Secret Meeting on Wednesday to Discuss Cycling And Parking on Church Street Chesterton


Monday, March 8th, 2010. 2:26am


Cars often park illegally on Church Street in Chesterton. As part of a scheme to make the road more attractive to cyclists Cllr Clare Blair wants parking formally permitted.

Cars often park illegally on Church Street in Chesterton. As part of a scheme to make the road more attractive to cyclists Cllr Clare Blair wants parking formally permitted.

At the North Area committee on the 4th of March 2010 I asked a public question about consultation in relation to a proposed Arbury Park to Riverside cycle route. I asked why the Liberal Democrats were not using the area committee system, which they set up, to inform local people about the proposals and to debate them. I asked why the City Council were pro-actively encouraging people to comment on the West-Cambridge to Sliver Street cycle route but were not encouraging input into the Orchard Park to Riverside scheme with the same gusto. As I regularly do; I questioned why the North of the City appeared to be getting a poor deal when compared to Newnham. I said I wanted to find out how the consultation was being run and asked what the current position was.

One reason I asked my question was that I had observed the Transport Area Joint Committee on Monday the 25th of January 2010 where Cllr Blair proposed, and the meeting resolved, that consultation with residents would take place in relation to elements of the proposals affecting the Church Street area. After the Traffic AJC meeting Cllr Blair spoke to those present in the public gallery about her intent to hold a meeting with Vie residents and other constituents in St. Andrew’s Hall in Chesterton to which she said she would invite council officers and others to attend.

Cllr Clare Blair volunteered to answer my question at the North Area Committee and the chair allowed her to do so. Cllr Blair said that in her view it would be inappropriate for the City Council to duplicate what the county was doing, and the county, via the Traffic Area Joint Committee, was leading the consultation on the Arbury Park to Riverside cycle route. That was it; that’s all she said on the subject.

Despite having been asked, in public – at a council meeting, to explain what consultation was underway, Cllr Blair did not reveal the fact that she has in fact organised a local, invitation-only, meeting at which the proposals for the Church Street area will be discussed. I have now learnt this meeting is to be led by a county council officer who will write a report on the outcomes of the workshop for the Traffic AJC. I have not been invited and neither as I understand it have any members of the press or members of opposition political parties. Local residents and cyclists who use the route but are not members of residents associations are being disenfranchised and not being given the opportunity to stay informed and have an early input into plans. When the Traffic AJC approved a consultation meeting I doubt the Labour and Conservative members present envisaged a private, invite only, meeting as part of that. They didn’t specify it ought be an open and inclusive process, but I’d have thought it would have been reasonable to take that as read. Where Liberal Democrats are involved they may have to take more care in-future.

A regular reader of my website, a Labour Party member who lives in East Chesterton, who may well want to stand in the upcoming elections, has asked me to let him know if I find out when this meeting is being held. He expressed an interest in attending and offered to let me know what’s said. I will be getting in touch with him to draw his attention to this article. I will be interested to find out his views on the fact this is not a public meeting and if he has received an invitation.

At the time of the North Area Committee I did not know the details of the meeting (hence my question); they have since been leaked to me (FOI would not necessarily have obtained them from the County Council in time):

Wednesday 10th March 2010, 18:30 – 20:00, St Andrew’s Hall, Chesterton

Officer Brian Stinton of Cambridgeshire County Council’s highways department is to lead the private meeting. When I cycled down Church Street in Chesterton on the 10th of February 2010 I by chance took a photograph which happened to record Cllrs Kerr and Blair walking down Church Street along with Mr Stinton. I have used the image to illustrate this article.

At the North Area committee there was a very brief discussion about the other end of the cycle way near Kings Hedges Road. Cllr Blair there gave an assurance that a new path from the Meadows Community Centre car park onto Arbury road was to be built. Cllr Ward said he wished someone would tell him what the County Council’s plans were in relation to that part of the route (which is in his ward). Cllr Ward often makes rather short and cryptic contributions to council meetings; I think he may have been suggesting that he too wants an answer to the question I asked relating to how the consultations will take place. As I understand it Cllr Ward, who is my local councillor, hasn’t been invited to the private meeting either; had he been aware of it at the time of the North Area committee he might have been able to ensure I got a fuller answer to my question.

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31 comments/updates on “Secret Meeting on Wednesday to Discuss Cycling And Parking on Church Street Chesterton

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have written to County Highways officer Mr Lowe drawing his attention to this article and inviting him to comment. I suggested it is inappropriate for a council officer to be sent to lead and report on this private meeting, especially in the run up to an election.

