Labour proposals to close public toilets, cutback environmental enforcement and abandon the 'Big Weekend' are being questioned by opposition Liberal Democrats on Cambridge City Council.
The proposals are included within the Labour-controlled council’s draft budget, which is currently out for public consultation (closes at noon on Jan 10th but available here: cambridge.citizenlab.co/en-GB/projects/draft-budget-2023-24 ).
The council plans to close public conveniences on Quayside, Chesterton Road and Mill Road and to limit the opening of toilets to just weekends on recreation grounds at Chesterton, Coleridge, Romsey and Midsummer Common.
They also want to reduce the size of the council’s public realm enforcement team from 7 to 6 and have them only patrol in pairs. The team responsibilities include policing littering, fly tipping, control of dogs, punt touting, commercial A-boards.
And the council proposes to discontinue the annual 'Big Weekend' of free summer entertainment on Parker's Piece.
Cllr Tim Bick, leader of the city council Liberal Democrats, said:
“We can all see that the council is feeling the pinch, like the rest of us. But this choice of savings seems to be exactly what a local council ought to be safeguarding - rather than eroding - in the public interest.
“Public toilets are relied on by all parts of the community, but particularly the elderly, pregnant mothers, those with disabilities, parents of small children and those making full use of of public open space. It seems pretty clear that if the council doesn’t provide them, no-one else will. Their current data on usage is questionable, as some are not coin-operated and those that are, are inaccessible for the many people who since the pandemic don’t carry change. There is an absence of strategy - which should come first.
“The problem behaviours like fly tipping and littering that the enforcement team are intended to deter and penalise, if anything, seem to be on the increase. There are already real concerns that coverage across the whole city is too little, not too much, especially over the longer daylight hours in the summer. Cutting back on enforcement right now is a poor message to put out about a bedrock responsibility of a council.
“The Big Weekend is obviously a different type of council activity and scrutiny over money spent on it is understandable. Nevertheless it generates important benefits of community cohesion by bringing the whole city together and celebrating its diversity through the Asian Mela. So it seems over-hasty to dispense with it altogether without finding other ways, such as seeking sponsorship or even enabling a commercial operator to run it in return for an admission fee - so long as it was low.
“For a number of years the council has been working on a huge, expensive exercise to 're-invent itself' - to enable it to continue to do the important things for the city, but in different and more efficient ways. We have so far seen little outcome - yet we now get what seem like disconnected, ill-thought-through, panicky cutbacks. That bigger exercise needs to be got back on track so that more thought can be applied to the cutbacks that have been proposed.”