Suggestions in Advance of the October 2008 North Area Committee

Monday, October 6th, 2008. 1:51am

I wrote to my local councillors in advance of the North Area Committee meeting to be held on Thursday 9th October. I made suggestions and comments relating to the following:

  1. Penny Ferry Works
  2. Minuting of the Discussion on Stop and Account at the last Meeting
  3. The Reporting of Chair’s Actions to the Committee
  4. Jesus Green Lottery Bid
  5. Police Powers given to City Rangers
  6. Faults in the Streetlight Defect Reporting System
  7. Buying a PA system
  8. The Cycling Crackdown
  9. Other Problems with the Minutes of the August Meeting

Penny Ferry

At the last meeting of the North Area Committee councillors agreed to go-ahead with work to improve the penny ferry car park, and surrounding area. No councillor on the committee had seen an up to date plan at the time they approved the spending. I heard councillors at the last meeting essentially delegate the job of finalising the details of the work to the Old Chesterton Residents Association (OCRA). Cllrs Pitt and Levy told me immediately after the meeting they thought the details would in fact be agreed by chair’s action. As work has not yet started, I think there is an opportunity for the committee to properly consider the proposals at this meeting.

I note from the officer’s report to this meeting that OCRA have requested “measures to deter vehicles being tipped into the river from the car park area”, and these have been incorporated in to the plans. I understand from speaking to Mr Bond, the leader of OCRA this means high curbs around the car park area.

Mr Bond has told me he does not accept that there is a cycleway running though the site. The hailingway is a cycleway, and a national cycle route used by large numbers of people, including all the city’s rowing coaches. I am concerned that these high curbs (and indeed any new curbs) may impede the progress of cyclists though the site. I have been calling for clear cycleways, with markings and dropped curbs, which need to follow the cyclists’ path of least resistance along the primary route which is that taken by those following the river. To-date no consideration of cyclists has been made, no cycle route across the site is considered in the plans. I believe there are significant opportunities here for councillors to deconflict cyclists and pedestrians and to make the progress of cyclists safer, these range from some white paint to indicate the path cyclists should take though the site, though losing a car parking space at the downstream end of the site and allowing cyclists to proceed diagonally between the road and the hailingway to my preferred option of co-ordinating this work with an improvement of the signage of the cycleways on the roads/pavements in the immediate area creating continuous cycleways up and downstream.

I strongly reject the committee’s line on this that is minor work involving no substantial changes. This misses the point that there is an opportunity here to improve the area.

I note that the north area committee decided to consult the Cambridge Cycling Campaign on these works in September 2007, but this was apparently either simply ignored by officers or the decision was reversed by Chair’s action. It is absolutely shocking that even though these works are on a national cycle route the Cambridge Cycle Campaign or Sustrans have not been consulted.

There has been no official site notice posted. I feel the plan to post a site notice announcing work is to commence and asking people not to park on the site and making this the first official notice many users of the area will have of the proposed works is awful. I think a site notice should have gone up when the scheme was first proposed. This is something I would support for other environmental improvement projects too.

Have the Cam Conservators responded to the consultation yet? Do the Cam Conservators have to give formal permission before these works can go-ahead, and if so have they given this permission? (If not why not? – Does the Environment Agency permission overrule the need for authorisation from the conservators?)

I have asked Cllr Armstrong for a copy of OCRA’s submission, she told me on the 1st of October: “I have not received anything from Mr Bond. I will of course forward anything on to you when I receive it.” I suggest that the current plan, along with the OCRA and Conservator’s comments ought be distributed to councillors (and made available to the public with the meeting’s papers) so that it can be reviewed at the meeting.

More on this subject:

Minuting of the Discussion of Stop and Account at the Last Meeting

At the last meeting I asked a question about the way the police run their Stop and Account procedure in the North Area in a manner contrary to PACE code A.

