I wrote to my local councillors in advance of the Cambridge City Council North Area Committee meeting which is to be held on Thursday the 11th of December 2008. I made some comments on items on the agenda which are reproduced below. I have made my comments on the policing agenda item separately.
1. Matters from the minutes of the previous meeting.
i/ Guided Bus
In response to Q2iii from the Open Form – the October committee told members of the public raising questions on the guided bus that meetings of the Guided Bus Liaison Forum, a joint County and City body, were open to the public, and suggested residents attend.
I consulted the County Council website, and found it listed only past, and not future meetings of the Liaison Forums. I wrote to the County Council asking for the dates of future meetings to be told:
“The Local Liaison Forums have been set up to discuss details of the busway designs, such as bus stops or junctions. The meetings are however not open to the public. If you would like any matter raised, please contact your local Councillor. If you would like to let me know the ward you live in, I can provide you with their contact details.”
I note that the suggestion the public should ask their questions on the guided bus at these meetings was used to discourage further questioning of local County and City councillors on this.
ii/ Q4 Penny Ferry
a) I was the questioner here, and I did not suggest the council had: “ignored the comments of the Old Chesterton Residents Association (OCRA)”, in fact I did quite the opposite and complained that their representations were to be incorporated without the committee’s approval. I described this as inappropriate delegation to OCRA, and noted that I had been told that some councillors attended OCRA meetings (though were not members so felt they didn’t have to declare an interest). I felt it was wrong that councillors were not making decisions in the public meeting, but delegating it to a group which meets in private.
b) The minutes state: “John Isherwood, Engineering Officer, confirmed that the Cycling Campaign had been consulted”. The Cycling Campaign however have told me they were consulted in the afternoon of the day of the meeting, if this is true the officers comment was in my view misleading and disingenuous. I believe this may have caused councillors to treat my point, which was a suggestion that there needs to be a clearly marked cycle route through the site, less seriously than they might have otherwise. It appears to have been an unreasonable attempt to discredit me by the council officer.
I have made a Freedom of Information request to the council for the date on which they consulted the campaign, this is now overdue. I do not feel the need to pursue it to the information commissioner as the creation dates on the documents provided to both me and the cycling campaign indicate the “consultation” occurred on the day of the meeting.
I would like to suggest the committee confirms what I am saying and does not tolerate such behavior from officers.
iii/ Q5 – Jesus Green
a) I was again the questioner here. The minutes record Cllr Blair saying the bid was approved, “following consultation with herself as Chair of the Community Services Scrutiny Committee and the Chairs of the North and West/Central [Area Committees]“.
Cllr Smith has since told the strategy and resources scrutiny committee that Cllr Blair, and the opposition spokesperson on the strategy and resources committee were invited to review the bid document before it was submitted but declined that invitation.
Cllr Blair was questioned on her role at an open meeting of the Jesus Green Association where she confirmed she had not read the final bid document.
This is of relevance to the North Area Committee because, although it is unminuted, Cllr Armstrong said that due to her being out of the country she had delegated her role in the final approval of the bid to Cllr Blair.
b) On the subject of the bid document, Cllr Nimmo-Smith promised I would be sent a copy (I’m not seeking that, I’m seeking its publication online, in full). I note the council have still not, at the time of writing, put the bid document online. It is my recollection that almost all councillors at the October North Area Committee agreed the document should be made available. Many people, almost all the speakers, at the Jesus Green Association open meeting criticised the council’s failure to put the details online.
I have visited the council offices and consulted the hard copy. I have made some information from it available online on my own website.
Only I have made a breakdown of the £4.4 million costs available. As well as the breakdown of costs and the application form itsself there are many other components of the bid not currently online including for example the habitat management document and land drainage specifications. I believe these documents will be of great value and interest to those interested in maintaining and preserving Cambridge’s green spaces and I have been encouraging the council to publish them online.
I further note that the council, via Cllr Julie Smith has promised consultation on Jesus Green will be ongoing, many speakers at the Jesus Green Association meeting questioned how realistic this statement was given the lack of information on the details of the current bid released by the council on their website.
iv/ Q5 City Rangers.
Ian Nimmo-Smith has not made the promised statement, but Cllr Ward did clarify the situation in a posting on the cam.transport newsgroup:
Where he said:
“Rangers have the same powers to stop people and tell them off for misbehaving as your or I have; no formal powers have been delegated to them. A cyclist who is told off by a Ranger for cycling the wrong way down a one way road need take no more notice than they do of me when I tell them off
This raises the question of why the council is using their rangers to stop people if the rangers do not have the necessary powers. I note this is not an informal telling off, but a formal exercise during which statistics are recorded. Should the council be using their rangers in this way? I think not, not least because there are no safeguards preventing them from focusing on easy targets, such as students in the town centre.
I note the Ranger Steering Group, the existence of which this question revealed, appears to meet in secret. My lobbying for the details of its meetings to be made public as so far not been successful.
2. Penny Ferry
I note that I have asked Dinah Foley-Norman on the 7th of December for a breakdown of the project costs, none has been forthcoming. I have also asked, if amended comments from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and Sustrans have really been received, and if a copy of those could be included in the papers for the meeting.
The costs of this project have risen alarmingly, in June 2008 the total cost of the Penny Ferry refurbishment was estimated at £20K*. The proposal going to the North Area Committee in December 2008 is now for an incredible £69 800**.
This is an enormous increase, for very little substantive change which I can see.
I also asked the officer: “Have costings been made for the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s suggestions? (I would expect them to involve no extra cost, as they involve moving items within the scheme rather than introducing new ones). Clearly councillors are going to need have an officer opinion on this, so why is is not in the report?”
Just to briefly re-iterate my own view: “there needs to be a clearly marked cycle route through the site.” This applies if the committee accepts the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s amendments or not.
3. Recommendations for New Section 106 Projects
I note these are entirely without costings, or details.
How can councillors or the public be expected to make any sense of what is being put before the committee?
4. Opposition Spokesperson
I have been suggesting all council committee meeting agendas ought identify opposition spokespeople.
My inclusion of this item with respect to this meeting was in error, as Mr Todd-Jones’ name is clearly at the top of the agenda, so I retracted it within minutes of sending it.
5. Building in a Conservation Area
I am interested in the planning application for a block of flats in the garden of 7 Church Street Cambridge from the point of view of trying to work out what the point of a conservation area is in Cambridge if a scheme like this can be recommended for approval. This is particularly interesting in light of the proposed new conservation area in the De Freville Avenue area. I thought that the suggestion from an opponent that Bat flight paths might be impeded bizarre and wondered if bats in Cambridge don’t have the echo-location skills that their species are famous for which I would have thought would enable them to easily avoid a new block of flats. While I can find and accept suggestions that new floodlighting might deter bats from passing through an area, and can understand concerns about blocking “corridors”, but surely one more building in a city full of buildings isn’t going to be significant?
I have restricted myself so far to commenting on items which are on the agenda. One item I would like to see on future agendas is a discussion of the number of young people in the area not in full time education, training or employment. Many local young people who are involved in some sort of training, education or employment participate for only a few hours a week. The police have reported that these people are those they encounter most often. I think the area committee would be a good forum in which to explore this apparent problem.I hope my councillors find some of these suggestions useful, and I plan to observe the meeting on Thursday.
The North Area Committee is on the 11th December, at Manor Community College, Arbury Road, the Main Agenda is taken at 19.30, with the planning application taken earlier at 18.30.