Cambridge City Council Environment Scrutiny March 2011 – Romsey Conservation Area


Tuesday, March 15th, 2011. 3:54pm


Outline of the New Romsey Conservation Area

Outline of the New Romsey Conservation Area

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.

Brookfields Developer

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.

CPPF

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.

Confusion

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.

See also

16 comments/updates on “Cambridge City Council Environment Scrutiny March 2011 – Romsey Conservation Area

  1. Martin

    “Non-Resident Member” is the official terminology of King’s College for their alumni. They are also senior members. So “Senior, Non-Resident Member of King’s College” is indeed the correct terminology.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cllr Blair also ordered the publication of the draft Management Plan for the Romsey conservation area so that can be available during the next period of consultation.

    I have edited the article to make clear it was the East Mill Road Action group which argued for the conservation area on the grounds that without it the area might be seen as “second rate”.

  3. Martin

    I think it’s pretty scandalous that proposals for a ‘Romsey Conservation Area’, which try to enhance the character of the area, fail even to mention the massive over-dominance of car parking (and even worse) pavement parking in the area, as if somehow this was invisible.

  4. Cllr Adam Pogonowski

    Email to Councillor Blair duly sent.

    Here is the body of the text:

    “I was wondering whether you could pass me any information, as much as possible please, pertaining to Mr. Taylor’s concern’s about increasing difficulty for ordinary homeowners post-the enactment of the West and Romsey Conservation Areas please.

    I’d like to know what difficulties are to be envisaged, and what remedies would be available for ordinary residents.”

    Adam

  5. Tim Ward

    Cllr Pogonowski appears not to understand the process (which is fair enough in a new councillor).

    It is clearly understood by all that the benefits of a conservation area come with costs, as do any other benefits, and one of the costs is a modest amount of additional hassle for anyone wishing to carry out development in a conservation area. This is why residents of a potential new conservation area are consulted to see whether they think the benefits outweigh the costs, and on this occasion they said “yes”.

    In fact it would be really strange if they had said anything else, because the resource that the council is able to devote to evaluating designating conservation areas lags somewhat behind demand from residents. As the council can’t keep up with the demand from residents to designate their area as a conservation area it’s hardly likely to go off on its own bat and designate areas from which there has been no resident demand!

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    There are about 8,000 people living in Romsey.

    127 people from Romsey responded to the consultation on the new conservation area; it was only a majority of that very small self selecting group which is known to support the conservation area, not the majority of the population of the area, or of the city.

    Romsey’s ~1.5% consultation response rate was relatively very high; in other areas it has been much lower.

    The consultation did not ask people about the balance of costs/restrictions/regulations/bureaucracy verses asthetics; but primarily asked if there was support for the area appraisal document.

    I think the appraisal document is fascinating, but I think its the kind of thing I’d expect a local history society to be producing – not taxpayers.

    The council is clearly going against resident demand in West Cambridge were the colleges, which occupy large swathes of the area added objected.

    In this, as in many areas, the Liberal Democrats are confusing the views of groups, such as the East Mill Road Action Group, with the views of the population of an area.

    I think Cllr Pogonowski has slightly missed the point by asking about “ordinary homeowners”; I’m concerned about them, but I’m also concerned about the knock on effect on the cost of housing for those who rent too.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    I understand that following Cllr Blair’s approval, at the meeting, of the extension of the Romsey Conservation Area the planning department duly started imposing the new regime the next day.

    Cllr Blair had to then explain to her planning officers that while she had approved the extension that wasn’t what she meant (or something along those lines). I understand Cllr Blair has apologised to her officers for the confusion and they are no longer treating the conservation area as in-force.

    It will be interesting to see if a public correction/explanation is issued as a city council press release.

    I suspect the official minutes (drafts of which I understand are often seen by executive councillors) may well reflect what Cllr Blair believes ought to have happened.

