Proposals for a new lottery bid for improvements to Jesus Green were presented to a Special General Meeting of the Jesus Green Association on the 28th of July 2011.
- The new bid is a joint bid by the City Council and the Jesus Green Association
- The new bid is to be much more limited in scope than the previous proposals, involving paving over vast swathes of grass and felling 59 trees, which were put forward by the City Council and rejected by the lottery.
- The new bid is to focus on:
- Improving the paths.
- Improving the drainage, especially on the beer festival site.
- Rennovating the Rouse Ball pavilion, and toilets
- Changes to the swimming pool to better integrate it with the rest of the space and extend its season of operation.
- Other elements of the proposals include removing the reportedly now obsolete substation by the lock cottage, removing the disused bowls pavilion, improving the vehicle access from Victoria Avenue, adding an electric point for use of events such as the beer festival, and some kind of information/education feature pointing people to the history of the area and volunteering opportunities
- A vote was held at the meeting, the result of which was 16 people were in favour of the bid proposals, and “one or two” abstentions, including West Chesterton Cllr Tunnacliffe (who’s presumably learnt not to express views which might preclude him from involvement in taking planning decisions in the future) and Adam Luke of the Cambridge news, who was presumably there to report on proceedings, not to express a view.
- None of the Cambridge City Councillors for the ward in which Jesus Green sits attended, and neither did Cllr Rodrick Cantrill (Newnham), the executive councillor for the city’s green spaces. Ward councillor Tim Bick sent a single sentence statement saying he “supported the positive initiatives”.
I support the proposals. I think what is now being proposed amounts to maintenance and low key, sensible improvements to Jesus Green. My only concerns relate to the aspects which have been clearly added to try and meet various lottery criteria. Perhaps the application document ought be colour coded and separated into “things we’d like” and “thinks we’re applying for to comply with the lottery’s rules”. I doubt Jesus Green can sustain a cafe in the pool, the kiosk, and a cafe in the renovated pavilion. The question of how the space in the newly renovated pavilion can be used appears to me to be a key one for the development stage. I think the answer is to keep it as flexible and multi-purpose as possible.
Stage One Bid Deadline 31st August
I asked how much detail was required by the 31st August deadline, and how much the content of the stage one application would limit what could be added to or removed from, the proposals in the “mass consultation” stage during which the proposals would be developed before the final, second stage, application was made.
I received two very different answers:
- Peter Constable, the chairman of the Jesus Green Association, said that the areas to be covered would be fixed by the stage one application, and the consultation and development would just be fine tuning the details.
- Cambridge City Council officer Sarah Tovell said that all the Heritage Lottery Fund would be doing in response to the stage one application would be checking the Jesus Green met the definition of a park.
Tovell stated that if the stage one bid was successful the lottery would fund the development of the detailed proposals.
The five aims the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Parks for People programme has in relation to bids were read out, they are:
- increasing the range of audiences;
- conserving and improving the heritage value;
- increasing the range of volunteers involved;
- improving skills and knowledge through learning and training; and
- improving management and maintenance.
The ex-chair of the JGA pointed out Jesus Green was already very well used; with the green areas often packed during warm weather – as it was on the evening of the meeting. “What more do they expect?” was the question asked in relation to increasing the range of audiences.
I think that “audience” is a bonkers term to apply to a park.
The special meeting, following a proposal made my me and supported by Cllr Damien Tunnacliffe, agreed to explicitly add a heating system for the pool to the stage one bid proposals ie. ensuring it remained a possibility during the development stage. This would tie in very closely with the aim of increasing the season over which Jesus Green as a whole, and particularly the pool gets used.
I suggested a simple solar heating (pumping water out, through an array of black pipes, and back in) just to take the chill off the water. The council officer Sarah Tovell said there had been plans for a heat exchange system to extract energy from the heat of the river water to take the chill off the pool. As with all other proposals in the bid, the idea isn’t to change the character of the facility, simply to improve it.
There were 10 votes in favour, and non-against, this proposal – the vote being carried out of only those members of the Jesus Green Association present not the 6-10 others, like me, who had turned up.
The chairman of the JGA expressed his concern that getting the support of the Friends of the Pool, those within the City Council responsible for the pool, and SLM, might be problematic in the time period left to deal with the bid.
