Two residents of Evergreens, a cul-de-sac off Green End Road, in Chesterton attended the North Area Committee on Thursday the 30th of September 2010 to speak during the police priority setting section of the meeting.
They described the shocking behaviour of some parents who park in the cul-de-sac while dropping their children off at the nearby Shirley school. They spoke of parents parking and not just blocking their drive ways, but often parking in them. They also said parents regularly drove over their, and their neighbour’s gardens. As they addressed the meeting what they were describing got worse and worse. They reported some parents throwing the remains of their children’s lunch into their gardens on a daily basis and complained about very large amounts of rubbish in general.
The committee were told that when the residents spoke to the parents they received verbal abuse and threats in response. One of the members of the public then related an disturbing incident to the committee he said:
I think the worst of it was when I tried to drive to work having finally found the owner of one of the cars who had held me up for about twenty-five minutes and then when I tried to leave and navigate between all the 4X4s and just up to the road another 4X4 pulled in basically had a crowd of people around it shouting at me telling me its my own tough – you know- for living next to a school and I was driven back to my house and verbally abused for about ten minutes then I had to get out and get my bike and cycle to work because I couldn’t get out. So now it has got to the point where I can’t bear to be in my house between half-eight and half-nine in the morning for fear of just getting into a fight or getting attacked.
While neither the police or residents said anything directly, I believe the implication was that those causing the problems were travellers, or those living on travellers’ sites which are nearby both on Fen Road and North of Cambridge Regional College. One of the residents said he was aware the school was doing good work with a “certain community” inside the school, but complained the school was not interested in anything which went on outside its gates. I don’t think it is helpful if it is political correctness preventing people, including councillors and the police, saying what they think.
The police noted that the parents were very polite to them when they patrolled the area.
One resident said that when he had spoken on the phone to the police he had been discouraged from trying to get action taken against those causing the problems due to the threat of retribution. He prompted laughter when he noted “they’ll know where I live”.
Sgt. Wragg said that what was being described sounded serious enough to be dealt with as harassment and one of the residents said he would be prepared to co-operate with the police in taking action.
Councillors had previously set a police priority asking for parking problems associated with the school to be dealt with. It appears that neither they or the police had previously really grasped the nature of the problem. It took the residents attending the meeting in person to relate what they were experiencing.
County Councillor Moss-Eccardt suggested pursuing a Traffic Regulation Order to adopt an “except for access” restriction on the street. He said that the experience of the Addenbrooke’s Access Road showed that TROs can be used in innovative ways and to restrict access to a road based on what you were doing. He said that at Addenbrooke’s rat running is to be banned, but passing through and dropping someone off on the way is to be permitted. Cllr Moss-Eccardt said those breaching the orders could be given £70 fines every time they offended. The residents of Evergreens liked this idea.
The meeting’s chair pointed out Cllr Blair lives in Evergreens and invited her to comment as a resident; she said she wasn’t directly affected by people parking in her drive as she lives behind a courtyard area.
The school is moving to a new site at Nuffield Road which will have better parking in recognition of the fact: “the population of the school includes a large proportion of people who do drive to school all the time”.
As well as offering to follow up the possibility of a traffic regulation order, councillors decided to ask the police to deal with the problems raised as part of one of their new policing priorities. I thought it was notable that despite the county council’s role as the education authority no councillors sought to ask the school to take action, perhaps via the “community” and authority appointed governors.
Request Not to Publish Contribution on Video
Following the meeting one of the residents who had spoken got in touch with the meeting’s chair and requested the footage including their contributions not be published. Cllr Nimmo-Smith, the North Area committee’s chair, who passed on the request to me wrote: “I think there are valid grounds of personal security that justify this request” and I took that into account. The person was identified as the one who arrived later, this was the individual referred to as, “Alistair”. The other individual whose contributions can be heard on my video was fully aware of the recording, he had heard the chair explain the procedure in operation for opting out twice and had discussed the operation of the meeting, including filming, with a councillor. That second individual was present from the start of the meeting, and did not opt out despite being invited to.
The decision on what to do here is not easy; the individual who has asked not to have his contribution published has played a key role in getting councillors to set a police priority; he did this in public by speaking at a public meeting. I don’t think there is any expectation of privacy when contributing to a public council meeting (names and addresses of those asking questions are requested, and on occasion required; it is common for the names of members of the public to be included in the formal minutes). There were clear signs stating filming may occur and that anyone was free to opt-out. I think it is in the public interest to be able to see how police priorities get set and what influences councillors at their meetings. Had the individual wished to write to councillors privately, in confidence, he could have done so, but he chose to use the public meeting. Making what this individual said available to those who look for it will ensure that there is an opportunity for any inaccuracies or exaggerations to be challenged by others. I think that by placing my voice-over on his contributions I have acceded to the individual’s, and the meeting chair’s, request but ensured that no key information is omitted.
In deciding how to approach this I have also considered the potential impact on my, and others’ ability to record council meetings in the future. My own ability to obtain future permissions may be at risk if the council perceives a direction from the chair has not been followed, and if filming results in complaints from public speakers then that might affect the long term prospects for recording meetings.
The reason the camera does not pan to show those speaking was that the camera position was fixed by the chair prior to the meeting and panning was not permitted under the terms of the permission to film granted by the council.