  8. Andrew Bower

    When I went along to the exhibition about the conservative area at St Philip’s on Mill Road I was accosted by someone who I think was a council officer who tried to sell the scheme to me and asked me (assuming I would) if I would be supporting the scheme. She was shocked and surprised that I said it depended on the balance with the costs that the scheme would impose on people. She claimed that there would be no costs.

    I hope that I was wrong and that that was an activists – we shouldn’t be wasting council taxpayers’ money on officers who can’t understand simple concepts such as that schemes like this impose some cost.

  9. wab

    If council consultations were used to inform public decision making (e.g. that it is crazy to cut down trees just because the city tree department happens to like cutting down trees) then consultations might be deemed worthwhile (if they were cheap enough).

    As it is, consultations are always deemed to be representative of public opinion, and as Andrew points out, they are not (well, not necessarily). Needless to say, the middle class activists (including organisations like the CPPF) who dominate these consultations love to think of them as democratic, but they are the exact opposite. They help entrench the power of the middle class activists at the expense of everyone else.

    (If you were to believe the middle class activists, then everyone in Cambridge hates Tesco, but funnily enough their stores seem to be pretty popular. And if you were to believe the middle class activists, then everyone in Cambridge is just dying to cycle, but funnily enough most people prefer to drive.)

    It would be interesting to see how much it cost the council to put together the documents about the various proposed conservation areas. Does anyone know?

    The city seems to love to spend money on these kinds of documents. In 2006 the city produced an extensive survey of the Cambridge “core area”. Although these documents are great for amateur architectural historians, I agree with Andrew that the city should not be funding these (unless they are required for statutory reasons).

  10. Adam Pogonowski

    Richard, sorry about the delay in getting this to you – I got the reply a couple of weeks ago, but forgot to post it here too.

    Here’s the reply from Cllr. Blair:

    Dear John and Joanna,

    Can you respond to Cllr Pogonowski’s query below which follows on from Mr Taylor’s query at Environment Scrutiny about the effect of Conservation Areas on householders in that area, and I suppose if that was on balance a negative or positive effect.

    It might therefore be useful if John could go through the constraints on development, and on trees, which arise from being a Conservation Area, together with some information about the rationale (national or local) for putting one in. If possible, perhaps Joanna might be able to add something about planning policy and Conservation Areas and Policy 4/11.

    I think I would personally use the word ‘constraints’ rather than ‘difficulties’ as used below. For instance Conservation Area status would have prevented the premature site clearance of trees on the Royal Standard pub site and equally would prevent the site owners from demolishing the pub building itself, even though a Building of Local Interest, without planning consent to give a clear site for redevelopment as has happened elsewhere and which will shortly remove another pub in Cherry Hinton ahead of a planning application being put in. It would also have prevented local residents from having to confront the landlord to try and protect the trees from being felled at the Royal Standard.

    I think I would also point out the high level of support from the public generally for Conservation Areas, and particuarly for this one. Reading through the consultation responses myself, it is interesting to see that objections are often from ‘managers’ of large estates (so in West Cambridge, Bidwells and Savills for the colleges) though that doesn’t mean they don’t have any less validity of course.

    On an entirely practical point, I think the best indicator of if residents want conservation areas would be any possible reaction to removing one, and my own view is that residents would be up in arms if it was removed and generally ask for it to be included. It may also enhance the value of a property even whilst adding some constraints on development.

    Permitted Development rights can be, and often are, also removed in many new developments (which means planning permission is reqjuired for some things which otherwise might not need planning permission) so it is not only Conservation Area status which does this.

    Finally, a test of the Localism Bill will be precisely to enable residents in an area to decide what constitutes ‘permitted development’ through a Local Development Order in a Local Neighbourhood Plan. I do wonder whether residents will use that opportunity to free up or constrain development and that will be one of the really interesting things to watch.

  11. Richard Taylor Article author

    I find it appalling that ex Cllr Blair saw raising house prices as something which demonstrated her policies were working.

