I attended Cambridge City Council’s North Area Committee on the 11th of December 2008. I made representations to my local councillors, and other members of the committee before the meeting, specifically on Policing North Cambridge.
City Cllrs Levy, Upstone and Liddle were absent, as was County Councillor Hughes who it was reported was in Hospital. Cllr Todd-Jones did not attend the planning section of the meeting. Cllr Liddle has repeatedly been absent from North Area Committee meetings.
The meeting began by considering a planning application for a block of flats to be built in the garden of 7 Church Street, within the Chesterton conservation area, I have covered those discussions in a separate article.
The first item on the main agenda for this meeting was the setting of the police priorities for North Cambridge for the forthcoming quarter which I have also covered in detail in a dedicated article.
Cllr Armstrong, the chairperson, started the meeting by saying that the Environmental Improvements item had been removed from the agenda because all committee members were not happy with the report and had sent it back to officers. They would be discussing these items next time. No further details were given. The report included a section on the work on the Penny Ferry car park, the costs of which had risen from an initial £20K to almost £70K with no clear reason for the massive increase.
The minutes were in their usual appalling state, no councillors thought fit to raise the errors I had noted. Cllr Nimmo-Smith clarified that it was the Local Government Association, not the UK Government as stated in the minutes, though which Cambridge City Council was trying to secure the return of it’s £9m of investments currently frozen in Iceland.
A resident of Garry Drive was present and asked for the record of the questions which he put to the October 2008 North Area Committee to be corrected. He noted it wasn’t the pallets on the verges which were the main problem, it was the lorry parts etc. stored on the pallets. He also complained that the description of the trees made it sound as if they were in the middle of the road, when they are in the verge. He also noted that the minutes had consistently misspelt Garry Drive. Councillors agreed to correct the minutes.
Cllr Pitt had asked the City Council’s Principal Arboricultural Officer Diana Oviatt-Ham to attend the meeting to deal with the matters arising with respect to trees. In terms of Garry Drive she gave excuses for why the work had not yet been done, and said jobs like this would usually be scheduled well in advance so they work could be organised efficiently, despite this she said the work at Garry drive would be carried out soon.
The arboricultural officer also spoke about the trees on Milton Road where replanting had recently taken place. She reported that the trees put in would flower in spring with a pink blossom. Cllr Pitt has reported on his website that “most will be cherry but at some road junctions another flowering tree is planned to be used”. I have noted the officer said that the trees planted were “Fake Acacia”. ( I have found this photo of a Pink Acacia flower).
Cllr Pitt told the officer, who wasn’t aware, that the Cambridge Evening News star letter in the day’s paper was congratulating the council on the planting of the trees in milton road. The officer reported that the council had received positive phone calls as the trees were going in too.
Next the committee discussed the guided bus; county councillors reported that they could not get a consistent answer to their questions. They had had differing responses from different members of the County Council’s Executive, and different responses again from county officers. One of the questions was would a guided bus break if it tried to use an existing bus stop in North Cambridge (some bus stops in the city are being modified for use by guided buses). The question of if existing bus routes would be affected by the guided bus also could not be answered. Later in the meeting, during the open forum, I noted that despite the advice of councillors at the last North Area committee suggesting interested members of the public attend the Guided Bus Liaison Forums to ask questions such as these, I had asked the county council for details of future meetings only to for them to be with-held from me on the grounds they were not public meetings. Cllr Pitt suggested I should turn up anyway and if anyone asked say I was a Histon Parish Councillor (he was only joking).
The discussion returned to the non-tree related problems at Garry Drive (see my article on the October 2008 North Area Committee for photographs). Cllr Upstone was leading the response on this matter and had not given enough notice of his absence for any of his fellow councillors to be able to report on progress to the meeting. Cllr Nimmo-Smith assured the Garry Drive resident he would receive a written response from Cllr Upstone. Cllr McGovern said that items relating to Garry Drive which had been noted as his action points were also now being dealt with by Cllr Upstone. Cllrs Pitt and McGovern assured the meeting that action was being taken, and they had been copied in on email correspondence.
At the previous meeting I had asked when the Jesus Green Bid document would be made available on line as promised. Cllr Blair had prepared a careful and sneaky response to this stating:
The individual who requested the document be placed online has now seen a copy. It has proven difficult to put the full document on the website
One of the questions I had wanted to ask in the open forum, but was not called to put to the committee was how, in the absence of the full details could the council be serious about their recent pledges that consultation on the Jesus Green project was ongoing.
