More Threats to the Green Space on Jesus Green


Saturday, January 17th, 2009. 5:09am

Substantial Tree which plans show is to be felled on Jesus Green
A number of items of proposed work on Jesus Green were taken to Cambridge City Council’s Community Services Scrutiny Committee on the 15th of January 2009 for approval. These are all to be funded by “section 106″ money which comes from payments developers make to the city council in lieu of providing community, social and recreational facilities within new developments.

Approval from councillors was sought for:

  • Natural Play Zone – Jesus Green’ Natural play zone, introducing high wire zones & awareness of bio diversity
  • Additional Hard tennis Courts on Jesus Green
  • Expansion/Extension of Skate Park – Jesus Green

It was reported that the following items were on hold, pending the Lottery Bid:

  • Informal Games Area. £74,500
  • Refurbish play area – £137,850

Two additional items were listed as items which are going to included in a new procurement process:

  • Jesus Green Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) – £95,000
  • Jesus Green Play Area – £185,000

Most of these items involve the proposed loss of more green space on Jesus Green, particularly the Hard Tennis Court, the MUGA and the expanded skate park.

Two representatives of the Jesus Green Association attended the meeting making use of the opportunity available to all members of the public to address council meetings. They expressed concern that these items were being brought to the committee for approval without prior extensive consultation with the Jesus Green Association and others. Details of the projects were asked for, questions included what a “Natural Play Zone” was, what a “High Wire Zone” was and how awareness of biodiversity be achieved. On the additional hard tennis court, they asked if this would be on a new area of the common or if an existing grass court was to be converted. They also asked what was envisaged by the expansion of the skate park. The pair suggested that councillors be clear what they were doing, the recommendations asked councillors to approve the projects, the association wanted clarity over the fact councillors were not giving the final go-ahead at that meeting.

The Executive Councillor responsible, Cllr Julie Smith was not present at the beginning of the meeting, so the only response received was from officers.

Debbie Kaye, Head of Active Communities at Cambridge City Council responded first; saying that the concerns appeared to relate to communication in relation to the process. As the Jesus Green Association representatives were aware, she explained this was not the final stage of the process. The problem was that this meeting was being asked to approve the spending, but this was happening before there had been consultation.

Another council “Active Communities” officer, Ian Ross also gave an answer, he said that what councillors were being asked to do was give their go-ahead for consultations on the projects to start. He also said it was important to consider schemes against the criteria for s106 funding to ensure ineligible schemes were not listed. Outside the meeting Debbie Kaye spoke of how it was important that officers got a democratic mandate from councillors before doing too much preparatory work on projects.

As for what the Natural Play Zone is to comprise, Ian Ross said it was to involve natural grass earth mounds (Teletubby style?) and logs which would provide a “natural play structure”. On the High Wire Zone, he said this involved “climbing cables”, he said it was nothing like “go ape”, wasn’t extremely hefty, and didn’t involve cables being strung between trees. On the tennis courts, he said this was just a “concept idea”.

Usually, according to the council’s rules on public speaking, members of the public are given three minutes per speaker or questioner, with a further two minutes for a supplementary question or response. Cllr Blair who was chairing the meeting denied the representatives of the Jesus Green Association the opportunity to respond to the officers comments (she curtailed all public questioning at the meeting in the same manner).

Quite a few hours after the Jesus Green Association’s questions at the beginning of the meeting, the agenda got to the point of councillors discussing the item.

Jesus Green Association representatives at the meeting did not bring the multi-use games area up separately. Councillor Knightly queried this, and expressed his surprise, saying “they didn’t kick up a fuss about this”. Officers did not correct him and point out they were one and the same so I now presume they are different projects which will each replace grass with an area of hard surfacing, though there was no clarity on this crucial point from officers. All officers did was again explain what the MUGA was, this time going slightly further saying it would be available for use by Park Street School.

Councillors had quite an argument with their officers over the wording of what they were doing. They wanted to make it clear that their approval of these schemes was not prejudicial to the consultations. Cllr Blair, the meeting’s chair, suggested wording of; “approval subject to further investigation and consultation”. Liz Bisset. Director of Community Services intervened indicating that was not acceptable to officers, and suggested that the scheme be approved, but delivery be subject to consultation. The problem was that officers were seeking approval, they said that without approval they could not put these projects on the council’s “capital plan”.

Councillors and officers did not agree any wording on which to vote. They took a vote, which was unanimously in favour, and left it to the chair and opposition spokesperson to agree the wording of what had actually been voted upon, with that wording reflecting what councillors had said at the meeting they wanted to make clear – that the decision was still open to consultation.

The reports to the meeting noted that some schemes, specifically the Multi Use Games Area would require planning permission, so that provides another democratic check, and an opportunity for comments to be made.