    ==

    On Tuesday the 24th of June the Environment Scrutiny committee are again considering the conservation area for Romsey.

    http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/democracy/mgMeetingAttendance.aspx?ID=708

    Comments:
    * Representations from stages prior to the latest consultation on the extension in the Brookfields area have not been included in the report to councillors.

    * Despite the small number of people participating in the consultation officers are claiming the proposals have wide support.

    * Councillors from outside Cambridge at a Cambridgeshire Renewable energy event discussed how conservation areas make it harder and more expensive for people to make their homes energy efficient when in a conservation area. This and other downsides of a conservation area have not been considered in the report.

    ==

    With the De Freville area, the Environment Scrutiny committee approved the appraisal document on the 3rd of March 2009 and the council announced the conservation area was in-force on the 9th of March so if that pattern is followed the Romsey area could be effective as soon as next week.

    The report to the meeting isn’t clear on the timetable for the area coming into effect if approved.

  12. Philip Wallbridge

    The creation of a conservation area in Romsey would be a bad idea. I live in the newly minted De Freville conservation area. Nothing has changed except for much increased bureaucracy. The worst part is that all tree works need a tree works application.
    You cannot look out of the window on a sunny Saturday morning and decide to prune your trees, instead you need to put in an application that will take six weeks and lots of paperwork to process.
    An example is the tree application on trees overlooking Ferry Path at http://idox.cambridge.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=LHH7PPDX03Q00 . This application is to re-pollard four lime trees, an application went through the system in 2010 for that years pollarding. The application was placed on 1st March, and has not been resolved, so the trees look unkempt. The application has also been objected to by a neighbour which is further protracting the process.
    Perhaps because of this none of the other trees on Ferry Path are pruned.

    I recommend to the residents of Romsey that if they want to keep their gardens looking cared for and to live in an area with trees that look good, then they should reject their area being turned into a conservation area. It will do nothing useful that good use of the current planning process cannot do.

  13. Richard Taylor Article author

    I observed Cambridge City Council’s Environment Scrutiny committee on the 21st of June 2011.

    When the item on the Romsey Conservation area was reached a public speaker, from NHS Cambridgeshire, addressed the meeting. She argued that the Brookfields hospital site had none of the characteristics described in the conservation area appraisal document, and that buildings described as notable within the site were in very poor condition. She put forward NHS Cambridgeshire’s view that it made no sense for the council to include the development site in the conservation area.

    Following the the representation the meeting’s chair Liberal Democrat Cllr Simon Kightley announced that as the matter had not been “called in” there would be no debate, the item was nodded through by the committee and executive councillor Tim Ward approved the conservation area appraisal.

    It wasn’t made clear when the conservation area will come into effect.

    I spoke to Labour Councillor George Owers on the street outside after the meeting. He explained that Labour had not called the matter in for debate as it had already been debated at the previous meeting. I do agree that the council becomes a farce when the same debates are held time and time again as things slowly make their way through the council. In this case I think the fact the previous committee thought they were deferring the matter and hadn’t really concluded the debate means it councillors should have had a chance to express their views. The fact there were many new councillors on the committee is another reason why in my view it ought to have been debated.

    It was not made clear when the conservation area will come into force.

  14. Richard Taylor Article author

    The introduction of the Conservation Area has been reported in the Cambridge News:

    http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Cambridge/Areas-industrial-past-is-preserved-for-the-future-22062011.htm

    Cllr Ward has been quoted suggesting it will stop

    changes such as bits of streets being knocked down or blocks of flats going up

    He clearly has no idea what he’s done. Changes he refers to would have required planning permission in any case, with or without a conservation area.

    What he’s done is stop people easily making improvements to their homes or pruning their trees and massively increase state/council interference in people’s lives.

    The article quotes leader of the Green group on the council Adam Pogonowski (the first time I’ve seen him described as the leader!) saying:

    In a time when it is extremely difficult for people to buy houses, it seems bizarre the council wishes to exacerbate this problem.

    Not only this, but it will prove quite un-green, in that it adds another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy in being able to renovate homes.

    On this I agree with Cllr Pogonowski.

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