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.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.
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.
- Report to the 6th June 2013 East Area Committee – project cost noted on p2.
- PDF document describing the proposal.
- November 2012 East Area Committee Minutes recording councillors’ decision to select the Stourbridge Common project. Back then the project description also included “the creation of reed beds where Coldham’s Brook flows into the River Cam ” this appears to have been dropped, but the cost remains the same. The meeting papers note the council has been collecting, but not spending, the development taxes it is to spend on the mud since 2006, it has been amassing the cash for seven years.
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).