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Fears future of Cambridge market will be decided ‘behind closed doors’

Cambridge market traders and campaigners have demanded the city council withdraw a committee meeting report that would allow councillors and officers to develop the market square without further public consultation.

Last year Cambridge City Council asked the public to comment on its proposed vision and concept design for the market and its proposals to have removable stalls, which could be taken down to make way for public events.

Now the council’s environment and scrutiny committee plans to discuss the consultation at a meeting on Thursday (March 24) but has said it won’t release the details of the report until after the meeting.

Cambridge market. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge market. Picture: Keith Heppell

Furthermore, the officers’ report to the committee seeks approval for an “amended vision” for the future of the market, and to “delegate authority to the director, in consultation with chair and spokes to continue to develop the project”.

In an open letter to the council, members of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations, Cambridge Market Traders Association, Cambridge Market Community, Friends of Cambridge Market and Living Streets Cambridge have expressed their outrage.

It reads: “The intention is to publish a final report on the Market Square website, but only after the scrutiny meeting! So any decision made at the meeting will be taken on the basis of incomplete information and without giving meaningful consideration to the full analysis of the consultation results.”

They add that the report on the consultation has been delayed since October last year and “that delay gave ample time for a proper, thorough analysis of the consultation outcomes”. Instead, they say “its reporting is incomplete, inadequate, and unsubstantiated conclusions are drawn.”

Glenys Self with the examples of the proposed market stalls, seen here on Cambridge market . Picture: Keith Heppell. (55634001)
Glenys Self with the examples of the proposed market stalls, seen here on Cambridge market . Picture: Keith Heppell. (55634001)

They further complain that the demountable stalls on which the public was being consulted were only able to be viewed for two and a half weeks and that 90 per cent of the responses (966 out of 1,075) to the main consultation were received before the trial demountable stalls were in place.

The letter says: “What is the point of having elected councillors if they are merely going to decide, on the basis of incomplete information, to leave all the principal decisions to officers? And will councillors, and particularly the executive councillor, be comfortable to allow the project to proceed without having made any actual decisions or even having seen the full results of the consultation?

“The general approach of this report seems to be a request to allow officers to continue the project with little to no oversight from elected councillors or the public.

“It also seems that this report is just to be used as an excuse to allow the project to proceed, saying the report has been “noted” by the relevant executive councillor and scrutiny committee.

“It would seem that any decisions are being deferred to be made by officers behind closed doors.”

Cllr Rosy Moore (55634054)
Cllr Rosy Moore (55634054)

Cllr Rosy Moore (Lab, Coleridge), executive councillor for climate change, environment and city centre, said the amendment to delegate authority to the director in consultation with the chair of the committee and the executive councillor would not matter because “it's just being clear about how the project is going to be further managed”.

She added: “We would still have all the same public consultation that we have. It is just being clear who is the officer overseeing the project. So any major changes in budget would still go through me or whoever is the executive councillor, and it doesn't change the public consultation that we would go through. And we're also setting up the liaison group.”

There is no date yet for the liaison group to begin.

People biking at the Market square near by St. Marys church in Cambridge. Pic: iStock
People biking at the Market square near by St. Marys church in Cambridge. Pic: iStock

In answer to the concerns about the public not seeing the demountable stall before taking part in the consultation, Cllr Moore said: “We responded to lots of concern over the demountable stalls by trying to offer some to show people, but it was maybe a mistake because we're not at that stage yet. We need to agree on the fundamentals first before we finalise the design of the stall. If there's no demountable stall available anywhere that can be used then we would have to go back and have a more permanent stall design. But we're just not at that stage yet.”

  • At the same meeting the city councillors will hear about the possibility of digging boreholes underneath the market to create a ground source heat pump district heating system for the city centre. Read more in today's printed edition of the Cambridge Independent (Wednesday, March 23).

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