On the 18th of July 2012 I attended Ely’s “Neighbourhood Panel meeting” at which, among other things, the police were held to account and their priorities for the next period set.
The main concern raised at the meeting was that Cambridgeshire Police are still not answering calls to their 101 non-emergency number in a timely manner. The meeting’s chair reported he had been put through to an answerphone, and people reported waiting 45, and 25 minutes for their calls to be answered. I have written a separate article on that aspect of the meeting, which includes links to my previous reporting and campaigning on the matter:
Other Key Points
A member of the public expressed concern about the numbers of Canada Geese on the river in Ely. He said their poo was causing a mess and a health hazard, he also complained about the noise. Concerns were raised their numbers would increase further. A cull was suggested and another member of the public said that in New York’s central park culls were carried out and meat distributed to the homeless, it was suggested this could happen in Ely.
Conservative Councillor Richard Hobbs (East Cambridgeshire District Council, Ely East Ward) urged caution, he said he was concerned about the council being ridiculed in relation to a cull. Cllr Hobbs urged officers to carry out any cull in daylight, to avoid accusations of underhand behaviour and of culling geese in the dead of night. One of the members of the public present asked if he could have a goose for Christmas and Cllr Hobbs offered to put his name down for one. Others wishing to put their name down for a goose can presumably contact Cllr Hobbs with their orders.
Cllr Hobbs noted it was likely there would be some people would would object to the council culling geese; he said it was though the responsibility of East Cambridgeshire District Council’s environmental officers.
Parking was a priority set in the previous period, and it was carried on into the next. The main issue reported was those with disabled blue badges parking in an inconsiderate and obstruction causing manner. The Police Inspector Paul Ormerod, wrongly I think, said no action could be taken against those with blue badges who had parked causing an obstruction. He did however say his officers had walked around the city with staff from the police’s central ticketing unit, so his officers were clear on what was, and was not, considered an offence of obstruction.
One member of the public complained about parking on the pavement, on a road where there was double parking, he used a mobility scooter and couldn’t get past on the pavement, he urged the police to take action for “obstruction” in such cases where the pavement was obstructed, and those such as him and his scooter, or others such as those with pushchairs etc. could not get past.
Police Inspector Paul Ormerod said that drugs were too complex and sensitive an issue for the panel to discuss. One member of the public called for a priority to be set to tackle drug dealing in the High Barns of the city; however the meeting’s chair agreed with the police inspector and unilaterally threw out the suggestion. I think this is wrong, and councillors should be free to take up any policing related issues which concern their residents, be they related to serious crime, national or force wide policies, or identifying hyperlocal geographical problem areas. I don’t think meetings should be constrained to only deal with minor, geographically constrained, matters.
Cathedral Area Anti-Social Behaviour
Anti-social behaviour near the cathedral was a previous priority. As too often happens what was meant by antisocial behaviour wasn’t clearly defined. The police reported they had been patrolling the area a number of times a day, and while they’d found a wanted person, and some people in possession of drugs, they had not otherwise found problems. Cllr Richard Hobbs argued to keep the priority saying the problems (I believe relating to street drinkers) would return with warmer drier weather.
The meeting was attended by about thirty to forty people in the public seating. The panel was introduced. Those present comprised of the police inspector, a district council officer with responsibility for flytipping etc., members of Ely City Council, including the Mayor/Chairman of the Council Tony Parramint (who wore his chain), two East Cambridgeshire District Councillors, and Cambridgeshire County Councillor Sue Austen. The Chief Executive of East Cambridgeshire District Council acted as the meeting’s clerk, when he introduced himself he made clear he wasn’t as a member of the panel as the chair had implied. The members of Ely City Council appeared to be in the majority.
I was glad to see the Police Inspector later say he wasn’t in-fact a member of the panel.
Ely City Councillors sat behind name plates saying merely “Ely City Council” and not naming them as individuals.
It wasn’t made clear who was absent, but many East Cambridgeshire District Councillors had clearly failed to turn up, as had County Councillor Nigel Bell.
I would have liked to see more of the district and county councillors attending.