Outside the meeting I asked council officer Debbie Kaye if given the overlap with the lottery bid if these items might form some of the council’s £1.1m contribution to the £4.4m total project, but she didn’t know the answer. The overlap with the lottery bid proposals appears almost co-incidental there appears to be a lack of a co-ordinated plan. Debbie Kaye said that these proposals could also be seen as a backup plan, in-case the lottery bid was unsuccessful.

The executive councillor responsible, Julie Smith, said nothing during the discussion the Jesus Green proposals, and they were not subject to any in-depth scrutiny and discussion by councillors.

6 comments/updates on “More Threats to the Green Space on Jesus Green

  1. Nick Warren

    Richard – another interesting and useful article. The “consultation follows approval” process does seem ridiculous, but I presume the city officers are having to operate this way in order to maximise the possible funding? I would still be concerned that this could now be driven through with the consultation only being paper thin.

    I was a little concerned by decision to agree the wording of the vote “after” everyone had voted…it seems a little cavalier to me…is that an acceptable process within the City Council’s standing orders for meetings? In a typical parish council meeting, you cannot even discuss a motion unless the motion wording has been proposed and seconded.

    Nick (Cambridge)

  2. Sally Wainman

    This whole idea of “consulting” after money has been voted through for something, makes me very uneasy; what guarantees are there that any consultation at all will take place?

    I’ve been part of the campaign to try and save Broomhill Pool in Ipswich, which closed in 2002. Over the last seven years there have been numerous twists and turns, but just before Christmas 2008 the Council (Ipswich Borough Council) announced a “massive investment” in the swimming pools here and ‘health and safety’ measures for the Broomhill Lido.

    The ‘health and safety’ measures turned out to be in the form of £20,000 worth of granular infill and £55,000 worth of sand to fill the pool in! Altogether, expenditure of £113,000 was sought at the Exec Committee meeting held on 16th Dec 2008

    I attended this meeting and queried why there had been no consultation with English Heritage or the Twentieth Century society or indeed with the Council’s own conservation officers (Broomhill Pool is a Grade II Listed building). The answer I received was that consultation would be carried out, once the money to drain the pool, take down the diving boards in and fill the pool in had been voted through!

    I have lodged protests about this and written to local papers etc. I have also obtained a verbal reassurance from the Director of Culture and Leisure that Listed Building Consent will be sought before these works are carried out. What will actually happen is anybody’s guess.

    Sally (Ipswich)

  3. Susan Stobbs

    As a local resident who walks on Jesus Green every day I think we have to be careful that we are not entirely negative to all Council proposals. I agree that they seem to be incompetent in how they consult and get developments going. It would be good to have a rather open ended allocation of money from this committee for Jesus Green and then have a widespread consultation as to how to use it.

  4. Richard Article author

    I can see that with the focus on preventing the more ludicrous elements of the various schemes going ahead the support for maintenance and appropriately scaled improvements can be missed. When I spoke at the recent Jesus Green Open meeting (http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/jesus-green-association-open-meeting.html) I suggested that the council has plenty of money to go-ahead with more rationally scaled schemes for improvements, the council’s proposals were repeatedly described as “grandiose”, it is those there are objections to.

    Maintenance elements, for example path resurfacing and skate park repairs, included in the lottery bid have broad support and would probably have already have been funded by the council if there wasn’t a lottery bid in progress.

  5. Jordan Collins (Via Facebook) Article author

    I too also feel passionate about the development of JG as a whole, not just the skatepark.

    I think Cambridge would benefit extremely from have an upgraded skate park facility. Cambridge has had a strong skatescene for many years now and even through the booms & blackouts of the extreme sports, our social dynamic remains extremely tight. With the recent boom of high quality skateparks popping up in the area, places like Saffron Walden, Harlow and soon-to-be one in Norwich, it’s about time Cambridge had a park that lived up to the city’s reputation.

    Jesus Green to me is a place of tranquillity, nature and recreation and while I feel strongly against the loss of green space on JG I also feel strongly for the expansion of the skatepark.
    This may seem like a hypocritical opinion but Jesus Green is like a second home to me and the local skating community because of that park, so it’s in our best interest to help maintain it and improve it for ourselves and people who want to get into the sport in the future.

    One concern for me is that I don’t seem to be hearing much news from the council, just where is this grapevine that we are suppose to hear things through? It’s necessary so we can give them relevant feedback and ensure a successful project.

    Jordan

  6. Richard Article author

    The Chair of Governors at Park Street Primary School has written to me to say:

    We have not seen the proposal and so cannot comment on its specific merits or otherwise.

    I think it is rather odd that given the use the school is expected to put the new hard surfaced area to they have not seen the proposal.

    It raises the question of how the proposal was instigated.

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