Jesus Green Playground May Remain Desolate Till 2011

Friday, December 11th, 2009. 11:28pm

The area of the playground on Jesus Green which is intended for younger children is rather desolate as old play equipment has been removed. The city council may not improve matters before spring 2011.

The area of the playground on Jesus Green which is intended for younger children is rather desolate as old equipment has been removed. The city council may not improve matters before spring 2011.

The play-area for younger children on Jesus Green is rather desolate at the moment as a number of pieces of play equipment have been removed.

At last week’s Jesus Green Association AGM Cambridge City Council’s position was reported to be:

  • The play-area cannot be refurbished this winter in-time for spring-summer 2010; due to the council’s long drawn out consultation procedures.
  • Any work is likely to be done in the winter of 2010/11.
  • The council have made an offer of temporary play equipment, but this had not been confirmed

Members of the association committee were able to report the above council stance it had been revealed at meetings of the “Jesus Green Working Group”. The working group appears to be a City Council run body, it is chaired by Cllr Julie Smith, the Liberal Democrat Executive Councilor for Arts and Recreation. Meetings of the “Jesus Working Group” are held in secret, in that they are not open to the public, their times, locations and agendas are not published by the council and no minutes are released afterwards.

To try and break through the council’s veil of secrecy and get some key information about the current state of proposed works on Jesus Green into the public domain I decided to use the pubic open-forum section of the West Central Area Committee on the 10th of December to ask councillors :

  • To speed up the proposed work on the playground and get it done in time for next spring (2010 rather than 2011).
  • To repeat the offer of temporary play equipment, in public; and to confirm that will be deployed if the refurbishment is delayed.
  • To clarify the current state of consultation on:
  • To make public key elements of what has been discussed in the Jesus Green Working group meetings.

I pointed out that had the working group met in public, and and had their papers been published online by the council I wouldn’t have had to ask my question. I also drew attention to the fact there was some degree of confusion among those who attended the Jesus Green Association AGM about the consultation process, eg. who had been consulted and if the consultations were over or ongoing. This state of affairs could have been avoided had there been more openness from the council.

Councillor Julie Smith responded. Initially she said there was no secret meeting; before admitting the existence of the Jesus Green working group. She said the group included the “Jesus Less Green” campaign, council officers, the Jesus Green Association, the Cam Conservators and others. She confirmed there is “not an open invitation to the meetings” but did not defend or explain the secrecy.

With respect to the playground Cllr Smith said that she was not prepared to commit to the provision of temporary play equipment for next year should refurbishment be delayed. She suggested I attend the Community Services Scrutiny Committee on the 14th of January 2010 and put my questions there. It costs Cambridge City Council at least £114,300 a year hold area committees, I wonder what the point is if those asking questions such as mine are asked to attend central scrutiny meetings instead.

She said that the process of consulting and seeking advice took a long time. Cllr Smith said the consultations with respect to the playground and other items was not over, but that consultation happened in “various stages”. Cllr Smith did not appear aware of the specific details of what consultation had occurred, if the public had been consulted – or just the selected groups. She made some comment about a consultation being put online and an opportunity to respond being given. She said there had been consultation particularly via the councils’ Chypps team (Cambridge City Council’s Children and Young People’s Participation Service).

City Council webpage on Jesus Green Consultations

City Council Jesus Green Consultations Webpage as of 11 December 2009.
  • See the City Council’s Jesus Green consultations webpage and judge the quality of open and transparent engagement with the public yourself. (At the time of writing the page refers to two questionnaires which are not linked and says “The final plan will be publicised here when it is ready.”)

Cllr Smith was flailing. She was saying things like: “Consultation has not begun and ended” which doesn’t help clarify what’s going on at all.

Returning to the play area specifically; Cllr Smith said there were some suggestions the play area ought expand and the Jesus Green Association was to look at where it ought be located, she said she was not currently aware of any support for moving it and stated that either expansion or moving would require planning permission. The implication of the latter point being that the planning process will involve yet more delay and “consultation”.

Lack of Clarity

One person present at the Jesus Green Association AGM said that she had been told the consultation period had closed on the 20th of November 2009. This is the closing date on the questionnaire for users of the skatepark. Cllr Smith’s response did not provide the clarity I was seeking about the current position of the consultations and any proposed timetable for the future.

Belinda Brooks-Gordon’s Interjection

Cllr Brooks-Gordon very rarely says anything at area committee meetings but she did make a rather odd contribution to this discussion. She made the suggestion that the council ought write to me and tell me how I can become involved in one of the “Stakeholder groups” and so attend the “Jesus Green Working Group” and have a route for my views on Jesus Green to be heard.

Her fellow councillors groaned at this comment presumably as it clearly illustrates the problem with the Liberal Democrat’s view of how local decision making should not be democratic open and inclusive but delegated to those few people who are members of residents associations and other similar groups.

Cllr Julie Smith Under Pressure

A number of councillors, including Cllr Reid, began whispering to Cllr Smith. I think they were aware that there ought to be more openness and clarity with respect to the proposals for Jesus Green and had been as unimpressed by her answers as I ad been. Reluctantly, under pressure from her party colleagues, Cllr Smith spoke again to say:

“We do make notes of the meetings and I see no reason why they can’t be made public”.

A success; which I have followed up with a freedom of information request.

Had Cllr Smith been able to explain the position clearly at the West / Central area committee there would not have been any need to make the FOI request.

