On the morning of the 15th of March 2011 I attended Cambridge City Council’s Environment Scrutiny Committee.
I went along mainly as the agenda included discussing a new Conservation Area for Romsey, Brookfields and Burnside. I used the public speaking opportunity at the meeting to raise my concern that the effect of introducing conservation areas on the cost of accommodation wasn’t being factored into the council’s considerations. I urged councillors to consider if the increase in bureaucracy and increased cost of living could be justified. I pointed out that those wanting to adapt their homes to make them suitable for modern life, and to suit their requirements at different periods of their lives would, with a conservation area face new hurdles and costs. (This may result in people leaving the city rather than modifying their current homes). I also pointed out that the council would be putting barriers in the way of those wanting to make their homes more efficient, for example say by putting in new windows.
I argued that the reports to the committee were unbalanced as they made no reference to the costs of the extra regulation and bureaucratic hoops which those living in the area will have to bear. I noted that officer time was considered, but not the public’s.
My concern is that the Liberal Democrat run council is making it increasingly impractical and expensive for many people to live in Cambridge.
Executive Councillor for Climate Change and Growth, Clare Blair, responded. She said: “Yes a balance has to be made, but no actual equation has been produced”. She appeared to me to be admitting that the council had not given due consideration to the nuisance and costs it will be inflicting. She argued that there were many people who wanted to [and presumably she was thinking and could afford] to live in areas where the environment is highly regulated by the council.
While I can see the value of some conservation areas; I think this one will dampen and discourage development and re-generation in an area which desperately needs it. There was no evidence given to councillors that the city’s students and young professionals wanted to pay more for their accommodation (or be forced further out of the city) to enable the meddling council to regulate things like what people’s front doors should look like; and the council taking charge of if people will be allowed to paint their houses, and if so, what colour. I can’t see how these measures can in any way be considered liberal.
The introduction of conservation areas keeps many council officers in jobs. I have written previously about the situation in Newnham, where residents are employing professionals to make applications to the council to prune fruit trees.
Sally Fletcher spoke on behalf of the Anglia Support Partnership which she said was managing the Brookfields development site.
She argued against including the site, and its surroundings in a conservation area. She said the site was divorced from the areas which were the focus of the discussion and noted that the Brookfields site was itsself surrounded by other potential development sites. She urged the councillors to get some common sense and encourage the redevelopment of the site (clearly showing her view, and the views of those she represented, that the conservation area would not be helpful).
Sally Fletcher said the trees on the Brookfields site were already protected by Tree Preservation Orders; so no additional protection would be gained in relation to them.
Cllr Blair responded pompously. She said as the statement to the meeting had clearly been carefully considered she would give it a considered response. She announced that the decision on the conservation area would be deferred, pending further consultation.
East Mill Road Action Group
Alan Brigham spoke on behalf of the East Mill Road Action Group. He spoke about the history of the area, saying that the isolation hospital on Brookfields was an important part of local history, and was once on the outer edge of the city so the ill could go there and get some fresh country air.
The action group had put forward one of the more bonkers arguments to justify the new conservation area: that as other parts of Cambridge have conservation areas, Romsey, Brookfields and Burnside risk being considered second class areas without them.
It was noted that Cambridge Past Present and Future had responded late (given they’re a professional organisation with staff that suggests there might be a problem with the council’s procedures). They requested the addition of the area next to the Railway bridge on Argyle Street, and the properties next to the railway on Argyle street be included. The council also had trouble contacting the Glisson Road / Tenison Road Area Residents Association.
Councillors discussed adding the Argyle Street properties and the approaches to the bridge to the area, and the committee and Cllr Blair agreed to do so.
The recommendation put to councillors was:
The Executive Councillor is recommended to approve the proposed extension of Conservation Area no 1 to include:
- a) Romsey
- b) Brookfields and Burnside,
- c) Stone Street.
Councillors queried if this ought be changed following Cllr Blair’s announcement that there would be further consultation. Cllr Blair and the meeting’s chair Cllr Ward both stated that the wording of the recommendation does not amount to extending the conservation area. (Quite what it does do, I have no idea – the committee unanimously approved it and Cllr Blair, as executive councillor agreed it).
West Cambridge Conservation Area
The committee also, later, considered extending the West Cambridge Conservation area. The new area to be covered was described in the report as:
land between Madingley Road and Huntingdon Road including St Edmund’s College, Murray Edwards College (formerly New Hall), Fitzwilliam College, Churchill College and the University Observatories; land south of Madingley Road including Hedgerley Close and Bulstrode Gardens; and the triangle of land by the Coton footpath between the University Sports Ground and the Emmanuel College playing fields.
