I attended the West Central Area Committee on Thursday 18th of September, primarily to comment on a bid to the Lottery which the council is submitting to part-fund work on Jesus Green.
The meeting was chaired by Cllr Rod Cantrill as the usual chair, Simon Kightley was absent.
Cllr Cantrill decided to alter the running order and make-up of the agenda substantially, he decided to deal with Jesus Green, and Midsummer Common first, making them part of the “Open Forum”. This had two consequences, one was that councillors were not asked to declare their interests until after these items had been considered, though Cllr Rosenstiel volunteered the fact that he is a member of the Campaign for Real Ale which organises an annual beer festival on Jesus Green. The other was that it provided cover for the fact the Friends of Midsummer Common (FoMC) had been able to put an item on the agenda. I was shocked by the presence of this item, and cannot see why this organisation should have direct access to council agendas in this way. At the very least I think a councillor “sponsoring” the agenda item, who supported its inclusion should have been named.
The discussion started with Jesus Green. There were three public speakers, Mr Bond, me, and John Coooper. Mr Cooper is the chair of the Jesus Green Association.
Mr Cooper made the following points:
- He urged councillors to ensure that maintenance of the green did not stop due to the possibility at some point in the future of lottery money. This was a point I had raised during the consultation and had discussed with officers, it is particularly applicable to the toilets which in my view are in urgent need of renovation. I was slightly concerned that Sarah Tovell, the council officer responsible for the consultation, commented to be before the meeting that it might have been the case that the response to the consultation showed no public demand for toilets on Jesus Green, especially as there are toilets nearby on Chesterton Road and on Midsummer Common. I hope she engaging in purely hypothetical thoughts.
- On behalf of the JGA he opposed the creation of the new tree lined path, citing the primary reason as being that it broke up the expanse of green space, he also noted that there was no desire line in the grass, no evidence that many people actually want to walk that way.
- He expressed opposition to the new kiosk and cafe buildings being two stories, suggesting they should be only one story high
- He generally, but not completely opposed the piazza; a position I interpreted as not wanting it to be too big and not to result in loosing too much grass.
- He opposed the cycle bridge, in its current incarnation, but did not object in principle to a better river crossing for cyclists
Mr Bond spoke opposing the current cycle bridge on the grounds that much more indepth consultation was required. He supported de-conflicting pedestrians and cyclists and thought this was best done though two entirely separate bridges.
When I spoke I tried to cover the following points:
- I am concerned that there has not been enough Councillor involvement in the whole process of putting this bid together. The reason I councillors ought to have got more involved was to prevent the interest groups such as the JGA, the Swimmers, the Boaters, the teenagers who were paid for their views having a disproportionate say.
- Expanding on my criticism of councilor’s lack of involvement I recounted how I attended the exhibition on the green asking if the plans and consultation responses will be put before councillors prior to the bid being submitted, her reply indicated they would not be. This concerned me, particularly as she implied a main route for councillor involvement was via the Jesus Green Association, which is not an open, democratic and representative organisation.
- Dangerously for a public meeting of the West Central Area committee I dared use Cllr Hipkin’s exchange with me as an example of how councillors were poorly informed and not engaged with this project. I made clear I was not personally critising Mr Hipkin who I generally support, but pointed out he had not realised that the project is to be 1/4 funded by the City Council, and had justified his and his fellow councillors lack of formal involvement by saying different approaches could be acceptable “where a project does not entail council expenditure”.
- This isn’t just about the money. It is about protecting, preserving, managing and modernising one of the City’s greatest assets – Jesus Green.
- I noted we were promised details of how council officers have altered the plans as a result of suggestions received during the consultation. Where are those details? I asked why we had not got a piece of paper in front of us, or available online which is the bid as it is now following the consultation so we can comment on that. I asked if such a document would be made available to the public before the bid is submitted, or if the first, and only person to see the final bid document would be Executive Cllr Julie Smith when she is asked to rubber stamp it.
- I told the meeting that at the full council meeting last week, as at this meeting the summary of comments was only available on a display board, there was no version printed on paper or online which I am sure would be easier formats for councillors, members of the public, the press, Jesus Green Association and other groups to work with.
