Not a great night for our local councillors

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Every couple of months, there’s a meeting of the elected councillors for the three wards in the south side of Cambridge (Queen Edith’s, Trumpington and Cherry Hinton). This “area committee meeting” is where planning, development, environmental and safety issues for the area are discussed and policy decisions made, and it all takes place at a local venue, open to the public to attend. In my experience, very few members of the public know that these meetings exist – and that we can come along and address our councillors – which is a shame. But enough people usually turn up to give the councillors at least some idea of what we all want.

Last night I attended the first “South Area Committee” meeting of the year, which took place in Cherry Hinton Village Centre (the next one is closer to home, in Queen Edith’s, by the way). There were 20 or 30 members of the public there, with interests in a range of the subjects being covered. However, many of them came away distinctly unimpressed, I felt.

One lady made an impassioned plea for something to be done about pedestrians and cyclists having to share a really narrow pavement in Queen Edith’s Way. Councillors listened attentively, but the response which came from the chair didn’t seem to provide any suggestions as what might be done. We were quickly moved on to the next matter, and told that the agenda had been reordered, which would turn out to be the biggest snub to the public of all.

But before that, some questions from the floor, including an eloquent enquiry asking if the councillors might consider promoting their activities, and in particular these meetings, in our local schools and colleges, to try to encourage more engagement from young people. While all the elected officials nodded in agreement, the answer came back that it was up to the schools to ask for that, and perhaps the member of the public asking the question might like to do something about it himself. Then, also on the theme of improving engagement, the councillors were asked what involvement they had with social media. The response was quite depressing – a couple said they had Twitter accounts but didn’t really use them, the rest gave the impression they thought that this sort of thing was a waste of time, as was the question. Only a County Councillor also present, Amanda Taylor, stuck her hand up and said she was active on social media and found it useful.

We then moved on to a report from a lady from the council about crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour across the city, asking for input about future priorities. Halfway through, a member of the public interrupted the item – which had been moved up the agenda – to say that, as the committee was aware, she had brought along with her a young person who wanted to make a representation about a development issue. However, because of the reordering of the agenda, the meeting hadn’t got to that part, and as it was a school night, she now had to get the young person home.

The chair of the meeting mumbled something about letting them know what had happened by email or something, and with that, one young person – who’d summoned the courage to come along and address a council meeting – left, probably thinking that the council doesn’t care in the slightest what anyone of her age thinks. Combined with the response to the social media question that made most of the councillors sound like they really were from another generation, she might be right. The only other councillor to come out of the evening with any credit in the eyes of the public present was Trumpington’s Sheila Stuart, who expressed her disappointment to the chair (and perhaps ironically, on Twitter, in her 4th tweet of the past year).

Not a great night for our local councillors. And I’m not the only one to say so.

10 Replies to “Not a great night for our local councillors”

  1. Actually – very disappointed to read some of this – and some of the comments from the Dragon Fairy who clearly states that no Councillors took him up on the offer of Social Media Training. As I stated at the meeting – I had already been contacted by residents of Queen Edith’s Way in relation to the inadequate arrangements for the dual use of the path. I brought this to the attention of County Officers and it has been put forward for future funding. I also stated at the meeting that I had recently set up a QE facebook page and twitter account but had difficulty using them. I also stated that I had responded to an email questionaire after the previous South Area answering questions relating to Social Media. Outside the meeting and in your prescence – I agreed to meet with Puffles at Balzanos for some training that he had offered. Sorry Chris – but this is not your usual standard of reporting.

  2. Sorry you’re disappointed, Sue. I’m glad something may be under way concerning the cycle paths, but that wasn’t made very clear, in my opinion. I’m pleased you’re interested in social media too, but I stand by my comments, and I didn’t think it was my place to report a private conversation about social media training.

  3. I admit we got it wrong last night in relation to the public speakers. Any of us could have challenged the chair’s decision about the young person’s contribution when the timing was first raised early in the meeting but we didn’t. I know the chair has been in touch with her today.

  4. Thanks for coming to the meeting, as well as for publicising it before and afterwards.

    In the interests of fairness, I can confirm that Sue flagged up the unsatisfactory dual use on Queen Edith’s Way at a meeting between the South Area councillors and transport officers at Shire Hall. We all agreed, and officers have undertaken to look into it. It would be premature to say what the solution would be at this stage, but it is on their to do list. I shall be asking the Cycling Team to respond to Mrs Prosser.

    There is money (a six figure sum) available from builders’ Section 106 contributions for transport projects designed to offset the negative impact of their developments, and this was one of several ideas put forward by those of us who attended (about six of us).

    On the social media question, I and others had answered Puffles’ question at the previous meeting, one reason for the paucity of responses last night. I went to one of his very illuminating social media training sessions a few years ago — Puffles got me started on Twitter really. I would recommend them to others who would like to learn about social media and how they can be deployed as a tool to represent people.Just one of many tools; the old-fashioned knock on the door and printed leaflets are still the best, though much more labour-intensive.

  5. Not about last night’s meeting, but there was a laconic reply from the Guildhall when I emailed to complain about the wrecking of the grass verge on the south side of Babraham Road between nos. 4 – 12 caused by the newspaper delivery DRIVING daily down the grass to deliver papers to several houses. I’m sure this is illegal but I don’t know the firm concerned. Apart from that, the muddy state of verge and pavement is becoming dangerous and slippery. The reply from the Guildhall was to contact the Cambridge Evening News!

  6. Amazing. I’m not sure when the Cambridge Evening News became our democratic representatives, Rosemary. That one passed me by. This is exactly the type of thing you should contact either our Queen Edith’s city councillors or county councillor about. They all have a good record of doing their best to respond to residents’ concerns like this.

  7. I’m following up Rosemary’s report. It is a Cambridge News deliverer so they may have some responsibility but I will also check it from an enforcement point of view.
    I suspect its a difficult one legally, verges usually are.

  8. Thanks for reporting my comments Chris. Amanda was indeed at the same meeting where I raised the issue of Queen Edith’s Way – and she supported my comments. As she says the solution is a way off – but it is on the list to be addressed. My recollection is that all the QE Councillors made a contribution to that discussion – particularly around the topic of the grass verges – as making better provision for dual use might involve considering verge removal. I would also point out – that I did respond at the public meeting that QE Labour have both a twitter account and a facebook account but that I had not kept them up to date as a resource issue. I have now had some very interesting discussions around social media and am meeting Puffles later next week. I think the role that the Cambridge bloggers take in reporting on, and questioning local government is vital in democracy and we are very lucky to have you, Puffles and Richard Taylor to take this on – but please – make it accurate and fair.

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