This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 118.
We quite often talk about area committees in the newsletter. Have you ever wondered what they are and why they are important?
The city council has four area committees that meet about every two months and are similar to parish councils elsewhere in the county. All the local city and county councillors attend these public meetings, and you can go too. The agenda and dates are published on the City Council’s website: Your Council > Councillors and committees: https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/councillors-and-committees
There is a committee for each of North (Chesterton, Kings Hedges, Arbury), West Central (Market, Kite, Newnham, West Cambridge), East (Barnwell, Romsey Town, Cherry Hinton) and South (Trumpington, Queen Ediths). They usually meet from 7pm until 9pm or so, but you can attend part of the meeting if you want to. The dates of the current meetings are mostly in the Campaign Diary later in this Newsletter
The meetings typically have four key parts:
1. Open forum
You can ask your councillors any questions you have. Do you have a suggestion for something that could be improved? Something that needs fixing? This is a great opportunity to ask and get an answer. Councillors are keen to meet and talk to people and always pleased to see people at these meetings. This is a great opportunity to meet your local councillors. Some committees have informal small-table discussions too. By asking questions and raising issues with councillors you can influence the decisions they make.
2. Police priority-setting
Four times a year the neighbourhood police team reports to the meeting and councillors set priorities for the coming quarter. Major crimes are dealt with at the city or regional level so the neighbourhood team deals with local issues such as nuisance vehicles, anti-social behaviour and . . . cyclists without lights. You can ask questions of the police and influence the priority-setting.
3. Funding projects
Each area committee has money to spend on local projects that range from benches in parks to litter bins to sports facilities and extensions to church halls. The money comes from S106 payments (also known as developer contributions) and environmental improvement grants from the city and county councils. (When a building is built developers pay some money towards sports facilities, open space, public art and so on.) Currently, the North Area Committee has £2,126,079 to spend on transport projects alone. So yes, the committees do have substantial amount of public money to spend.
4. Scheme decisions
Small and large projects proposed in an area are discussed and decided on at area committees before being confirmed at another meeting. For example, the cycle parking on Thoday Street was discussed many times at the East Area Committee before they voted in favour and the scheme went to the Joint Development Control Committee. If there is a scheme that you support, or oppose, do go to an area committee and speak when the councillors are making a decision.
If you can’t attend a meeting you can send questions to the chair to be read out. You can also follow the meetings on unofficial Twitter feeds using the hash tags #nac, #wcac, #eac or #sac, eg https://twitter.com/search?q=%23nac. Richard Taylor (rtaylor.co.uk) often films the meetings and puts sections on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/user/RTaylorUK
Area committees are a very accessible way to meet and influence councillors. With millions of pounds to spend, these committees can fund projects to improve the city for cyclists and everyone else. Representatives of the Campaign often attend to speak in support of projects, and you can too!