My question and its answer were appallingly badly minuted, I have made my own record of what was said available, the most important omissions and errors are:

- All five or so councillors who spoke, spoke in favour of some sort of record of stops being made.
- I did not describe the PACE guidelines as the police’s own rules.
-There is no mention of the fact County Cllr Wilkins is a member of the Police Authority. This is important as when he spoke he said members of the police authority were kicking themselves for not spotting the abolition of the stop and account form earlier and failing to act on it. He also promised to follow up the fact that the abolition of the form has continued beyond the trial period.
- Inspector Hutchinson accepted that the police had got it wrong when they unilaterally abandoned the stop and account form with out following the due process.
-The Inspector said the decision to act in this way was taken by the Chief Constable. This could become of national importance if she turns out to genuinely be in the running for commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
-The Inspector confirmed that even though the trial was over the form had not been reintroduced. (Mr Wilkins indicted that was news to him)
-”Airwave” has been mis-written as “Airway”
-The Inspector outlined the current procedure involving radioing in a record of the stop and making a note in the officer’s notebook of the person stopped’s self defined ethnicity. The minutes though only state: “Currently, minimal details are recorded in the Officer’s notebook.”, this is accurate but incomplete.
-Cllr Ward’s anecdote about a group of youths playing football being asked to account for their actions by the police and requesting forms was not minuted.
It would have been useful to minute this anecdote as it shows:
i/ Many people are aware of their rights when they are stopped and asked to account for their actions by the police; consequently when a record is not made people reasonably wonder why.
ii/ While the Inspector stated the forms are not in use in the area; Sgt. Wragg’s statements to me during a ward based police consultative meeting, and Cllr Ward’s anecdote suggest that the forms are still being produced when a person asks for one.
iii/It also shows that any form of record keeping is made harder when a large group is stopped collectively – something I have suggested the police authority consider when they deliberate over what the future protocol in Cambridgeshire should be.

Reporting Chair’s Actions to the Committee and Including them in the Minutes

Cllr Armstrong was invited, as chair of the North Area Committee, to a special meeting to discuss the lottery bid for proposed work on Jesus Green. The existence of this ad-hoc committee was announced by Cllr Julie Smith at the West Central Area committee on the 18th of September. The purpose of the meeting was to advise Executive Cllr Smith before she signed off on the final lottery bid document. I think that this was clearly something the chair was asked to do in her role as chair between meetings, as such I believe her actions in relation to it should be reported to the committee. Specifically I would like to know what representations Cllr Armstrong made to Cllr Smith on behalf of residents and councillors from the North of Cambridge.

Another Chair’s action which I thought might take place between the last North Area Committee meeting and this one was for Cllr Armstrong to receive representations from the Old Chesterton Residents Association (OCRA) on the proposed Penny Ferry works and decide whether to alter the plans in light of them or not. I am shocked see from the Environmental Improvements Programme report to this meeting that representations from OCRA have been received and incorporated into the plans, given that Cllr Armstrong has, by email to me, denied receiving any such representations.

I am suggesting that the chair be asked to report her chair’s actions to the meeting so they can be discussed and recorded.

Jesus Green Proposals

Jesus Green borders the North Area, and many residents of the North of Cambridge use and travel though the area regularly. Two North area councillors, Blair and Armstrong, have been involved a one-off commitee set up to advise Executive councillor Julie Smith when she was asked to approve the lottery bid for proposed works on the green. In relation to this I would like to ask:

i/ What was the committee’s advice to Cllr Smith?
ii/ Was a bid document submitted in advance of the deadline?
iii/ The final bid document has not been made available online; I have also asked for a copy and not received it. Could the document be made available.
iv/ Could we have a brief update on the contents of the bid, focusing on how it changed in response to the consultation, addressing specifically:
a)The proposed cycle “bridge”.
b)The number and size of proposed kiosks.
c)The new tree avenue.
d)The adventure play / aerial runways.
e)The amount of grass to be lost to concrete.

Cllr Blair chaired this ad-hoc meeting to advise Cllr Smith; why did she not ensure the time and place of the meeting was publicised? Why did she not ensure the agenda, minutes and papers were made available online as is usual for council committee meetings?

Repeatedly officers have stated that a main route of councillor involvement in the Jesus Green proposals has been through councillors attending meeting of the Jesus Green Association. Do any councillors from the North of Cambridge attend Jesus Green Association meetings?

Why did the August North Area committee discus the Jesus Green proposals? (I had emailed my local councillors suggesting this be discussed prior to the August meeting, and would have raised it myself if I had not been limited to one question).

Powers to Stop Cyclists given to City Rangers

Inspector Hutchinson, speaking at the West/Central Area committee on the 18th of September announced that City Council Rangers had been given the power to stop cyclists.

I would like to know if and when councillors were involved in the decision to give what I believe would generally be considered policing powers to City council staff.

