FotoDinkyMat Zapped by Aliens?

Following our earlier excitement at the mini photo-booth on Mill Road bridge and the community’s disappointment at reports that the photo-booth had been stolen, the community has rallied round. The Cambridge Independent asked for information…

… and Tara produced a poster.

Poster –Stolen: FotoDinkyMat
If found contact Cambridge Independent
Tara’s poster

Local artist Naomi Davies offered a print of her Dinky Doors painting as a reward for information leading to the safe return of the Mill Road PhotoDinkyMat.

Photo of Naomi Davies’ painting of Cambridge’s Dinky Doors
And Maurizio Dining offered free pizza

It seems, however, that all is not quite so simple…

Wreckage of the former booth has since been found on the pavement. When our web-editor visited today, he found a crime scene, where Dinky Constabulary’s DI Wallace and his colleague DDC* Gromit (both on secondment from Aardman Constabulary) were investigating.
* (Dog Detective Constable)

DDC Gromit (left) and DI Wallace at the crime scene
The same scene viewed from the Dinky Constabulary drone

DI Wallace and DDC Gromit refused to comment on speculation that the photo-booth had succumbed to alien attack. “We are keeping an open mind, and examining all of the evidence,” said DI Wallace, “however we regard the Melt-o 3000 as highly significant.”

A close-up view of the Melt-o 3000

Three teenagers who go by the collective name of ‘The Dolly Darlings’ were “shocked” to see the damage. “We were hoping to to get a set of photos for our PASS proof-of-age cards for when the pubs reopen, just in time for our 18th birthdays,” said Joanna Darling.

The Dolly Darlings. Left to right: Virginia, Veronica and Joanna

There are further reports on this mystery by Alya Zayed Senior reporter on the Cambridge News – New Dinky Door ‘crime scene’ appears in Cambridge after artwork stolen – and – By Alex Spencer of Cambridge Independent – Dinky Doors: the FotoDinkyMat has returned.

Investigations by Dinky Constabulary continue. Whilst there is a way to contribute financially to the work of Dinky Doors, here.

FotoDinkyMat comes to Mill Road Bridge

A mysterious new Dinky Door has arrived in Cambridge – a photo booth for tiny people. Read more on the Cambridge Independent website.

Mill Road bridge’s dinky door under investigation by K9
Three photos for 3p… if you’re small enough!
Photoshop processing department. Penny Plain: Tuppence Coloured
Essential maintenance: Wallace gives the booth a wipe down…
… whilst Gromit investigates the technical department.
Wallace prepares for his passport photo
Dinky Doors artwork stolen after just four days from Mill Road bridge in Cambridge

By Alex Spencer, in the Cambridge Independent, Friday 2nd April 2021 

Since the last update of this post, doubts have arisen about what really happened to the DinkyFotoMat. Read more: FotoDinkyMat Zapped by Aliens?

Beautiful Indian stonework under threat

Former Bharat Bhavan Temple carvings in old Mill Road Library “to be taken down and skipped”

Piero, Mill Road Traders Association Ambassador, writes…

I am launching an appeal to save this beautiful carved stone being skipped.

These pictures are from the former Bharat Bhavan Temple located in the Old Library on Mill Road.

Since the County Council got it back in its possession, there has been work set in progress to restore the fabric of the building, unfortunately all this carved stone is destined to be taken down to be skipped. I feel that this a completely sacrilegious act to destroy such beautiful work.

I believe it is worth at least £80,000 as it took thousands of hours of work from many sculptors from India and was shipped all the way to Cambridge.

I am appealing to Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council to use those carved stones in a memorial, I already have in mind three locations in Mill Road where it could be placed as a memorial.

We must protect diversity and cultural identities in Mill Road. We haven’t got much time as work begins on Monday 29th March.

The cost for it to be taken down professionally and stored is only £3,000. Mill Road Traders Association can contribute part of the cost but we’d like the community to encourage the authorities to support this project. Mill Road Traders’ Association have also set up a crowdfunding page Save Bharat Bhavan carvings on Mill Road on GoFundMe with a target of £3,250.

If you would be interested in supporting us or have any questions or concerns please email millroadtraders@gmail.com.
Or phone/text/WhatsApp 07909 611 776.

Piero d’Angelico

Our Web Editor adds…
For those wishing to learn more about the background to the library, the temple and its repossession by Cambridgeshire County Council please read on and explore the links below.

The library was built by Cambridge City Council, but passed to the ‘new’ Cambridgeshire County Council under the two-tier reorganisation brought in by The Local Government Act 1972 on April Fool’s Day 1974.

Mill Road Library, from the Capturing Cambridge website

For a brief history of Mill Road Library, click the image above.


For how the reasons behind the County Council’s repossession and the current work, see Debbie Luxon’s report and Frank Gawthrop’s comments.

The 5000-strong Cambridge community fighting against eviction by Debbie Luxon, Community Reporter, Cambridge News, 12th October 2019.

The Indian community organisation that took over the library were granted a 25 year full repairing lease on a peppercorn rent in exchange for maintaining the building fabric. This building which is grade 2, listed was considered a financial liability to the County so this was seen as a zero cost way of maintaining the structure.

