On Thursday the 3rd of December 2009 I attended the Jesus Green Association’s Annual General Meeting. This was a public meeting, open to all, which had been advertised by email, on posters on the green, and via an advert in the Cambridge News. Over thirty people were present, including two PCSOs, Cllrs Wright and Bick and Ex. Councillor Joye Rosenstiel who members of the committee were surprised to learn was no longer a councillor.
- The playground is to be renewed; but the council is being very slow and doesn’t think it can do it by this coming summer. An offer of temporary play equipment has been made but needs confirming; I plan to question councillors at the West Central Area Committee on this.
- The state of city council consultations on the play area, tennis courts, games area and tree planting are all unclear. There are still threats to green space “lurking”.
- The Liberal Democrat City Council are spending lots of money from new developments on Lammas Land, in Newnham which is the constituency of three of their Executive Councillors but Jesus Green is getting a poor deal in comparison.
- The JGA is to support a new lottery bid as long as it doesn’t delay agreed works on items including the paths, toilets and skatepark and as long as its limited to drainage, tree planting and pathways.
- University students have offered to help work on the green; and Trinity College has expressed an inclination to help fund the restoration of the Pavilion (toilet block). Both are fantastic news.
- Local PCSOs want to be given draconian powers to “disperse” people from Jesus Green.
Running Costs Grant
The fact the association had been given a Cambridge Community Foundation “Grass roots” grant to help fund its running costs was reported. There was confusion as to if this grant was public money derived from the city council or not. (The city council’s funds are now managed by the Cambridge Community Foundation. The foundation take a cut, but councillors still make the decisions on where public money is spent (details)).
Due to short sighed councillors having given planning permission to build on the site of one of the city centre’s main electrical substations at Thompson’s lane there is no-longer room to maintain the electrical equipment on-site. Major maintenance and renewal work now needs to be carried out and a location for the electricity company to park and work from is being sought.
As the city council’s website is poor, particularly in relation to planning applications, the Jesus Green Association committee were unsure of the current status of any new applications by Électricité de France (EDF) to construct a temporary (for about a year). compound on the green. I said I had conducted a search and had not found anything; and Cllr Bick told the meeting he looked at the weekly list of planning applications and there had been nothing. The meeting’s chair summed up the position as being that “all had gone quiet”. The committee described how they had approached the JobCentre Plus with a view to seeing if their unused yard could be used; and while EDF were in favour of this idea the Department of Work and Pensions rejected it saying the site was not suitable.
Gardens on Jesus Lock
The committee reported they had been meeting with the Cam Conservators’ river manager Pip Noon to talk about replanting the garden on the lock island. The meeting was told Scudamores the punt company had been approached and were interested in helping and the horticultural staff from the University Botanic Garden had advised on suitable plants. An application for a sustainable city grant to buy the plants was being worked up and volunteers to plant the garden, and look after the plants, were sought. Three people quickly offered to assist.
The Jesus Green Association also reported that the University of Cambridge is holding a “Green Week” in the first and second week of February and had offered to help with the garden, and to help cleaning Jesus Ditch too.
The Jesus Green Association’s Secretary, Jack Grove, updated the meeting on his activities. He drew attention to the website at http://www.jesusgreen.org/ which had been established in the last year.
He said that there were about 140 people on the membership list and circular emails were sent to a further 20 interested people including councillors, council officers and the police.
A £2/year subscription was suggested, both to formalise the membership and provide some more funding for running costs, independent of local council funding which it was felt could not be relied on in the upcoming years following anticipated cuts in public spending.
A subscription of £2/year was agreed.
Ex. Councillor Joye Rosenstiel expressed concern that the nature of the organisation might have been fundamentally changed by the introduction of a subscription and the committee might have more duties towards members as a result such as having to invite them to an AGM. Jack Grove explained that all members were already made aware of the AGM via a number of means so that wouldn’t be a problem.
The chair, Peter Constable, started his report by saying he hoped the association would formalise a link with Cambridge Past Present and Future soon.
Mr Constable explained how the document agreed at the EGM on the 17th of March had proved useful in guiding the committee’s work through the remainder of the year. The chair explained how a “Jesus Green Working Group”; a committee of Councillors, Council Officers and Jesus Green Association Officers had met regularly. Mr Constable spoke positively about Cllr Julie Smith’s current attitude towards Jesus Green and the Jesus Green Association (She had been the councillor pushing the lottery bid which would have resulted in the felling of fifty-nine trees and the paving over of large swathes of grass).
