted on such arrangements.
Other key questions include who appoints future directors after the initial cohort, will the board itself appoint new members or will some power of appointment remain with the City Council. Are the representatives who are not appointed by clear constituencies to have their appointments confirmed by elected councillors? The shareholding breakdown is also yet to be released.
A report to the 16th June 2008 Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee still provides the most detailed background on the proposals.