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
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.