Unfortunately the lessees did not spend any money on external maintenance in 10 years allowing water to enter the building and cause extensive damage. The City Council which is responsible in law to ensure listed buildings do not fall into disrepair served notice on the County Council about the deteriorating state and the County sent in surveyors who have estimated the repairs to be in the region of £300,000.

The community association having had free rent declined to pay so the County obtained a court order to regain possession. They may have spent a lot of money on carved statues but they have left local council tax payers with a huge bill.

The lease was held by a company limited by guarantee. This is a fairly usual way that community groups take on financial obligations as it protects the members from any personal claims.

Having cost local tax payers in the region of £300,000 I, for one, think enough public money has been spent already on this failed project. If private individuals want to contribute that is fine and appropriate. If these carvings are valuable they are the property of the company limited by guarantee which leased the building. What are the directors doing about this?

Frank Gawthrop, on Nextdoor.

Victory for Friends of St Matthew’s Piece

Image of planning proposal, with word refused superimposed
Celebratory poster. Email Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com to request a copy of the poster to print out.

On Wednesday 24 March 2021, 10.00 am, deep in cyberspace, Super Matt the super squirrel defeated The Thing From Outer Space!

More prosaically Cambridge City Council’s planning committee held a virtual meeting, in which the application to build a block of student flats on St Matthew’s Piece by developers Federated Hermes was considered.

Planning Officers recommended refusal of the application, although there were certain aspects of the local plan and of planning considerations which the development would have satisfied. You can read/download the full officer report (PDF 3.3MB) here (pp187-240).

Of course Super Matt had help from all of the community and Friends of St Matthew’s Piece had massive support for their objection to these plans.

A shoutout to Val Neal who gave a good presentation at the online meeting!

Agnès Aubert, Sleaford Street, on Nextdoor

Would you be able to display Friends of St Matthew’s Piece’s new ‘Refused’ poster in your window?

If yes, please email Email Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com to request a copy of the poster to print out. Or just smile and celebrate every time you pass one in the area! Thank you all for your crucial efforts to protect our park.

Of course, any further attempts from these (or any other) developers may emerge. The community would then choose its response.

Everyone’s support and active contributions to preserving, celebrating and protecting St Matthew’s Piece would be very welcome!

Val Neal, North Petersfield, on Nextdoor

As others have posted out, the developers could appeal or submit a modified proposal, so local residents will have to keep being vigilant.

What happens next?

The applicant now has a right of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against our decision to refuse this application. The appeal must be lodged within 6 months of the date of this decision. In the event of an appeal being lodged, and if you have previously commented, we will notify you and forward any comments you may have made to the Planning Inspectorate.

The applicant also has the right to re-submit an amended scheme which may seek to overcome our reasons for refusal. We will notify you again if such an application is submitted.

Notification from Greater Cambridge Joint Planning to people who commented on the application

However, the redoubtable Roy Stamp strikes a positive note…

In Romsey Terrace, we found that fighting an appeal made residents more determined: the residents won in the end!

Roy Stamp, Romsey, on Nextdoor

It is difficult to second guess what this multi-national investment fund will do next.

It is possible that when they bought the site from Chard Robinson they were told, based on the previous scheme that was consulted on but was never actually submitted, that there was development potential.

At the planning committee their agent Bidwells claimed that pre application advice given by the planners at that time was positive, but this has little status as it is not binding on the Council. It is a very weak argument and I was surprised it was even mentioned.

The main problem, if they appeal, is the fairly new National Planning Policy Framework introduced by the LibDem Tory coalition government in 2012. This planning directive considerably weakened the power of local councils’ decision-making powers and introduced an overarching presumption in favour of development. It also gave more power to planning inspectors to award the applicants appeal costs adainst local councils.

This happened five years ago in Station Road where the City turned down plans for a massive office block. BrookGate won the appeal and the Council was forced to pay them £175,000. The reasons for refusal in this case by Cambridge City Council are, however, very robust and are taken from the approved local plan so we are in a strong position.

If Federated Hermes are realistic they will give up as, given the strength of feeling, the local Councillors will undoubtably put considerable funds into the defence of the Councils position at any appeal hearing.

Local activist and fount of knowledge on planning, Frank Gawthrop, South Petersfield, on Nextdoor

Elections 4-5-6…

Four elections in the fifth month on the siXth day…

image of ballot box bearing the word 'vote'

Cambridge will next go to the polls on Thursday 6th May 2021, to vote in four different elections.

The government has confirmed that all EU citizens who are registered to vote in the UK will be able to vote and stand for election at these polls. For further details see Elections in 2021 on the Cambridge City Council website here.

Deadlines for May 2021 elections
  • Friday 9 April: Candidates announced
  • Monday 19 April, 11.59pm: Deadline to register to vote
  • Tuesday 20 April, 5pm: Deadline to apply for a postal vote
  • Tuesday 27 April, 5pm: Deadline to apply for a proxy vote
Are you registered to vote?

If you’re not yet registered to vote, it’s time to rectify that, especially if you’re a local resident who frequently debates some of the hot topics of local concern, in comments on this website, or on social media. And why not check that your neighbours, family and friends are also registered to vote?

