Friends of Coldhams Common inaugral meeting 19/11/12

Friends of Coldhams Common held a very animated meeting was held on Monday 19 November at Ross Street Community Centre to discuss the formation of the group to directly protest against the City Council’s behaviour in fencing and gating the Barnwell Road side for grazing.

The 26 local residents and users of the common, who attended, expressed deep concern about the effects upon their and others access and enjoyment of this very well-used open space.  In particular newly erected gates had made access across the site for disabled or less abled people extremely difficult, and the presence of cows would exclude many present users with children and prams from using the site at all. This site was indeed the only natural land left in Cambridge free from cows

Cllrs Richard Johnson, Labour (Abbey) and Paul Saunders Lib Dem (Romsey ) also attended the meeting to listen to views.  Even Cllr Johnson agreed that the gates made crossing the area difficult with his bicycle, whilst going to and fro in the city.

Cllr Johnson was concerned that the removal of fencing would also mean the removal of the local nature reserve[LNR] [1] designation, but it was made clear that the two were not mutually dependant, and that indeed the purpose of the LNR is to bring people and wildlife together not exclude them as the present management will.

The meeting tried to understand why the fencing had been erected discontinuously without being able to contain cows on the railway line and Barnwell Road, had been erected back to front, and how funds would be available to maintain it [3].  However it was agreed that it was impossible to rationalise the illogical, but that nevertheless the council should be asked to explain their actions more fully in the hope that some insight might be possible.  Cllr Johnson noted the differences of opinions between those from the community present in the room and those given to him by officers.

However the complete lack of consultation by the council prior to the works taking place was universally condemned, and furthermore if proper consultation has taken place many of the schoolboy errors in the £64 000 [2] project would have been prevented. 

It was clear that the council had to adhere to the permission granted to it by the Secretary of State, and that much of the work did not at present appear to comply with this or Disability Discrimination legislation.  Similarly how the council had obtained permission for camping, shops and catering vans for the Folk Festival on the local nature reserve was also unclear.

It was emphasised that the group wished to support the council in best managing the area, but the necessity of fencing was queried and its removal was called for.  It was asked whether using other options such as mowing might be simpler and better suited to the site.  The mismanagement of other areas of the common, e.g. serious thistle infestations, was viewed as evidence of need for further input from the considerable community knowledge present to better manage the site for future.

The group agreed to form the Friends of Coldhams Common to protect the common and engage with the council, and elected Pat White to chair.  Pat thanked roundly those who had given up time to attend and hoped that with their great effort something more positive could be achieved. She especially asked for signatures on the petition, which now number over 100.

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Notes for uninitiated

[1] Local Nature Reserve.  This is a designation made by a local authority in agreement with Natural England under the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.  The intended purpose of the powers in this act was to allow people to “…derive great pleasure from the peaceful contemplation of nature.” 

Natural England ( http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/designations/lnr/default.aspx ) state that such sites are “for both people and wildlife. They offer people special opportunities to study or learn about nature or simply to enjoy it.”

[2] Under FOI request the council [e-mail Guy Belcher 5/10/12 ] revealed that the original budget appraisal in 2010 was £35 000 had been spent on the fence and a further £27 000 on the designation and other works.  The works consist of 963m of fence, 3 field gates and an ever increasing number of kissing gates, last standing at 13.

[3] Under FOI the council revealed that it has no set budget for works on Coldhams Common.

[4] The next meeting of the Friends of Coldhams Common is scheduled for 17 December at 7.30.

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