Local Lib Dems have hailed the publication of a new feasibility study focused on improving Cambridge’s Market Square. Published by the City Council, the document looks at a range of ways the Square could be rearranged and refurbished to allow greater use by the community, whilst retaining a vibrant trading market.
Cllr Tim Bick, Market Ward Councillor and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, noted “We originally pushed hard for this study to be funded, so it is gratifying to see such a comprehensive analysis brought forward. Residents often tell us how much they enjoy using the market, but we need to be creative about how we use our civic spaces whilst maintaining their historic character.”
The next stage of the project will aim to align the study with a new, city-centre-focused “supplementary planning document” which has been commissioned to explore how the city centre could be made more accessible. When this is published, further proposals on the Market Square are likely to be brought forward, with a view to public consultation in summer 2020.
Cllr Anthony Martinelli, Lib Dem spokesperson covering the City Centre, stated “I think the report does a really good job at setting the scene and coming up with some fresh ideas for the Square. We want to have an active local market whilst also being able to use the area into the evenings, which is currently not the case. All of the potential schemes would represent a significant investment in the city centre, but are currently unfunded - we will need to have a serious conversation about what our options are for taking things forward.”
Cllr Katie Porrer, also of Market Ward, commented “I know that some people are worried about the effect these changes could have on the market traders, so we were really pleased to meet with a few of them at setting-up time last week. We completely understand the concern - it represents their livelihood - and we all have a duty to make sure we take any proposals forward with the engagement of all stakeholders in the ward and beyond.”
Market Councillor Tim Bick used October's meeting of Cambridge City Council to call on the County Council to halt the withdrawal of funding from specialist hostels for rough sleepers, with a particular focus on Willow Walk which is located within the Ward. His motion, seconded by fellow Market Councillor Katie Porrer, was passed unanimously by the Council.
Writing in the Cambridge Independent, Cllr Tim Bick explained the situation:
The proposed closure of the Willow Walk hostel and the promised emergence of “housing first” in Cambridge brings into focus different ways of helping rough sleepers off our streets.
The city currently provides a pathway for single homeless people, graduated according to the challenges they face in getting back into mainstream housing. Those with few obstacles receive advice and signposting. Those who have difficulty in immediately holding down an ordinary tenancy - often because of a long period of rough sleeping - are typically referred to a hostel. There they receive support to help them into mainstream housing. There are hostels specialising in different levels and types of need.
This approach succeeds for many, but a look on the streets in parts of the city at night shows that it doesn’t work for all. Many of those you see are entrenched rough sleepers, who have been in and out of hostels, without it working for them.
Most entrenched rough sleepers suffer from drug or alcohol addictions or mental illness, or both, and it’s difficult to help with these while a person is sleeping rough. Some prosper through the structure and companionship a hostel provides, but for others the discipline and being at close quarters with others are difficult to bear. People are different!
A new approach, ‘housing first’, enables some people, despite having significant obstacles, to jump over the hostel pathway, and into an ordinary tenancy, where they get the specialist support they need on a visiting basis. The difference between the two approaches is whether the support happens in a hostel prior to getting into mainstream housing, or whether it happens in a mainstream housing setting.
In other places in the UK ‘housing first’ has already become a very useful complement to other services, helping entrenched rough sleepers with a track record of not succeeding in hostels. In the report I published last year with County Councillor Nichola Harrison, we made it a top recommendation to bring this system to Cambridge. It’s good news that it’s now been promised.
Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. It seems that the county council intends to fund its ‘housing first’ initiative by withdrawing the funding it provides for hostels – in particular the Willow Walk hostel, owned and operated by Riverside Housing. Willow Walk is the only homeless hostel in the city specialised in supporting individuals with the highest level of need. Professionals and Police alike are concerned that this will remove the only suitable accommodation for many individuals.
In Cambridge our problem is too many people sleeping rough, not too much accommodation for them! ‘Housing first’ could fill an important gap, but I’m worried that paying for it by withdrawing existing services will leave some vulnerable individuals worse off.
Using ‘housing first’ for the wrong individuals could set them up to fail and land up back on the street, or could create problems for their near neighbours. Without high needs hostel accommodation, the city seems likely to see more people, not fewer, on the street.
This is why last week I won the city council’s support to ask their partner in homelessness services, the county council, to withdraw their plan to de-commission Willow Walk. Before contemplating such a move, they must carry out a proper needs analysis and define the new mix of future provision that will meet the full spectrum of needs.