The Jesus Green Working Group is essentially a secret committee. I believe this AGM was the first time its existence was acknowledged in public. I think the city council ought be more open about the existence of bodies such as this, the rangers steering group, the university liaison committees. Their agendas, minutes, and meeting times and locations ought be published alongside other council meetings.
Mr Constable then put to the meeting the suggestion that the JGA ought support a new lottery bid to the Parks for People fund. He said that some of what needed to be done on Jesus Green, for example improvements to drainage, was beyond the means of the City Council. A new “vision statement” for the Jesus Green association was put to the meeting for consideration. This included a statement saying:
The Jesus Green Association will support the council in seeking funding under the parks for people scheme to carry out the major works of tree planting, drainage, and the works on the sides of the pathways necessary to prevent impact damage to tree roots and grass verges.
Cllr Bick suggested the JGA ought remain open-minded about where funding might come from when
Jack Grove and I suggested a number of amendments to the vision statement which were adopted by the meeting:
- Clarifying that the support for a new lottery bid extended only to tree planting, drainage, and the works on the sides of the pathways
- Making clear that the support for a lottery bid was conditional on there being no impact on the councils currently approved projects for work on Jesus Green. These items include:
- Demolition of the Bowls Pavilion
- Skateboard Park Improvements
- Play Area Improvements
- Entrance from Victoria Avenue
- Review of the state of the toilets / pavilion
- Tennis Courts
- Work on the paths under the plane tree avenue
The meeting agreed not to support a lottery bid if making that bid would delay the spending of the money already approved to be spent on those projects listed above which have been classified as “immediate”. During the application process of the previous lottery bid no money was spent on Jesus Green as the council had to provide a fraction of the money itsself to release the lottery funds, so it was saving up and not doing essential maintenance. The JGA wants to avoid a repetition of that situation.
Cllr Wright questioned if drainage improvements would negatively affect the role of the green as a flood plain. She was assured that any work would not be aimed at preventing water getting on to the green but at getting it off once it was there. I relayed that during the lottery bid process council officers had said that there were failed field drains which could be reinstated. To give some idea of scale the lottery bid document allocated £99,788.80 to “Land drainage works”, and a detailed quotation for the works is already held by the council.
Footpath Under Plane Tree Avenue
It was mentioned that one of the seven city wide “Improve your neighbourhood” projects now approved by all area committees in Cambridge is on Jesus Green.
The city wide project approved is described as:
Jesus Green Path Works / to main London Plane Ave
I believe that despite the ambiguous wording this refers works just to the path under the avenue, and not the trees. Councillors at the area committees asked to approve these works complained about the lack of detailed information on what was proposed and for the lack of any mention of costs.
There has also been significant inconsistency between area committees with only three citywide projects being presented to the West Central Area committee, but seven being presented to the North Area committee. At the East Area committee it appeared few councillors were aware of the Improve your neighbourhood at all, and all were unaware of how the scheme operates.
It was noted that five of the seven local projects for the West / Central area were based on Lammas Land in Newnham, the suggestion was this was an inappropriate bias.
Mr Constable explained the Rouse-Ball Pavilion (The toilet block) needs a structural report. He said that there was currently a Rouse-Ball professor at the University of Cambridge, and he had been in touch with the Trinity College bursar who had said he would be inclined to help with a donation to help improve the building. Mr Constable pointed out this was a great opportunity to get the university and the town working together.
On the subject of the university working with the JGA Mr Constable reported that Beth Wattleworth, Cambridge University Students’ Union’s “ethical and sustainability co-chair”, had been attending meetings of the Jesus Green working group and was able to co-ordinate volunteers.
The playground is considered to be “past its sell by date” and the question of if it should be moved or left in its current position was discussed.
One attendee expressed concern about moving the play area to between the swimming pool and the lock on the grounds of spoiling the outlook from Chesterton Road. Another thought the proximity to the lock and the weir might attract children to the water and prove a more dangerous location than it is in currently.
The question of if the play area ought move closer to a cafe was discussed. Differences in opinions among parents may be present; the working group, (and Cambridge City Council’s Community Services Scrutiny Committee on the 15th of January 2009 had been told parents didn’t want a cafe near the playground as children would demand ice creams / drinks etc.) A woman at the meeting said this was not her opinion and she thought being able to get a drink while watching their children on the playground was something some parents want. There is clearly a need to do consultation well so that councillors making decisions are as well informed as possible about what people want.
The meeting agreed with the council’s proposals to extend the play area slightly, to allow better provision for disabled children, and the meeting expressed a general view that the play area should stay where it is.