Cllr Nimmo-Smith had produced a written note, distributed to councillors and the public at the meeting, with updates on his action points. While I have lobbied for such documents to be included in the minutes, on the basis of past experience they won’t be. Cllr Nimmo-Smith sent me a copy in advance of the meeting which I have made available on my site via this link. The topics covered are the No. 4 Bus Stop at the Grafton Centre, Arbury Court toilets, and the use of the City Rangers to stop cyclists. On the subject of the city rangers stopping cyclists, he confirmed that statistics were collected in an anonymous manner, no names or other identifying information was collected. He said the rangers have no powers to stop cyclists and no powers for them to stop cyclists are being sought.
The main issue which took up most of the “Open Forum” time was the loss of “Sure Start” funding which had adversely affected two groups which work with families with young children in the area, I have written a separate detailed article on this element of the meeting.
While I was able to contribute to the open forum to briefly comment on councillors’ handling of the police priorities, and to point out the guided bus forums were not public meetings, I was not invited to ask my tabled questions relating to the Penny Ferry Works, or the Jesus Green Lottery bid. Details of what I would have said are contained within my representations to my local councillors made before the meeting. On Penny Ferry, given Cllr Liddle’s repeated failure to turn up and update the committee on progress, or justify her decisions to modify the scheme using the powers delegated to her by the committee as the Penny Ferry Project’s lead councillor I would have suggested the committee remove her from the role of lead councillor, particularly given the huge escalation in the proposed costs of the project.
Councillors finally came round discussed how to spend “S106″ money in the area, this is money the council has taken from developers to support capital improvements in infrastructure, the need for which arises from developments.
Councillors were being asked to make decisions without any detail, or any costings. Both I and Cllr Ward drew attention to this, and the officer explained that they were being asked for a very early opinion on ideas. They were asked to confirm the priority order of a list of projects. A member of the public was able to draw the direct connection between the new high-density flats on the flood-plain in Chesterton and the football pitches in-front of them. Another aspect missing from the S106 information given to councillors was any note of such direct connections between particular developments and specific projects.
Councillors focused on the fitness related items, suggesting that if fitness trails were installed in parks then they should be discrete. There was a bit of confusion as councillors and a member of the public discussed a “trim trail” thinking that was one of these signed “circuit training” routes (posts telling you to do sit-ups / press-ups / star-jumps at various points round the perimeter of a field, park or estate). The officer told the committee that this was not what was meant by “trim trail”, but that it was a multi-gym type thing, like the one currently outside Parkside pools. Cllr Blair told the committee she had been to the olympic flag waving ceremony at Parkside, and claimed a link between the olympics and the fitness related spending of S106 money. She said this might include an “adventure playground for adults”, adding “not on Jesus Green”. I couldn’t work out quite what she was on about, but it was perhaps a hint that she no-longer supports the tree-top adventure play area for older teens on Jesus Green which she signed off on (without reading the bid document) just weeks earlier.
I noted that some S106 agreements contained clauses requiring money to be paid back to developers and asked if the City Council had ever been so slow at thinking about how to spend the money it had had to pay it back. Cllr Nimmo-Smith said he couldn’t remember any incidences and thought it had almost certainly not happened under the current administration, but would check. Cllr Ward said that the council had reviewed how it dealt with S106 money last year, and he had sat on the review committee, he reported that while there were many incidences of the council taking a very long time, 4-5 years to get round to spending s106 money he didn’t think any had been handed back to developers. He also claimed the council was excellent at collecting S106 money.
Councillor Upstone, who was not present, had submitted a question to the committee via text message to a couple of committee members. He was querying if funds from a particular development were included in the list of projects, he was promised a written response from the officer.
Councillors unanimously (even Labour Cllr Mike Todd-Jones) voted to accept the list of S106 projects, in the order of priority in which they were presented to the meeting.
Just as the main section of the meeting started at 19.30. Cllr Blair handed a bunch of flowers to member of the public – Mrs Lil Speed who then presented them to the meeting’s chair Cllr Armstrong as a token of thanks for her [unspecified] work. This presentation was photographed by the City Council’s Principal Arboricultural Officer Diana Oviatt-Ham. During the break Cllr Blair had approached me and said she had been told I had taken photographs in the Full Council meeting the previous week, she claimed photography was banned in council meetings without permission of the meeting’s chair. Cllr Armstrong mentioned the filming protocol as she started the meeting, she did not explain if Diana Oviatt-Ham had had permission to take photographs or not.
When I was leaving the meeting I cycled down Arbury Road and when I reached the junction with Milton Road I caught up with Ian Nimmo-Smith, Leader of Cambridge City Council. He was stopped at the traffic lights, and I was amazed to see he had no illuminated lights on his bike. As I readied my camera to record what I was seeing, the traffic lights changed, he pedalled off and his dynamo powered lights came on. (It was dark, wet and cold, I’m 99% sure this was INS)