Council officer Tovell said the proposal originally was to increase the seasonal use of the pool by getting other groups, such as canoeists, to use it when it wasn’t being used by swimmers.
Someone present raised the question of co-ordination, saying if there was to be a heat exchange system, for example, developed for the pool, could it not be used for heating elsewhere on the green. This linked into a general complaint about the lottery bid proposals not being based on a co-ordinated “masterplan” raised by Cambridge Past Present and Future representative Carolin Gohler and widely supported.
While the refurbishment of the building which contains the toilets is part of the proposals there are no details. This is certainly something to watch during the development of the details if the bid reaches its second stage; the current toilets are terrible, the provision needs to be increased, and they need to be modern, robust and easy to clean.
The meeting was told that the paths on the green had been repaired and patched over time and this had led to the excessive camber. (Lots of people talk about the excessive camber, but I personally see it as significant in one or two places). The proposals are for properly replacing the paths.
The path under the plane tree avenue is to be widened, so it can take a lorry.
Mr Lawton raised a concern, which I – and I know many others – share, about the compaction of tree roots. JGA chairman Peter Constable dismissed this, saying nothing would be made worse than the current situation of vehicles, and people, walking on the ground.
I wonder why there has to be such extensive, often quite heavy, vehicular traffic under the avenue of trees – given that it is one of Cambridge’s most fabulous assets. I would like to see special attention given to the design of the path so that it spreads the load over the ground and reduces compaction.
Various people said different things about the responsibility for the paths on Jesus Green. Some people said only the Riverside and Plane Tree avenue paths were the County Council’s responsibility, others suggested all the paths were. The meeting was assured by Sarah Tovell that the County Council were involved with the proposals and ready to agree to support the application.
There is a proposal to pave over slightly more of the grass by Jesus Lock bridge and the pavilion where the paths join.
There was a brief discussion of options for the pavillion; including better provision for its use as a bandstand. “Pervasive technology” was mentioned in the project aims document circulated, this was described as being potentially a high-tech interactive “table” via which users could learn about things such as the history of the space and opportunities to volunteer for example as “tree wardens” or volunteer life-guards to increase the pool opening hours. It is clear that some of these more outlandish elements of the proposals have been included to try and meet the aims set down by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The space within the pavilion could also be used as a “community cafe” or gallery space. (The idea appears to be that it becomes a multi-purpose room).
Plans displayed at the meeting showed instead of strengthened grass at the Victoria Avenue entrance, a brown surface. When I queried this Mr Constable said he still supported my suggestion of strengthened grass and that was something which could be pursued at the next stage and was too detailed a point to raise at that meeting.
The proposal here is to have two more hard courts, and to arrange the courts into a square, moving the two which are currently under the trees and which suffer from leaves etc. falling on them.
The proposals focus on the area between the Plane Tree Avenue and Victoria Avenue, the site used by the Beer Festival. The JGA said this area might be suitable for informal football over a more extended period, for example, if it was better drained.
All present were supportive of getting rid of the disused substation and bowls pavilion.
The previous bid had included a hydroelectric generator for the weir at Jesus Lock bridge. The meeting was told by city council officer Tovell that there was now a separate proposal by a private individual to install a generator for their own use. Those present appeared surprised by this and asked if some public benefit could be sought from the scheme.
Jesus Lock Bridge
I proposed that the Jesus Lock bridge area be included in the stage one bid, noting that it was a popular cycle route, especially for commuters. I thought various options for improving the bottleneck ought be left open, from ambitious work such as widening and perhaps segregating the bridge to simply adjusting the ramps at the Jesus Green side to make it easier to pass – I noted increasingly people are using trailers on their bikes which, along with child carriers, are difficult to get round the corner.
Mr Constable said it was not the policy of the Jesus Green Association to encourage its use as a highway. He said that the Association did not want to see the green become “spaghetti junction”. Others present (largely older, very local residents) said they approved of the current bottleneck, which slowed down cyclists. A request was made for the “cyclist dismount” sign to be renovated.
My view is that we need co-ordinated improvements to make the route from Carlyle Road to Jesus Green safer for cyclists; perhaps involving closing access to Carlyle Road from Chesterton Road for motor vehicles;’ changing the physical characteristics of Chesterton Road in that area to reduce speeds; eg. changing the colour/material of the road surface, sorting out the (currently zebra) crossing, as well as improvements to the bridge.