Without this, we face the absurdity of Riverside Housing having to consider using Willow Walk hostel for homeless people from London, while some of Cambridge’s own most vulnerable citizens are left out in the cold.
Last year Cllr Bick and Cllr Harrison published a report into homelessness in Cambridge, which they updated in 2019.
Cambridge Lib Dems have called on the City Council to reconsider urgently its plan to install a barrier across King's Parade. The proposed installation, due to take place this autumn, would lead to loss of disabled parking spaces in the city centre and a substantially narrowed route of access for cycle traffic outside of peak hours.
Lib Dem members of the Cambridge Joint Area Committee had voted against the proposal in March, following which the scheme was paused due to legal issues surrounding the type of traffic regulation to be used.
"I have significant concerns that this barrier design is simply not suitable for a road like King's Parade" said Market Ward Councillor Nichola Harrison, "Cyclists will not have sufficient space to travel safely and this will impact on pedestrians too."
"Although this blockade is supposedly temporary, it could be present for up to two years. Alternative designs, for example incorporating a chicane, would cause less disruption whilst performing the same function."
The scheme had initially been suggested due to concerns regarding the possibility of terrorists targeting Cambridge's city centre, though there had been no specific threat to King's Parade.
"Whilst we clearly agree that ensuring the safety of Cambridge residents is a priority, this has to be done in proportion to the threat faced. Cambridge police did not approach the Council requesting this roadblock and we are told the overall threat level remains low." said Lib Dem Highways Lead Cllr Ian Manning.
An urgent decision to implement the scheme was communicated at a meeting of the Council's Strategy and Resources Committee on 7/10/2019. Chair of the West Central Area Committee, Cllr Anthony Martinelli (Lib Dem) commented:
"We discussed this at West Central Area Committee, which covers the city centre wards. Councillors were unanimous that this scheme was not appropriate in its current form and had not been thought through properly. I have written to both the Executive Councillor and the Chief Executive to request reconsideration."
Representing the city centre as Councillors brings with it a complex set of issues relating to antisocial behaviour, the nighttime economy and criminal activities. Having always enjoyed strong relationships with our neighbourhood police force through biannual reports at the West Central Area Committee, we have taken this further by arranging additional regular face-to-face briefings.
We had the opportunity to raise problems brought to us by residents including drug-dealing in the Brunswick area, mopeds disregarding traffic regulations and bike theft at the railway station. We were pleased to hear that antisocial behaviour reports are actually decreasing and that the city centre team will be expanding over the coming year.
We confirmed that the city centre policing team will retain a base at a police station in central Cambridge and gained useful insight into how the police review licensing requests in the Cumulative Impact Zone. We also discussed crime statistics for the area, which are available at https://www.police.uk/cambridgeshire/CamCity_Cambridge_City/crime/+Gs1t1U/ - although not having access to these in a tabulated form at Committee remains a source of frustration as we aim to recommend police priorities.
As always, the major message for residents is to keep reporting crimes to the police to give the team the data they need to make arrests.
Working with residents, your local Lib Dem councillors have recently submitted various bids to the County Council and City Council to bring forward projects which would make our area even better.
Local Highway Improvement grants are administered by the County Council to fund road enhancements and the Environmental Improvement Programme is looked after by the City Council with the aim of tackling small scale projects. Our bids for this cycle include:
- Resurfacing of Grafton Street, which is turning into a sea of dangerous, unsightly loose gravel. Nonsensical County Council policy leaves this Cinderella street outside of routine maintenance funding.
- Refurbishment of the neglected green space at the corner of Adam & Eve St and Paradise St (pictured below), including new planting to improve biodiversity, and new seating/equipment to encourage use by local people.
- New, brighter belisha beacons at the zebra crossing on Maid’s Causeway near James Street. Funding from a previous application will see road lines re-painted this autumn.
- Replacement of a poor quality sapling and adding 4 new trees on Midsummer Common.
- In collaboration with Camcycle, a plan to improve cycle safety at the Pembroke St/Mill Lane/Trumpington St junction, by giving priority to movements between Pembroke St and Mill Lane.
- Wildlife habitat improvements in New Square and explanatory boards and a printed trail map for the biodiversity projects here and on Midsummer Common and Christ's Pieces.
If you have any other ideas or can think of any changes you'd like to see in Market then please do get in touch!
27 rough sleepers were counted in Cambridge in the November 2018 rough sleeper count, one up one from 2017. Figures fell in some UK cities, suggesting that the problem is susceptible to local action. Market Cllrs Tim Bick and Nichola Harrison have published an update to their 2018 report.