    I copied Cllr Wilkins, who chaired the Traffic AJC meeting which approved the consultation. I also copied Mr Stinton.

    Dear Mr Lowe,

    On Sunday the 7th of March I became aware of a private, invite-only, meeting to be held on Wednesday at St. Andrew’s Hall in Chesterton to discuss proposals to alter parking restrictions in the Church Street Chesterton Area. I understand that County Highways officer Mr Stinton is going to be leading the meeting / workshop and the outcomes are to be reported, by Mr Stinton, to a future Traffic Area Joint Committee.

    I think it is inappropriate for what sounds to me like a very formal and substantive part of a consultation process not to be run in an open, inclusive and transparent manner. I attended the North Area Committee meeting last Thursday and asked there for details of this consultation but none were forthcoming; I conclude from that there is a deliberate attempt by the Liberal Democrats to keep this meeting secret.

    I would like to ask you to reconsider the County Council’s decision to send an officer to this private meeting. I think it would be more appropriate to discuss the proposals in public, perhaps at a North Area Committee meeting (which could be held in the area). I would like you to particularly consider the appropriateness of participating in the meeting in private given the upcoming elections; as clearly those considering standing in the area for the other parties, or as independents, would be interested in attending.

    I cannot imagine that when the Traffic AJC approved consultation with residents they imagined it would be run in this manner. I have copied Mr Wilkins, who chaired that meeting.

    You are welcome to comment on the article I have written about this meeting at:

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/cycling-parking-church-street-chesterton.html

    Regards,

    Richard Taylor
    Cambridge
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Mr Stinton has replied:

    Dear Mr Taylor,

    I would not describe the meeting as a “secret consultation”.

    It will be the first stage of a process to determine what is required in Church Street and Chapel Street to balance the parking needs of local people and the importance of Church Street and Chapel Street as part of the Orchard Park to city centre cycle route. Officers are attending to establish what issues need to be addressed according to the perceptions of representatives of local stakeholders’ groups and to clarify the importance of the roads as a cycle route. The Cambridge Cycle Campaign has also been invited. Whilst officers may table some suggestions as a starting point for discussion, these are not finalised and will be developed further before proceeding through a full consultation and formal a TRO advertisement process, prior to the matter being considered by the Area Joint Committee in July.

    I can see no reason for officers not to attend the meeting.

    Further public consultation will also be undertaken on the remainder of the Orchard Park to city centre cycle route in the coming months.

    Yours sincerely

    Brian Stinton

    Mr Stinton’s reference to “Further public consultation” suggests he considers the meeting with selected invitees to be public consultation. I disagree with him.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have been told by a reliable correspondent that a Lib Dem leaflet being distributed in North Cambridge has two contradictory articles.

    1. Lib Dems supporting a parking ban on Gilbert Road to promote cycling. *

    2. Lib Dems supporting parking on Church Street Chesterton to help cycling.

    At least Electors are not left in any doubt that they’ll be voting for a fence-sitting inconsistent administration if they vote Liberal Democrat.

    *The Conservative County Council Cabinet stopped the car hating local Lib Dems from going ahead with their crazy scheme for Gilbert Road. This to some degree isolates Cambridge from some of the consequences which would otherwise arise from voting Liberal Democrat; it also though is anti-democratic. I’m torn, but come down in favour of democracy as if the city did suffer the full consequences of Lib Dem policies I don’t think they’d last long in office.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    While I am the only person who has publicly commented on this article I have received quite a few emails from residents of North Cambridge who, like me, think the private manner in which this meeting is being held is inappropriate.

  5. The Wordsmith

    I read this because I’d had complaints about blog quality. I can’t believe how many words and how much time you use to say so little. Perhaps if you were angry about one thing, until you’d got it fixed, instead of ranting about everything in the world, especially everything at North meetings. Your post is longer than the minutes!!

    The Wordsmith

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    While the Liberal Democrats running Cambridge City council are reluctant to embrace openness and transparency I have made some progress.

    As an example questions and answers are now minuted at full council meetings; this is a direct result of my lobbying and embarrassing them by publishing what was being said was said on my website though they didn’t minute them themselves.

    The city council also now publish their members’ interests online; again as a fairly direct result of my campaigning.

    I do pursue things until they get fixed; I am persistent and consistent, this website demonstrates that. My post may well be longer than the minutes, we won’t know for many weeks, as my posts are certainly much more timely than the official minutes. The official minutes very rarely contain details of key exchanges, they don’t even routinely carry details of who voted which way; even on major votes.