Impressively the meeting’s chair asked any council officers lurking in the public seating to identify themselves. I thought this was fantastic, and something which I have lobbied for over many years in relation to Cambridge’s area committees, but it doesn’t happen.
None of the currently declared candidates, or those seeking party nomination as candidates, for Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner were present.
I would have liked to have seen representative democracy being a little more clearly in-force. The absent councillors ought to have been more clearly identified, and fact councillors, not officers, made up the panel also made clearer; the chair fudged this point in his introductions.
When it came to the decision on the key matter of the police priorities there were no clear “hands up” votes held. The chair asked if there were any objections, and even though an objection was raised by a councillor, no formal vote was taken; the chair merely tried to sum up the view of the meeting.
In relation to police priority setting in meetings like this I think the police commissioner should let the area’s county and district councillors decide how meetings are run, and if they alone ought get full speaking and voting rights or if the (town/parish level) Ely City Council members ought get a vote. Voting should be restricted to democratically elected councillors.
If there are democratic students unions or school councils, similar groups in an area I would like to see them invited to contribute too, perhaps given full speaking rights on the panel. I think this might help ensure the voices of those who were absent at the panel (and are typically absent from such meetings) get heard.
During matters arising it was revealed that Ely City Council has commissioned an independent consultant to write a report on the city’s CCTV system. Chairman of the council, Cllr Parramint stated the council had the report and councillors were due to consider it. The report was not made available at the meeting. It was noted that the Ely CCTV system is controlled from the police station and run by volunteers.
The report does not appear to be available on the City of Ely Council website (the website appears very poor, it lists a full council meeting due next week, in three days time as I’m writing, but offers no agenda or papers).
The report on flytipping, dog poo, and dogs off leads where they should not be, was presented. It contained a good amount of detail, including on outcomes.
Inspector Paul Ormerod presented the report.
On the cathedral and surrounding area Insp. Ormerod said patrols had found someone wanted by the police, and someone in possession of heroin and related equipment but the impression given was the inspector didn’t think there was a problem with street drinkers. I got the impression litter/detritus and perhaps intimidatory behaviour from street drinkers was the main issue actually raised and what was meant by “Anti-Social Behaviour” in this context. There is a Designated Public Places Order (DPPO) in place for the Cathedral area, however the police reported they are not using the powers the order gives them, the report states:
Quite often we found the regular group of street drinkers and associates in the vicinity of the Cathedral but unless we had reports of ASB or we witnessed any offences, no further action was taken. This is in the spirit of the DPPO and is a proportionate response.
Police Inspector Paul Ormerod said that two of those encountered on the patrols “have been through rehabilitation” he and were no longer present in the area, he didn’t say how they obtained the rehabilitation opportunity, if it followed police and court action, or if it was directly accessible to them.
The police stated they were carrying out regular patrols. I thought the fact they had to say this was notable, as surely that would be expected in a town centre.
Insp. Ormerod said a “new” power of dispersal under S27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 had been used in the vicinity of the Cathedral, and the individual dispersed had not breached the order. This isn’t a particularly new power, perhaps the Inspector meant “new to Ely?”.
All councillors except Cllr Hobbs indicated they were happy with the police approach, and were happy to discontinue the area as a police priority.
Obstructive and Inappropriate Parking.
The police report on this appeared to have had the wrong content pasted into it. The Inspector had different material, and photographs, present at the meeting. He stated that his officers regularly went down lines of cars parked on double yellow lines to find they all had blue badges.
The police, and public, questioned if those using the badges really needed them, particularly as they were parking on a steep hill and walking into the city centre.
As I have mentioned the Inspector stated those with blue badges were not committing an offence when parking in an obstructive manner.
The Government produces a document The Blue Badge Scheme: rights and responsibilities it states on p21:
Do not park where it would endanger, inconvenience or obstruct pedestrians or other road users. … The Blue Badge is not a licence to park anywhere. If you park where it would cause an obstruction or danger to other road users you could be fined or have your vehicle removed.
