Thrifts Walk, Chesterton Cambridge

Montage of Photos of Thrifts Walk in Cambridge, showing the state of the road surface, the gas lamp and trees.
Residents of Thrifts Walk, Chesterton lobbied Cambridge City Council’s North Area committee on the 9th of October 2008, asking for public money from the environmental improvements budget to be spent upgrading their private road.

A proposal was submitted by Mr P.K.C. White, for and on behalf of the Residents of Thrift’s Walk. Mr White proposed that:

Probably the most sensible way forward would be to re-visit the proposal prepared by Andy Thompson at the Planning Department in 1998 (copies of which are still held on file). This put forward a scheme, which gave the Walk a truly permanent, durable surface, and at the same time contributed to the character and village style of the area. This involved the use of either new or reclaimed granite setts.

The proposal was uncosted.

Cambridge City Council’s Senior Engineer, John Isherwood was present at the meeting to advise councillors on all the environmental improvement schemes being considered.

Mr Isherwood said he had visited Thrifts Walk earlier in the day, he was of the opinion that any work to simply add a surface to the road would not last; he warned it would crack as the material below expanded and contracted as it alternated between being waterlogged and dry.

Councillors asked Mr Isherwood for an estimate of how much it would cost to bring the road up to the standard where it could be adopted by the county council’s highway’s department he replied that it would cost: “hundreds of thousands of pounds”. Councillors, including the committee’s chair councillor Armstrong queried this and Mr Isherwood confirmed his estimate.

On hearing the “hundreds of thousands of pounds” estimate Cllr Levy responded: “Well that’s Game Over then”. Councillors explained they didn’t have the budget for that kind of work, saying they only had £120 000 per year for all the improvement schemes in the North of Cambridge.

Mr Isherwood stated that he had written an additional note, further to the report which was circulated with the agenda, which he had made available to councillors. This additional information was not made available to the public. I will be asking for its disclosure, suggesting it is included in the minutes and recommending in future such notes are made available to the public at the meeting. Mr Isherwood also told councillors that their report on the North Area’s environmental improvement schemes had been written by Dinah Foley-Norman the council’s “principle landscape architect”. This contradicted the report itself which listed its author as being the council’s “Head of Policy and Projects”, who is Brian Human, I will be asking for a clarification on this point, including asking if previous reports to the committee which have been presented by Dinah Foley-Norman were written by her or the “Head of Policy and Projects” who is usually listed as the author.

Cllr Blair stated that the scheme: “ticked lots of boxes”, by which she meant it met many of the eligibility criteria for environmental improvement grants. Specifically she drew attention to the fact it was visible from the road and so in her opinion met the criteria that: “schemes should be publicly visible and accessible.” I note that not all of Thrifts Walk is visible from the public highway as it has a bend in it.

Cllr Blair read out a small section of correspondence she had received from the Old Chesterton Residents association which stated they would like to see the conservation area [in the Church Street area] extended to include Thrifts walk.

Cllr Ward spoke to say that all the residents of Thrifts Walk had bought their houses in the full knowledge of the fact the road was private and they would have to maintain it themselves. He said the prices they paid for their houses would have reflected that. He also noted that if some of the damage was being done by the city council’s refuse vehicles as suggested in Mr White’s submission to the committee, then he felt the residents should count themselves lucky, as residents of other private roads which have deteriorated have to take their bins out to the public street.

Mr Isherwood commented that if the road was to be brought up to an adoptable standard then that would inevitably result in some loss in the character of the road, for example he said the Gas Light (The street retains a working gas street lamp!) would have to be lost.

Cllr Nimmo-Smith said that he would have liked to have seen a range of costed options for different schemes.

Mr White spoke and tried to remind councillors that the proposal he was bringing to the meeting on behalf of residents was not aimed at bringing the road up to an adoptable standard. Much of the discussion had been on that point.

Mr Isherwood asked councillors if they were minded to make funds available for City Council officers to investigate the possibilities and draw up plans, councillors declined to do this and left it up to the residents.

The prospect of part funding works was raised and Mr White was invited to bring back costed plans to a future North Area Committee, getting the item on the agenda via a councillor who the chair suggested should be Cllr Blair. Cllr Ward warned Mr White that even if he and his fellow residents spent money on consultants putting together plans and a quote there was no guarantee funding would be forthcoming. Cllr Blair told Mr White this meant there was a chance the project would receive funding.

