More Mud for Stourbridge Common

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013. 4:12pm

Artists impression of muddier "scrape" proposed for Stourbridge Common

Artists impression of muddier “scrape” proposed for Stourbridge Common. Perhaps the astronomical cost of the scheme can be explained by the development of the active camouflage suits for the “invisible” cows seen in the illustration?

Cambridge City Council is proposing to spend £15,000 on making a muddy bit of Stourbridge Common even muddier.

The published proposal, which the council are currently seeking comments on, states:

Cambridge City Council is proposing to create a small ‘scrape’ in the Common, by excavating a small area of land within an existing wet area.

The only other elements of the project are some bird and bat boxes along with:

A short 3mtr length of boardwalk indicated with the red arrow will also help access across the central ditchline

As far as council projects to develop the city’s green spaces go this one, while appearing to me to be a mad waste of public money, otherwise appears mostly harmless, at least it doesn’t involve cutting down swathes of trees or tarmacking over lots of green space as previous schemes for “developing” green areas in the city have done.

£15K appears incredibly expensive for 3m of boardwalk and some scraping which would presumably involve someone having about ten minutes of fun with a mini-digger.

As the council says this bit of the common is already wet. It regularly floods, and is muddy for many months of the year.

If spending £15,000 on some extra mud is high up councillors’ spending priorities there’s no sign that our local councillors in Cambridge are having their decisions influenced by any sense money is tight; despite the fact £1 in every £7 spent by the public sector is borrowed.

Map of the council’s proposed muddy patches (circles) and boardwalk (arrow)

I can only imagine that this kind of project is the result of having far too many council officers sitting around having to invent things to do to pass the time and justify their employment. Cambridge City Council employs swathes of officers to manage the city’s green spaces including a Nature Conservation Officer, a Conservation Projects Officer (Guy Belcher), a Green Space Officer (Sarah Tovell), a Green Space Manager (Alistair Wilson) and a Pinder. I suspect the council’s dedicated Sustainable Drainage Engineer who works on the council’s nature reserves might find a role in the project and it’s Urban Growth Project Manager (Tim Wetherfield) whose name is on the meeting papers. From time to time groups of these managers can be seen along with their colleagues monitoring those actually maintaining the commons, doing things like cutting the grass. The council doesn’t publish information which makes it easy to see how many people are employed and how much money is being spent in particular areas of its operations.

Something else which could be driving this bizarre throwing away of public money is the way councillors treat taxes on new development as bonus cash. My view is development taxes ought only be used to enable the provision of something, such as a new road, without which permission for a development would not be granted. I don’t think a muddier bit of common is a pre-requisite for any building in the city. Development taxes are a tax on new homes, they dampen the housing market, and make it less likely for new homes to get built. The slightly muddier common will be provided at the expense of those in Cambridge without an appropriate place to live.

Stourbridge Common Cambridge

Stourbridge Common Cambridge

More of My Thoughts

  • Spending money “improving” or “developing” existing green space in the city does not provide something which will last as long as the new developments which are being taxed to fund the work. If new development is not acceptable due to a lack of green space then we ought acquire more; ideally within or around the new developments themselves. Acquiring new green space is something potentially relatively permanent which can be expected to endure as long as the related developments. I would have liked to see the council consider purchasing riverside land in the vicinity eg. part of the Penny Ferry site or nearby allotment (now building site) providing more public green space (and perhaps improving conditions for cyclists too).
  • The proposed extra mud is on the site of Stourbridge Fair – the council would probably insist on archaeology if someone else wanted to excavate on such a site – will they be paying attention to what they unearth?
  • The council say a member of the Friends of Stourbridge Common (FofSC) came up with the more mud idea, but don’t name them. I’d like to know if the Friends of Stourbridge Common support the idea too – saying one of their members suggested it makes me wonder if that individuals’ view was not shared.
  • If I was a councillor I wouldn’t spend £15,000 of public money on making a muddy bit of common more muddy.
  • I would like to know more about why the area the council proposes to make more muddy is muddy now; is it a an area which has never been drained or are there damaged field drains which the council is proposing to damage further? What are the expected impacts of the proposals on the length of time the common, which is a flood plain, takes to drain after flooding? The area currently floods when river levels are high without the river banks over-topping; if this occurs by the river water reversing the water flow in drains then disrupting that system and preventing the area functioning as a flood plain could risk higher river levels during floods and greater risks to nearby properties.
  • Given the proximity of the river, a brook, and various drainage ditches the area is already teaming with midges and bugs; I don’t think there’s a need to encourage even more through intentionally creating pools of stagnant muddy water.


