In advance of the upcoming Cambridge City Council North Area Committee meeting on the 19th of June 2008 I have written to some local councillors to make some observations.
In summary : The meeting papers are appalling – the minutes of the previous meeting omit the local policing priorities which were agreed by the committee. It is essential to record the police priorities set so that the committee can hold the police to account for meeting them in the future. This perhaps indicates that councillors and council officers are not taking the policing agenda item as seriously as they should – it is a fantastic opportunity to have a significant impact on improving quality of life for everyone living in the area. I have made again some of the suggestions I have been making for over a year now to improve the policing agenda item.
The Environmental Improvements appear to have stalled, on Penny Ferry, despite the North Area Committee ordering a consultation in September 2007 the results of this are not being presented to next week’s meeting, it appears likley the consultation has not taken place and council officers ignored the councillors request. Also on Penny Ferry the total cost of £35 650 put to the September meeting is not present at all in the papers, it has, without explanation been reduced to £20 000. As no plans accompany either of the figures, both appear to have been plucked from thin air.
My complete email is below:
To – My local councillors and Cllr Nimo Smith
Subject : Some observations in advance of Next Week’s North Area Committee Meeting,
1. The minutes of the North Area Committee on Thursday 17 April 2008 which are due to be brought to next week’s meeting are appalling.
One of the most important things the North Area Committee did on the 17th of April was set the local policing priorities. The priorities set at that meeting have not been recorded in the minutes. While the omission from the minutes of one of the committee’s key decisions is the main thing, the debate around the priorities has also largely not been recorded.
Councillors removed burglary as a priority for the police in North Cambridge, despite the level of burglary in the area remaining higher than elsewhere in Cambridge.
I spoke against removing burglary as a priority, and seven days after the meeting the Police announced via Ecops: “Police are reminding homeowners to be vigilant with their security following a spate of recent burglaries where vehicles have been stolen.”, on the 7th, 16th and 23rd of May more Ecops emails on the subject of burglaries in the North Area were sent. I am concerned that councillors are hiding this bad decision (though it was inline with the Police recommendation and I also realise it is unlikely that councillors have intervened in the drafting of these minutes it could be the officer responsible for them feels compelled to try and show councillors in a positive light).
I heard councillors decide the police’s efforts were to be spent educating school children about drugs, and educating international students arriving in the area about crime. Cllr Blair objected to the proposed police priority of: “Preventing attacks on foreign students” on the grounds of it not being a politically correct thing to say, other councillors including Cllr James agreed it should be amended as they wanted the police to make north Cambridge safe for everyone, the result was agreement on an “education” based priority the wording of which was to be decided later. I can see how this “to be decided later” might cause problems for the minute taker, but if the wording was agreed immediately after the meeting it could have made the minutes, or if the priority was formulated as a chair’s action it should be reported to the next meeting – but it is not on the agenda.
The title of the Policing section in the minutes is wrong. It was “Neighbourhood Policing” at the last meeting so should state that as the title in the minutes. I believe the whole committee indicated support for Cllr Downham’s opposition to the change to ‘Safer Neighbourhoods’, a change which I believe makes it less clear that the North Area Committee has the opportunity to set the local policing priorities for the area and hold the police to account for meeting them. I thought the committee on the 17th of April clearly rejected the Police’s proposal to change the name. I think this is a very important point, in order to get more people’s input to councillors at the North Area Committee it has to be clear what the committee does with respect to the policing priorities, this change of name is a step backwards for clarity, and could potentially lead to a dilution of the committee’s role. I am disappointed to see officers ploughing on with the new name despite what I saw as councillors disapproval, I don’t think the new name contributes to making it clearer that this is an opportunity for people to influence their local policing priorities.
Inspector Hutchinson gave answers to many of the questions raised – yet none of his answers have been minuted. For example he explained the highly intrusive Martingale close CCTV cameras as being present due to burglaries, an interesting response as it was at odds with the reason for the deployment given to me by the City Council’s CCTV Manager. That’s one example – there were many many more.
Another omission from the minutes is a matter arising from the previous minutes – Cllr Nimmo Smith had committed to seek clarification about the mechanism for setting police priorities and to find out if they were set at the North Area Committee as the Police had been claiming while attending the meetings, or at a secret meeting in Parkside. Cllr Nimmo Smith’s said he had not been able to get a response from the appropriate council officer – the Director of Community Services, suggesting that she wasn’t able to respond as she was recovering from the London Marathon. Cllr Nimmo Smith now has a response and I hope he will bring it to next week’s meeting, ideally after having it agreed as correct by the Police, however as there is no action point listed on the minutes he may not be prompted to do so. It is a pity he has not had it distributed with the agenda for next week’s meeting.
2. Penny Ferry / The Hailingway Environmental Improvement
The information given in the agenda and papers for next week’s does not provide the full background to the proposal and how it has been dealt with previously by the North Area Committee.
The minutes from the September 2007 North Area Committee state:
“Penny Ferry, the Haling Way (by 8 votes to 0) to consult the public, the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and the Conservators of the River Cam to pick up any additional suggestions before bringing a report back to the Committee. “
ie. the committee rejected the officer recommendation to proceed with the scheme in September 2007, and decided to ask for more consultation instead. The grounds were a lack of detail on the scheme, no justification for the costs (the point made by councillors that it was odd to have a cost down to the nearest £50 without any detail on the scheme). The committee then wasted a lot of time on an inane discussion on if the bollards (which are there to protect trees from being run into by cars) need to be retained to prevent cars falling in the river, when they clearly don’t fulfill that function.
We also learnt at that meeting that to describe this improvement as an improvement to the hailing-way is misleading – the area involved is the car park, and the area about 20m or so downstream.
