Save Independent Punting

Developments from March 2008

31st March 2008

Smile! You're on candid camera

Two CCTV cameras have been installed in the old bowling green building on Jesus Green. They are recessed into the building and directed towards the river, one facing towards the lock and one facing towards the boardwalk.

27th March 2008

On air

Thanks very much to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire's drive time show for having Tim Campbell on this afternoon to discuss the campaign with Antonia Brickell. Welcome to any listeners to the show who have decided to visit the website and get some more information about what is going on. It was a bit short notice so we couldn't put anything on the site before hand and the show isn't available on listen again on the BBC iplayer but if something similar happens we will attempt to put the info up before hand.

26th March 2008

Just in case

As a concession to those who are concerned they might 'miss out' (although what there is to miss out on is not clear) by not applying we have created our own application form to complete and send in. It is exactly the same as the one distributed by the City council, with the exception that it clearly states any offer of a place would only be accepted if the touting zone (the image on this page is rather large, you have been warned) is changed to provide some parity.

21st March 2008

Business as usual

It seems the rumours about the City council commencing enforcement action on or prior to Easter weekend were nothing more than that (unless they have had some undercover agents out collecting data) so it was down to the weather to make life difficult in these times of uncertainty.

With nearly 30 touts between Scudamores and independent punt operators, unfortunately it seems that everyone is determined to squeeze every last penny out of the situation before the impending changes. However the British weather was conspiring against those engaged in outdoor activities and whilst the forecast snow didn't materialise the cold was enough to keep most people away.

19th March 2008

A minor change is all that's needed

We met with Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith (Leader of the Cambridge City Council) and Phil Doggett (Properties and Services) to discuss our problems with the current proposal. We indicated that the proposed touting zone will simply not provide enough business to make the station a viable long term prospect. We presented the figures from this site (you can view them here). We stated that if the touting zone was changed so that touts operating from La Mimosa and Scudamores were allowed to tout anywhere on Quayside then the prospect would become commercially viable.

We were told they would consider our views and get back to us, but urged us to sign up for the pontoon anyway so as not to "miss an opportunity".

We would urge everyone considering signing up to not do so unless license terms are changed. If they don't get enough tenants they will be forced to reconsider terms. Put simply, by applying you are sending the message that the current proposals are attractive.

Still think they are, or can't be bothered with our detailed analysis? Let's put this simply too. The best year Tyrells Punting Company ever had they took £250,000 in chauffeur tours. Given that figure the La Mimosa station would struggle to take £100,000 in one year. Removing the almost £40,000 in costs for the 15 boats at the station you are left with £60,000 to split between the tenants. So if there are ten licensees they make a handsome £6,000 each, and this is ignoring any other costs of business - ie assuming they have no additional staff and incur no other expenses.

Once again, we urge anyone considering applying to halt their application and contact the council indicating they don't believe the current solution is viable.

18th March 2008

It's worse than could have been expected!

Finally some communication from the City council, in the form of the application packs for the La Mimosa licences. Unfortunately the City council appear to have lost touch with reality... If you have read the worst case scenario on the state of play page, then you're about to find out our predictions were horribly accurate.

  • £40 per person for the CRB check
  • £25 deposit for the station key
  • £250 processing fee (for successful applicants) per punt
  • £1000 (+VAT) per single punt & £2000 (+VAT) per ferry punt
  • 1 extra person allowed per punt (ie one chauffeur)
  • Maximum 4 touts weekdays, 6 touts at weekends
  • Touts not allowed further than the toilets on Quayside
  • Station can only operate from 9am until sunset
  • Public liability insurance cover of £5,000,000 (double the current £2,500,000 required by the Cam conservators)
  • The station will not be available until sometime in May

The start up costs for one single punt to operate from the station will be approximately £2000. If the operator needs to purchase a punt then they will potentially need to add anywhere from £500 to £1500 to this. The start up costs for a ferry punt will be significantly higher.

What is the upshot of this? Essentially that the station will not be commercially viable and here's a breakdown of why not.

12th March 2008

Something is happening...