The council is currently running a consultation on the proposal which is open until the 1st of September 2013. The consultation page notes that East Area Committee councillors have however already approved the scheme which appears to make the consultation exercise redundant.

Related Documents

Councillors Responsible

The East Area Committee councillors who, according to meeting minutes, last approved progress on the scheme, in June 2013 were: Blencowe, Owers, Benstead, Brown, Hart, Herbert, Johnson, Moghadas, Roberts, Saunders, Smart, Kavanagh, Walsh and Whitehead. (The degree to which those County Councillors present have influence on spending city council money is debatable, though the minutes record no dissent).

14 comments/updates on “More Mud for Stourbridge Common

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    One of the councillors who approved the spending has commented:

    Cllr Johnson also confirmed my view that some councillors see taxes on development as free money and cash they can be less careful with than that raised by other means:

  2. bob

    Whilst I am more relaxed about the 15k than you Richard, the key point to me is the money being wasted on a consultation if, as you report, the decision is already made. It would be interesting to discover how much the consulation is going to cost and whether that is part of the 15K.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The council’s consultation webpage states:

      Both projects are funded by S106 developer contributions and have been approved by the relevant area committees.

      There are various possible explanations for the post-approval consultation; I’m only guessing but there may be need for further approval by the area committee – councillors often consider things multiple times, a practice which can be very confusing and wastes time. It may be the approval from the area committee is not all that’s required and it is to go before another committee or executive councillor. The consultation may be on the details following “outline” approval by councillors.

      I responded to a city council consultation on consultation in 2011.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Friends of Stourbridge Common have commented:

    Local resident Brian L Johnson has made a suggestion:

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Cambridge News has an article today: Council plan to splash £15k on making Cambridge park “more muddy”.

    A quote from my article above is taken.

    That the councillors have taxed new development excessively and don’t know what to do with the cash is demonstrated by Cllr Reiner’s explanation as to why the council is planning to make the common muddier, she is quoted as saying: “we were generating projects for funding with developer contributions.”

  5. BrianLJ

    A neighbour tells me that,. in the past, there used to be a pond in the middle of Stourbridge Common. In fact, during the cold winter months, it used to freeze over and be used as a skating rink by the locals. However, it also got used as a dumping ground for rubbish and so the council had it filled in.

    I wonder if the cost for filling it in was less than the £15,000 for re-excavating it?

  6. Brian Johnson

    I see that the scrape hasn’t had its 3 mtr wooden walkway put on yet. I wonder if that was why the price went down from £16,000 to £15,000?

    And if the Council DID pay £15,000 for ’10 minutes work with a mini-digger’ would they have got a better deal if they’d asked these chaps to do it as part of the river bank refurbishment works currently taking place along Stourbridge Common? It literally would have been the work of 10 minutes for one of their diggers to amble the few yards across to the scrape area and remove the requisite amount of earth. And maybe these guys wouldn’t have smashed the existing land drains.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    The government has announced a scheme of waiving development taxes and ensuring the money goes directly to making new homes cheaper to buy:

    If we could copy that kind of idea in Cambridge councillors, who struggle to spend development tax windfalls as it is, could opt to reduce house prices in the city rather than buy more mud for some of our muddy commons (and spending money draining others!).

  8. Lisa Buchholz

    Hi Richard – In fact, the scrapes have worked really well – not sure what you are photo’ing there – I’ve got a picture taken today (24 Nov) which shows the main scrape full of water – I’ll send it to your email address, as doesn’t seem I can attach it to this post. The scrapes idea was brought to East Area Committee by a resident of Abbey and were funded by S106 money which had to be spent on a biodiversity project. It’s something that benefits everyone by enhancing the ecology of a place so many people enjoy, and I don’t think we should downplay the importance of taking care of – even enhancing – our open spaces. Note that the scrapes are not ponds – they dry up in dry weather, but remain wet enough for wildlife to breed (invertebrates each year, amphibians in wet years). Moreover because they are dry from time to time, there will be no fish or large invertebrate predators. This is a new habitat in this area (quite different from the ditches on the Ditton side of the Common or the Cam), and it has worked really well, as demonstrated by the fact that newts are breeding on the Common. There’s so little spent on maintaining and improving our green spaces (particularly the less urban ones), it seems a shame to carp about it. And, as noted, it couldn’t be spent on anything else – even if it could, it would have been a pretty trivial contribution to reducing house prices (per suggestions in the February 2015 posts).

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