At Cambridge City Council’s West Central Area Committee on the 25th of August 2011 I used the open forum section to ask if the proposed joint bid to the national lottery from the council and the Jesus Green association for works on Jesus Green had been submitted or would be submitted by the 31 August deadline.
I asked for the proactive publication of the bid document if a bid had been submitted and expressed surprised the bid was not on the meeting’s agenda and noted it had not yet been put before a public council meeting.
I pointed out that the bid had been developed during secret meetings of the Jesus Green working group, and that since Cllr Cantrill has taken on responsibility for the city’s green spaces that committee has not be chaired by a councillor, and often no councillors have been present at its meetings.
I shared my concern that by using the Jesus Green Association as the only route for consulting and engaging with the public things were being missed which might have been included had democratically elected councillors on the West Central Area Committee considered the bid. I gave the example of cycling infrastructure. The Jesus Green Association has a policy of not encouraging more cycling across Jesus Green, this is at odds with the elected city council’s pro-cycling policies. I made the suggestion, via the Jesus Green Association, that the entrance to Jesus Green over the Jesus Lock bridge could be improved for cyclists as part of the proposals, while this was rejected by the association I noted I felt my proposals would have stood a better chance of being adopted had they been considered by a group of councillors.
I asked for an assurance the West Central Area Committee, and the city council’s democratic systems as a whole would be used in later stages of the bid.
The executive councillor responsible for the city’s green spaces, Cllr Cantrill (Liberal Democrat, Newnham), responded. He said a bid application had been submitted, but he did not agree to publish it. (This prompted a further question from the floor on what was in it; particularly in the way of path improvements.) Cllr Cantrill and the Liberal Democrats have stood on a manifesto of openness and transparency and the way they are behaving in relation to this bid is contrary to that.
Following the refusal to publish the document I have made a freedom of information request for it, I’ve used mySociety’s freedom of information service WhatDoTheyKnow.com so that when it is released by the council it will be automatically made available online for all to read.
Cllr Cantrill said this was “not a full bid” and claimed that the content of the bid had been fully consulted on two years ago (when a previous bid application was put forward by the Liberal Democrat run council and withdrawn after strong opposition from local residents and the Jesus Green Association).
Cllr Cantrill said he appreciated the Jesus Green Association were not representative of all groups who used Jesus Green but said they were very passionate. He joked that they supported the Skate Park refurbishment even though none of their members were likely to use it.
My view is that councillors are not taking seriously the importance of proper open and democratic due process when it comes to making decisions about the future of Jesus Green. I think it is appalling that the bid document was not proactively published, and the bid was not put before a committee of councillors for approval before submission.
The next key opportunity to ask questions about what is happening in relation to this bid is Cambridge City Council’s Community Services Scrutiny Committee on Thursday, 13th October, 2011 at 1.30 pm in the Guildhall.