I think the reason this kind of thing was not supported for being taken forward to the next stage reflects the special narrow interests, and age profile, of those members of the Jesus Green Association present at the meeting. They are the kind of people who continue to lobby for banning everyone cycling in the city centre, because a few idiots cycle recklessly. I am still shocked when I come across these attitudes in Cambridge, and amazed that it appears acceptable to denigrate cyclists as a whole in this way – Cambridge isn’t a place where a particular group of people cycle – it’s a place where almost everyone cycles.
The CPPF representative suggested that consideration ought be given to how all entrances to the green could be improved; including the entrance over Jesus Lock Bridge.
Mr Baxter of the Friends of Midsummer Common reported he had been to a meeting with the city council discussing spending the proceeds of £500,000 in development taxes levied on the Berkley Homes site, he suggested that some of that money could go to Jesus Green.
Plans were presented on notice boards at the meeting they were signed: “Josephine Morrison, Landscape Architect, CMLI”, googling suggests CMLI probably stands for Chartered Member of the Landscape Institute.
Morrision is a member of the Jesus Green Association committee.
It was not made clear if the plans were to form part of the bid application; they were described as being only indicative very early drafts of proposals, and when details (such as the material to be used on the Victoria Avenue Hammerhead) were challenged the concerns were dismissed as being inappropriate for the stage of the process.
It was not made clear if Morrison was offering her services for free, or if she expected to have any professional role in the bid as it is developed. This is a potential conflict of interest which needs watching carefully, particularly as professionals involved in residents associations elsewhere in the city have sought to charge the taxpayer their professional fees for activities they’ve carried out in their personal capacities. It is of course excellent when residents with relevant skills offer to put them to use to improve the city
Mr Thompson of the Jesus Green Association stressed his, and the JGA’s view that the council working with the JGA made the bid process “more transparent”.
When I was invited by the chairman of the JGA to make any further comments at the end of the meeting I pointed out that there had not been much transparency to-date.
The bid has been discussed in secret meetings between the JGA and Cambridge City Council for a number of months, neither the council or the JGA proactively published the minutes of these meetings but I have obtained them via a Freedom of Information request. Those minutes of the 1st July meeting of the secret group stated “Part 4 [of the bid application] was to be drafted in time for the Jesus Green Association EGM, and to available for discussion at the JGA committee meeting”, this did not appear to have happened.
I also noted the JGA’s website had not been updated since February and that organisation appeared unable to even organise itsself to get the key to its own noticeboard – notices having been stuck to the outside of it. (Previously the reason for this had been given as the JGA having difficulty getting the key to the right person within their organisation).
JGA chairman Mr Constable said that their secretary’s Jack Grove’s sudden departure had affected their abilities. Mr Constable said that what he hoped to see from the “Big Society” was more support for organisations like the Jesus Green Association from the council. (The council are already servicing the Jesus Green working group which has been developing the proposals, minutes are being produced by public servants, all that was needed was for them to be proactively published).
Mr Constable said the reason the JGA wasn’t using its noticeboard this time was that the City Council had installed a new sign under the noticeboard which obstructed access to the key hole. Mr Constable said he was quite frustrated about this and had been lobbying the council to correct its mistake for months. Officer Sarah Tovell said she had also been trying, without success, to get something done within the council; she suggested she would soon take the matter into her own hands and take some direct action. The morning after I raised the question at the meeting the council moved the sign in question.
I can see that the Jesus Green Association might struggle to manage the spending of a significant sum of money. The lottery requires that “the park management actively involves local people”, I wonder if rather than ticking that box by making the bid a joint bid with the JGA the council would be better making the West/Central area committee, and the wider council, the body through which local people are involved in the running of the park. I think if the application stressed that the group of councillors meets regularly, in public, and that there is an open forum section and public participation is encouraged (though decisions are made by elected councillors) that ought impress the lottery more than working with the Jesus Green Association.
At the 1st of July secret meeting of the working group to discus the lottery application, “Committee report to be written Community Services Committee”, was on the list of items discussed. There is currently no Community Services Committee scheduled before the 31st August deadline.
There is though a meeting of the West/Central area committee on the 25th of August. While questions could be asked during the open forum it would be best if the bid was an item on the agenda and the application document formed part of the public committee papers.