- One of the main comments made by the JGA has been to express concern about concreting or tarmacing over more of the green area. “£2 million buys an awful lot of concrete” being something I’ve heard the chair of the JGA say more than once. I was surprised to see this point of view did not make the summary of comments given significant groups have made it; when I pointed it out the officer with the display, who had manned the displays on Jesus Green said he was surprised too.
- I asked the question – Is the proposed new cycle bridge in or out of the bid?
- I said I support a wider bridge or a new cycle bridge over the river at Jesus Green; this would need to be integrated with an improved crossing for cyclists over Chesterton Road. I noted the cycle bridge will join the crossing on Chesterton Road which is one of the city’s top accident blackspots. I suggested much more detailed, specific consultation on the bridge and its effects on Chesterton Road would be needed before a bridge was built, perhaps there’s even an opportunity for a proper remodelling and removing the blackspot. That’s going to take a lot more than a small slice of a £2 million budget. Bear in mind the Riverside bridge cost more than the total for this bid and the bridge is only a fraction of the proposed works.
In response to the comments officers were unable to confirm categorically anything was in or out of the bid. They were able to talk about the generalities of the consultation responses, confirming for example that there was lots of opposition to the creation of a new path and avenue of trees, but while they said the consultation results would be taken into account they did not go further than that.
The officers stated that the intention was to produce a document summarising the consultation responses, and said that the draft bid document, which they described as a “live document” would be made available to anyone who asked for it. (I have since, on the day of submission, requested a copy but not received one).
Officers confirmed that many councillors had attended Jesus Green association meetings and had had input to the plans there. I note these are not public meetings and it is no substitute for councillors considering the plans in public at proper council meetings.
Councillor Juile Smith arrogantly commented that my observation that councillors had not been properly involved in the process was an odd one, the kind of comment she would expect to come from a councillor. She did not appear to be able to grasp that other people might be perturbed by a lack of democratic input.
Perhaps in response to my calls for wider councillor involvement executive Councillor Juile Smith announced she would be convening a special ad-hoc committee to advise her before she signed off on the bid, the committee to be comprised of:
- Cllr Blair (Chair of the Community Services Scrutiny Committee)
- Cllr Walker (Labour Spokesperson on the Community Services Scrutiny Committee)
- Cllr Armstrong (Chair of the North Area Committee)
- Cllr Knightly (Chair of the West Central Area Committee)
- And of course Cllr Julie Smith (Executive Councillor for Arts and Entertainment) to receive the advice in person
The officers stated that there had never been any chance of a cycle bridge being included in the scheme as it is outside the scope of the lottery funding criteria. I think it was a despicable waste of public money and of lots of people’s time including the bridge in the plans in the first place.
Before the meeting, Sarah Tovell, told me that this was just the first stage of the bid process and that, if successful there is another stage to come, with more detailed plans. The whole process will be a slow one, with no chance of work commencing before mid-2010.
Cllr Hipkin pointed out that there would be an opportunity for councillors to review aspects of the plans when they come before planning meetings. (I had previously pointed out to him that this may be too late, as then you can only say yes or no, now is the time to shape the proposals).
Midsummer Common – Impact of Events
The Friends of Midsummer common presented a paper to the meeting outlining how the events on the common caused a nuisance to local residents.
The Friends of Midsummer common’s new chair Dick Baxter was invited to address the meeting from alongside the chair, unlike other members of the public who did so from the public seating area. I am worried about this special relationship with the council this small interest group / residents association appears to have. While Mr Baxter attempted to present FoMC as a moderate organisation, not opposed to the principle of events on the common, his organisation’s constitution does still state their objective is:
to ensure events have minimal impact and cause no nuisance to local residents
I believe “no nuisance” is unattainable, and these people will never be happy if they maintain this extreme position as their aim.
Clearly the drug dealing, urination and defecation in people’s gardens and vandalism associated with the events on the common is unacceptable. Mr Baxter suggested the Strawberry Fair should close early at say 19.30 and ought be fully fenced event with access controlled. I oppose both of these suggestions which I believe would would totally change the nature of the event.