  7. John Ionides

    For what it is worth I find the detail in Richard’s reports extremely helpful and think that Wordsmith is being a bit of a grouch.

  8. Dan Ratcliffe

    I’ll just ditto that last comment. Though at times it’s a little unnerving how much time and effort seems to go into the blog, it’s very interesting and (despite my own bias) often is a relatively fair assessment of the political shenanigans in Cambridge.

  9. Jane Doe

    I agree with the two comments above. I like the level of detail in Richard’s posts giving a detailed account of various events I don’t have time to attend, without this blog I’d have less of an idea of what goes on.

    I respect the lack of censorship in the comments meaning both negative and positive comments are able to be read – sometimes the comments are more interesting than the post itself!

  10. Deeply Green

    I’m back. Not a local, rather a Lib Dem Councillor who’s developing an unhealthy interest in your attitude.

    Whilst I see that it’s nice to be informed … the story needs to be evidenced (which it seems to be) … analysed correctly (analysis appears to have been skewed by your closed mind – the conspiracy theory of exclusion) … and it needs to be well presented (your writing is dangerously near to bullying everyone by making it all personal and not sticking to the issues – I can see why you’re being excluded, you would try to dominate the meeting and would get nasty with people).

    The Officer’s quite clearly aware that there’s malice aforethought (between you and the controlling group of the Council). He has a job to do (understanding the need) so he’s drafted the note as pure fact (bar his own view on deployment of his reources which I support).

    Since when did attacking Council Officers personally by name achieve anything but upset. Imagine how you would feel if people accused you of being unprofessional or acting improperly! I’m not saying he’s right, just that your not going to get your way this way.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve spent several evenings this week talking to town and parish councillors and other stakeholders like the police. Officers were present at our meetings, as they do the work. Lots of people weren’t at every meeting and there wasn’t a general invite, but I’d still call it talking to the public if I were an officer. Later, once the plan’s starting to come together, we’ll go to the public proper – all of them in a consultation. This meeting with key people to get feedback on initial thoughts and community requirements is called “front loading”. That’s what you’re seeing here.

    Of course, here, everyone has my phone number because I’m well able to defend myself and I have thick skin. If they have issues I’m pleased to discuss. If they want to abuse me, I’m not upset by it. If they have a point, I admit it even if they abuse.

    It seems you don’t trust anyone other than you to look after your interests. you also resort to ridicule and perosnalise. I think you love blogging too much to see the downside.

    It also seems that you’ve taken to stalking a couple of female councillors. They were mentioned in the ‘speed cushions’ article and again here. I would suggest posting a picture … which happens to get these councillors well framed is enough in my town to warrant a friendly warning from the Police. You may be within your rights, but it is not NORMAL behaviour … unless you’re a pap!

    Perhaps you’d better drive over the speed humps and not round them for a while, just in case they’re watching for you to step out of line.

    Eric

  11. Richard Taylor Article author

    Eric,

    Many thanks for your comment.

    Just to clarify it’s not just me who was excluded from this secret meeting; it was everyone who wasn’t invited. I expect if this was a public meeting it would have got maybe 20-30 more people attending. I’ve received correspondence from a few people, including some who’re members of groups, who feel disenfranchised by the secrecy and would probably have attended a public presentation.

    As for getting the councillors in the photo this was completely by chance. In fact until someone-else made me aware I didn’t realise I’d caught the walk around by Cllrs Blair, Kerr and the council officer. I did spot Cllr Blair after I’d taken the photo but I didn’t know who she was with at the time.

    As for photos taken in public resulting in police warnings that’s something that’s a problem in Cambridge too and something I’ve been campaigning to fix:

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/police-stopping-people-taking-photographs-in-public-places.html

    I think that a society were people live in fear of criticising the police; where criticising the police is expected to result in retribution from them is one we need move away from. Personally I prefer to raise issues in public meetings with elected representatives present rather than directly with the police.

    To respond to some of Eric’s other points : I did not write to the council officer who was to attend the meeting but to a more senior officer who I thought might review the decision to attend the meeting given the way it had been organised. I am surprised that the county council decided to allow its officers to attend.