Has someone new moved into your street? Why not pop round and let them know when bin days are and how to get residents’ and visitors’ parking permits, and, check they know how to register to vote, online?

Will it be safe to go to the polling station?

Cambridge City Council are working to make sure that polling stations will be Covid-secure for polling day, with measures in place to ensure you and the polling staff remain safe. (Read more.)

Could postal voting be more convenient?

You can vote from the comfort and safety of your own home. Postal votes are available for anyone who would prefer to vote that way. Full details can be found on the Electoral Commission website. And don’t forget to send your vote in early! If you’re concerned about the risks of voting in person at a polling station this could be the solution for you. You can also apply for a proxy vote, where you ask somebody else to vote for you.

Does your friend or neighbour work irregular hours, which might make voting in person difficult? Could your cousin, who delivers goods all across the country, be stuck all day at customs in Stranraer, or in lorry-park in Kent? Encourage them to register for a postal vote.

And, don’t forget, every resident who doesn’t vote, hands greater influence to those people who always vote.
And their preferred candidates might not be yours…

What elections are happening?
  1. Cambridge City Council elections
  2. Cambridgeshire County Council elections
  3. Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner election
  4. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Mayor election
And what do these all do?
  1. The city council are responsible for planning, building more council homes for rent, for emptying the bins, cleaning the streets, helping homeless people off the street, and much more.

    The whole city council must be re-elected. (It’s usually only one-third of the council each year, but some ward boundaries have changed.) Each ward has three councillors. You have three votes which can all be for the same party or split according to which candidates you think will do the best job. You cannot list them as 1st, 2nd 3rd choice.

    The current city council has a Labour majority, with a sizeable Liberal Democrat opposition. For many years there has not been a single Conservative elected to the city council.
  2. The county council is responsible for fixing the roads, filling the potholes, schools, libraries, children’s services, adult social care, the fire service (through the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority) and much more. The county council have responsibility for the current restrictions on Mill Road bridge. They also have (currently unused) powers to introduce penalties for drivers who block the pavements outside of Mill Road’s shops.

    The whole of the county council is re-elected every four years. Each division has one councillor. You can vote for one candidate. You cannot list a 2nd choice.

    The current county council has a Conservative majority, with the Liberal Democrats forming the main opposition. For many years there has not been a single Conservative elected to the county council, from within the city’s boundaries.
  3. The Police and Crime Commissioner has responsibility for oversight of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

    You can vote for two candidates: your 1st choice and, if you wish, a 2nd choice. This means that you can vote for the candidate you really want, and use your 2nd choice to help block the candidate you really don’t want.
  4. The mayor of the Combined Authority, works with our local councils, the Business Board (Local Enterprise Partnership), local public services, Government departments and agencies, universities and businesses to grow the local and national economy. The Combined Authority has taken over from the county council as transport authority. The mayor has powers under the Bus Services Act 2017 to improve bus services.

    You can vote for two candidates: your 1st choice and, if you wish, a 2nd choice. This means that you can vote for the candidate you really want, and use your 2nd choice to help block the candidate you really don’t want.
Isn’t this all rather complicated? And what about the Greater Cambridge Partnership?

Yes it is complicated, even more than you might think. And you don’t get a direct vote to the Greater Cambridge Partnership, the local councillors who you elect appoint decide which of them will sit on the board.

Venn diagram showing overlapping local government responsibilities in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

And, if you’re considering ignoring these elections as ‘unimportant’ or because ‘I don’t know enough about the’, let us reiterate…
Every resident who doesn’t vote, hands greater influence to those people who always vote.
And their preferred candidates might not be yours…


There have been a number of controversies concerning Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Greater Cambridge Partnership, the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner in particular. These have been covered in local press, TV and radio reports, with some reaching the national press. As a non-aligned community group it is probably inappropriate for us to air these ourselves.

But this doesn’t apply to our readers and followers. Our comments section, below, is open to you. We will not, however, allow libellous allegations and, to protect yourself, you would be well advised to link to an on-line newspaper report.

How to Research Your House, Street and Area Histories in the Archives

Helen Weinstein’s Talk for Cambridge Festival

Helen Weinstein, as Community Historian for IronWorks (former Mill Road Depôt) showcases sources from Sturton Town in Cambridge telling stories of working class residents from the Victorian Era onwards.

Outdoor water-closet

In this illustrated talk Helen Weinstein, Public Historian & Director of HistoryWorks, will be introducing a wide range of local history sources and their stories from the Area known as ‘Sturton Town’ in Victorian times which is located just off Mill Road in Cambridge covering Gwydir, Kingston, Sturton, Sleaford, Hooper & Ainsworth Streets.

Signatures of Sturton Town residents, 1879

Based on her recent research Helen will be sharing the stories of Resident occupations from the census in Victorian times and revealing sources in the Archives & material objects in the Museum of Cambridge.

Helen will show participants how to find out about properties and the environment of Victorian Cambridge using well known sources like the 1891 census and the trade directories, sharing examples of the range of stories in newspaper and photography archives at the Cambridgeshire Collection. 