Martin Twiss, the chair of the Strawberry Fair spoke to the meeting. He defended criticism from Mr Baxter that the date of the 2009 event had been announced despite according to Mr Baxter not having permission from the City Council to go-ahead by explaining how the date is set – it’s always on the first Saturday in June. Martin Twiss passed around photographs showing the effectiveness of the fair’s litter picking. Mr Twiss also rejected Mr Baxter’s claim that the toilet provision was six times too few according what Mr Baxter claimed he had been told by a toilet contractor on the site. Mr Twiss stated the provision was in line with that recommended by “The Purple Guide” – The Event Safety Guide produced by the Health and Safety Executive (It’s recommendation 518 if anyone’s looking for it).
The councillors present admitted that they were to some degree at fault with respect to some of the fair’s problems. They had promised to make the city council’s “pee pods” available to the fair but didn’t. They also suspend rubbish collection from the bins on the common during the period of the fair. Both of which they said will be corrected for 2009. There was also discussion around licensing with councillors noting that local stores were stocking up on large quantities of cheap alcohol for fair goers to purchase. Mr Twiss said he was confident anyone drinking underage was not buying alcohol on the site, the police and councillors agreed and committed to look into better enforcement of the licensing laws with respect to nearby shops.
Inspector Hutchinson of the Police made some comments, he said there were 300 police deployed on the day of Strawberry Fair, noting this was a similar number as deployed to cover an England international football match. He noted there were 400 people given penalty notices on the day, and most of those (66%) were from outside Cambridgeshire.
This to me suggests there is no shortage of police, they just need to be managed better. All the police need to be briefed on the concerns of the local residents.
A decision on if the fair is to go-ahead next year is to be made by the council at the Services Scrutiny Committee on 13th November 2008 at 2.30pm. It was noted the council’s main point of influence was with respect to licensing, in that the council hold the license for the common and the fair operates under that license.
A member of the public, a resident of Oxford road put forward the case for traffic calming measures, or a 20 mph speed limit on the road. The resident said he and others had conducted a survey of people on the street and had a 60% response rate with 95% in favour of a 20 mph limit. Councillors noted the apparently crazy county council policy only to consider 20 mph speed limits on roads where the traffic already travels at an average of 20 mph. Councillors noted the county council is out of line with national guidance on this. County councillors present did not defend the indefensible, and Cllr Cantrill, a city councillor and the meeting’s acting chair agreed to take it up with the appropriate people at the County council.
Councillor Hipkin, an Oxford Road resident noted that there was likely to be an opportunity to revisit this later in the meeting, when the environmental improvement grants were considered.
Cllr Smith said she was also looking at reducing the speed limit from 40 to 30 mph on a stretch of Madingley Road and hitting similar problems with the county council.
Interesting items from the policing discussion included:
- Fly-tipping was minimal in Castle, whereas elsewhere in City, particularly the adjacent areas of the North of Cambridge it was very high
- The police are proposing deploying officers with whistles to stop illegal cycling in the City Centre
- A portable metal detector had been taken to pubs and clubs in the city, many thousands of people had gone through it and there had been no identification of knives or weapons
- Inspector Hutchinson stated that city rangers now had the power to stop cyclists. (When did this happen – when did councillors agree to this! What is the extent of what I believe most people would consider policing powers to which has been delegated to city rangers. How much time are city rangers spending on policing duties? )
- Cllr Julie Smith said she had had her expensive leather saddle stolen twice and asked if this was common. The Inspector said stealing bits of bikes was common in Cambridge.
The suggested policing priorities were passed unammended:
- violent crime associated with the night-time economy
- robberies (muggings) across the neighbourhood
- cycle crime across the neighbourhood
- issues surrounding anti-social use of vehicles and cycling – promoting responsible use
Three trees are to be cut down from Queens’ green – behind Queens’ college by Queens’ road. The councillors appeared to have little interest in this, the acting chair rushed the item on despite Cllr Rosenstiel having a lot to say. There was also a discussion about trees surrounding Parkers’ Piece, it was noted the trees on Parkside are, in the opinion of the Council’s Tree Officer getting towards the end of their life, and work needed to be done to the trees on the other tree lined sides to ensure the square had three well tree lined edges into the future. A line of plane trees is to be planted inside the existing trees down Parkside. It appears that a number of trees are to be felled near park terrace on the other side of Parker’s Piece to enable more consistent planting on that side. The meeting decided to accept all the, quite significant in my view, tree related works and to let interested councillors discuss and finalise the details with the officer. I hope councillors properly get to grips with the proposals and engage with officers, I am disappointed they did not do this in public.