The La Mimosa station has been vacated, well sort of! Scudamores have removed their punts and the larger of their ticket offices (that had been stored there since they stopped using it at Quayside). The punts are nowhere to be seen, the ticket office has been moved across the river to Jubilee Gardens. The smaller ticket office is still in situ and the gates to the station and also the smaller, public access landing stage are still chained shut.

On the face of it this would seem to indicate that recent suggestions of imminent vacant possesion of the station were correct. However it raises more questions than it answers:

  • Has the station been given up?
  • Is so, why is the public access stage still locked?
  • Why is the Scudamores ticket office still present? There is no mention of a ticket office in the City council's plans for the station when used by independent punt operators
  • Why has the other ticket office not been moved up stream, merely across to the other bank of the river? If it's because of the wind then why start the job when it couldn't be completed? The weather forecasts have been mentioning severe weather and strong winds for at least the last 3 days
  • Has the pontoon been given up willingly or because the legal battle was won by the City council?
    If Scudamores gave up the pontoon willingly it would indicate that they have succeeded in finalising whatever details they felt needed finalising and they have been able to influence the future licence terms for independent punt operators using the station.
  • As the City council have had over a month to prepare the application packs (since the meeting when the decision was rubber stamped), why have they not been sent out yet? Given that the council must have had an idea (certainly they have indicated that they did) that the station was about to be released (if indeed it has), they have had ample time.
  • What are the licence terms going to be for the new station?
  • Why is the City council still failing to communicate properly with independent punt operators?

If the City council have succeeded, by legal means, in getting Scudamores to give them vacant possesion of the station (not currently the case) then this must be seen as positive progress. On the other hand, if Scudamores have started the process of handing over the station willingly then it would seem to indicate that they have finalised the details that were a sticking point and that the city will impose restrictive licence conditions on independent punt operators. Only time will tell, we would welcome some communication from the City council to clarify what is happening.

10th March 2008 pm

Council write to say, nothing new actually

Taylor Vinters solicitors finally (it's only taken just over a month) receive a response from the council to their letter sent on 6th February 2008 on behalf on independent punt operators. It doesn't contain any new information and continues to claim the La Mimosa station is coming soon... Terms & conditions for the licences have yet to be provided.

10th March 2008 am

Poorly researched article

On Friday the Cambridge Crier (free local paper) published an article with the emotive headline "Illegal punts face 'trespass' action." The article contained a number of factual inaccuracies and this morning we telephoned them to speak to the journalist to query these. The inaccuracies are as follows:

  1. The punts (boats) are not illegal, they all have commercial licences from the Cam conservators and insurance to allow them to be used on the river.
  2. The council has set aside a budget of £10000 (capital expenditure). The income from the licences is expected to cover the running costs of the station and provide an income for the council. The council have not set aside a budget of £40000 to run the station over a 3 year period. See Service Plans and draft Budgets 2008/09 pages 17, 38, 55 & 56
  3. The Scudamores lease on the La Mimosa station expires at the end of this year (2008) according to the article. However:
    "6.3 The latest Licence Agreement between the City Council and Scudamore's Punting Company Limited was completed on 17 May 2005 for the Licence Period 1 March up to and including 31 October in years 2005, 2006 and 2007. The Licence terminated on 31 October 2007. However, because of a challenge over the status of the agreement the City Council is seeking possession of the landing stage through the Courts." taken from Punt Operation in the City of Cambridge

However despite highlighting these inaccuracies Laura Jean Morris, who wrote the article, claimed that it was accurate and balanced and declined the opportunity for an interview to present the independent punt operators side of things.

9th March 2008 pm

Some good news?

Tim Campbell and another independent punt operator spoke to two PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers), who were in the area responding to an incident, in an attempt to obtain information about the current situation. The PCSOs stated that the council would seek to obtain injunctions on the grounds of trespass. As trespass is a civil matter it would not involve the police. Anyone trespassing would first receive a warning, followed by a summons and then potentially an injunction could be served. They indicated that this process would take at least a couple of weeks (not the 3 days stated by Emma Wynne). However they also said that it was their belief that the council did not wish to do this until such a time as a viable alternative is being offered.