    My phone number is on the front page of my website; as is my name and my photograph is present on the site and links from it. eg. on my Twitter feed: http://www.twitter.com/RTaylorUK

    I think personalising my articles – pointing out which councillors are doing what – is crucial. These people are on the ballot papers as individuals people don’t just have parties in front of them when they vote. In fact a number of recent comments I’ve had about what I’m writing have been in the other direction asking me to maintain my focus on the individuals rather than the more abstract parties.

  12. Richard Taylor Article author

    Earlier this evening I went to the junction of Church Street Chesterton and St. Andrews Road near where I had been tipped off that the secret meeting was going to be held. Despite having turned up about half an hour early Cllr Blair was already on-site and waiting outside the hall which the meeting was to be held in.

    Article in Lib Dem Leaflet saying they're fighting against speed humps on Church Street
    Shortly after I arrived County Council officer Brian Stinton drove into the car park. I asked him if I could speak to him, and I asked if I could film his responses to a couple of questions. He refused to be videoed but agreed to talk to me.

    • Mr Stinton said he was unaware that Cllr Blair, and other councillors, had refused to admit the existence of the meeting when asked at the North Area Committee. He expressed surprise at the fact councillors had not been open about the meeting. (I had of course already written to him and pointed this out but he didn’t appear to grasp the degree of secrecy until I put it to him in person.)
    • I asked Mr Stinton if there had ever been a real risk of speed humps being installed on Church Street. He said no. This is a shocking revelation as the Liberal Democrats, particularly Cllrs Kerr and Blair and even Parliamentary candidate Julian Huppert have been making a big thing, both in election leaflets being distributed across North Cambridge, and at council meetings, of their opposition to speed bumps. It now appears that this is just typical Lib Dem scaremongering – whipping up opposition to, and claiming to oppose, something with no prospect of happening.
    • The lack of accidents, just four in four years scattered throughout the area was one reason Mr Stinton said humps were unlikley to be appropriate; low speeds and low traffic volumes were others.
    • Mr Stinton said that from his point of view his main concern was the cycle route – that was what he was charged to deal with. He said he was interested in the whole route and that in his opinion the Church Street area wasn’t a particular problem for cyclists, there being much greater problems, and opportunities to deal with them on Arbury Road.
    • I sought clarification over if the meeting was focused on the cycle-route as a whole or the spending of the Vie S.106 money. Mr Stinton reiterated that the main point was the cycle route.
    • I asked about the area in which the S.106 money could be spent and was told that the wording in the the S.106 agreement was “the church street area”; he said though that if residents at meetings such as the one being held that evening expressed a desire for that to be stretched a little then the council would seek agreement from the developers to use the money in line with suggestions made
    • County Council officer Mr Stinton had an agenda which he had prepared for the meeting; he made it clear that he was leading the meeting (though it had been convened by Liberal Democrat Clare Blair).
    • Responding to my suggestion that a public meeting, or the area committee, could have been used to inform interested parties about the council proposals the County Council officer Mr Stinton said it wasn’t standard practice to do such things. He said the consultation was being run by the county council so it would be inappropriate to use a city council run area committee to discuss it; I pointed out the area committees were joint committees on which city and county councillors sat and which county officers regularly attended; Mr Stinton appeared unaware of this.
    • In response to my questions Mr Stinton said that what came out of the meeting would shape the proposals which would eventually go out to a proper public consultation and to the Traffic AJC committee.

    Despite it still being a good ten minutes before the published start time of the meeting Cllr Blair appeared uneasy with the fact I was talking to the county council officer on the pavement. She came across and tried to usher him away. I tried to put some of the key questions I had to Cllr Blair; I wanted to find out why she had not revealed the existence of the meeting when asked at the area committee and if she felt a private, invitation only, meeting was the right way to run a consultation. I had many more questions but Cllr Blair only responded to say:

    “You’re not a journalist Richard”

    In response I asked if she would have answered the questions had a journalist asked them, she said nothing in response to me but was very insistent that the county officer join her and a couple of others who were waiting outside the doors of the hall to be let in (she was repeatedly calling his name – “Brian”). There were of no professional journalists present to put the questions to Cllr Blair. (Just two days earlier Cllr Blair had tweeted to say she was attending a media training and leadership course).

    I waited outside hoping to question other councillors attending the meeting however none turned up. Cllr Blair was the only councillor I saw. Had I had a chance I would have liked to ask Liberal Democrat Councillors why they were anti-parking and pro-speed humps in the interests of cycling on Gilbert Road but also in the interests of cycling were pro-parking and anti-speed humps on Church Street in Chesterton. When Mr Bond, spokesperson for the Old Chesterton Residents Association, who had secured his invitation to the secret briefing as a representative of the Chesterton Community Association, turned up a couple of minutes after the start time I asked him what he felt of the way the meeting was being run. He responded to say the meeting was hardly a secret because he had been calling for it for four years.

