The build up to recent events
Starting back in October 2007 to the end of February 2008, here are the key events and developments that lead up the current situation as regards independent punt operators here in Cambridge.
29th February 2008
Dear Mr Nimmo-Smith
Tim Campbell (leader of the Save Independent Punting campaign) writes to Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith (leader of the council) and head of the Strategy and Resources Scrutiny committee. No response has been received to date.
26th February 2008
Despite their claims to be supportive and welcoming of competition, Scudamores continue to refuse to release the La Mimosa
station and the City council start mentioning ever more ridiculous terms and conditions for the potential licensees, including
a 10m exclusion zone originating at the top of Scudamores steps on Quayside. Independent punt operators would not be allowed
within this exclusion zone. Just for clarification, here's an image of what that means:
Anyone who has ever been to this part of Cambridge will realise immediately that the major footfall in the area comes from Bridge Street (running from bottom right across the bridge to top left).
The exclusion zone would ensure that all but a very small amount of business goes straight to Scudamores. Hardly encouraging competition.
Picture courtesy of Google Earth
23rd February 2008
Cambridge Evening News take notice
Thanks to a little help from an old friend Spencer (he of Big Brother fame, formerly an independent punt operator) the local paper finally decide to provide some coverage to the situation.
18th February 2008
Council officer clashes with punt operator
During the encounter, a council officer (who did not identify himself) approached an independent punt operator who was in the process of dealing with some customers. The council officer told the independent punt operator that what he was doing was dangerous (loading customers onto a punt from Quayside) and that he (the council officer) would be shutting down independent punt operators. Asked when this would be, he said that he knew but that he wasn't going to divulge the information.
A telephone call later that afternoon to the Cambridge City Council revealed that the council officer in question was Alastair Roberts, one of the council officers supposedly charged with providing independent punt operators with somewhere to operate from...
There then followed a series of emails between the two, with the council as usual being unwilling to divulge any real information.
12th February 2008
Any day now...
After consulting with the City Council's property department it was decided that a meeting be held on the 12th February. The intention of the meeting was to consult on plans for the independent "La Mimosa" punt station. The meeting was with Alastair Roberts and Phil Doggett from the council and 5 independent punt operators. At the meeting it quickly became clear that the number one concern for independents is that the station may not be available in time and they will lose their livelihoods. To paraphrase the response given "vacant possession should be established within 2-3 days".
8th February 2008
Leader doesn't listen
The final meeting of interest was "Strategy and Resources Scrutiny 2" held on 8th February 2008. At this meeting the leader was asked to consider "Punt Operation in the City of Cambridge" that recommended the commencement of enforcement action on the use of Jesus Green. Again several of the independents got together and wrote letters for the consideration of the committee, and also instructed a solicitor to outline the competition act concerns of the plan. The leader did not listen and endorsed the recommendations.
21st January 2008
Budget secured but where's the punt station?
The next meeting of interest was of the Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on the 21st January 2008 Points raised in the agenda included city centre management planning implement a badging scheme for independent punt touts, and the apportioning of funds for a pontoon to constructed and licensed to independents at the "La Mimosa" punt station. Several independent punt operators sent a letter to the committee asking that language be changed to include reference to all touts, rather than just touts for independent punt operators. The letter also outlined potential problems for the "La Mimosa" station, relating to health and safety, disabled access and licensing terms. The letter was ignored by the city council. Also ignored was the fact that the city does not have vacant possession of the station.
17th January 2008
Concerns fall on deaf ears
Prior to the meeting on the 17th several of independent punt operators examined the report from Phil Back & Associates that formed the basis of the review. We were extremely concerned to find that it was the intention that all commercial punt operators were to be contacted, and yet none of the 17 independent operators we spoke to had been consulted. Considering that the consultation only drew 19 respondents we felt that there was a grievous error which needed correcting. An independent punt operator spoke up on these issues at the meeting on the 17th January, but the committee dismissed the concerns.
11th January 2008
La Mimosa not available?
In response to registering an interest in the La Mimosa station, the following email was received from
Ann Belshaw of Cambridge City Council:
Thank you for registering your interest in operating commercial punts from the landing stage opposite La Mimosa on Thompsons Lane.
At present the City Council is unable to progress with offering the site to future punt operators. However, I confirm your contact details are noted and we will contact you again once the Council is in a position to proceed with the proposal. At this stage we are unable to confirm when the site may become available.
A consultation that doesn't consult?
In December 2007 Phil Back & Associates were commissioned to design and undertake consultation which would be used in creating a "Review of River Moorings Policy". This was presented to the City Council in a meeting of the Community Services Scrutiny Committee on 17th January 2008. The report concluded (amongst other things) that Jesus Green should be designated a no mooring zone, and that the Council should reserve the right to take legal action against anyone using its land without express written permission.
La Mimosa becomes available?
In October 2007 the Scudamores lease on the "La Mimosa" punt station ran out. They continue to occupy the station and are claiming security of tenure. The Cambridge City Council invited punt operators to 'register an interest' in the station with the view to being able to use it in the future.