On the 28th of October 2010 I attended Cambridge City Council’s West Central Area Committee.
- Councillors approved a number of new projects, including a portable sandpit for beach volleyball, to be investigated by council officers with a view to spending S.106 development taxes on them. I think spending these taxes, which are a one-off cash injection to the city associated with the city’s expansion, on items which will not have a permanent impact is grossly reckless and irresponsible on the part of the Liberal Democrats running the city. They are making a mistake the city will suffer from for very many decades. The taxes hit those trying to find a place to live in the city, if they are to be raised at all I think they ought be spent only on projects directly associated with development (for projects without which planning permission would not be given), and on permanent assets such as roads, or new green space.
- Councillors approved their minutes without addressing a mismatch between what priorities the police thought councillors set at the last meeting and what the minutes of the meeting say councillors did.
- County Councillor Whitebread reported that the county council’s latest gritting plan for a situation where grit stocks run low involves no gritting at all within Cambridge’s inner ring road.
- Cllr Brooks Gordon reported on progress with her campaign to reduce the speed limit on Huntingdon Road to 30 MPH all the way from near Girton College into the city. She said that the cabinet member responsible for making the decision had agreed to support the decision to be made at a site meeting to be attended by local city and county officers and councillors. (My view is that decisions like these ought be made in public at formal council meetings, not by informal gatherings at the side of the road!)
My Intended Contribution
I arrived at the meeting over ten minutes early and submitted a public question. I sought clarification on two aspects of minutes being put to the committee to approve. I wanted clarification on the police and councillor’s disagreement over what police priorities were set; and I sought to highlight the proposed timetable for action on the Midsummer Common / Jesus Green tree planting had been omitted from the minutes of the special West/Central Area committee held to discuss those proposals. I was not permitted to make these points while councillors considered the minutes.
During the open forum I was able to request an update on the Jesus Green / Midsummer Common planting work, and asked why the timetable (which had been omitted from the minutes) had slipped. Cllr Cantrill, as he usually does, didn’t answer my question, despite having it put to him again, for a second time by the meeting’s chair. The timetable councillors had approved stated the council would start following the tree protocol with respect to the proposals during October but this didn’t happen.
The open forum section of the meeting was curtailed after 30 minutes had elapsed despite a large number of members of the public being present seeking to question councillors. I think area committees would be better value for money if they were more focused on public questions.
Midsummer Common Tree Planting
On Midsummer Common tree planting, Cllr Cantrill reported that a consultation with North Terrace and Brunswick Cottages residents was to start on Monday. The Friends of Midsummer Common, and others, urged Cllr Cantrill (as I had done at the previous, special West/Central area committee) to only give appropriate weight to these specific residents’ views and not in-effect to leave the decision on what gets planting on the south side of the common up to them. The consultation is to involve a meeting on the common; the Friends of Midsummer Common asked if they could attend. Cllr Cantrill firmly ruled it would not be a public meeting, but agreed to extend an invitation to two delegates selected by the the Friends of Midsummer Common to allow them to observe the meeting.
Cllr Cantrill stuck to his view that new tree planting does not have to be consulted on under the city council’s tree protocol. He told the meeting that aspects of the tree works plans which are not subject to the tree protocol would go-ahead in the middle of the month (November). I heckled and pointed out that at the previous meeting officers had given a clear assurance that no trees were exempt from the tree protocol, and that the the tree protocol covered both new planting as well as felling. Cllr Cantrill denied this was the case. (Judge for yourself – see section 9 of Cambridge City Council’s tree protocol and Video:Officer assurance no trees outside tree protocol).
Member of the public Mr Higgs asked if the city council’s intent while lobbying for bags of grit to be left around the city in the case or a harsh winter was in addition to, or instead of, refilling the existing static yellow grit bins. He was assured it would be in addition, and councillors noted that the static bins were emptied very quickly this year (I don’t think they were full in the first place).
Maid’s Causeway 20mph Speed Limit
The new 20mph speed limit on Maid’s Causeway was discussed. Cllr Bick reported he had met police officer Rob Needle and had asked him two questions: 1. Can the local police enforce the speed limit? 2. Will they?
The answer given to the first question was that some hand held speed cameras are calibrated down to 20mph, so enforcement is possible in some streets, but locations where the cameras can be used are very limited due to the geography and features of the area. (Presumably long enough sight lines are needed and road features like the bollards and crossings get in the way?).
On the second question Mr Needle put the ball firmly back in the councillor’s court saying they will enforce if speeding in this area is adopted as a priority. At the previous meeting Cllr Whitebread proposed doing setting such a priority, but received no support from her fellow councillors who appeared unwilling to go against the police’s stance that they were not enforcing the limit .
At the October meeting a member of the public expressed astonishment at the fact the police had said they were not going to enforce the law.
Cllr Bick continued to put police officer Needle’s position to the committee, by reading out an email from the police. It said the police wanted to see education, and changes to the road environment along with enforcement, and that they would not be keen on enforcement alone. The police said they want to see the county council, not them, leading on any priority to reduce speeding and said that they would like to see traffic calming, not just 20 mph signs.
Cllr Bick said he had sought a meeting with the county council officer responsible, Mr Preston, but that Mr Preston had refused to meet with him, or otherwise discus the subject.
Members of the public heckled expressing outrage at the fact a public servant, a council officer, would refuse to discuss an important matter with an elected local councillor.
Cllr Whitebread gave her version of events at the last meeting; saying that in her view it was the police who rejected the priority she proposed (apparently trying in-vain to defend her Liberal Democrat councillor colleagues even though they refused to support her suggested priority).