A key question to ask now is if this consultation which the committee requested in September 2007 has taken place, and if so why isn’t the report on it on next week’s agenda.
I welcome the fact a public consultation is now proposed, I disagree with the minutes from the September meeting that the committee requested one then, and I am sure one has not effectively been carried out – as an almost daily user of the area.
*Could this scheme be co-ordinated with the new bridge and riverside promenade scheme- giving the whole stretch of the river some kind of consistent look. Connecting with the upstream improvements could ensure the effects of the regeneration of the riverside nearer the city centre extend into Chesterton. By “connecting” I mean using a similar style of railings, bollards, street furniture, signage, lighting and quality of work.
*This work needs to be co-ordinated with an improvement of the signage of the cycleways on the roads/pavements in the immediate area. Currently it is difficult to distinguish cycleway from pavement, both under the trees on the downstream end of the carpark, and by the road next to the public house, is there a cycle way on the pavement from the car park to the on road cycle way a few hundred meters away upstream? I think clear cycleways, with markings and dropped curbs, need to follow the cyclists’ path of least resistance – for the primary route which is that taken by those following the river.
*I think parking should remain essentially unregulated on the grounds there isn’t currently a problem.
*I support making the triangle of grass downstream of the car park, between the carpark and the first house, more open and encouraging its better use – it is currently scrubby and unused.
I look forward to making these, and perhaps other suggestions when I have the detailed proposals during the public consultation.
I also note the costing of the scheme has significantly changed since September.
A document which was never part of the minutes or agenda of the 20th September 2007 meeting and so is not publicly accessible online, stated the total cost of the scheme to be £35 650, it is now only £20 000, what has been lost from the scheme and why?
3. I have spoken to Inspector Huchinson, and emailed the committee manager extensively on the subject of improving the Policing element of the North Area Committee, I plan to try and use my opportunity to speak at the meeting to suggest councillors:
*Fix a time (20.00) for the policing agenda item at the next meeting. This would I have been told by the Inspector make it more likely that the police would advertise the meeting, at the moment they advertise other area committees via Ecops (but not the North Area [Though the others don't deal with the police at fixed time either]), and use posters and letters to advertise Anti-Social Behaviour meetings and Problem Solving meetings.
*Publicise the policing agenda item on the posters produced by the City Council. The committee has asked for this before, but it was not minuted and did not happen.
*Publicise the policing agenda item on the City Council’s Introduction to Area Committees web page.
*Change the name of the agenda item back to something which better reflects the key function of the meeting with respect to policing – to approve the priorities.
*I would like to suggest the minutes from the last meeting the police attended are brought to the next meeting the police attend – this would help councillors hold the police to account.
*I would like to suggest that the police tell the meeting when the Neighbourhood Action Group (NAG) meeting to which the priorities agreed by the councillors are to be put has been arranged for. I am concerned that if both meetings are held quarterly and slightly out of sync we will get the situation where a September North Area Committee meeting’s priorities will be taken to a January NAG – which may be what happened earlier this year.
Councillors Blair and Huppert at an East Chesterton ASB meeting distanced themselves from their role in setting the local police priorities, with Cllr Huppert saying: “We have no democratic control over the police in the UK”. I intend to ask if that is the view of all the Cambridge Liberal Democrats as a party? Perhaps this explains the relative disinterest I have seen in a willingness to hold the police to account and take the opportunity available to councillors to improve policing in North Cambridge.
I would also like to question the City Council’s involvement in the public consultation meetings such as those held in Meadows community centre, and the East Chesterton meetings. We currently have the bizarre situation where City Council officers take the minutes, but, as of the last Area Committee Meeting, it is via the police area profile that the outcomes of these meetings are reported to the area committee at which the priorities are set. I have requested the minutes of one of these meetings (after the following Area Committee had occurred) and was refused.
I oppose the council sending staff to minute meetings which are not open to the public – such as the East Chesterton meeting from which I, for example, am banned, – it is a sham if hand picked individuals are used by the police to provide a pretence of public consultation. I would like the meetings either made public or the council’s support removed.
4. I would also like to draw the committee’s attention to the fact that those who do not pay council tax directly to the council did not receive the “Council Tax Booklet”. This booklet is not available online. This is disenfranchising those in rented accommodation who pay council tax via their landlord (all those in Houses of Multiple Occupancy, and illegally in my view some of those in other rented accommodation), as well as students and other exempt individuals, and presumably boaters. The information in this booklet on how Council Tax money is being spent should be available to all voters, all residents of Cambridge. There’s far too much of this in Cambridge – it’s like something from centuries ago with only property owners getting a say in how the place they live in is run.
Last year’s Cambridge booklet is available online on Cambridgeshire’s website. I requested the current edition and was offered one to be posted to me or I could go and pick it up from Regent Street.
I suggest making the current booklet available online, and perhaps, if there is a cost effective mechanism, drawing as many residents attention to it as possible .
Thank you for your consideration,
Update: Alan Levy replied on a bit of a tangent to tell me that the officers responsible for the environmental improvement schemes were short staffed and therefore “unable to provide anyone to attend the meeting, or refresh all of the documentation”.
Update: I believe someone also needs to ask if the Police priorities set at the last meeting have been taken to the “Neighbourhood Action Group” (A secret meeting held within Parkside Police station) and if they were approved there or amended.
Update: Mike Todd-Jones didn’t receive this email in time because despite it being a just a few days short of two months since his election his widely publicised @cambridge.gov.uk email address is not yet active. He did however talk to me before the meeting and was able to successfully take up my primary point about the poor minuting.