The university centrally and all the colleges had objected. Instead of the colleges themselves objecting, or even their various students’ unions’ what they’d done is put their objections in via two property companies. Savills, one of those companies, had written to the council complaining about the way the objections were dismissed in the report as just 4 objections, when clearly they were objections on behalf of a significant number of institutions (which themselves contain a significant number of people).
Executive Cllr Clare Blair curtly dismissed the representations from the university and colleges, saying they were just looking after their interests. (Their interests are very important to the city!) The only concession to the representations made was the deletion of a line relating to when buildings within the area could be demolished; it appears the colleges are concerned that their ability to economically maintain their sites as functional academic and residential institutions is under threat by the council’s actions. A letter from Savills was circulated to councillors at the meeting, though it doesn’t form part of the public meeting papers.
It was reported that the chairman of the universities “backs committee” had written in support of the conservation area extension.
Other Notes from the Meeting
I live tweeted the meeting. Notable points:
- Various councillors declared interests as ex-students of Cambridge colleges; they competed with each other for the silliest way of describing this. Cllr Pogonowski tried the plain “ex-member”, but the chair, Cllr Ward said this was inaccurate unless he had been “defrocked”, so he had to declare his interest as a “member”. Another councillor, also presumably an ex-student, described himself as a: “Senior, non-resident, member of King’s College”; this met with the chair’s approval.
- The committee formally agreed a new planning policy. Two small supermarkets are to be part of the plan for the North West Cambridge site. Green Cllr Adam Pogonowski voted against this, saying he wanted to see smaller local shops. The Liberal Democrats voted it through, with Roman Znajek saying that if residents didn’t like supermarkets then they wouldn’t shop in them. (LibDems have been running a questionable campaign against a large supermarket on the site, and this proposal of two smaller supermarkets is being promoted by them as a win for their own campaign – they’re in charge, they set the policy – the Lib Dem’s electioneering is bonkers and I can’t imagine the people of this city really fall for it – they’d be more credible being straight with people in my view).
- Councillors approved plans for battery recycling from homes in the city.
- The new service will start on the 16th of May 2011.
- The council will make a profit from running the scheme, as they will be able to sell the batteries. (No more precise financial details were offered)
- Collection will be via a plastic bag which residents can stick to the back of their green bin, on green bin collection day. If residents don’t have the official sticky plastic bag they can use any plastic bag and tie it to the bin.
- Other areas using similar schemes have had problems with people using the bags as slingshots. Cllr Pogonowski asked if the council would be liable if someone picked up a bag and used it as a weapon and injured someone; incredulous officers agreed to look in to the Cllr’s concern.
- The council’s bin collection routes are to be reviewed using a computer model. The committee agreed to let Cllr Pitt look at the computer’s suggestions and approve them or not. Options being considered include a 4 day week for bin men. This would mean they’d be asked to work harder for the 4 days they work. This would save money in various ways, including less overtime following bank holidays, allowing repairs to vehicles to be carried out on the day off. In total savings of £150K from the bin collection budget are expected; mainly they are expected to come out of suggestions made by the computer. Cllr Pogonowski asked what would happen if the savings could not be made. Cllr Pitt was rude, and said he rejected the premise of the question, and that savings could be made. Cllr Pogonowski asked for a breakdown of the savings in terms of salaries, fuel etc. but was told none could be provided until the computer had spoken. The officers apologised for not having the computer’s recommendations available for the meeting. Officers added that the review/change would help prepare for the expansion of the city and dealing with bin collections from new developments. The committee were also told about a new system which reports on the location of all the city’s bin lorries every ten seconds.
- Cllr Sanders, during debate, claimed to be the only councillor present to have experience of working on the bins. During the break Cllr Pitt asked him about his experience and he revealed he had done only two days. (Cllr Pitt has done one, presumably to gain understanding of his portfolio on becoming executive councillor)
- Those sentenced to community service are to be used to pick litter on the streets around Cambridge. (Previously they have picked litter on the commons; apparantly without the involvement of the city council, this new project involves much greater co-operation between probation and the city council).
- The council is to support a new NVQ in Environmental Cleansing (ie. litter picking). “Apprentices” are to be paid £95 a week and are to do both work and training. (I think the world’s gone qualifications mad – though no details were provided to the committee or public)
- Labour’s Cllr Herbert was absent; half way through the other Labour councillor on the committee, Cllr Newbold left. This left green Cllr Pogonowski as the only non-libdem present during a number of key items.