Councillors Make Odd Choice of Path to Fix on Jesus Green

Councillors named this path the worst on Jesus Green and earmarked £30K for work on it.

Councillors deemed this path the worst on Jesus Green and earmarked £30K for work on it.

I observed Cambridge City Council’s West/Central Area Committee on Tuesday the 21st of June 2011.

Councillors decided to provisionally allocate around £30,000 to what their officers described as the worst path on Jesus Green – the one from (not under) the plane tree avenue to Victoria Avenue in the direction of the Fort St. George pub.

County Councillor Sarah Whitebread, who represents Market Ward which includes Jesus Green, was the only councillor to argue that the first priority for work ought be not the path identified, but the path under the plane tree avenue on Jesus Green.

The path under the avenue of trees is in a terrible state and I, and others, have been asking for improvements to be made for years – so far all we’ve had is a couple of patches at the edges. The path under the trees has edges which are collapsing and there is a drop off to the often muddy area next to the path; when cycling past people on the path I often find myself slipping into the mud and sometimes need to stop to get my bike back onto the hard surface. The path councillors have earmarked the money for though while in need of a bit of maintenance isn’t in my view in such a dangerous state.

The price quoted for the works on the path is £250 / metre. I think that sounds very expensive and I’m surprised that the city council can only spruce up 120m of path for £30,000

Only Cllr Whitebread argued the path under the plane tree avenue ought be the first priority.

Only Cllr Whitebread argued the path under the plane tree avenue ought be the first priority.

It was reported to the committee that the request for the work had come from the Jesus Green Association.

Market ward’s city councillors Tim Bick and Andrea Reiner, made no contribution at all to the debate on the paths. I think it was a pity Cllr Whitebread didn’t make her point more strongly, and that other councillors didn’t listen to her.

I think this episode highlights a problem endemic throughout Cambridge City Council: excessive reliance on the views of secretive, select groups of residents.

Councillors only provisionally allocated the money because they, particularly council leader Sian Reid, wanted greater efforts to be made to find alternative sources of funding. Suggestions included seeking a contribution from the County Council (as the paths are considered “highways” according to Cllr Rosenstiel), using the proceeds of taxes on new developments, and using money for improving cycle routes.

I am not a fan charging developers in lieu of green space provided on developments themselves; and I’m strongly opposed to spending such money on maintenance of existing green space. It needs to be spent on things which endure, which will last as long as the new developments otherwise it won’t be mitigating the effect of the new developments on the rest of the city in a decade’s time, never mind a century’s.

Cllr Julie Smith, the chair of the West Central Area committee explained another reason for putting the money to the paths was that the Jesus Green Association and the Council have been secretly working on a new lottery bid (details of which the committee was told will be made public soon), and the allocation might be able to be used as part of that bid (the lottery like to part-fund, rather than fully fund projects).

My view is that the path under the trees ought be widened; with great care given to reducing damage to the trees. A wider area of strengthened ground / reinforced grass next to the current path could reduce the compaction of the soil on top of the tree roots. Much of the damage appears to be done by vehicles, especially council vehicles emptying bins and working on the common, as well as those accessing the lock keepers cottage (rented out, typically to students, by the Cam Conservators). I think the council could do more to reduce the vehicle traffic down the avenue (perhaps some bins could be emptied via the entrance near La Mimosa?).

Other Jesus Green / Midsummer Common Matters from the Meeting

Midsummer Common Path

Council officers supported another request for path improvements, this time from the Friends of Midsummer Common. They wanted the 350m path from North Terrace / Brunswick Walk to the Cutter Ferry Bridge to have work done which council officers had priced up at £89,000. Councillors did not accept this request.

Cycle Cattle Grids

A request to improve the cycle cattle grids under the Cutter Ferry bridge (presumably widening them or doublng them as has been done further downstream by Walnut Tree Avenue) was rejected by councillors. My view is this that this area warrants attention due to the large number of cyclists using it and there regularly being queues of cyclists / cyclists riding at each other, at peak times.

This proposal came to the meeting via the influential Friends of Midsummer Common, though dual cattle grids are also something suggested in the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s recently published vision document.

Pinch Point Removal

Councillors approved spending money making the gates and pinch points between the Brunswick residential streets and Midsummer Common easier for those with mobility scooters and prams to get through. Cllr Rosenstiel argued strongly for this on the grounds it was a disability and accessibility issue. Few, if any, councillors ever argue against proposals where the argument for them been couched in such terms. No one opposed Cllr Rosenstiel in this case either, and councillors gave the go ahead for work to be done despite the fact it hadn’t even been costed (not even an estimate was provided).

Jesus Green Trees

I used the open forum section of the meeting to question why the Jesus Green Association had a notice (stuck to the outer glass of their notice board) saying among other things that they were not happy with the location of some of the trees the council had planted. I asked for details of what they thought had been done wrong and what the council was doing. A representative of the Jesus Green Association was present and was asked to explain, he told the committee the problem was with the trees near Park Terrace, which he thought councillors had agreed not to plant. One of the new trees in that area appears dead to me already – that may be direct action from those who support the democratic process, or maybe due to the fact there is concrete just below the ground in that area (which was one of the reasons suggested for there being no trees in that area already).