The Jesus Green Working Group

The existence of the Jesus Green Working Group has been revealed previously as it was mentioned at the Jesus Green Association EGM where the JGA chairman Peter Constable expressed his opposition to the council setting up a group which apparently duplicating the aims of the JGA and Jordan Collins published his invitation to the first meeting of the group in March 2009 on facebook. That invitation reveals the participants to be representatives from;;

  • Jesus Green Association
  • Friends of Jesus Green Pool
  • Save our open Spaces
  • Jesus Less green
  • Conservators of the Cam
  • Cam boaters
  • Students Union
  • Cambridge Preservation Society
  • Park St Association
  • Skateboard group

Anthony Bowen’s Bizarre Attempt to Discredit Me

Anthony Bowen, the representative of Jesus College and Park Street School on the Jesus Green Association, spoke after Julie Smith had responded. He said : “I was at the Jesus Green association meeting and Richard Taylor’s interpretation of it baffles me”. That was all he said.

I felt he implied that I had misled the West/Central area committee so when he left the meeting I went out with him to ask him what he felt I had said which was inaccurate. I put it to him that the only points I had made directly arising from the meeting were an accurate reflection of what had been said. There had been confusion among attendees about the if the consultation had finished or not, the committee had reported the council’s intention not to replace the playground this winter and it was reported an offer of temporary play equipment had been made.

Mr Bowen said he wasn’t arguing that I had misrepresented what was said at the JGA meeting, but that he felt I was “silly” to have described the “Jesus Green Working Group” as “secret”. He claimed that I could have found out about the meetings. I think Mr Bowen was wrong to attempt to discredit what everything I had said, rather than focusing on his specific disagreement.

Mr Bowen is an ex. Liberal Democrat County Councillor.

While there are still those who believe that it is acceptable to conduct public affairs behind closed doors I am sure that openness and transparency in public decision making is worth campaigning for.

My Summary

Months, and even years of unfocused, non-inclusive, consultation is unacceptably slow progress. It should be much easier than it is to find out about the council’s plans for Jesus Green.

Liberal Democrats stand on a platform of localism; but I don’t think what we’ve seen them implement in Cambridge is remotely democratic, open or inclusive.

See also

5 comments/updates on “Jesus Green Playground May Remain Desolate Till 2011

  1. Richard Article author

    I have just received a response to a FOI request I made for details of the Jesus Green Working Group meetings.

    The response can be viewed at:

    The play area was discussed at a working group meeting on the 24th of November 2009. The notes from that discussion state:

    Consultation on both the play area and Skateboard facility will be concluded by mid December.

    CHYYPS have two schools to visit this week (Castle and Milton Road) and a skater’s forum is taking place on 9th December.

    To date 233 questionnaires regarding the play area have been completed, 164 Children / 69 adults. Respondents have highlighted equipment choices that they would like to see in the refurbished play area such as; Climbing wall, tunnels, monkey bars. New benches, improved signage and better landscaped features were also popular themes.

    The question regarding the location of the play area gave in early indication that people felt it should remain in its current position rather than move to opposite side of the pool. (108 respondents said No to moving) Other elements to consider include making the footprint larger to accommodate new styles of equipment and changes in levels / landscape. There was also strong support that the play area should be fully DDA compliant. Julie felt that based on the responses to date, we continue based on the play area remaining in its current position. Alistair commented that this would be easier to facilitate, but that art / play could perhaps be included in any brief regarding the Rouse Pavilion and adjacent area.

    Further analysis of the consultation will be undertaken over the next few weeks to include qualitative and quantitative responses. (ST to send through when complete) Debbie felt likely timescales from implementation were likely to be autumn 2010, based on procurement processes and to ensure that the design was right. This would ensure we don’t end up without a play area for the Easter / summer period.

    Martin asked that the Council ensure notices were put up on Jesus Green to keep users informed of developments. Alistair suggested considering bolstering activities on Jesus Green over the summer to mitigate loss of any play equipment.

    Play area designers would be given a brief based on the consultation and asked to produce suitable designs that would then be discussed. Peter said he would report back to the Jesus Green AGM on 3rd December. Debbie asked if the JGA could then feedback comments from the AGM, which would both, contribute to the consultation and Committee report due at the start of December.

    My Comments

    I have not been aware of any public consultation on the play area.

    There is no reference to those who commented on the play area during consultations about the lottery bid. I don’t think people should have to repeatedly write to the council with their views at every stage of consultation; I would like to see views from previous consultations continue to be considered if they are still relevant.

    I think it is excellent that Martin Thompson of the Jesus Green assocation asked the council to put a notices on Jesus Green keeping people informed of developments but this does not appear to have happened.

    There is no clear offer of temporary play equipment in the notes of the meeting; but it is not unusual for such notes to be incomplete and Martin Thompson and others who were present reported to the JGA AGM that this offer had been made by the council at the working group meeting. It is not obvious what is meant by : “Alistair [Alistair Wilson, Green Space Manager, Cambridge City Council] suggested considering bolstering activities on Jesus Green over the summer to mitigate loss of any play equipment. ” That could refer to provision of temporary play equipment.

  2. Richard Article author

    Lammas Land in Newnham where three Lib Dem Executive Councillors are ward councillors there is an abundance of new play equipment; some of which is similar to that which has been taken away from Jesus Green:

    Lammas Land Play Area Cambridge

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    Possible success here as a report to the Community Services scrutiny committee on the 25th of March states:

    In the interim, 2 climbing frames and ‘springers’ will be installed to ensure there is adequate play provision through out the summer period, prior to the refurbishment.

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