Mr White’s submission stated:

10 years ago … Through a contribution of £1000 from each household, a local contractor was engaged to excavate and re-surface, install a basic drainage system, and block pave the entrance and a turning area, at a cost of about £15 000.

That work has proved highly effective, but the main stretch of the Walk which was not paved, has already begun to deteriorate, and last winter saw a dramatic breaking up in several places.

I disagree with Mr White here, and note the turning area paving has deteriorated in the manner which Mr Isherwood warned would occur if surface only works were carried out.

The area at the far end of the walk, away from the High Street has trees in the “roadway” I expect this would pose a particular challenge if it was to be adopted.

I note the gas lamp has a numbered sticker on it, and wonder if it is maintained by the taxpayer in the same way as other streetlights despite it being on a private road. I am intrigued to find out if an exception has been made and why.

My personal opinion is that the residents should freely be given the full co-operation of the relevant people in the City and County council to help them work together, draw up plans and identify appropriate contractors. They have already had free advice from Mr Isherwood. I believe funding for works should come from those who benefit, the owners of the property on Thrifts Walk who will see the value of their assets rise as a result. If the council was asked to pay a part contribution of a small number of home owners who genuinely could not afford their share that might be acceptable. I would suggest writing to those concerned ensuring they know their contribution had been paid using public money and inviting a voluntary repayment when possible eg. when the house is sold.

7 responses to “Thrifts Walk, Chesterton Cambridge”

  1. Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways team has written to me to say:

    Yes we are responsible for maintain[ing] that light in Thrifts Walk. We’re hoping in the near future that we can replace it, we are currently waiting to see if this is possible.

  2. I have today, following a request to the Council, received a copy of the report made by the Council’s Senior Engineer, John Isherwood on Thrifts Walk.  This report was made for councillors at the October 2008 North Area Committee meeting, but not made public at that time. I have suggested this report is incorporated into the official minutes. 

    The relevent contents of this report are below:


    Thrifts Walk – Additional information

    • The residents’ submission catalogues a series of partial improvements and repairs to an unadopted road, none of which have provided a long-term solution to the problems of surface deterioration.
    • Thrifts Walk is very close to the river and is constructed on relatively recent river deposits which will comprise mixed gravels, sands and clays. Such materials can never provide a satisfactory constructional base for a road which will not require regular remedial repairs.
    • As indicated in the residents’ submission, Thrifts Walk was designed to carry foot and horse-drawn traffic; it is wholly unsuited in its present form to motor traffic of any kind. Regular use by the residents’ lighter vehicles will have, cumulatively, an equally damaging effect upon the unmade surface as its weekly use by refuse collection vehicles.
    • The Highway Authority prescribes strict constructional standards for residential roads which are to be adopted for maintenance at public expense. These standards are specifically designed to accommodate regular light motor traffic as well as occasional heavy vehicles.
    • The cost of making up Thrifts Walk to adoptable standards has not been calculated, either by the residents or by officers, but will inevitably be very substantial indeed.
    • Any proposal to improve Thrifts Walk which would not comply with the Highway Authority’s standards for adoption will, by definition, not provide a solution which will relieve residents of the need to regularly maintain the road and, by implication, their need to return to the City Council to request further financial assistance.
    • In making their decision as to whether to support this proposal Members may wish to give particular consideration to the following eligibility criteria :
      • Schemes should have a direct, lasting and noticeable improvement to the appearance of a street or area.
      • Schemes must account for future maintenance costs.
      • ‘Partnership’ funding.
      • Benefit for a large number of people.

    Recommendation: North Area Committee are asked to consider this project in the light of the long-term durability of the scheme and the eligibility criteria.

  3. I attended the North Area Committee on the 2nd of July where a resident of Thrift’s walk attended to thank the committee for its contribution to resurfacing the private road.

    He reported that many residents had also tidied up their own property to aid the improvement of the area.

    He invited all councillors to a street party to celebrate the completion of the works. Many councillors indicated they would attend.

    Cllr Blair said that she would be putting it on her expenses; suggesting she was going to try and pay for the party with public money! Cllr Boyce asked if she meant the hospitality register, which she presumably did.

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