March 2019 Update
What we learned in 2018
For our enquiry we interviewed numerous people living or spending time on the street, as well as 35 organisations/teams working in this field locally and nationally. We learned that this is a complex set of problems, with serious substance abuse and mental illness, often combined, now a growing issue. This can lead to chaotic behaviour and begging to buy drugs, and can reduce people’s motivation to get off and stay off the street. Progress can be desperately slow and fragile, even with high quality personal support. We found:
- a remarkable range of good quality services in Cambridge, providing accommodation, basic welfare, specialist interventions and medical support;
- active participation by the Police, but a lack of resources and difficult system for enforcing against street crime and anti-social behaviour.
- a strong sense of commitment and spirit of partnership among the people working in the field, but the need for a clearer vision and more systematic, leadership and service co-ordination.
Successes from our report
We’re not claiming all the credit, but we’re pleased to report progress with several of our recommendations:
- A review of Supported Housing provision is underway. We proposed this to ensure that services match needs and meet best practice.
- Plans are going ahead for Housing First as we recommended – a concept offering an independent home and intensive support to entrenched rough sleepers who do not succeed in the usual housing pathway.
- We are pleased to see increased promotion of the Street Aid scheme, which enables people to donate to homelessness charities rather than give cash to beggars.
- Our proposal for extended street outreach services to operate during evenings and weekends seems set to be implemented.
- We understand that our suggestion for a more person-centred support approach, giving continuity to clients, is being considered.
- Our call for the creation of a dedicated problem-solving role within the Police has been implemented.
What still needs to change
We’re clear that some of our other recommendations should be implemented. We’re continuing to push for:
The Cambridge Rough Sleeping and Street Life Charter, based on clear principles, to foster understanding and a sense of common purpose among the city’s political leaders and in the wider community. The Police have expressed support, but the City Council has rejected the idea.
- A Peer Mentoring scheme to enable former rough sleepers to provide support and advice to others. We have been told no resources are available for this.
- Closer working between the City Council and the Police on enforcement activity. We have seen no sign of progress with this and are concerned that the Police move from Parkside will not help.
- The design of safer drug injecting syringes, which shield the needle when discarded, in order to protect the general public, especially children.
Councillors Tim Bick of Cambridge City Council and Nichola Harrison of Cambridgeshire County Council have published the results of their enquiry into rough sleeping and street life issues in Cambridge.
As local councillors, we know that local residents are distressed and concerned about the increase in rough sleeping and street life issues in Cambridge in recent times. They want to understand what is going on, what is being done about it and what more could be done - and this report tries to offer some answers.
In our enquiry, we talked with many people working in this field locally and elsewhere, as well as with people who have experience of living on the street. They told us about the range of problems that drive homelessness, including mental illness, substance misuse, family breakdown, domestic abuse, financial loss and debt. They explained how the increasing severity of mental illness and drug addictions among people on the street is making it more difficult for those individuals to engage positively with support and recovery services. We also learned how the growth in expensive drug addictions is fuelling street begging and our report considers how our community might respond to that.
We found a wide range of local services aimed at enabling people on the street to take up accommodation and access other support and treatment. The organisations involved include charities, housing associations, the councils, the NHS and others, working as a loose partnership on many issues. We found a strong spirit of commitment and collaboration among them, not least within the numerous front-line outreach services on the street.
Substantial basic welfare support is available, but many services focus particularly on progress and recovery rather than help that might only sustain the status quo. On this principle, much effort is applied to engaging with people who find it hard or are reluctant to make changes in their lives. Gone are the days when a bed at a night shelter was all rough sleepers could expect – these days support is aimed at meeting the overall needs of the person, to give them the best chance of maintaining progress and avoiding a recurrence of homelessness.
Accommodation provision in the city operates as a ‘pathway’ - from assessment and short-term accommodation, through supported accommodation to independent tenancies. The pathway has some flexibility for people who find its requirements difficult to accept, but, nevertheless, some people do not manage to stay on track and others are unwilling to engage at all. Whether that choice can be seen as a rational expression of free will, or only a by-product of desperate personal problems, must be judged case by case. We considered other ethical and practical questions like this, such as whether giving money to beggars is a productive way to help and whether rough sleeping can ever be eradicated.
Cambridge people are generally tolerant of non-conformity and their main concern is about the welfare of people on the street. However, many are also concerned about anti-social behaviour and problems like discarded drug injecting needles, and we consider these issues in the report.
You can read the full report on the web here.