Deed for the Hooper Street / Ainsworth Street corner property
The property today, formerly Sarah Scarr’s corner shop

Helen also has considerable experience of maps and manuscript sources, and will show histories revealed when you dig deeper into the Cambridgeshire Archives with fascinating stories about the allotments, commons and parks, public health and sanitation, pub and brewery licensing, workhouse and charitable committees to illuminate the hidden histories of individual Victorian streets and their residents.

Q&A

Bring your questions to the zoom event if you wish. The talk will be hosted by Lucy Walker, Chair of Trustees at the Museum of Cambridge; and Helen & Lucy invite you to ask questions in response to the talk, as well as to share photos, objects or paperwork you’ve found associated with your own house history!

Local history film

If you wish to view an introductory film with a tour of the local history of Sturton Town, presented and produced by Helen Weinstein, click here or on the image above.

Donations

The Museum of Cambridge is in need of your help. This event is free to attend, but we’d be so grateful if you can offer a donation of any size to support us to secure our future. Once you have secured your ticket via Eventbrite, you can donate to the museum here.

SIGN-UP NOW TO RECEIVE AN EMAIL LINK INVITE TO THIS FREE ZOOM TALK:

LINK TO MUSEUM OF CAMBRIDGE ARTEFACTS & ‘FORGE’ EXHIBITION ONLINE

This event partners the Museum of Cambridge, where Helen Weinstein has co-curated an Exhibition called “Forge” alongside local residents in Sturton Town led by Artist in Resident at IronWorks, Hilary Cox Condron; which we invite Cambridge Residents to view online at our exhibition website here.

TO SEE THE EVENTS AT THE ‘FESTIVAL OF CAMBRIDGE’ RUNNING FROM 26TH MARCH TO 4TH APRIL 2021 CLICK HERE.

Northpole Ice Rink and Fair

Planning application for 5-year extension

Photo of entrance to the Northpole site
Entrance [Photo credit thenorthpolecambridge.co.uk]

To renew the installation of a temporary real-ice ice rink with viewing platform and back-of-house/plant area; a family entertainment area with children’s rides & food concessions; and a christmas market with stalls & concessions, to one quadrangle of Parkers Piece.

Wording of planning application

You can see see the full details here on the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning portal.

Photo Skating on the rink
Skating on the rink [Photo credit thenorthpolecambridge.co.uk]

Whilst the planning portal lists the ‘Neighbour Consultation Expiry Date’ as Wednesday 24th February 2021, the portal appears to remain open for comments at the date of posting, with the latest comments dated 15th March 2021. The Cambridge City Council Planning meeting at which this application will be considered is scheduled for Wednesday 24th March 2021 at 10.00 am.


What do Mill Road people think?

One local resident emailed us saying:

The Fair and Ice rink will run from 1st November to 31st January. That’s three months of repetitive loud Christmas music and high-pitched screams.

For local residents, hotel guests and students it’s extremely annoying especially for those now working from home. It will also be bigger this time (see application plan online). The organisers also pay a fraction of the rent which Mill Road’s traders pay. They have a Christmas market and food outlets that takes business away from local shops and cafés.

It also badly damages the grass: 14 months after the last North Pole nearly a fifth of Parker’s Piece still hasn’t recovered and that’s despite the council treating the area with new soil and grass seed last summer. It would obviously be a lot worse if the event had gone ahead at Christmas 2020. The area is not fit for its intended purpose – football, social gatherings, boot camps, etc – and looks and feels like scrubland.

This historic City park deserves better care.

Elsa, local resident

Elsa illustrated her objection with photographs. There are shown in the slideshow below.

Whereas a local trader wrote to us in support:

I am always cheered when I see the funfair there in the depths of winter. Seeing and hearing young people having fun is wonderful.

No-one would be using that bit of park in the depths of winter and, in any case, there is still loads more space to use. Presumably the larger and longer the attraction, the more money that goes into the council’s coffers.

I am in favour of the winter attraction in its larger, longer state.

Eileen, local trader

Here are a flavour of the comments on the planning portal.

The North Pole is not in keeping with the area and the direction in which the area is set to develop in, nor does it truly add to any Christmas spirit. In fact it is quite an eyesore.

There are other opportunities that could generate revenue for the council in a way, that is not as damaging to the environment and disruptive to the public, and would also be adding value to the city and community and liven up the park during the festive period.

St Pauls Walk resident

The ice rink on Parker’s piece is a very good thing for all of Cambridge. Children and young people deserve to be able to have some fun. It was sadly missed 2020 so it will be great to have it back 2021/22.

Mill Road resident

I object to this proposal because it is a poor use of what is normally a lovely open space. The noise it generates is awful – endless generators, music from the rides etc etc. Now more than ever, we need a peaceful environment in which to live and work – I can’t begin to imagine how awful it must be to live closer than we do. 

It also totally destroys the grass, year after year. It never really recovers (the space where it was 2 years ago is now still mainly weeds). Local residents so value the ability to walk over the park, but it’s awful when it’s all mud, as it is for months after (& during – gets so muddy around the installation).

Nothing should be allowed to remain on the site for more than a few days (normal fairs/ concerts/ gigs are great – an excellent use of the space! ) but this lasts for months on end. It’s too long. People need to use the grass for sport and recreation and this Ice Rink prevents a good deal of that.

