Save Independent Punting

Concerns prior to meeting 8th February 2008

The following letter was sent to Ian Nimmo-Smith (leader of the council and leader of the Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee) and Phil Doggett (Consultant Senior Estates Surveyor, Property & Building Services, Cambridge City Council) by email on the date indicated.

25th January 2008

Dear Sir / Madam,

We are writing to express our views on the draft report "Punt Operation in the City of Cambridge" that has been prepared for the Special Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on 8th February 2008.

Our previous letters to the city council regarding this subject are included as appendices A and B.

Our views are listed sequentially, following the layout of the report.

Under "Recommendations":

2 - We would like the council to consider an amendment; "To commence enforcement from the start of operation of the La Mimosa punt station." We believe it would be counterproductive to the long term commercial viability of the station to begin legal action without first allowing independent punt operators to begin working from the station.

4(a) - Before endorsing the decision we believe the council should consider the possibility that the consultation process was flawed and requires re-examining. For further details see appendix A.

4(b) - Before endorsing the decision we believe the council should consider the lack of provision in the budget for disabled access and whether the station would contravene (or cause licensees to contravene) byelaws 6.2 and 6.4 of the river Cam. For details see appendices C and D. For further concerns on this decision see appendix B.

Under "Background":

1.1 - We ask the council to consider that the increase in number of independents was a direct result of Scudamores' Punting Company purchasing Tyrells' Punting Company in an attempt to eliminate their only direct competitor in the north of the city. The vacuum in competition was filled by many of the former employees of Tyrells Punting Company becoming independent punt operators. The number and geographical spread of touts had already been escalated by the established punting companies as they fought for trade.

1.2 - We ask what statistics exist to confirm the statement "Touting is most prevalent in the centre of Cambridge, away from the river bank..." Any person who has worked in the industry will attest that the majority of business is touted within sight of the river, for very obvious reasons. We believe that for the city council to truly understand the problem and what is needed to solve it they must be presented with the facts.

1.10 - We would argue that the code of conduct was heavily biased towards Scudamores' Punting Company and provided no ability for independent punt operators to comply as it was worded to require a punt station. Thus it could never have been an effective tool and its failure is not a reflection of independent punt operators' views on regulation.

1.13 - We accept that the Council may charge for the usage of its river frontages at Thompsons Lane, Granta Place, Silver Street and Newnham Road. However no charge is made for the use of the river frontages at Quayside or Garret Hostel Lane. Thus the situation on Jesus Green is not without precedent as the report implies.

1.17 - This statement is another example of the terrible communication between the city council and the independent punt operators. The letter mentioned was delivered by hand to a number of punt operators working on the day it was distributed (a Wednesday we believe). Many working in the tourist industry take the midweek as their "weekend" and we estimate that fewer than 20% of the independent commercial license holders received the letter. It was certainly never delivered to our home addresses.

1.20 - We applaud the city council for taking steps to deal with aggressive and intimidating touts as they are a problem for us all but feel that the byelaw has not been used effectively. The council cites numerous complaints of intimidating and harassing behaviour, yet the single prosecution under the byelaw was due to obstruction.

Under "Jesus Green":

2.2 - We ask how it can be in the public interest to prevent competition in the punting industry, to remove the only disabled access to the river and to put a group of people out of work. Until such time as the La Mimosa station becomes available for use by independents, the only interests furthered by action against operators using Jesus Green are those of the established punt operators.

2.5 - To counter the view of Scudamores' Punting Company we would argue that a re-written code of conduct that truly reflects the situation in the area of Quayside could be effective and would not require extensive monitoring by the council at public expense - it would be self policing as it is in the interest of all operators to be appropriately regulated.

2.6 - We ask that the council consider our views laid out in appendix A; that the consultation process was flawed and not inclusive; that the results were inconclusive and largely advocated maintaining the status quo; and that the sample size was too small to be significant

2.8 - Once again we ask that the decision be re-examined in light of the flawed consultation process. See appendix A.

2.10 - As mentioned above we believe that if the council no longer feels the use of Jesus Green is acceptable then action should also be taken regarding Quayside and Garret Hostel Lane.