    About 15 people entered the building between 18.00 and 18.30; two arrived on bikes. I don’t know that they were all attending the meeting. The meeting itself was not held in the main hall so there can’t have been too many people attending. From the pavement outside I couldn’t see the room where the meeting was being held.

    I’m really interested in what the county council’s current plans are for this cycle-route; my local councillor Tim Ward spoke at the last North Area committee saying he too wanted to know the details – so its not just me being kept in the dark it’s my elected representatives too.

  13. Dan Ratcliffe

    I guess I was someone who, eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed, used to have a professional interest in local Cambridge politics. Though we didn’t recognise each other Richard and I met in the public gallery (for the first time) at a council meeting in December 2008.

    Since then I have heard the “stalking” accusation made in comment 11 twice, if you include me reading it today! I’ll admit, there are few people from my homestead of Lancashire who’d bother turning up to meetings on a point of principle (indeed, the few times I tried it I got an….er….enthusiastic response from Combat 18) but I’m not sure that matters.

    The fact that I found it odd Richard was there says more about our democratic processes than it does about him. Why are those of us “in the game” (or formally) so surprised when the public want to engage?

    The only time, before checking the comments on this article, in the 15 months I’ve been here, I’ve heard Richard accused of stalking it was third hand.

    By now everyone knows about a certain Market councillor who has practically assaulted a white van driver, disrupted the care of a man who may have been dying and abused commuters and indeed police officers on a train from King’s Cross to Cambridge. The only time Richard’s “stalking” has come up since I got here was when said unhinged Councillor ignored all conventions and started taking pictures of the public gallery from the floor of the council chamber. Quite frankly, I do think we have reason to worry about some of the people involved in local politics – but given the puppy-like obedience of the Lib Dems I don’t think that Richard is someone anybody honest has to fear!

  14. John Ionides

    Who is this Eric character? Is he/she for real?? Now not only is Richard being slammed for thoroughness, but for his persistence too; virtues transmogrified to sins in the distorted vision of our Lib Dem friend.

  15. Ian Manning

    Richard,

    I’m surprised at the tone of your article making this sound like anything other than counil officers making extra steps to engage with the public.

    The meeting was for representatives of local stakeholders (of which I am one).

    On the speed humps thing – the original report to AJC was proposing using the money on speed humps, which we, amongst others, opposed.

    Ian

  16. Richard Taylor Article author

    Ian,

    It’s this idea of “local stakeholders” being given privileged access which I oppose, both here and across the city. This wasn’t engaging the public it was engaging the views of a select group.

    And to make it worse councillors wouldn’t admit in public that it was happening when asked at a public meeting.

    I’m not convinced this is an “extra step”, the council officer says that further consultation will be on other elements of the cycle route.

    When will those living in Arbury, and on the far side of Kings Hedges Road, get their chance to see what the plans are for Church Street and let the councillors know their views?

  17. Dan Ratcliffe

    This whole issue of public consultation as a buzz-phrase rather than an actual meaningful process has bothered me since I first got to Cambridge. One of the first things I did after getting here was arrange a public canvass of information specifically around S106 money from the initial (now dubiously renamed) Station Area bid. I know that over 1,000 people in the area were contacted about their views. Contrast this to the lifting on the Cumulative Action Zones around the Mill Road area (something forged on the area by the Lib Dem exec) – an act that happened with next to no consultation with local councillors (most of whom aren’t Lib Dems, funny that) let alone local residents.

    I know, Richard, you have issues with some of this legislation but I assume you would agree, in the interests of transparency, local business owners and especially residents should have been consulted extensively. Hell, them being consulted at all would have been a start ;)

    I read on a certain Lib Dem agent’s blog a piece about how as Liberal Democrats her party were committed to transparency and engagement with the community. With these several sham “consultations” and the reupted comments of an earlier mentioned Liberal councillor to one how his voters “I don’t need the likes of you anyway, I’ll get the seat with the student vote….

    All in all leaves a rather bad smell around the holier-than thou moral crusaders the Libs (and often the Greens) purport to be. How can anyone see them as less cynical than any other party, really?

  18. Ian Manning

    Richard, you have to engage with some sort of select group to refine opinions, otherwise there is too much noise.