Please don’t allow this planning permission to be accepted.

Lyndewode Road resident

This application is for 3 months of the year. There are other various events which may amount to another couple of months making ~ 5 all told. Parker’s Piece needs be left clear and open. That was its reason for existence.

Equally, there is no doubt a reason for its creeping closure – profit. No doubt Star Radio and the Council coffers do not have to bear the consequences such as increased parking pressure in the area as people try to avoid paying car park charges, increased noise and occasionally an increase in local law-breaking. I suggest the creeping closure of Parker’s Piece be halted. Use other venues (e.g. Newmarket Road for a rink?)

Guest Road resident

It used to be relatively charming – a small ice rink where you could go with the children for a pre-Christmas skate to get into the spirit of Christmas & perhaps get a cup of coffee afterwards. However, over the past couple of years it has been allowed to expand physically, as well as in terms of time, and is now enormous and totally ruins the atmosphere of Parkers Piece for the majority of us, attracting light pollution, noise, litter and antisocial behaviour.

It is allowed to run for weeks and weeks and Parkers Piece and its residents/visitors have to bear the scars for many months afterwards. It totally ruins the enjoyment of what is supposed to be a haven in the middle of an already very busy, congested city.

Out-of-city (Withersfield) resident

To to view all comments – and add your own, for or against – visit the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning portal and enter 20/03552/FUL in the search box. (The portal’s reCAPTCHA setting prevents direct access to individual applications.)


You are welcome to leave comments at the foot of this post, but nothing published on this website will be taken into consideration at the Cambridge City Council Planning meeting at which this application will be considered, on Wednesday 24th March 2021 at 10.00 am.

Census: Count Me In

Census day is 21st March 2021.

But you can fill in the Census 2021 online as soon as your pack, with your access code, has dropped onto your doormat. And you can still do it for a while afterwards.

By taking part and encouraging others to do the same, you’ll help make sure our community gets the services it needs.

poster linking census to environment

Cambridge City Council and Mill Road Bridges are supporting Census 2021 because we want all parts of our diverse ‘Community of Communities’ to be recognised in Office for National Statistics figures; for Cambridge’s population to be reflected for what it is, a vibrant and unique place; and for our local councils to get the funding local people need.

poster linking census to education

The Census is online by default and now most households will now have received a Census 2021 pack with their access code.

If someone you know has difficulty getting online, contact the local Support Centre on 01223 300407 or by email at help@cambridgeonline.org.uk for support.

You can also ask for help from the Office for National Statistics Contact centre helpline0800 141 2021, or the Language helpline – 0800 587 2021 (open 8am to 8pm during the week and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays).

If you know anyone who needs a paper copy of the Census form, you can request a paper copy of the Census form here.

And, if you are a student in Cambridge, and you’re Right here, Right now (cheesy old skool ref) make sure that you complete the census, too.

poster to remind students to fill in the census

River Cam – from filthy ditch to Bathing Water status?

Whist slightly outside our territory, there is plenty of local concern about water quality in our city’s river and keen interest in our local Cam/Granta tributary, Cherry Hinton Brook.

Index:

Cam Valley Forum has a tentative proposal to designate formally a stretch of the River Cam in Cambridge as a ‘bathing water’.

However, not everyone is in agreement, that this is the best route to cleaning the Cam…

At this initial informal consultation stage, Cam Valley Forum are inviting comments from local interests directly concerned with the River in the City. The proposal cannot proceed without the benefit of widespread support and agreement.

The area tentatively proposed for the designated ‘bathing water’ is indicated by the red line along the riverbank on the map and satellite images above (Source: Google Earth).

In the Victorian era, all rubbish and waste of every kind was disposed of directly into the river Cam, or into King’s Ditch, right near Market Square.

According to legend, Queen Victoria herself came to visit Cambridge early in her reign.  While she was here, she looked at the river, and found it so filthy that she couldn’t even identify all the kinds of rubbish that were floating in the water.  She asked, “What are those pieces of paper floating in the river?” Rather than saying they were book and newspaper pages used as toilet paper, the tactful answer was, “Those Ma’am are notices that bathing is forbidden!”.

Eglantyne Jebb was a campaigner for improved living conditions. She wrote an important policy report advocating proper piping from toilets to sewage pipes, and a sewage treatment facility. Her work resulted in the pumping station built on Riverside in 1894, now the Cambridge Museum of Technology.

Quayside from Magdalene Bridge, 1910, showing pumping station chimney downstream, from Tower Project Blog

Index

The Cam has been used for bathing for over four centuries. Traditionally men and boys from the town swam from the banks of Sheep’s Green, whereas those from the University swam a little further upstream. By the early nineteenth century, at least, both sites had become official bathing places known as the Town Sheds and the University Sheds. In the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth, swimming in the river was immensely popular, and both sites had steps into the river, spring-boards, slides and diving platforms.