There was a very strong feeling in the meeting that Jesus Green should get play equipment of the same standard as that the council provides on Lammas Land (which is in the ward of Liberal Democrat Executive Councillors including the one responsible for green spaces, Julie Smith). Cllr Wright defended the Liberal Democrats by pointing out that a new play area in Thorpe Way, in her constituency, was pretty good.
It was reported, by the JGA committee, that the council’s position was that it cannot make a decision in time to get the playground fixed this winter, in time for next summer.
There was confusion in the room as to if the consultation on the playground was still in progress. The committee appeared to think it still was, others thought it had finished.
The possibility of putting temporary activities in place, “as there is not much there any more”, had apparently been mentioned by the council at some point and clearly needs reviewing.
BBQs were mentioned briefly.
The suggestion was made that a new kiosk lease could include a requirement that they sell disposable BBQs which don’t damage the grass. (It was pointed out most BBQs used currently come from Sainsbury’s in on Sidney Street, so encouraging them to sell models with legs – and somehow encourage people to use the legs! – would be ideal).
One person presented reported that council officers tackled those who bring large, but non-grass damaging, BBQs onto the green, so people wanting a BBQ couldn’t win.
The JGA appeared generally to support people being able to have BBQs on the green, as long as they didn’t damage the grass.
Thompson’s Lane Hotel
One resident asked if, as the JGA had been so successful so far in opposing the Lottery Bid, and the EDF compound, it would consider expanding its sphere of influence and take an interest in the hotel on Thompson’s lane. The committee declined, saying they wanted to focus on the green. Cllr Bick said that the applicants were fighting planning conditions with respect to the hotel and encouraged residents to report any non-compliance.
All the JGA officers were re-elected. Anthony Bowen is a co-opted member of the committee of the JGA representing Jesus College and Park Street School; he was re-co-opted rather than re-elected.
Tennis Courts and MUGA
The city council is supposedly currently consulting on a new hard court tennis court an a Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA). The meeting quickly came to an agreement that it would like to see the grass court replaced with a hard-court; and certainly would not like a new hard court to take up additional space on the green.
The proposed multi-use games area which is another council project threatening the green space, was described by the JGA committee as “still lurking”.
Two PCSOs were present. They expressed a desire for a “dispersal zone” to be introduced covering the Jesus Green. They explained this would give them the power to instruct groups of two or more people to disperse on the threat of arrest if they failed to comply.
My view is that these powers are draconian; they also give far too much power to PCSOs who are very junior individuals within the police. I am concerned these PCSOs were simply seeking more powers for themselves. The Association committee asked the PCSOs if there were any particular problems on Jesus Green and the PCSOs said no, the only problem from their point of view was a lack of a “section 30″ designation”.
There did not appear to be any support in the room for PCSOs being given the powers they were lobbying for.
One resident managed to illustrate the problem with the powers, and befuddle the PCSOs, by asking if the powers could be used against the university lacrosse teams which practice on the green. While this was a joke, you can’t have one law for some people and another for others.
Dispersal Zones are introduced following agreement between the police and the city council. I have lobbied for more transparency in the councils’ operations. There is no-where one can go to see which areas of the city are covered by these zones at any particular time. The powers are supposed to be used as temporary measures, but the Liberal Democrat City Council routinely, without scrutiny, renews and changes the boundaries of zones. Liberal Democrat Councillor, Tim Bick, made no comment on his party’s support for dispersal orders, which I think are very illiberal.
The police have reported that Cambridge Magistrates don’t prosecute those breaching an order to disperse as they consider the long list of streets given to those being dispersed is considered too complex.
An article on a zone introduced which covered one small corner of Midsummer Common (the area to the right of the path as you walk from Portugal Street to the Cutter Ferry bridge).
West Central Area Committee
The West Central Area Committee is meeting on the 10th of December at 19.30 in the Castle End Mission, St Peters Street, Cambridge, CB3 0AE. (Agenda).
I think it would be worth attending the West Central Area committee to ask:
- About the status and quality of the consultation on the playground, the multi-use games area, and hard tennis courts.
- For a public promise that temporary play equipment be placed on the Jesus Green play area if the proposed replacement cannot be in-place before the spring.
- For an explanation of the failure to hold a proposed tree planting strategy meeting and what the current proposals / timeline for new tree planting are.
- For councillors, and police officers opinion of the PCSO’s call for a dispersal zone to cover Jesus Green.
Cllr Julie Smith had said she could not make the meeting as she was in Germany.