Cllr Rosenstiel was very upset that “Mud lane lighting” had been omitted from a list of current projects. He got quite angry about this, though the acting chair assured him it had not been forgotten.
Bin storage on Round Church Street was discussed and Cllr Rosenstiel found himself banging his head against a brick wall trying to get across to officers that the Cambridge Union is a private members’ club, and not a part of the University or a “Student Union” so officers should not be surprised they were not getting responses if they were misdirecting their correspondence. This exchange did not make the official minutes.
The proposed expensive (£100 000) traffic calming of Canterbury Street was not going ahead; £10 000 of that money was allocated to explore the options for traffic calming of Oxford Road (which is in the same area as Canterbury Street).
The meeting ended with three planning decisions.
1. 2 Stratfield Close, Cambridge – Front Extension.
Councillors voted to approve this, against the officer recommendation. Cllr Rosenstiel asked how much outside permitted development this small extension was, to be told by the officer that there is no permitted development for front extensions.
Mr Hipkin commented that he felt the officer was luke warm about his own recommendation to reject the application. This provoked indignation from the planning officer present at the meeting who said she would not come and defend something she did not believe.
Councillors thought that far from detracting from the street’s appearance that there was an opportunity improve it, and noted that looking out of Stratfield Close into Tavistock Road the houses had varied fronts already. It was apparently due to all the buildings Stratfield Close itsself being similar that the officer had decided to recommend not approving this application. Councillors appeared to me to be arguing that this house shouldn’t be treated differently just because it was within Stratfield Close, they argued the house was in a line of properties extending into Tavistock Road and it was immaterial that the name of the road changed.
2. 47 Eachard Road
This is for a chalet style property (there was discussion on if it was a bungalow or a house) to be built in the garden of a property and on the site of an electricity substation.
Cllr Hipkin listed reasons for and against the application, and said as he had the same number of reasons for and against he could not make up his mind and was going to abstain:
- Site ideal for infill, and infill is needed in the city, he supports the policy to infill where possible
- The building itself is architecturally acceptable
- The current site will undoubtedly be improved as the old substation will be removed
- The street scape will be improved
- There will be a loss of trees (Cllr Smith described them “not a loss”)
- The design and siting of the proposed building was not respectful to the neighbors
- There is potential to overlook the neighbour’s garden / Loss of amenity to the neighbor’s garden – there was a suggestion the current trees and plants in the neighbours garden shielded the neighbouring properties from the proposed development. Mr Hipkin, rightly in my view pointed out that the neighbours shouldn’t have to keep their current planting in order to shield them from the proposed building.
- There was little or no garden for the proposed home
Mr Hipkin asked his fellow councillors to help him decide. Cllr Smith suggested he try and weight his arguments for and against to try and help him come to a decision. I think it is awful that he shirked his responsibilities in this way. What I think this application did show is one of the flaws of the planning process. Cllr Hipkin commented that the proposed development was not the most neighborly way a development on this site could have been proposed. The problem is that councillors can only say yes or no (and set conditions). They can’t at this stage ask the applicants to shift the proposed building away from a neighbor’s property.
Councillors approved the application by 4 votes to 0 with Mr Hipkin not voting. I wondered if the resident of the neighboring property, Dr Stephen Fennell, who spoke against the proposal had been lobbying Mr Hipkin.
3. Application to build a 4 bed house on Land adjacent 14 Bulstrode Gardens
The interesting element of this proposal is the presence of the Trinity Head Conduit which traverses the site.
Councillors asked what form the conduit took, and asked if it had any function. Unfortunately, due to the rules surrounding the planning process they were unable to take points of information from the members of the public present who could have educated them.
The planning officer told them that the conduit was not a scheduled ancient monument and therefore they had no statutory duty to consider it.
The Trinity Head Conduit is a pipe which takes water from what is now a lake behind the Madingley Road Park and ride to Trinity College’s great court, where there is a tap and the water partially feeds the fountain. The conduit was constructed in 1327.
Councillors were assured that this was not a planning matter.
Cllr Smith said she believed that this plot was only empty because when the development was built someone had bought two plots and saw no reason for not building on it. Other councillors appeared to agree and they unanimously voted to approve the application.