The Town Sheds were more lavishly equipped. They were managed by a custodian who, amongst other duties, taught boys to swim in Snobs’ Stream (the Millstream that branches from the Cam just south of Hodson’s Folly to serve Newnham Mill). The Town Sheds were a male preserve until, in 1896, the corporation opened the Ladies’ Bathing Place at the southern tip of Sheep’s Green where Snobs’ Stream leaves the river. In 1962 the Ladies’ Bathing Place was closed and mixed bathing was allowed at the Town Sheds.

In the 1970s, concerns about the health risks of polluted river water led to the closure of the Town Sheds and, by 1980, the site had become the base for the Cambridge Canoe Club. In the following decades swimming in rivers was discouraged and the Cam Conservancy, whose remit as the navigation authority includes the upper river, forbade swimming in daylight hours except at designated bathing places. By the beginning of this century there were no such designated places.

However, people continued to swim from the area of the Town Sheds. Jumping off the bridge remained popular. The secluded site of the University Sheds, by then renamed the Newnham Riverbank Club, provides simple wild swimming facilities for paying members. In recent years, people have increasingly enjoyed swimming from Sheep’s Green and Grantchester Meadows, and membership of the Newnham Riverbank Club is over-subscribed. Now, the Cam Conservancy allows swimming in the whole upper river from Byron’s Pool, above Grantchester, down to the King’s Mill Weir in Cambridge.

Cam Valley Forum
Swimming in the river in the 1970s. The Learner Pool, behind the honeycomb block enclosure, was built in 1972 – Cam Valley Forum


Read/download the whole of the Cam Valley Forum informal consultation paper on this tentative proposal, here.

You may send any comments to Cam Valley Forum at info@camvalleyforum.uk. If you would like to have a meeting to discuss the proposals, please mention this in your email. You may also leave (polite) comments on this website, below.

Index


Elsewhere…

Campaigns to use Bathing Water Status to improve river quality are now taking place across the country. One of the latest is in Bath…
One man’s fight to get bathing water status for a stretch of river near Bath

Johnny Palmer was so determined to tackle water quality at an island beauty spot near Bath that he bought the land. He now hopes to make Warleigh Weir the first area of river in the UK to be given bathing water status to spearhead a national campaign to clean up inland waterways.

Palmer, a property investor who has swum with his family at Warleigh Weir for many years, was shocked to find out that Wessex Water is allowed to discharge untreated sewage into the River Avon around the beauty spot.

“When I was told, I was like, ‘Woah, hold on. Back up a second. Seriously?’ I didn’t realise storm water mixed with untreated sewage flowed into our river.”

Sandra Laville, The Guardian, Wed 1 Jul 2020
Read the full article, here.

Index

River Wharfe, Ilkley

Perhaps the most persistent campaigners have been Becky Malby and her fellow advocates from the Ilkley Clean River Group.

Swimming, paddling and playing in Wharfe at Ilkley – Ilkley Clean River Group

Here is a flavour of the unfolding unfolding story…

Local people in a Yorkshire town are pressing for their river to become the first in the UK to be designated as a bathing area to force the authorities to clean up the water they say is being used as an open sewer.

In the spa town of Ilkley a grassroots campaign has uncovered the regular and routine dumping of untreated sewage by Yorkshire Water – with the approval of the Environment Agency – into the River Wharfe.

Growing pressure to clean up Britain’s rivers to meet bathing water quality is a “game changer” that will require more government funding as the public embrace the outdoors, the head of the Environment Agency has said.

A growing number of river users are calling for action to tackle the routine and legal discharge of untreated sewage into Britain’s waterways, which they say amounts to treating them like an open sewer.

The Environment Agency says nothing will be done to stem the flow of sewage into a Yorkshire river popular with swimmers and families until at least 2030.

Despite acknowledging that the level of sewage discharges into the River Wharfe at Ilkley – which have been admitted by Yorkshire Water – should trigger an investigation, the EA told campaigners nothing will happen for 10 years.

Campaigners seeking to make a river in Yorkshire the UK’s first to be designated a bathing area have accused environment ministers of blocking their application.

In the spa town of Ilkley, river users and residents submitted a 65-page application to turn part of the River Wharfe in the town into a bathing water area last October.

Ilkley’s three Bradford district councillors have expressed concern that the ongoing campaign to get the Wharfe designated for ‘safe swimming’ fails to acknowledge the river’s poor safety record.

Part of the River Wharfe in Ilkley, which is a popular swimming and paddling spot, is to be added to the list of bathing waters next year, after months of campaigning.

A stretch of the River Wharfe in Ilkley will have its pollution levels monitored by the Environment Agency to ensure it is safe for swimming.

The move follows a campaign by local residents who said they had seen “human solid waste” on the river bank.

Becky Malby, from the Ilkley Clean River Group, said she was “absolutely over the moon” at the news.

Selected paragraphs from news reports on the Guardian, Yorkshire Post and BBC websites. Click on each to read more details.

For full details of correspondence and more, head to the Ilkley Clean River Group website.

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Are we all agreed?

Just as there were multiple issues over the Ilkley River Wharfe proposals, not all Cambridge people are sure that this is the best way forward…

This is the response from Newnham Croft Residents’ Association to Stephen Tomkins and Cam Valley Forum.

Dear Stephen and CVF

I am writing on behalf of Newnham Croft Residents Association in regard to your proposals for Sheeps Green.

