Letter to Andrew Lansley MP

9th February 2008

Dear Mr Lansley,

My name is Yvonne Prevett I own Aunties Tea Shop in Cambridge and live in Harston

I am very concerned, having attended the strategy & Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting at the Guildhall in Cambridge on Friday 8th February at the stance being taken regarding commercial punting on the river Cam. I am a local trader and am quite aware of the problems arising from touting within the city and the detrimental effect this can have on tourism, but I am more concerned at the undemocratic decisions being taken by our Council. It appears that the City Council is using its powers to promote the interests of one commercial punt operator against another, and in my opinion actively promoting a monopoly within the city.

The meeting was held on Friday 8th February and although notices regarding the content were distributed in October of 2007 for some reason they omitted to distribute these notices to the independent punt operators. This was only done following an email enquiry from one of the operators and they were finally sent out recorded delivery on 21st January 2008, claiming that it was an oversight!! The meeting was not listed on their website until Monday 11th February (3 days after the meeting). An Agenda was not available until the start of the meeting and any public questions or comment had to be made prior to the meeting with consent. At the meeting we were advised that most of the committee members would abstain from voting on the recommendations as the decision was down to one man – the Executive Councillor for Customer Services & Resources, and therefore their vote was irrelevant.

The independent punt operators are registered tax paying businesses, fully insured and paying a licence fee to the Conservators of the River Cam, In the information received from Cambridge City Council – Item 4 (Report by The Director of Community Services) Item 6 relates to La Mimosa landing Stage which the Council has licensed as a landing stage intended for the use of Independent punt operators. I would like to know where this was openly marketed in 1996.

In the following years when it was licensed to Scudamores It is stated that special terms were introduced in an attempt to provide independents with access, yet Scudamores have actively taken steps to stop independents from using this landing stage. It is very naive for the council the assume that a Monopoly Company trying to get rid of their competitors will fairly manage a landing stage giving access to these same people! Item 6.5 states that independent operators have not taken up the offer to licence their boats and have continued to operate from council’s land at Jesus Green without consent and/or payment. Although the Conservators of the River Cam have the details of all Independent punt operators offers of licences were not sent out to them, therefore they did not have the opportunity to buy a licence.

The Council has now decided that from the start of the season it will no longer allow any commercial punt operation from Jesus Green and instead will develop the landing stage at La Mimosa. The problem with this decision is that they intend to implement this decision before many criteria have been established.

I today spoke to Alastair Roberts (Safer Communities Section Manager) at Cambridge City Council to pose the following questions:- (his responses to my questions are shown in brackets)

  • What date is the start of the Season? (It varies for different people)
  • What date will it be for this purpose? (I can’t tell you that at the moment)
  • How many boats will the landing stage accommodate? (no decision has been made yet)
  • What criteria have been set to decide who gets mooring facilities? (we don’t know yet)
  • How much notice do you legally have to give to those people whose livelihoods you are taking away from them? (I don’t know, we are taking advice on this)
  • Has possession of the landing stage from Scudamores yet been made? (No)
  • Are the minutes for the meeting available? (look on the website) – I have and they aren’t there (I don’t know then, they should be done soon)

If possession of the landing stage has not yet been made and there is no idea when this will happen there will be no moorings at all for the independent punters this season. If possession is made it is not yet known how long it will take to extend the pontoons, again there may be no moorings at all for independents on that basis.

For these traders this is their livelihood. It is a business like any other and the traders have financial responsibilities, mortgages families etc and many have invested heavily at the end of last year in new equipment for this year, having been given no forewarning of this action. They are now being asked by the Conservators of the River to pay for their annual river licence, costing £376.60 (which is dependent on a valid certificate of insurance). They are in a catch 22 situation – how can they renew their insurance and licence when they still have no idea whether or not they will have a mooring. I believe that the Council have a moral obligation to these traders to give them more than 4 – 6 weeks notice – if that, Mr Roberts was unable to tell me how much notice they will get, or even when decisions will be made.

This is the first time I have felt strongly enough about anything to be compelled to write to my MP but as a point of principal I feel that these people are being unfairly treated in what would appear to be a very undemocratic way.

As a final point I would like to point out that most of this has been bought about by the amount of touting on the streets of Cambridge last year. If their research had been done correctly they would have identified who was employing the vast majority of the touts. Scudamores flooded the street with touts in order to drive out the independent operators. They do not need touts as they are the only ones with visible river frontage landing stages, but it was obvious that if enough trouble was caused by the touts the Council would stop touting altogether which would give them a free market. Perhaps it would have been a better idea to speak to local businesses to see if they were prepared to sell tickets for punting, allow a booth by Magdalene Bridge for independents to sell tickets or operate via the tourist information services and web sites. This is a very short sighted stance by the Council.

I will forward a copy of this letter together with relevant documentation via snail mail but felt an email more appropriate due to the urgency of the situation.

Anticipating your support and awaiting a reply

Yours sincerely

Yvonne Prevett