    I, amongst others, was voted in a transparent, democratic way – and do a lot of community work, as well as representing the needs of a part of that community (ie the vie site), so it shouldn’t be any surprise that politicans and officers come to people like me to refine views ahead of full public consultation.

    So, yes, I agree, this was engaging with a select group – in order to make the engagemt with the public more worthwhile, and there is nothing wrong with that.

    As for your question: at a different time.

  19. Richard Taylor Article author

    Ian,

    If you read what Mr Stinton has said in comment three he implies that further consultation will be with respect to other aspects of the route.

    Had elected councillors at the T-AJC and the North Area committee been open about a consultation with selected individuals prior to a public consultation I wouldn’t be making such a fuss; but what happened was:

    1. The T-AJC approved “consultation” – I think they could reasonably expect that to be run in an open manner.

    2. Councillors at the North Area Committee refused to reveal what form that consultation was taking.

    My views are along the lines of those espoused by Dan Ratcliffe in the comment above; these exercises are a Lib Dem sham; in this case an opportunity for councillors to talk with select groups, give them a feeling of influence, and let them say things to them which aren’t scrutinised by the press, public, and opposition councillors.

  20. Ian Manning

    Sorry Richard, I wasn’t aware you’d responded – any chance of having an email when there is a response to a post on here?

    It’s this idea of “local stakeholders” being given privileged access which I oppose, both here and across the city. This wasn’t engaging the public it was engaging the views of a select group.

    Yes, a select group, selected by the amount of time and effort, and democratically elected representation they can provide.

    What is your point?

  21. Ian Manning

    Something odd happening here – when I first chcked the previous post hadn’t shown up!

    Anyway, to follow up to your reply – that is your opinion, so I suggest you take that to opposition councillors?

    As others point out, there will be a full public consultation anyway, so do you think that local councillors should not be in touch with the local stakeholders?

  22. Richard Taylor Article author

    Ian,

    Selecting those who have influence (in this case through access to information and to council officers) by the amount of time and effort they put in is terrible in my view and it is exactly that which I am opposing. It’s anti-democratic and opens up the potential for corruption; it’s not in my view the right way to run this city.

    Local councillors and not residents associations are the democratically elected representatives of people living in a particular area. Even many of those heavily involved in residents associations in the city accept that the standards of democracy, inclusivity and openness within them is at best patchy. Many are one man bands or single issue groups. It is generally impossible from the outside to get an idea of how a residents association is operating internally and what weight ought be given to statements from its leaders.

    I am not yet sure a full public consultation will be forthcoming; as I have pointed out the suggestion is future consultation will be on other parts of the route. Mr Wilkins has not replied to my email asking him what in his view the TAJC meeting he chaired decided when it ordered consultation.

    I do think local councillors ought be open to their constituent’s views. I don’t think council officers ought be available to run private meetings like this. Had the meeting been led by Cllr Blair, and had it discussed information already in the public domain, I wouldn’t be making a fuss.

    My local councillor has asked, in public, at the North Area committee what the County Council’s plans are. His colleagues who knew about this secret meeting didn’t tell him or me about it.

    I regularly express my opinions to local councillors of all allegiances; many are in favour of more openness and transparency. Public opposition to Liberal Democrat secrecy, channelled through councillors, is resulting in changes. A examples of progress include the pro-active publication of councillors’ declarations of interest, and the minuting of oral questions at full council meetings (the latter is now happening and next week’s city council civic affairs committee is considering tweaking the council’s constitution to ensure it continues).

    I have written to Mr Manning to alert him to this latest response

  23. manning.ian

    Thanks Richard (also thanks for alering me)

    Ok, I can agree with your comments regarding some residents’ associations, but note I said:

    Yes, a select group, selected by the amount of time and effort, and democratically elected representation they can provide.

    Your response:

    Selecting those who have influence (in this case through access to information and to council officers) by the amount of time and effort they put in is terrible in my view

    i.e. missing out the point about democratically elected representation. The VIE RA can demonstrate quite easily that we are democratically run.

    I note your paragraph where you mention that “local councillors are…”, and I agree with that.

    So, your local (I’m making a presumption about where you live here), democratically elected councillor has decided on a way of best running the full consultation process, part of which is identifying key local stakeholders to help work out how to run that consultation in the most effective way. I was one of those and feel, broadly speaking, that is is a reasonable compromise.

    Certainly better than, say, getting a thousand people turn up in a hall, not knowing who they are and it turning into a shouting match, for example.

