CamSkate’s questions for Cambridge City Council candidates

Questions from the skateboarding campaign rather than the ice skating lessons – which I still want to do (but my heart attack got in the way!).

CamSkate got in touch with all of us candidates to cross-examine us about our proposals, policies, and actions on getting better skating facilities for our city.

Questionnaires from community groups – a much-needed part of election campaigning

Some of you will have seen my responses to CamCycle in their Cambridge City Council 2023 survey. Mindful that many people have far more pressing commitments to do than scrutinise local government in the way that I do, working collectively as a number of campaigns have done in recent years such as Acorn’s Cambridge branch on all things rental housing, is showing results. (I”m a member of both CamCycle and Acorn, but do not claim endorsement from them – they are independently constituted organisations that are *not* party political.)

I was doing some local historical research about rollerskating and skateboarding in Cambridge at the end of last year, and discovered an article in the British Newspaper Archives from 1999 – they year I left Cambridge for university. I pulled out one of the quotations about why the society was formed (i.e. to campaign for improved skating facilities in Cambridge) and invited Cllr Katie Thornburrow (re-standing in Petersfield for Labour this year) to comment.

One of the principles I’ve been looking at on all things light rail is the use of a series of looped or circular lines as a means of efficiently linking Cambridge up to surrounding towns, and also enabling some of those towns to interchange with similar systems for other cities such as Peterborough – with Chatteris & Ramsey being the interchange.

Furthermore, I’ve taken the view as shown above in my response to Cllr Thornburrow that not everything needs to be inside Cambridge’s 1935-era town boundary. i.e. somewhere like Cambourne could have a large indoor skating facility that’s on the doorstep of East-West-Rail / a light rail line that would be far greater than anything that could be built in Cambridge – not least because of the land price bubble.

As some of you may know, the Cambridge Rollerbillies were the ones who taught me the essentials on rollerskating – in particular on health and safety. Again, they are an independent club and I claim no endorsement from them. (I happen to think they are one of the best women’s sports clubs in our city and think our city’s firms should do far more to support them). Last year I asked all parties to start working on proposals for a permanent rink for them – noting that Cambridge used to have 3 rollerrinks in the late 19th Century.

In the run up to the same elections I also asked local reporters to report on the proposals that James Moulang (below) had put forward. This would have been…just over 3 months after I came out of hospital. Hence having to lean on other people to spread the word to make things happen.

It also reflects how I have been doing things in Cambridge since I returned from my civil service years: linking up various people and groups with shared interests, then letting them get on with things. For example, this from summer 2020.

A year later I made the point that our city should build a new roller rink for our skaters.

But again, I come back to the central pillar of my proposals: Cambridge does not have the governance systems to tax the wealth we’re told Cambridge generates in order to provide for what our city needs. In particular children and young people who are easily ignored and whose facilities always seem to be the first to be cut. Something that I experienced in the 1980s & 1990s in my own childhood.

What life used to be like for skating in Cambridge – my own experiences

In the mid-1990s as teenagers I sometimes went rollerskating and rollerblading with friends in the playground of our local primary school, me borrowing a pair as I could not afford them myself, and them using a combination of milk crates and planks of wood to do stunts on. That’s not possible now. In 1996 the Education Act criminalised the presence of us using what was our primary school playground, and later some big high gates were put up. And we wonder why we have an obesity crisis. (Big food lobbying not helping either)

“How do we get more people into the planning and decision-making process” – such as skateboarders and skaters

I’ve paraphrased the above because it links to the video I made outside Rock Road here about how our city functions. One of the things I want to do was something several of us tried out in 2015 at Be the change – Cambridge which I organised. Patsy Dell, then of Cambridge City Council kindly volunteered to run an Introduction to Planning workshop – which you can watch here. This is what I’ve wanted to see replicated because we demonstrated proof of concept just by running it. Sadly I did not have the capacity to persuade anyone to take it on and make it a routine workshop repeated across our city.

“What have previous councillors and candidates said about all things skating and skateboarding?”

You can read their responses to CamSkate for the 2021 elections here

I also asked the political parties in 2021 about the proposals for significantly improving Donkey Common’s skating facility

“Don’t we have a strategy for such things?”

We do.

“Now, wind back the clock to 2016, which saw the publication of the joint City Council/South Cambs District Council Indoor Sports Strategy. That document identified a need for an additional 8-lane pool by 2031. It hasn’t happened.”

Cllr Sam Davies, 16 April 2023

You can read the indoor sports strategy here – one that I’m struggling to find a mention of skating in.

Back in 2015 I also mentioned integrating venues and transport plans.

“We can’t talk about venues without talking about transport networks to get people to and from them.”

Has leisure & entertainment in Cambridge kept pace with the growth of our city? ADBF – 21 Aug 2015

But what’s the point in having the strategies if they are undeliverable in the present model of local government? It’s broken. Hence my central pillar of my plans to overhaul it. Or at least try to persuade politicians to adopt the important parts for the general election.

With that in mind, there’s also scope to link up with university students – not least reminding them of how Cambridge University is dragging its feet on leisure facilities.

Essentially, the challenges that Cambridge’s skateboarders and skaters have is similar to those that many other community groups and associations have. Our response to central government (which holds the powers) has to be a united one. And that involves repairing our polarised, grossly unequal, and fragmented city. Because if we do, we might just have a chance of becoming greater than the sum of our parts.

Great Cambridge? I like the sound of that.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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