I attended the 19th June 2008 North Area Committee meeting tonight.
I think the interesting decisions made were:
1. To demand from officers a better minuting of the element of the previous meeting where police priorities were set. `
2. To set a fixed time 19.30 for the policing agenda item at the next meeting, which I believe will help improve public attendance. (This was vehemently opposed by Cllr Blair)
3. The committee decided not to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money improving private property in the area.
At 19.30 the meeting proper got underway with planning matters having already been dealt with. My local councillor Mike Todd-Jones did not attend the planing section of the meeting as he, like other Labour councillors in Cambridge “doesn’t do planning”. This is a protest against the fact that councillors can’t get involved in campaigning for or against, or responding to consultations on planning applications they are then asked to vote on. I agree that’s a crazy state of affairs. I have suggested to him that if he is to abstain to make a point he should make sure he explains why he is abstaining, and he gave me a commitment to do just that while canvassing on my doorstep in May. I was disappointed that he failed to explain his absence from the planning section of the meeting this evening.
Cllr Todd-Jones addressed the meeting at 19.30 noting that he was surprised that the election of the chair had already taken place without him, he suggested that had he been present he might have stood. If a councillor can’t understand which bits of the area committee happen at what time, what hope is there for the public? As the only Labour city councillor in a group of Liberals he might not have won the chair’s position, but he might through his manifesto for the role of chair have been able to draw attention to his ideas for improving, and reducing the cost of the area committees.
Cllr Todd-Jones retained centre-stage as the minutes from the previous meeting were discussed, he, took on a point I had taken to him – that the Police priorities set at the last meeting had not been minuted. He was supported by Cllr Pitt. It was agreed that the minutes of the policing agenda item be improved and brought again to the next meeting. Incredibly unusually for a council meeting the minutes of the previous meeting were not agreed as a correct record!
An extensive discussion on Arbury park took place. One member of the public questioned the size of the roads which had been built and questioned their suitability for providing access to the light industrial units and offices proposed. The member of the public suggested that this was evidence industrial/office accommodation never was really part of the plan, and all along the land allocated to this had been earmarked for selling off and using for other purposes. Councillors, council officers and representatives from the developers all shirked from commenting on this issue, with the council officer stating road widths were: “a decision for county council highways”.
There was also a discussion on the establishment of a temporary parish council for Arbury park; temporary as efforts are underway to make the area part of the city of Cambridge. A bizzare debate followed on if the residents of Arbury Park were more like those living in King’s Hedges or Impington, with Cllr Blair trying for some reason to associate the residents of King’s Hedges with Arbury park. I was baffled by the point of this discussion.
During the Open Forum I asked the questions which I sent to my local councillors beforehand. I returned to the problem that the minutes of the previous meeting omit the local policing priorities which were agreed by the committee. The committee manager surprisingly made excuses, saying that she was new to the role and had yet to go on her minute writing course. She claimed the minutes were a draft, not only in that they had not been agreed by councillors, but accepted that they were incomplete. I hope she minuted her own interjection it’ll be worthy of private-eye. I welcomed the fact the minutes for the policing agenda item will now be being brought to the meeting where the police are present to be held to account for their work towards those priorities, I think this should happen every time.
I asked if the priorities had been passed to the Neighbourhood Action Group, and the Police. There was uncertainty, but it appears they were relying on the Police themselves to take the priorities to the NAG and act on them, councillors were assuming they had been; I would prefer to see the NAG reporting back to the area committee letting the area committee know if its priorities had been accepted, and if not why not or how they had been amended. The chair, and other councillors had clearly pre-arranged to respond to my questions on the policing elements of the agenda by asking me to meet with a council officer, I agreed to attend such a meeting, though noted that the reasons I was asking questions in the public forum was that I wanted answers in that forum.
During my question I noted that one of the decisions taken at the last meeting was to remove burglary as a priority, despite the level of burglary in the area remaining higher than elsewhere in Cambridge. This has since been shown to have been an ill-judged decision. Just Seven days after the April meeting the Police announced via Ecops: “Police are reminding homeowners to be vigilant with their security following a spate of recent burglaries where vehicles have been stolen.”, on the 7th, 16th and 23rd of May more Ecops emails on the subject of burglaries in the North Area were sent. CllrsNimmo-Smith and Pitt jumped to the defence of the committee saying burglary was a city wide priority so didn’t need to be a local one. As the city wide priorities were not reported to the committee, and in any case I can see no reason for not reenforcing this priority (The city level priorities are not set as far as I know by democratically elected councillors so are quite different).
County Councillor Hughes made a good point, slightly disjointed from the current discussion, that policing was a county issue (though of course the priorities are set at this joint-committee, I wonder if she’s with-it enough to realise that?) and it would be useful to have councillors Moss-Eccardt and Wilkins present at the next meeting (they were absent from this one). Cllr Hugues also noted that policing is about more than anti-social behavior – another point I strongly agree with – these committees need to deal with all aspects of policing the north of Cambridge, not just those which are currently trendy.