    Have you thought about running for councillor Richard? You certainly seem to have opinions on how things should be done, so I wonder how you would do them differently and yet still run things affectively at the same time?

  24. Richard Taylor Article author

    Ian,

    My local councillors (councillors for Arbury), appear to have been kept in the dark just as much as I and others at the North Area committee were about this consultation exercise and the way it has been run; there certainly doesn’t appear to have been a democratic decision to run a secret consultation meeting.

    Vie Residents Association only publishes one, apparently out of date, page at:
    http://www.vieresidents.org.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=102

    it states:

    This committe [sic] was elected at an open meeting on Wednesday the 27th of May 2009

    There is no indication of the size of the electorate at that meeting, who was invited, or how the meeting was advertised. I don’t think even the few residents associations which do operate openly and transparently ought be given too much special treatment; though if an open meeting is held I have no objection to, and would like to see, councillors and council officers going along. (Councillors ought then declare that interest when it comes to making a decision)

    Whatever the mechanism it doesn’t have the credibility of a local council election.

    Do you think the Vie residents association ought be taken more seriously, and given a greater voice (and more insider access) than the St. Andrew’s Road residents association for example? Should two people getting together and calling themselves a residents association get the insider access? one?

    Where councillors did approve a consultation – at the T-AJC – they did not say it ought be limited to those who’ve put lots of time and effort in; or those who’ve been waiting to be consulted on this for many years.

    As for a thousand people turning up; that doesn’t happen when it comes to local meetings about a couple of streets (and a cycle-route). Realistically, had the item been discussed at the North Area committee; more relevant local councillors would have been present and a more interested local people would have been able to attend. As I have mentioned, critically, opposition councillors and candidates would probably have been present and it would have been more likely what was being discussed would have been openly publicised.

    I have considered standing at an election. At the moment though our local councillors have very little power. In this case their decision on the highways may be over-ruled by the county council cabinet – on which there are no Cambridge councillors. If Lib Dem policies actually got enacted, and not vetoed, I don’t think they would have stayed in power so long.

    As for what I would have done differently; in this case I have made that clear already – I would have held the discussion at the public, open, North Area Committee. This would have resulted in associated papers being published online.

  25. Ian Manning

    The page isn’t out of date, not quite sure why you think that.

    As the page states, all residents of VIE are members, and all had a chance to vote.

    As you suggested in your email to me, there is a danger of the dicussion going around in circles, so I’ll finish with a few summings up, and won’t respond further:

    1) It wasn’t a secret meeting.
    2) As a local stakeholder, and a representative of a much large group of residents, I support the way the consultation is being run *thus far*
    3) You are quite right in your statements – councillors agreed a consultation. So it is up to individual councillors in wards to run that consultation as they see best.

    I don’t think we agree disagree on principles here, I just think we disagree on the practical application of those principles.

    Practally speaking, having the discussion at north area committee would have resulted in about 3 people going along and probably leaving, bored, well before the end;)

    Finally, I am worried that you link your running to be a councillor with power.

  26. Richard Taylor Article author

    Ian,

    I’ve transparently corrected the comment you posted in-line with what you’ve let me know you intended to write. (agree->disagree)

    As for “power”; the only point in standing for election in my view would be if you intended to use that elected position to make the city and the country a better place, in line with the ideas you’ve put forward for doing so.

    If you want to elect people who won’t take responsibility, won’t grasp the reigns of power, and who’ll let unaccountable officers and pressure groups run the show then we have that option with many Liberal Democrats. While the Liberal Democrats might put people up for election who intend to say and do very little if elected I really don’t think that’s the best option for our city. I’m worried by Lib Dems who don’t associate elected office with power and responsibility and just let things drift by them. I’d rather elect people who can see what needs to change, and are seeking the opportunity to be able to put their ideas into action.

    While I think our local councillors could make much more of their roles; many do very little and rarely speak at meetings, they are seriously limited by the systems they have to work within. We need to send someone to Parliament who will empower local councillors, give them even more say on everything from parking and road humps to policing through to stuff they don’t touch at the moment like lobbying for better broadband internet deals. We’re going to see massive upheaval in local government (in the widest sense) in upcoming years so perhaps a greater Cambridge, with a Mayor and assembly (modelled on London) would be the way to go and now would be the time to build solid foundations for the future.