We welcome this if it is the case and would welcome the opportunity to work with the council to make sure that any alternative is viable and not a token offer. As yet we have still not been officially informed when enforcement will commence and it appears that the council may not have actually decided yet. Whilst it seems the council may be being reasonable and lenient in their approach towards enforcement their communication leaves a lot to be desired.

9th March 2008 am

Unrepresentative?

Today Tim Campbell (leader of the campaign to Save Independent Punting) received a phone call from Emma Wynne (former independent punt operator) expressing her concern that the current publicity campaign to save independent punting could have a detrimental effect on independent punt operators by angering the Cambridge City Council and likened it to commercial suicide. She suggested that she had spoken to Alastair Roberts (Safer Communities Section Manager, Cambridge City Council) and he had informed her that the La Mimosa punt station would be available within the next 2-3 days (that sounds familiar...) and that we would all be receiving letters very soon.

She stated that independent punt operators had not been involved with the consultation process because we are "illegal" and not stakeholders and that we should be grateful for whatever we are offered by the council and not to question it. During the meeting on 17th January Debbie Kaye of Cambridge City Council stated that the council had used a list of commercial licence holders supplied by the Cam Conservators during the consultation process (although no one on the list received the consultation document). Following the meeting Debbie Kaye expressed concern that we had not been consulted and claimed it was an oversight.

Emma Wynne went on to claim that Alastair Roberts and the council had sufficient evidence (video, eyewitness, etc) to secure injunctions against independent punt operators for trespass on Jesus Green (common land owned by the council) and that these injunctions could be obtained within 3 days. She reiterated her concern that the current campaign is not representative of the views of independent punt operators and that it would damage the prospects of applicants for licences on the La Mimosa station. It is the assertion of Tim Campbell that if the process of granting licences is to be fair and transparent then no harm can be done by drawing public attention to the matter. On the other hand, if this campaign is in someway damaging to his (or anyone else by association's) chances of securing a licence then clearly the process is not fair or transparent and Cambridge City Council are acting improperly and have something to hide.

8th March 2008

We're watching Big Brother

Not the terrible reality tv programme... The Cambridge City Council are obviously taking a keen interest in this site. We've had 4 visits in the last 2 days from gwa.cambridge.gov.uk Hi guys! Any chance of a link from visitcambridge.org ? No? Didn't think so...

7th March 2008

Big Brother is watching

With this website live for less than 12 hours we have already received a phone call from Phil Doggett, not happy with the wording of the 5th March section. He asked what was meant by 'shut down'. We stated that the council are planning to commence enforcement action on Jesus Green and with no where else to load or unload that independent punt operators would effectively be unable to trade. He confirmed this but stated that it is not his department's responsibility to provide punt stations nor was he able to confirm whether the start of the season meant 1st April as it was originally taken to be or prior to Easter weekend as now seems to be the case.
He requested that the wording be changed and that the new wording be emailed to the him for approval by the council prior to being published. He also wanted to know the name of the independent punt operator who was involved in the conversation.

6th March 2008

Is it legal?

Independent punt operators are currently seeking legal advice on the anti-competitive nature of the Cambridge City Council's proposals and behaviour with reference to the Competition Act and a view to taking further action.

5th March 2008

Your time is nearly up

To paraphrase a telephone conversation an independent punt operator had with Phil Doggett (Consultant Senior Estates Surveyor, Property & Building Services, Cambridge City Council), when asked what independent punt operators should do about renewing their commercial licences in April it was stated that we would be shut down prior to Easter weekend 2008. Anyone continuing to operate from the Green would get a 'black mark' against them that would prejudice their ability to get a space on the La Mimosa station.

Given that the La Mimosa station is still not in vacant possesion and that no alternative to Jesus Green has been offered, it would appear that far from attempting to licence and regulate independent punt operators, the council are simply attempting to shut us down in response to the constant pressure from Scudamores Punting company and their lawyers. (see the letters page for an idea of the kind of pressure they have been applying).

4th March 2008

Write to reply

Tim Campbell's letter in response to their article is published in the Cambridge Evening News. Despite repeatedly offering to do an interview the paper have yet to take this offer up.

29th February 2008 - Oct 2007

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