Jesus Green Update – January 2010


Wednesday, January 27th, 2010. 3:06pm


Plane Tree Avenue, Jesus Green, Cambridge

Plane Tree Avenue, Jesus Green, Cambridge

Key Points

  • There is a current planning application to give the SkatePark permanent planning permission; it currently only has temporary permission,. It is unclear if the council’s proposals to expand the park would need a further application.
  • Councillors have been dissuaded from tarmacing over more of the green to create a “hammerhead turning area” at the main gate from Victoria Avenue, they are now considering strengthening the grass.
  • A Lottery Grant Bid, focused on drainage, and not involving the loss of green space, is being considered and looking likely. I’d certainly like to see it happen and the drainage problems need improving.
  • I have encouraged councillors to get on and fix the paths, Cllr Smith, the executive councillor responsible, has promised the paths will be repaired and the council won’t, delay again, awaiting for a further lottery bid.
  • Long drawn out processes, an interminable delays appear to surround all the proposals for improvements to Jesus Green.

At Cambridge City Council’s Community Services Scrutiny Committee on the 14th of January 2010 I asked a public question about the councils current plans for Jesus Green. An update had been prepared for councillors at the meeting but I felt there were key elements missing.

My question

  • I asked how the general public had been consulted about the council’s plans for Jesus Green, particularly with respect to the skate park and playground. I said that while the council had been in touch with interest groups they hadn’t done anything to make others aware of their plans and have an opportunity to comment on them. I pointed out the consultation document on the website had been the one aimed at young people, others had been directed to the Jesus Green Association. I noted that while the Jesus Green Association had, commendably, held a open public meeting but this had been held after the consultations with select groups had closed and a number of those interested in commenting on the councils proposals had missed their chance. I noted the West/Central Area committee had not been used and the councils proposals had not been discussed there (other than when I and other members of the public raise them in the open forum; but then they don’t get a proper debate among councillors).
  • I reminded Cllr Smith that when I asked at the West/Central Area committee if she would repeat the commitment, reportedly made in the closed “Jesus Green Working Group”, to provide temporary play equipment for younger children if the playground is not to be refurbished until 2011.
  • I asked for an update on the threats to Jesus Green which had not been mentioned in the report:
    • The Multi-Use Games Area
    • Highwire Play
    • Tennis courts – (I asked if proposals were limited to the area of the existing courts; or if there was possibility of new hard surfaced courts being built on areas of the green which are currently open grass.)
    • EDF Electricity Compound
  • I noted that the update on Jesus Green report didn’t mention paths, though elsewhere in the committee agenda a proposal to fund improvements to the paths with money from developers of new homes in the city was present. I asked if the council was planning to get on with work on the paths and not wait to put that money into a new lottery bid application (Lottery grants generally only fund a fraction of money, so to release that money the council has to find the remainder to release the funds).
  • I asked why not even Cllr Julie Smith had turned up to the “Tree Strategy Meeting” intended to be the first step in agreeing long term planting plans for Jesus Green and asked why it appeared that everything had stopped due to the absence of a single member of staff.
  • Cllr Julie Smith replied

    Playground

    Starting by addressing the play area she said the first time she had heard of the proposal for temporary play equipment was my public question at the West / Central Area committee. She said temporary equipment could not be provided on the grounds the “nature of the surface isn’t sufficiently safe”. She said the delays surrounding the refurbishment of the playground were not the city council dragging its feet but were down to “consultation and planning”. (Both of course are under the control of the City Council). Cllr Smith said the “Purdah” arrangements, intended to regulate the activities of public bodies during election time, would prevent consultation taking place during that time and was part of the reason for the delay. I think the council has had huge amounts of time in 2009, and there’s plenty of 2010 outside the election to run consultations; had earlier work been done better there wouldn’t need to be further delays. I can’t believe the suggestion is that a planning application by the council (on which comments would be invited) could not be considered during the election.

    MUGA etc.

    Cllr Smith said that the Multi-use games area, high wire play and were “not viewed to be a priority at this stage”. With respect to the tennis courts she said all options were up for discussion during the consultation. Cllr Smith agreed with me that many of the previously discussed, and in some cases previously approved, projects had not been covered in the Jesus Green update presented to the meeting; she decided to order a report to the next Community Services Scrutiny including details of the status of all projects.

    Consultation

    Cllr Smith said that she was sorry that I had found it hard to keep track of the councils plans for Jesus Green (I have been doing everything possible!). I’m not sure she understood my point on Consultation though – what she said she’d do was ensure that in future material on the website did not appear to be focused on particular groups such as the younger people. That’s not what I was asking for, and I don’t think that’s a good course of action. I thought the consultation run by the council’s “Children and Young People’s Participation Service” was done reasonably well; my comment was that while young people, parents, and other select groups had been consulted the general public had not.

