To: The Committee of the Friends of Midsummer Common,
I attended your open meeting held on Wednesday 24th January 2007 and am taking up the invitation extended to those of us at that meeting to email you at this address with opinions/suggestions we were unable to make in person at the meeting.
When I attended the meeting I had made the following notes on points I would have liked to raise: CCTV; Lighting, relationship with the Jesus Green Association, the common’s infrastructure:
*CCTV I think it’s a great use of the council’s redeployable CCTV to have them on Jesus Green and Midsummer common.
I believe that better signage ought to accompany the CCTV. If more people knew the CCTV was present I believe it would have a better deterrent and reassurance effect. The council’s own research has found that: “Awareness of camera deployment is very low”
I am also, secondarily, concerned about privacy, and democratic control over the CCTV, I think this is improving within Cambridge, and is currently pretty good; however I am not convinced that the current practice of placing very small signs on the same post as the CCTV camera is sufficient.
The Council’s Re-Deployable (Mobile) CCTV Cameras Deployment Guidelines state:
12.1 RCCTV cameras will be mounted within the public view and with clear signage indicating their use within the area.
I believe that requires signage visible as people enter the area covered by the cameras, not only when they find themselves immediately below the camera.
Large plastic signs attached to lamposts etc. with cable ties such as those used on Midsummer Common and Christ’s pieces stating – police officers patrol this area would I believe be ideal.
*Lighting In the interests of reducing crime and the fear of crime I would support improved lighting of various areas of Midsummer Common / Jesus green, especially on winter evenings where many people cross the Green/Common to go home from the City in the dark between around 17.00 and 20.00. I think the floodlights at the intersection of paths in the Butt Green area are excellent, and think the area could use a few more.
*Designated area under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act. I think this designation is a sledgehammer to crack a nut; it’s excessive and I don’t think appropriate. It makes everyone who crosses the common as a group when it is in force potentially subject to dispersal by the police or a PCSO – and in case of non-compliance subject to arrest. I do not see why the police need additional powers in this area, and believe they need to be very cautious that actions they take to deal with a minority do not adversely affect the majority. I would have been open to an explanation by the police or others as to why the designation was required but feel it was a subject that could usefully have been discussed. Eg. What are the pros/cons of this designation over a designated public place order. Can a DPPO be limited to the winter months only as the current designation? What additional powers do the police feel they need on Midsummer Common?
*Relationship with the Jesus Green Association. While I noted a representative of the Jesus Green Association was present, and spoke at the open meeting I had planned to ask more about any relationship between the two organisations, asking if they were in any way competing and if a new organisation was really required – given I have seen in the Jesus Green Association described as the Jesus Green/Midsummer Common Association. I also noted the FOMC flyer took the place of the JGA minutes on the Jesus Green Notice board within a day of them going up. I would have suggested that once the meeting past the minutes be returned (The flyer is still present).
*Modification to /repair of the common’s infrastructure prior to the introduction of cattle – I was interested if any was necessary.
I also have a few comments on the meeting itsself;
*The meeting was closed before reaching the “Open Discussion” agenda item; I and I note the last speaker, felt this resulted in the meeting not hearing opinions on subjects which were not deemed important enough for an agenda item of their own by the committee. I felt crime / safety / anti-social behaviour were topics not covered.
*Involvement of the police. I did speak once at the meeting as one of the four people who spoke between the police officer who attended telling the chairman that he’d be happy to speak to the group if the chair would invite him and the chairman finally inviting the police officer to speak – to a round of applause.
Two people indicated that they would have liked to say things but were deterred from doing so by the police presence; I also felt that.
I think in future open meetings any police involvement should be handled better; perhaps allowing them to respond to points raised after relevant agenda items have been discussed and then asking them to leave at some point, allowing some time for discussion in their absence. I think items of interest to the police could be moved to the top of the agenda – so as the police could leave without having to sit through the rest of the meeting.
*I felt there were a number of times when those raising points the chair disagreed with were cut short. Eg. the meeting’s flyer stated there would be a discussion of grazing on the common, yet those opposing grazing were responded to by the Chairman stating that grazing was an established right. I and others couldn’t see why despite that the subject could not be discussed; the meeting could have come to the conclusion that it opposed grazing despite it being legally permissible.
*Not starting on time due to “VIP”s being late – I felt that was inappropriate for an open meeting, where I would have preferred everyone be treated as an equal.
While I am a daily user of the common, live near-by, and support many of your group’s objectives I decided not to join your group because:
1. I left the open meeting feeling that it was a group focused on representing the needs/opinions of those owning houses directly adjacent to the Common, and did not represent the much wider group with an interest in the Common.
2. There was no limit to a member’s liability in the group’s constitution.
3. I disagree with the group’s objective: “to work with organisers to ensure that events have minimal impact and cause no nuisance to local residents;” I feel that “no nuisance” is an unattainable ideal, and some minor noise/light/mud etc. nuisance is in my view inevitable with many events and I felt the group’s “no nuisance” stance essentially placed the group as effectively opposed to events on the common.
Notes on the Report on the Open Meeting: *On Cows falling in the river: “a gravel slope that would help in this had been identified.” During the meeting Angelika von Heimendahl refered to “stepping stones” and stated that she was unaware of their state of repair. I do not believe a gravel slope was mentioned.