I have published a video of the decision being made on these trees (It’s had 185 views!); what Cllr Cantrill proposed was making a careful choice of species so that the vista was not lost. This was to be decided by the West/Central area committee’s chair, and ward councillors, but no report on what if, any, decision, they made has been reported back to a public meeting.

A problem with the way area committees are run, which I regularly raise, is that chair’s actions are not reported back to the committee as a matter of routine. The liberal democrats, despite being elected on a manifesto of transparency, in practice are very secretive.

Councillors had agreed to seek the views of the Park Street school and the family concerned about a pair of trees which had been planted as a memorial. One of the Jesus Green association’s other points was that there has been no action on this either.

As Cllr Cantrill, the executive councillor responsible for open spaces, was absent, without explanation, from the June 2011 meeting Council leader Sian Reid agreed to follow up the Jesus Green trees related matters.

Driving and Parking on Midsummer Common

Mr Baxter used the open forum section of the meeting to ask if there as been any progress by the council stopping the amount of driving and parking on the common. He noted that as the gate had been manned in the run-up to the Midsummer Fair there had been no sign of pub staff and customers driving and parking in that time.

Cllr Cantrill had sent a prepared statement to the meeting on the subject. He said the council had written to the regional management of the company which owns the pub, and the restaurant, reminding them that staff and customers parking on the common was not permitted. Cantrill also tried to remind people the council had already put a new code lock on the gate, and blamed the businesses for not closing and locking the gate after deliveries. (My view is that the fact the gate needs to be manually closed and locked after use is a key part of the problem; a self closing / locking system would be obviously preferable).

Cllr Bick was elected following a promise to solve the problem of solving the problem of driving and parking on the common. Mr Baxter and the Friends of Midsummer Common regularly ask him when he is going to do what he promised. At a recent open meeting of the friends Cllr Bick made the excuse that he was waiting for a consensus to emerge on what system was desired.

See also

15 responses to “Councillors Make Odd Choice of Path to Fix on Jesus Green”

  1. Thanks Richard for the report. Brunswick & North Kite R.A. (BruNK) has also been concerned over the operation of the gate by the businesses on the common for many years. Recently, at my suggestion it was decided to move the gate inwards to accommodate longer vehicles. I also suggested the repair of the existing combination lock, but this is yet to take place. No other work has taken place.

    We are told that the Council has issued a ‘legal letter’ to the businesses, but they have refused to divulge the contents to us or FoMC.
    Councillor Cantrill has not replied to my emails concerning the legal letter, so we are still in the dark. I was eager to question him, but unfortunately he is away, so we will probably have to wait until August meeting.

    Despite BruNK and FoMC attending occasional ‘management group’ meetings of stakeholders with the council, suggestions at these meetings are not always translated into action as we might hope. I expect that the same applies to Jesus Green management, although their joint lottery application sounds promising.

    If you aren’t happy with the idea of residents’ groups working with the council, I would like to know what you propose as a better system, bearing in mind that in practice only a few people will want to engage actively with these issues, and councillors are not always particularly engaged either.

  2. When the letter was mentioned I made a note to make a FOI request for it, I have now done this in public using mySociety’s freedom of information service :
    It’s astonishing to hear the council have tried to keep its contents secret.

    I have also made FOI requests for details of the recent secret meetings of the Midsummer Common Management Group and the Jesus Green Working Group – again I cannot understand how these Liberal Democrats, all elected on manifestos promising transparency, insist on doing so much behind closed doors:

  3. John,

    I’m happy for residents groups to work with the council.

    I’m a supporter of representative democracy, I’d like to see stronger, better, elected councillors. One reason I’ve written this article is to try and make it possible for more people to find out about what those representing them get up to.

  4. I think which path one thinks is worse is probably correlated with which path one uses more often. I looked at them both on the way home tonight and I would say that the section the council are spending the money on is indeed the worst path (but I use that one often, so maybe I would say that).

    Your photo of it cleverly manages not to show the potholes. Your photo of the path under the trees shows that off the path there are a couple of bad ruts. That section of path does indeed have potholes, but not as bad as the potholes on that other section.

    Widening paths is a separate (but related) issue. The council presumably thinks it does not have the money to sort out all the paths on Jesus Green.

    Perhaps this one section is costing the council 30k because they are going to do the job properly, i.e. remove at least some of what is there before laying down a new path. Or perhaps the council is just being ripped off.

  5. A few months ago I saw a lady fall off her bike on the path which I, like Richard, also think is much worse. The lady had been going fairly quickly, but not excessively, then seemed to hit a bobble or pothole, and then veered off over the nasty steep edge from the path to the grass. She fell went down with a hell of a clatter and ended up totally entangled with her bike, and suffered nasty cuts and bruises. The potholes and the steep drop over the edge of this path are very dangerous, and repair works should be a top priority… (Might the Council face legal action if such repairs are not done and someone suffers a worse accident??).

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