    That this question of parking and speed humps on Church Street in Chesterton will ultimately be decided by a group, none of whom will have been elected by any resident of Cambridge, shows there’s a serious democratic deficit here. The city as a whole is disenfranchised. This is no way to run a city which is one of the country’s cultural, economic and educational gems and has such a great potential to role play in the country’s recovery.

    If we empowered local councillors I think that would strengthen democracy, both as it would matter more to people who was elected more people would vote (and perhaps more carefully) and better people would stand. I think the fact we have so many tiers of Local Government, that there’s so much bureaucracy in this country, and that democratic decisions can be overruled by unaccountable magistrates or government appointed planning inspectors makes a lot of what even the best councillors do rather futile. I an understand why those who enjoy pace, and the ability to get things done, in other aspects of their lives don’t want to get involved in discussing the same petty project month after month for years on end as a city councillor. Councils don’t have to be run like that, and wouldn’t be if we elected different people,

    It is a bit of a viscous circle though; I’d be wary about giving many of the current elected bunch more power, but if we did, we’d see the effects, throw them out, and move forward from there.

  27. Richard Taylor Article author

    At the North Area Committee on the 10th of June 2010 I used the “open forum” section of the meeting to ask about the public consultation on the Arbury Park to Riverside cycle route. I noted that to-date it had been secretive and non-inclusive.

    I told the committee, many of whom were newly elected councillors, that during the Open Forum at the North Area committee on the 4th of March I had asked about how the proposed consultation was to be carried out. On the 4th of March Cllr Blair responded but didn’t tell me, or the committee about the meeting planned for the 10th of March which a County Council officer attended. I told councillors what I had been told by the council officer outside the meeting – that its output was a report to the Transport AJC, and that its purpose was primarily to discuss the cycle route.

    I suggested that Cllr Nimmo-Smith had also known about the meeting when I asked my public question on the 4th of March and he, like Cllr Blair, had also misled me, the committee, my local councillors and wider public by not mentioning it then. I noted that Cllr Todd-Jones had raised the matter at the April North Area Committee and the existence of the secret meeting had still not been revealed to him then. (Cllr Todd-Jones visited me while canvassing for the elections in May)

    Cllr Blair responded – and started by trying to spread the blame around by reporting that Cllr Kerr had also attended the meeting. Then in a statement which says so much about the state of local government in Cambridge she told me that if I wanted to find out what had been decided at the meeting I should go and read the lampposts in in the area as the a new Traffic Regulation Order was now being advertised.

    I have made the document posted on the lamp-posts available via this: Church Street Chesterton Traffic Regulation Order – Details of proposed changes to parking restrictions (115K PDF)

    Two members of the public who had been at the secret meeting were also present at the North Area Committee. Mr Bond of the Old Chesterton Residents Association spoke in support of the secret meeting and the non-inclusive approach taken by the councillors. He drew attention to what I see as the problem with the way the city is being run by saying:
    “I find it is often best to get involved in making decisions at the stage before they go public”.
    The other member of the public, who I expect must be a representative of another Lib Dem friendly residents association from Chesterton (as they were the main invitees) made a comment directed at me, he said:
    “There is a difference between a secret meeting and one which you are not invited to.”
    Liberal Democrat councillors applauded this statement.

    The meeting was not only secretive as a result of its small select group of invitees, but as a result of its existence not being revealed when questions were asked about it in successive public meetings.

    Cllr Ian-Nimmo Smith had initially claimed had not been aware of any meeting when he had kept quiet on the 4th of March. Later though he changed his tack and said he had been aware, but thought the meeting was only to discuss “a short stretch of road”.

    Labour Cllr Todd-Jones appeared to believe what Cllr Nimmo-Smith’s about the meeting not being to discuss the cycle route and said that if that was the case then he was happy not to have been invited to it.

    Cllr Blair told the committee that the Orchard Park to Riverside cycle route was nine separate schemes. She said not all of them would be going forward and there would be consultations “in the summer”; she pointedly didn’t specify if these would be “public” or if they would be further shadowy invite only affairs.

  28. Ian Manning

    [quote]
    The other member of the public, who I expect must be a representative of another Lib Dem friendly residents association from Chesterton (as they were the main invitees) made a comment directed at me, he said:
    “There is a difference between a secret meeting and one which you are not invited to.”
    [/quote]

    Did you find out who this was / ask them?

  29. John Ionides

    Is this Ian Manning (portraying himself as a neutral local resident) by any chance the same Ian Manning who is now standing for the Lib Dems in East Chesteron? Was he a member of the Lib Dem party when he wrote these posts? I think we should be told :-)

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