*The PCSO was asked about illegal vehicles on the common and replied that he would have them crushed. This was not recorded.
*In respect to Manure on paths The report states only: “The nuisance would be reduced if the paths could be cleared each morning and the possibility of the Council undertaking this task was raised.” – My recollection is that the meeting received an assurance from the council officer that the paths would be cleared each morning and the chair made a point of asking for it to be recorded.
Other comments: The chair expressed his desire to involve people from a wider area than immediately around the common. I feel that an interactive element to the group’s website would help with that – see http://www.camboaters.co.uk/ for some inspiration – the site is linked to a Yahoo discussion group.
Greater use of the website might also inspire contacts for example Mr King informed me of a meeting with the council he was planning for Monday the 12th Feb. Had the committee’s activities such as this been on the site they may have drawn comments / support and provided a stronger mandate for the FoMC at the meeting.
In the event that this email reaches a wider group of recipients I have copied my previous exchange with Mr King below. The response I received describing my comments as “not very helpful” has provided an additional reason for me not to be inclined to join the FoMC, and to some degree explains my delay in writing this email.
I do plan to attend your next open meeting, and if given the opportunity, raise some of the points I have made in this email.
—— Forwarded Message
From: Richard Taylor
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2007 T
To: Geoffrey King xxx @ aol.com
Cc: Angelika von Heimendahl,
Subject: Re: Cows on the common
I’m sorry that you view my comments as unhelpful, as they reflect my genuine concerns which arose having attended your open meeting where I listened to what was said, and have been developed in discussion with many people over the last week or so.
I know of no [sic] instance of a cow trampling children on Midsummer Common
During the meeting two other people raised the problem of cows intimidating other users; one of the house boat owners related his experience of seeing cows running towards a family on Stourbridge common (a near miss which traumatised the mother) and another elderly lady noted that that many of those who use the common are not used to cows.
A student has been injured by a cow on a York Common and there have been other incidents for example:
- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/09/26/ncows26.xml&s Sheet=/news/2005/09/26/ixhome.html
I do not think that my comments were as ridiculous as you suggest.
On the subject of the fire service being used to fish cows out of the river; I found Angelika’s attitude that cows falling in the river was inevitable and that it was reasonable to expect the fire service to repeatedly rescue them shocking. When questioned at the open meeting she was vague about the state of the stepping stones. I am encouraged to hear that you are meeting the council to discuss reducing the chances of the cows falling in the river; my email and the comments made at the meeting put you in a stronger position in such a meeting to lobby for improvements to the fabric of the common, for you to dismiss them as not very helpful is incomprehensible to me.
I have to stress that grazing is an established right and has only recently been curtailed.
I could see at the meeting that not everyone you are dealing with understands this; I do and I quote from my email to Angelika: “it is excellent that you are planning on exercising your right to graze cows on the common. ”
The unknown state of the stepping stones was a point raised at the meeting by Angelika, I think it is an entirely reasonable point to check before reintroducing cows.
I plan to take you up on your invitation to email you with further points that I did not get a chance to contribute to the open meeting shortly.
From: Geoffrey King @aol.com
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2007
Subject: Cows on the common
Angelika was passed your mail to me. I’m not quite sure what point you are making as it is in no ones interest for cows to fall into the river or indeed a mass trampling of children! We are meeting the Council on 12th Feb to discuss all the issues that came out of the meeting and we will be looking at a number of possible options to make sure that the cows cannot fall into the river. Your last comments were not very helpful and I have to stress that grazing is an established right and has only recently been curtailed. I know of no instance of a cow trampling children on Midsummer Common and I have to say that Angelika is both a vet and a mother…. Geoffrey King Chair, Friends of Midsummer Common
—— Original Message
From: Richard Taylor Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2007
To: Angelika von Heimendahl,
Subject: Midsummer Common Dear Angelika von Heimendahl,
I listened to you speak at the Midsummer Common open meeting last Wednesday and think it is excellent that you are planning on exercising your right to graze cows on the common. The way that you are doing it; discussing it with interested parties, choosing traditional cattle and proposing to sell the meet locally are also exemplary in my view.
I am a bit concerned though about the way you appear to accept that the cows inevitably will fall in the river and need to be rescued by the fire service. Are you sure the “stepping stones” you referred to to get the cows out are still in place and useable? On Stourbridge common, and everywhere else I’ve seen cows on a riverbank, the cows have had access to the water via a ramp / gentle incline. At the moment the easiest access to the river appears to be next to the cutter ferry bridge, could this be improved? I realise the fabric of the common is the council’s responsibility but perhaps putting cows on the common without access in and out of the river would be irresponsible. Presumably you be giving the Cows a drinking trough; do you think they’ll use that rather than the river?
The cows on Stourbridge common/ Ditton medows do regularly come into conflict with the other users of the space – even though that common is much less busy than Midsummer common. Particularly when they are obstructing the path at gates, or people are between them and the River the cows on Stourbridge common do run, as the man at the meeting described. Both commons are used by lots of city-types who aren’t comfortable with cows and aren’t confident to stand their ground when approached by them. I don’t know if there’s a solution – Can you select some docile animals?!
A trampled child or a delay in the fire service getting to someone trapped in a car would be too high a price to pay for the benefits the cows bring.