A member of the public suggested specific efforts to get busses to obey the speed limit. A councillor suggested this would be hard to do given the poor quality of the signage, one councillor said they had driven down the road more than ten times before noticing the speed limit signs on the entrances to the road. A number of other councillors expressed similar sentiments; the signs are positioned high up, and at a point where drivers’ attention is generally focused on other cars on the roundabouts.
Adjusting Traffic Lights for Better Traffic Flow
A member of the public asked for traffic lights to be adjusted so the pedestrian phase was not so long. He suggested particularly reviewing the Victoria Road / Stretten Avenue junction.
Cllr Zmura said that long crossing times were typically used near schools; the member of the public asked if such times could then be limited to school hours.
I am personally aware the lights at the junction are sensitive to either the traffic, or the timing, and pedestrians, and traffic from the side streets have lower priority during peak hours, however the junction is, on occasion, causing a traffic jam on Victoria Road. The possibility of reducing traffic congestion through adjustments to traffic light sequences sounds like something worth looking into to me.
Morcom Lunt used a valuable public question to ask when the police will be next attending a West/Central area committee; he suggested he had attended the meeting hoping to have input on a police priority. Mr Lunt is chairman of the Federation of Cambridge Residents Associations and if he hasn’t got to grips with how police priorities are set by councillors in the city that shows that the council really isn’t doing a good enough job at explaining how the system they’ve put in place is working. Mr Lunt wanted to ask about the speedwatch scheme where the police lend residents speed cameras, he wanted to know if it could be used to provide evidence to the police that speeding was occurring in places where the police denied there are problems. Mr Lunt was invited back to the next meeting, at which the police would be present, to put his question again. No councillors mentioned the fact the police have unobtrusive speed monitoring equipment to conduct surveys on roads allowing them to determine if there is actually a speeding problem in areas where there is a public perception of speeding. I have written to Mr Lunt drawing his attention to the police’s speed monitoring equipment, suggesting he lobbies to get that used in the areas he has reason to believe are problematic; I’ve cautioned that the exact location of the police equipment can seriously affect the results.
Cllr Julie Smith, the chair of the council’s licensing committee, spoke in response to public questions about alcohol related problems. She said that she would like to see the council making more use of the provisions allowing licence reviews, but said councillors are prohibited from initiating the process. (I’ve tweeted Cambridge MP Julian Huppert alerting him to this problem with licensing law). Cllr Smith directed those wishing to complain about a particular licensed premises to the police, who she said were able to prompt a licence review.
Cllrs decided a planning application for a new wind tunnel building at the University of Cambridge Whittle Laboratory on the West Cambridge Site. The item had been referred to councillors as the city’s “design and conservation panel” (expert appointees) had raised concerns; six of them having given the proposals a “red card”. The panel’s concerns were based on the proposals not following the West Cambridge Master Plan; planners and councillors were confused by this as the proposal is not within the West Cambridge Master Plan area. The proposal is for an aluminium clad extension to an existing building. Features on the outside of the building will reflect its function.
Cllr Smith asked how an aluminium clad building would weather; planning officers were unable to answer.
During debate a number of councillors said the West-Cambridge site was non-residential; and effectively a “science park”. Officers did not correct the factual errors.
Officers revealed the university had given the council two options; one continuing the existing boring brick building or making a building a new striking, innovative extension. Officers had guided them to the latter. I think planning law needs reform so that elected representatives can be involved in making the decision at an earlier stage, or as in this case, not simply deciding to approve or reject but selecting between options.
Cllr Smith declared a personal, non prejudicial interest in the planning application at the beginning of the meeting, she participated in the debate but at the end of the debate decided not to participate in the vote as her view had changed during the discussion and she did in-fact have a prejudicial interest. Her interest is that she’s a member of, and employee of, the University. Initially she said she had no connection to engineering or the West Cambridge Site so could vote. It appears that when debate broadened into how the council ought approach planning applications from the University more generally she decided she ought step back.
In addition to approving investigating a beech volleyball court councillors decided to investigate a new regional quality skate park to be located outside Parkside Pools.
Cllr Cantrill advised councillors that a new changing facility and Diving Development Centre on the top level of the Queen Anne Terrace car park would complicate contract re-negotiations with SLM too much. Cllrs agreed with Cllr Cantrill’s assessment and rejected the proposal.
Parkour outdoor sites were debated; the possibility of providing equipment which youngsters might use to train themselves up for illegal activities was raised. The public gallery was audibly incredulous when councillors gave investigating this proposal the go-ahead.
A skate park or climbing boulders are to be investigated for Lammas Land. Cllr Cantrill spoke strongly in favour of climbing boulders somewhere in the city but said any incursion central open space on Lammas Land would not be popular with local residents.
Council officers recommended councillors didn’t put continue considering covering for skate parks/ tennis courts/ football pitches to provide covered play area for children in bad weather. Councillors accepted their officers recommendation without requesting any reasoning and without debating the point.
Cllr Bick recounted the council’s approach to picking up drug users’ needles left around the city. He said Rangers, Housing and Street Scene staff all clear up needles and the council promises any reported to it during working hours will be dealt with within two hours.
Fisher Square cycle parking (off Corn Exchange Street) at the back of the Lion Yard. A proposal to install seven cycle racks had almost got underway but councillors reported that changes to the back of the Lion Yard were anticipated and asked officers to investigate and ensure their plans were still applicable.
City Council Leader Sian Reid was absent, without explanation as was County Councillor Nethsingha. Cllr Hipkin was absent as he was reportedly on holiday and Cllr Rosenstiel arrived late
Councillors had biscuits on their table. No councillors touched any of the biscuits. At the end of the meeting, after it had formally closed, Cllr Smith asked the council’s committee manager why the biscuits were there. He replied to say he thought, when booking the room, that ordering biscuits would be a good idea.