How are local residents and visitors supposed to know they have to stop for a City Ranger? Have the powers been publicised? Have the rangers been issused with any sort of badges or maybe black pointy helmets with chrome bits to identify them as “police”? Will these newly empowered Rangers be getting whistles? Where will this slippery slope end?

Streetlight Defect Reporting

The phone number listed on all Cambridgeshire’s lampposts – 0800 253529 – has had no answering machine working out of hours over the last three weekends.

I have raised this problem before at a North Area committee. I think there’s a clear need for a system where the answer machine “picks up” if no one answers the call within a certain number of rings. Perhaps the current system relies on a person to turn the answer machine on at the end of the day and staff are not doing this and there is a need for automation to increase reliability.

Buying a PA system

You will be considering providing the money for a PA system to the “Not Quite Over the Hill Club”. Would it be better to offer the Arbury Community Centre this money so they can buy a PA system to make available to all who use the centre? Perhaps on the understanding the “Not Quite Over the Hill Club” get first refusal.

On the subject of PA systems, could the council confirm that a suitable and working PA system for use at the remembrance Sunday ceremony will be made available for use?

Cycling Crackdown

Police, using whistles, are cracking down on illegal and anti-social cycling in the city centre of Cambridge.

There is a lot of dangerous and illegal cycling in Cambridge which I would support the police tackling – particularly cycling without lights on busy roads which is a danger to cyclists and drivers. However this current crackdown is focused right in the city centre, whereas I think the biggest danger is those cycling on the main roads without lights. I think students cycling in the city centre are easy targets, and focusing police attention there alone is inappropriate. I would like to see the police also tackling those riding without lights on the main roads in the north of the city, I think this is where they are a greater danger and nuisance.

I think the use of the whistles is great and very British. If the police can keep their fixed penalty notices in their pockets and just issue friendly words of advice and cycle maps to errant cyclists, as we have seen PC Steve Hinks do in front of press and TV cameras this week, there’s a good chance Cambridgeshire Police will leave a positive impression with those who they stop under this scheme.

Other Problems With The Minutes

-There is no record of the decision made at the last meeting to limit members of the public to one question each. I have been campaigning against this decision and that is made more difficult for me when there is no written record of it being made in the first place. My primary comments are:
i/ There is no provision for a follow-up question, or a chance to comment on any response received from councillors, in this way the new rules for the North Area Committee are more restrictive than those for all other council meetings.
ii/ I believe there should be an opportunity for members of the public to comment on both policing and other local issues. I do not think people should have to choose between contributing to the policing elements of these meetings and asking questions of their councillors.
iii/ The new rules have not been published, so it is not clear for those coming to the meetings what they are.

-Cllr Ward is minuted as declaring his interest as a conservator. I think Cllr Nimmo-Smith also declared this interest (though perhaps he is a different class of member of the conservators?). When were declarations of interest taken, at 19.30?

-The fact the Penny Ferry plans were not brought to the meeting was not recorded. This is the second time this has happened. Recording it in the minutes would enable councillors and the public to highlight officer incompetence.

-Under the policing item there was a discussion about the recent use of the police helicopter and many police officers in Chesterton to catch two dogs on the loose, the Inspector tried to defend this apparent disproportionate response by the police. This was a significant event, the police response to which got press coverage for its questionable proportionally. I think the fact it was raised along with the police’s response ought to have been minuted.

-Cllr Upstone elucidated some fascinating statements from the police Inspector on the subject of cycle crime none of which were minuted, for example the Inspector said the police did not believe there was any organised/bulk element to cycle thefts in Cambridge: “there is no white van full of bikes leaving the city every week”. And when asked how the police plan to tackle the problem the Police Inspector said he would be asking the council’s refuse collectors, who he said go into people’s back gardens to collect bins, to let them know if they see large numbers of bikes in back gardens. This was all left unminuted.

2 comments/updates on “Suggestions in Advance of the October 2008 North Area Committee

  1. Richard Article author

    Updates :
    The fact City Rangers are stopping cyclists is confirmed by bullet point three on page ten of the latest West/Central Neighborhood Profile.

    The Cambridge cycling campaign have confirmed their “County Cycling Officer” has “not been made aware of these proposed works” to the Penny Ferry Car park and hailingway.

  2. Richard Article author

    I have noticed another error in the minutes:

    It was the Old Chesterton Residents Association, not the East Chesterton Residents Association who requested sight of the latest plans for the Penny Ferry / Hailingway works.

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