The state of the river, as you show, is indeed shocking, and we all want to see water quality improved. However, we have concerns about designation of this small area as a bathing place for the following reasons:

 1. Safety 

There are major safety issues:

  • Scudamores now have many more punts, which come along this part of the river
  • There is now a canoe club on the site with 500 members situated next to the Learner pool, with canoes launching along the area in front of it.  They are aware of the hazard this poses, and are suggesting that the bathing place should be at the former Ladies bathing place. This is adjacent to the Nature Reserve however, and increased noise and disturbance would be very detrimental to the wildlife there.
  • Even if lifeguards were provided, with so much activity in this part of the river it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to supervise swimming safely here, and there are real dangers – a child drowned here only a couple of years ago.
2. Environmental Impact

As your photos show, Sheeps Green used to be a popular bathing place with people from across the city, and many of us have very happy memories of swimming there in the 1970s. However, there was no car park then and although it was very busy on fine days, most of us walked or cycled. 

There would now be serious issues of environmental capacity – Sheeps Green and Coe Fen are both protected green spaces, and Paradise, which was like a jungle in the 1970s is now a very popular city nature reserve. 

The pressure on all these places and Lammas Land has grown enormously over the past year, and it seems that this will continue to increase as Cambridge expands and people are prepared to travel long distances by car to enjoy the places they have heard about on ‘what’s app’ and Facebook.There would need to be an environmental impact assessment as this proposal is likely to lead to a large increase in noise and disturbance that would be to be harmful to the wildlife and biodiversity, which should be given priority here. 

3. Access

The only access  for cars is down the Driftway, which leads off a rather hazardous junction. It is a narrow lane shared with pedestrians and cycles, and the small car park is used by shoppers, visitors to Lammas Land, Sheeps Green and Paradise as well as members of the Canoe Club. It is usually completely full already in the summer, with people parking (illegally) along the lane as well.

4. Facilities

The information given regarding the facilities available on site is rather misleading.

  • There are no changing facilities – the Canoe Club now occupies the site of the former bathing sheds and the couple of small rooms at the Learner Pool are only for children.
  • The 6 toilets at Lammas Land are not adequate for people using the park in the summer, let alone additional people coming to swim at a bathing place on the river.
  • There is no café, only a small kiosk serving drinks and ice- cream.

This is a small, environmentally sensitive area, and not suitable for building these facilities to meet the needs of visitors at a designated bathing place. We allwant to get the water quality in the Cam and its chalk streams improved, but a focus on this one small area could cause unintended harm.

 As Stephen wrote to me, ‘Wearing my ecology/wildlife hat I am not so keen on expanding the use of that area for people in high summer, but it is unquestionably a gambit that will force the hand of Anglian Water to really make a much bigger effort to raise the water quality’

It should not be necessary to risk irreparable harm to a protected green space and nature reserve to get Anglian Water to improve water quality along the whole river, and I hope we will be able to work with you to achieve this .

We would be happy to attend a meeting to discuss it with you further.

Kind Regards
Jean Glasberg
Chair Newnham Croft Residents Association

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And the views of Friends of the Cam*

*Friends of the River Cam was initiated by Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, Cambs and Peterborough, Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations, Cambridge Friends of the Earth, Cambridge Schools Eco-Council and Cambridge Labour Party Environment Forum.

Tony Booth started this petition – Save the Cam – on behalf of the Friends of the River Cam, are asking individuals and organisations to put pressure on local government, water companies and the Environment Agency in the Cambridge area to Save the River Cam and its tributaries by signing up to support the Cam River Charter.

Friends of the Cam letter to Cam Valley Forum

The Friends of the Cam have given consideration to the CVF proposal to apply for bathing quality status for the Cam at Sheep’s Green.

While we are eager to explore ways of restoring the health of the river, we are deeply concerned that choosing one small point on the river could, paradoxically, do more harm than good.

DEFRA requires that a bathing area on the river should provide adequate parking, toilet facilities, a cafe and lifeguards

These facilities are currently either inadequate or would need to be provided, and this would have a hugely detrimental effect on this delicate nature reserve.
Cambridge has doubled in size since Sheep’s Green was last a popular swimming location. 50 years ago locals would have travelled there by bike or walked. Today, however, official designation would draw people in from a much larger city, and from a further afield too, bringing traffic and related air pollution.

Sheep’s Green would become a huge draw, attracting far larger crowds than at any time in the past, to what is an environmentally sensitive water meadow, grazed by cows which, as Kim Wilkie pointed out in his talk to Friends of the Cam, have been a critical part of this finely balanced ecosystem for centuries. The cows kick up ground which allows wildflowers to seed, prevent larger plants from establishing and fertilise the soil. This ecology is also described here, in the Eastern Daily Press.

It is extremely likely that authorities would decide that the cows should be removed.

It is also a sad reality that large crowds would leave litter, which is harmful to the cows and wildlife. Last year a young heffer died after swallowing a plastic bag in the river

We urge CVF to explore alternative ways to improve water quality in the Cam and alternative sites for swimming. River campaigners in Oxford are demanding that a whole stretch of the Thames have bathing quality status

We would urge CVF to explore a similar approach in Cambridge.