    The report to the meeting revealed the results of the consultations on the playground which closed in November 2009 will not be reported to councillors until March 2010; again this appears inexplicably slow to me.

    Paths

    Cllr Smith promised the paths would be repaired; she said there was no intention to hold off on the work to allow it to form part of a new Heritage Lottery Fund Bid.

    EDF

    Cllr Smith said the councils position was clear – a compound wouldn’t be permitted on Jesus Green; she didn’t say what alternative, if any, would be offered to the electricity company which needs to carry out work on its Thompsons Lane substation. (more).

    Tree Strategy

    Cllr Smith agreed the delays were undesirable but didn’t set out any plan for what is to happen and when some long term planning for new planting on the city’s green spaces will take place. While I was asking about the tree planting plans Cllr Smith shook her head and shrugged her shoulders – apparently in “despair” – as with other areas where there are delays she appears to be unable to get a grip – if she is frustrated with her officers – she needs to realise she’s in a position to sort the situation out.

    SkatePark Planning Application

    I visited the council’s planning office to view the current planning application (09-1128/FUL) for the SkatePark which is being advertised via notices on the green.

    The current application is to change the current temporary permission for the SkatePark into permanent, full, planning permission. This is the only change; so any extensions, which are also proposed, may well have to be dealt with by a second, separate, planning application though I’m not sure about that.

    From the application:

    • There is a claim that public consultation on the proposal to make the permission for the skate-park permanent has been carried out via the “Friends of Jesus Green Association” and a Scrutiny Committee meeting on the 30th of March 2006 (That latter meeting received the review of skate provision in the city, and the committee and Executive councillor decided then to keep and improve the Jesus Green Skate Park).
    • There is a section which notes: “Litter bins have been provided as part of previous planning conditions”. On separate collection of recyclables it states: “Streetscene currently do not allow for this type of collection in this area”.
    • The application states the skate park is not within 20m of a river or other watercourse.
    • The application states there are “rubber grass mats were installed in the apron of the park to reduce wear and tear on the grass”. I’ve not noticed those before, but I’ll have a closer look next time I’m there.

    Missing from the current application is any indication that according to the report to the January 2010 Community Services Scrutiny Committee the council is proposing putting in a further planning application shortly for altering and potentially expanding the skatepark.

    At this stage, and subject to clarification from the user forum, it is proposed to retain and improve the existing structure, with the possibility of a small surround extension. Full planning permission will be a required and subject to permission being granted, it is proposed that improvements are scheduled for spring 2010 and funded through S106

    I have no idea what “permitted development” allowance might apply to a skate park and what, if any, “surround extension” and “improvements” would be possible without a further planning application. I am concerned the implication being given to the public is that expanding the skatepark would require a separate planning application but the report is unclear on this. I am aware that councillors dealing with planning applications have to deal with the application in front of them but I do think the councils future plans, so far as they’re known, ought be made available to councillors making the planning decision. I also think a potentially controversial planning decision like this ought be made by councillors, not officers.

    Strengthening the Grass at the Rosenstiel Gate

    I have been lobbing for some time for improvements to the area near the main access gate to Jesus Green; this area used to get quite muddy as a result of vehicles servicing events on the green and has recently been patched up with gravel. My (and perhaps others’) suggestion to use grass strengthening in this area, rather than a tarmac turning area which the council originally suggested, appears to be being adopted according to the update reported presented to the Community Services meeting:

    A costed design has been commissioned to improve the entrance from Victoria Avenue to aid vehicle movement, particularly for events that require more significant infrastructure such as the ‘Cambridge Beer Festival’ and ‘Jesus Green Live’. Proposals will enable vehicles to turn on a reinforced grass-crete turning area, minimising the potential damage to grass. A design will be finalised and discussed with stakeholders before implementation. Improvements will be scheduled for spring 2010 and funded through existing resources

    Drainage

    The position on drainage remains as it was at the Jesus Green Association 2009 AGM the plan is to make a new lottery bid, focused on big-ticket items such as drainage improvement. The Jesus Green Association expressed its support for such a new lottery bid as long as it was limited to drainage, path repairs and tree planting.

8 comments/updates on “Jesus Green Update – January 2010

  1. Richard Article author

    I used the online comments form for the Jesus Green Skateboard Planning Application to write:

    I think this application ought be decided by councillors, in public, on the grounds that there is a lot of public interest in what the council does with respect to Jesus Green.

    I think whoever considers this application ought be made aware of the council’s proposals to expand and improve the Jesus Green skatepark. A report to the January 2010 Community Services Scrutiny Committee stated:

    “At this stage, and subject to clarification from the user forum, it is proposed to retain and improve the existing structure, with the possibility of a small surround extension. Full planning permission will be a required and subject to permission being granted, it is proposed that improvements are scheduled for spring 2010 and funded through S106 ”

    I think it would be useful if it was made clear to the public what potential scale of improvement and extension, if any, would be permitted if the current application was approved.