2.12 - Having examined a draft of the map mentioned, there seems some confusion with regard to which land is council owned. The map indicates Quayside is not council owned and also claims ownership of an area of Jesus Green that we believe belongs to the Conservators of the River Cam.

Under "Landing Stage Adjacent to La Mimosa Restaurant":

3.5 - Surely the council can see that no commercial operation in any industry would be willing to sub-let a property from a direct competitor under commercially restrictive terms.

3.7 - We urge the council to remember that an expression of interest does not guarantee someone will take up a licence based on overly restrictive terms. We believe it essential for the long term commercial viability of the station that the license terms are not so restricting as to prevent the business from flourishing.

3.8 - One of the hallmarks of the independent punting community has always been a willingness and ability to provide a service to the public all year round. What is the rational behind the license not covering the whole financial year? What are the terms of the code of practice? Who will be responsible for policing these?

3.9 - See appendix B.

Under "Other Council River Frontages":

4.1 - As mentioned earlier in response to 1.13, although several commercial operators do pay for the use of council river frontage, as far as we aware no charge is made for the use of Quayside or Garret Hostel Lane.

Under "In Summary":

5.2 - We would argue that regulation of the situation should begin by offering independent punt operators a viable commercial station whilst using the "touting byelaw" to control aggressive touts. Once these steps are taken the final stage should be to begin enforcement measures on Jesus Green.

5.3 - We applaud the proposal to allow independent punt operators a viable station to work from, but would like to re-assert our belief that for the station to be a long term success:

a) The license terms must not be overly restrictive.

b) Enforcement action on Jesus Green must not be taken until independents have been given a chance to move their business to the station.

5.4 - Experienced independent punt operators would welcome the opportunity to work with the council to ensure the success and longevity of this project.

Under "Options":

6.1 & 6.2 - As has been stated earlier we believe a third option should be considered. I.e. waiting until the La Mimosa station is operational before taking enforcement action.

6.5 - This statement is false as the only direct competitor to the independents is the Scudamores' Punting Company station at Quayside for which we believe the council receives no rent. This strengthens the case for option 6.2.

Under "Implications":

8.0(a) - We believe equal opportunities will be affected as Jesus Green is currently the only disabled access point to the river.

8.0(d) - The proposed station will create a new choke point on the river, possibly disrupting the flow of water and the free passage of vessels on the river. This is an environmental impact.

Our Summary:

1. We believe there are several potential problems with the proposal for the La Mimosa station. These include but are not limited to liability issues, compliance with byelaws of the river Cam, non take-up by punt operators if license terms are too restrictive and current lack of provision for disabled access. We encourage the council to research these issues further to ensure the success of the project.

2. We urge the council to reconsider the report on future usage of Jesus Green. The serious oversight in the consultation process poses questions as to the relevance of the conclusions drawn.

3. We believe the council should also consider the option of continuing with the package of proposals but waiting until the La Mimosa station is operational before commencing enforcement on Jesus Green. To do otherwise would be counter-productive to the long term success of the station and in the short term would serve little purpose other than to further the commercial interests of other punt operators.

4. If the council is to enforce its rights as land owner of Jesus Green we believe it should also enforce its rights at other river frontages - i.e. Quayside and Garret Hostel Lane.

5. We encourage the city council to effectively enforce the "touting byelaw" - concentrating on touts who act aggressively or intimidate members of the public.

Thank you for considering our views,
Yours faithfully,

Tim Campbell, Jamie Collinson

Appendix A

18th January 2008

Dear Sir / Madam

We are writing to express our concerns over the consultation process leading to the report "Review of River Moorings Policy" which was presented at the meeting of the Community Services Scrutiny Committee on 17th January 2008.

Phil Back Associates were commissioned to examine stakeholder views on the use of "Area A" (the stretch of river alongside Jesus Green between Jesus Lock and the La Mimosa restaurant). The report generated by this consultation was used as the basis for the recommendations in the "Review of River Moorings Policy".

It was not until the report was announced prior to the meeting on 17th January that several independent punt operators realised that they had not been consulted for their views. A spokesman for a group of the operators raised this point at the meeting of the Community Services Scrutiny Committee, to which the officer responsible for the report (Debbie Kaye) replied that all persons holding a commercial punt license from the Conservators of the River Cam had been contacted.