Friends of the Cam

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And the views of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations

Dear Cam Valley Forum,

Cam Valley Swimming Proposal

Lots of residents have contacted Federation of FeCRA committee members about the Forum’s application to make the area adjacent to the Canoe Club into a Designated Bathing Area. We are hearing citywide concern that this will endanger unique medieval green spaces, described by the landscape architect Tom Turner as equivalent to the best art in the Fitzwilliam Museum.

If the intention is to put pressure on Anglian Water residents wonder why Cam Valley Forum isn’t asking for a much bigger stretch of the river to be clean. Anglian Water’s track record on pollution is bad and yet despite that it is receiving substantial government funding from Homes England to relocate the sewage works.

This Ends Report article states that the Environment Agency will no longer be monitoring pollution incidents. Residents ask if this is why the Environment Agency are keen to support small designated clean bathing areas in rivers.  

We have previously flagged concerns [To the Cambridge City Council Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee. Click to read/download the PDF.] about what appears to be a well orchestrated lobby against cows grazing on the commons. There are concerns that a bathing place at Sheeps Green could lead to the loss of the cows which are an intrinsic part of the ecosystem there. This was raised again in our question to the Scrutiny Committee about the council’s support for plastic cows on the commons but not the real cows. 

Cambridge commons losing their cows and, with that, their status as commons goes completely against all that the landscape architect Kim Wilkie said at the recent Friends of the Cam talk about a river landscape strategy and the role of grazed meadows in flood management.

Other concerns people have shared with us include the impact on biodiversity and on much loved city nature reserves and the big impact on local wildlife and nature large numbers of bathers, picknickers and sunbathers on the edge of Paradise Nature Reserve is likely to have. 

Safety is another issue that has been raised. The punting route to Grantchester Meadows is very popular and the proximity of the very popular canoe club with a membership of 500, drawn from a wide catchment, makes this unsuitable for a designated swimming area. Wild swimming is also very popular and people are likely to come from miles. The car park is already full in the summer months, more people driving over for a swim would soon cause overflow.

Has there been any health and safety assessment about the likely number of users and congestion on the river ? Any traffic impact assessment ? 

The recent report commissioned by the City Council and Cambridge Water included no impact assessment of river areas and/or river green spaces at risk or threatened by development.

Residents are asking if this bathing initiative relates to Natural Cambridgeshire’s plans for a Cam River Park corridor, the proposals  for Accelerator Parks and the Wider Cambridge Visitors Project.

The lack of changing cabins and public toilets will require infrastructure which would not be acceptable to people in a protected green space. People have highlighted that Cambridge’s famously rus in urbe style of cows on the meadows is admired all over the world. This New York Times article was widely syndicated.

Allan Brigham, Cambridge’s champion of the commons, wrote :

“Whichever way you approach Cambridge, you see grass, trees and lots of sky. The college gardens, parks and commons bring nature right into the town. Cows graze on Midsummer Common just five minutes’ walk from Marks & Spencer – and in the summer office workers and students eat their lunch beneath the willows trees that line the river at Coe Fen. At weekends Jesus Green becomes a giant playing field with games of every kind – from skateboarding to lacrosse. These spaces are vital to people’s wellbeing,” 

“It’s easy to take Cambridge’s open spaces for granted. But … the protection of these spaces is, to my mind, just as important as the preservation of Cambridge’s iconic buildings.”

For all these reasons the FeCRA committee cannot support this application. As we have said before, it would be great if Cam Valley Forum can work with FeCRA and Friends of the River Cam so that together we can urge the City Council to use its powers and that of the Environment Agency to be much more ambitious, ensure that the green spaces of the Cam are protected, that water quality along the whole river is improved and that the river is safe for all users. 

Best wishes,
Wendy Blythe, Chair
For the FeCRA Committee

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Further links and resources

Let it Flow!
Proposals from the Cam Valley Forum for an Integrated Water Resource Management Plan for the Cam Valley
(PDF)

CAM VALLEY MATTERS No. 64 22 February 2021 The Occasional Newsletter of the Cam Valley Forum (PDF)

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What are your views on this tentative proposal? You may send any comments to Cam Valley Forum at info@camvalleyforum.uk. If you would like to have a meeting to discuss the proposals, please mention this in your email. You may also leave (polite) comments on this website, below.

Save our local chalk stream!

Those of us who have ventured to the far end of Mill Road to Burnside, and along Snakey Path during last summer, will have seen the poor state of Cherry Hinton Brook. This was highlighted in a YouTube video by local citizen blogger Antony Carpen.

Cam Valley Forum reports:
During the 2019 summer, the dry weather reduced our River Cam to little more than an elongated pond with a pathetic tickle over the weirs at Jesus Green. Some of the Cam tributaries dried up, many only flowing because they have been augmented by water from sewerage works.
How to Save Water, and the Cam posted 9th December 2019

Whist BBC journalist Mark Williamson Tweeted about the Granta/Cam at Grantchester.

And Feargal Sharkey reported Environment Agency information.


We are indebted to Cam Valley Forum for some of this information.


Cam Valley Forum Newsletters can be viewed/downloaded here.