Someone needs to point Police Inspector Paul Ormerod to S.103 of The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 which states:
No person in charge of a motor vehicle or trailer shall cause or permit the vehicle to stand on a road so as to cause any unnecessary obstruction of the road.
I would have thought that police inspector training would have taught him how to look up the law.
The inspector reported 137 fixed penalty notices for obstructive or otherwise inappropriate parking had been issued in the April-July 2012 period, and a further 56 could have been issued, but were not, as the offenders had blue badges.
The only mention of cycling was a lady complaining that a cycle accident reported near Sainsbury’s had not been taken seriously by the police. She suggested parking in the area was a contributory factor. No one from the Ely Cycling Campaign identified themselves as present during the meeting.
Overhanging brambles “which could have someone’s eye out” were raised, and hedges overhanging paths in various areas of the city were discussed at great length with huge passion. Council officers took notes.
The priorities set by the meeting were:
- Parking – obstruction in the city centre
- Speeding and traffic issues in the Kings Avenue and Queen Adelaide area.
It was decided to discontinue the priority of anti-social behaviour near the cathedral, and have that area policed as usual.
The police promised the area identified as a speeding problem area would have a speed survey carried out, would become a “community concern site” which the mobile speed camera would put on their rota to visit, and a speedwatch volunteer scheme would be considered.
It was noted that a secret “Neighbourhood Action Group” would review the priorities set, and decide if to act on them or not. I think councillors ought hold the police to account for the priorities they set, and if they police decide not to act, they need to justify that. In the future I think a commissioner will be able to mediate in the rare occasions where councillors and police disagree.
Shape Your Place
A confusing presentation was given on the http://ely.shapeyourplace.org/ website. The officer stated the site was “community owned”, and not a council run project. I think that was simply wrong. The meeting was told the site had served 1004 “users”, and that those from Ely on average visited the site just twice, that didn’t appear to be a particularly informative way of presenting the statistics.
The Neighbourhood Panel meeting did not appear to have been mentioned on the site. A member of the public suggested summarising things raised on the site in a paper to each panel meeting. The chair, and a few panel members said this was a good idea. The officer stressed ShapeYourPlace is not just about raising issues, but discussing them and getting them solved, but agreed that the website and panel meetings should work together and complement each other.
King’s School Sports Field Access
A representative of the King’s School said they were bussing pupils to their sports ground, due to the poor footpaths. He was told there was a chance of using developer taxes to improve the situation, but cllrs were cautious about spending money on something which might not be needed in the long term.
Police Authority Presentation
Police Authority Member Nic Williams was on the agenda as the speaker, but she was absent without explaination and Cllr Victor Lucas replaced her.
Cllr Lucas started by commenting on the continued failure of the police to answer their phones; I thought he misled the panel by saying the Police Authority were “keeping a close scrutiny eye on the situation”, as in May he disbanded the scrutiny committee he chairs and there has been no evidence of the full authority getting to grips with the situation. I have written “lies” in the margin of my notes on this section of the meeting.
Cllr Lucas spoke about the forthcoming commissioner elections. The returning officer is to be the Chief Executive of East Cambridgeshire District Council, who was clerking the panel meeting. Cllr Lucas asked if a vote with a single “X” next to a candidate would be considered a first preference vote for that candidate. The returning officer said he could not give that assurance, as there would be two columns on the ballot paper, he said he “would be looking at the first column to determine the first preference”. Other notable points included a revelation from Cllr Lucas that the Police Authority are lobbying central government to give them a greater role in the run up to the elections, they want to be allowed to hold hustings events.
One member of the public asked if commissioners would over-rule panel meetings. Cllr Lucas rightly said that is a question for the candidates. I think a commissioner should strengthen local democratic priority setting, and bring democracy in depth to policing the Cambridgeshire force area.
Cllr Lucas said commissioners would be much less constrained by the Home Office than the Police Authority had been.
Cllr Lucas also said the Home Office wanted candidate’s manifestos to be “on as many websites as possible”.
The returning officer said the regulations for the police and crime commissioner elections had been published the day before, to get them out before the Parliamentary recess.
Next Ely Panel Meeting
3rd of October 2012