    I would prefer it if, when considering proposals relating to the city’s green spaces the council didn’t primarily use the planning system as a means to give the public an opportunity to comment on proposals.

    It’s currently the 28th of January and I’m wondering, given the plethora of expiry dates on the City Council website if my comments are in-time. The council website states:

    Expiry Date for Neighbour Consultations: 30/01/2010
    Expiry Date for Standard Consultations: 23/01/2010
    Expiry Date for Latest Site Notice: 01/02/2010
    Overall Expiry Date: 01/02/2010

    I am not someone who has been sent a “consultation” so I presume those like me reading the site notice and responding to it before its expiry date will have their comments considered.

    As for the application itsself I certainly think permission for the skatepark to remain ought be granted, but the questions are:

    *Ought it be granted permanent planning permission? Temporary permission gives a route for removal of the facility if it falls into disuse, disrepair, or causes a problem to residents and others using the green. That said, it is on city council owned land so there are other democratic routes to pursue if problems emerge.

    *Ought extensions and improvements be required to go through another planning process?

  2. Richard Article author

    I spoke to Cllr Rosenstiel at the 4th February West Central Area Committee; asking if councillors or officers were going to determine the planning application to make the skatepark permanent. He said he certainly wouldn’t be the one calling it in; he said it was a contentious matter which he therefore didn’t want to get involved with.

    A write-up of a meeting involving Cllrs Smith, Blair and Dixon and Rosenstiel on the 3rd of February says:

    All welcome to attend meeting to support planning approval of current skate facility – Going to West/Central area committee Thursday 8th April at 7.30pm at Castle Mission (planning matters usually come up at the end – possibly as late as 9pm

    (Via Jesus Green Skatepark Facebook Group.)

    The council website confirms the 8th April committee date.

    Only those who have formally objected to or supported the application will be able to speak, so the “All welcome to attend meeting to support” line is misleading.

    Council Officer Declan O’Halloran has published the following notice on Facebook:

    Declan O’Halloran Hi everyone..

    I don’t know if the full message has got through about the SkatePark consultation meeting next Monday (15th February) at Jesus Green, starting at 3.30pm and then moving on to the Methodist Church, Kings Street (see Google map link below)?

    http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?layer=c&cbll=52.207470,0.126930&cbp=12…,,,1,&ved=0CBoQ2wU&sa=X&ei=v7BxS-m7HpCnOLG_5a4G

    This is a one-off opportunity to MEET with a number of representatives of LEADING SKATEPARK COMPANIES in the UK who have said they will be there in order to find out what you want, so that they can provide a winning design!

    Please pass the message on to as many SkatePark users as possible. I’ll keep you posted with any more details as they come.

    Best,

    Declan O’Halloran
    Cambridge City Council

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    The planning application to make the existing skatepark permanent is being taken to the West/Central area committee on Thursday, 8th April, 2010 7.30 pm at Castle End Mission, St Peters Street, Cambridge:

    http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/democracy/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=816

    I submitted comments on the application; I clearly checked the “comment” box and not the support or object box and my email receipt from the council shows this yet I have been listed as an objector. I was not objecting – the full text of my representations are in the first comment above.

    The decision is being made, by councillors, in public, though which was one of the main things I was calling for. I believe my comments and the two objections will have been key in ensuring this happened and preventing the decision from being made, by officers, behind closed doors.

    I was concerned that the councillors making the decision might not be in full possession of the facts. The report makes no mention of the City Council’s plan to refurbish / renew the skate park; and doesn’t confirm if the proposed additional works will require an additional planning permission (though the Community Services committee have been assured a new application will be submitted). I’m aware of the principle that councillors ought only consider what’s put in front of them; but I’m left wondering why what I said wasn’t included in the report.

    As the council owns the space, and can remove the skate park at any point should it become a problem, I think the application is largely a bureaucratic exercise.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    Interestingly the report allows me to find out the existing planning permission was given on 04 Jan 2006 for two years. This would have expired well over a year ago.

    It would be interesting to know if this application has been prompted by enforcement action against the council, by the council. If this was an application from a member of the public the report would make very clear it was an application in retrospect, or in respect of a site which had been in breach of planning rules.

    As the permission appears to have expired for so long, it really raises the question of why the application for the new works, and the application to make the site permanent, have not been taken together.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    Councillors approved permanent planning permission for the Jesus Green Skate Park at the 8th of April meeting.

    Councillors did ask about the timing but got no sensible reply from officers – other than to be told it wasn’t a result of enforcement action.

    The meeting’s chair stressed that the committee could “only consider the application in-front of them” so they all pretended to have no knowledge of the future plans.

    I was surprised to see Cllr Smith, the Executive Councillor responsible for green spaces, vote on the application her department were putting forward. She declared her interest but decided it was not prejudicial.

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