I would drew the committee’s attention to the fact that those who do not pay council tax directly to the council did not receive the “Council Tax Booklet”. This booklet is not available online. I was surprised by Cllr Nimmo-Smith’s response that the reason the booklet was not available online was due to rights problems with photographs in the booklet, these had caused it to be withdrawn temporarily and distribution halted. The broader point about disenfranchisement of tennants, students, boaters etc. was not addressed.
I also asked Cllr Nimmo-Smith to comment on his new policy on the Cambridge Congestion Charge which he had announced earlier that day. The city council leader had said he wants the money raised by the charge to be distributed by a democratically elected group representative of the city. I asked if by saying “a democratically elected group representative of the city” he’s thinking of the city council? There was no clarification offered on this point, though Cllr Nimmo Smith denied making a policy announcement/decision that day and claimed it was a summary statement of a position which had been evolving for some time.
He had other conditions, he wanted a discount for city residents. He didn’t say how much of a discount. For the charge to be effective the county council studies have concluded the charge has to deter city residents from using their cars so presumably it won’t be anything like an 100% discount. Cllr Ward answered this question to say that the policy is that the Liberal democrats want a “substantial” discount, but won’t put a number on what substantial means.
His final condition was that the congestion charge amount should be related to the environmental impact of vehicles. So people who can’t afford a new car and are driving 10-15 year old more polluting vehicles will be stung by the highest congestion charges.
Cllr Nimmo-Smith said he’d stand by that policy even if it did hit those with cheaper older cars, he even admitted it would exacerbate the problem as such cars would become even cheaper to buy as they got more expensive to run, tax and drive.
Other members of the public then returned to the subject of policing, one suggested I should advertise the next meeting where the police are present, and other members of the public stepped up and offered to do their bit to promote it. I agreed, that now following a year of working to improve the way the area committees deal with the setting of the Police priorities they are in a state where I am happy to promote the meeting to residents of the North of Cambridge. The chair put to a public vote the suggestion that the policing element of the meeting should be given a fixed start time, after three members of the public including myself spoke in favour of such a change the vote was unanimously in favour. This is something I have been lobbying for for over a year now to councillors, council officers and is something which has the support of the police.
Prior to the committee discussing the environmental improvement grants in September 2007 I wrote to my local councillor Cllr James to say:
7. I am concerned that a number of the environmental improvement proposals
are things which could be funded by private businesses not public funds -
and the council has powers to demand improvements are made if the situation
is that bad.
Councillor James replied:
If you have some specifics in mind, please say so. I haven’t checked down
the list, but I believe that all the proposed works are on either City or
County-owned land, so getting private businesses to pay for them would be
At the meeting in September no mention was made of this problem, however today at the June 2008 meeting Cllr Todd-Jones and members of the public did draw attention to this problem, and the committee decided to seek private contributions to a number of environmental improvement schemes, specifically shop forecourts on Milton road and elsewhere in the North Area.
This decision has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money which can be put into improving public areas in the North of Cambridge.
The committee decided to scrap a proposed “home zone” at Cam Causeway in Chesterton. I agree with the committee’s decision as a home zone is inappropriate for a cul-de-sac, however I thought Cllr Blair’s statement: “I wouldn’t want to see £100 000 spent on Cam Causeway, I don’t think that could be justified” was shocking, it was in a tone suggesting it was too poor a street to warrant spending money on. I think the home zone proposal was a cry for help. I don’t think we should ignore certain streets in the area and let them deteriorate, a street like Cam Causeway is in my view somewhere where public resources should be focused, both to deal with problems for the residents there and to stop them spilling out and affecting neighbours.
Finally on Penny Ferry / the hailingway I attempted to remind the committee of their decision they took in September:
The minutes from the September 2007 North Area Committee state:
“Penny Ferry, the Haling Way (by 8 votes to 0) to consult the public, the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and the Conservators of the River Cam to pick up any additional suggestions before bringing a report back to the Committee. “
I was shouted down by Cllr Blair while making this point, she did not appear to understand that what she had done in September was request a consultation before the project was decided by the committee. She answered my point by saying that there would be a consultation after the committee had seen the plans and approved them.
My view is that there ought be no need for a consultation, councillors should just get on and make the decisions; however equally I do not think it is acceptable that the decision of the committee in September has been ignored, the council’s consultation officer should be asked to explain why the ordered consultation has not been run. Councillor Liddle (who was not present due to her lounge ceiling having caved in) was appointed the lead councillor for this project and I will contact her directly.
Neil Mcgovern a new councillor for Kings Hedges spoke only when prompted to do so by Cllr Pitt, he he took on two environmental improvement projects to champion.
Finally I asked if the memo on the mechanism for setting police priorities which had been prepared as a result of my question to a previous north area committee and was available at the back of the room at this one could be formally put to the committee so that it would made public via the minutes and if it had been circulated to all members of the committee. Councillors jeered triumphantly as they noted it had already been circulated amongst them – missing the point that it had not formed part of the papers for this meeting and as such had not been made public. While I have made the document public this does not have the same credibility as it appearing in the papers of a City Council meeting.