Further to this response one of the punt operators contacted Debbie Kaye via telephone. He attested that to his knowledge none of the independent license holders had been contacted, and she confirmed that it had been the intention that all be polled for their views.

Of the 17 commercial punt license holders we were able to contact; only one had received a questionnaire for the consultation, and this was upon direct request after seeing an article in the local paper and making further enquiries about how to get involved in the process.

It is clear that the views of these stakeholders have not been taken, and that there has been a grievous error in the consultation process. Considering that the consultation drew 19 respondents and that all licensees contacted were extremely interested in having their views heard, we believe that had they been contacted the consultation would have resulted in a significantly different report. As Phil Back Associates note "The numbers involved in this study are small and need to be viewed with caution ... a single response could create a difference of over 5% in the result."

We would like to suggest that the report be re-examined in light of these facts. Should consultation be desired of the commercial punt license holders we are sure it would be forthcoming.

Thank you for considering our views.
Yours faithfully,

Tim Campbell, Jamie Collinson, Ashley Dalton,
Julian Fowler, Simon Godfrey, Nick Maseychik

Names of licensees not contacted for consultation

Richard Allen
James Bayliss-Smith
Pete Bryant
Tim Campbell
Simon Charlton
James Collinson
Ashley Dalton
Julian Fowler
Simon Godfrey
Ross Kennard
Nick Maseychik
Sam Matthews
Steve Rowe
Owen Sanderson
Joe Seal-Driver
Guy Stepney
Robin Tidman

Appendix B

18th January 2008

Dear Sir / Madam

We commend the city council in offering an opportunity to independent punt operators to run their business from an established city mooring. We would like to express our support for the proposed initiative, which we believe will help regulate both the number of punt touts and their behaviour.

Regarding the City Centre Management service plan, we would like to see an amendment to "Service Objective 3: Maintain an enjoyable city for all" to read:

a) Work with Property and the anti social behaviour team to develop and manage a badging scheme for commercial punt operators to control the proliferation of punt touts.

The current wording specifies a badge scheme for independent punt operators only, which we feel is not only discriminatory but also unhelpful for the resolution of the problem.

Regarding capital bid C1712/C1713 ("provision of pontoons for La Mimosa punt station" and "operation of La Mimosa punting station") we would like to outline the following concerns.

  • Health & Safety - In the event of an accident what would be the liability for individual licensees working in a communal environment from a city council property?
  • Disabled Access - Currently the access points to the station do not provide for disabled access. Given the lack of proper / effective disabled access at every other punting station in the city we believe this is an important issue to address.
  • Licensing Fees - In particular, how have the proposed fees been arrived at? How will they rise over time? We assume that the council has cross-referenced these figures against those paid by other commercial punt operators and other council tenants.
  • Contractual Terms - One of the key risks identified in the project appraisal is non-take up by punt operators. Previous council assessments of the La Mimosa station have identified the low footfall of the area and thus for the station to be commercially viable we believe it important that licensing terms do not preclude touting for business in an area with higher footfall e.g. Quayside. We also believe the criteria used for approval of licensees should be transparent.

Thank you for considering our views.

Yours faithfully,

Tim Campbell, Jamie Collinson, Ashley Dalton,

Julian Fowler, Simon Godfrey, Nick Maseychik

Appendix C

Appendix D

Relevant byelaws of the river cam:

River Cam Conservancy Act, 1922 (as amended)

Made by the Conservators under Section 25

6.2 - The master of any vessel shall not cause or permit such vessel to be moored at any wharf or any mooring place on the River unless such vessel shall be securely moored head and stern, shall be laid as close to and along the side or front of such wharf or mooring place as may be convenient, and shall be so moored as not to cause any obstruction to the navigation of other vessels save with the written consent of the Control Officer subject to such conditions as the Control Officer may impose.

6.4 - No person shall moor any vessel in such manner as unreasonably or unnecessarily to obstruct or impede the free flow of water in, into or out of the River, or so as to prevent or impede the proper control or regulation of water levels by the Conservators, or so as to obstruct or unduly restrict the passage of other vessels in navigating the River.

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