When residents start scrutinising videos of public meetings


A growing trend in Cambridge as debate on the city deal hots up

I was asked to go along to film a big gathering of the Milton Road Residents’ Association (which, upon nearly 200 people turning up got me wondering why we didn’t have something like this south of the River Cam).

160121 MiltonRoadRA2.jpg

The playlist of the presentations (and the Q&A from the audience) is at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwEUs8UyvFATecLKy4KhL45VFT6numLkf

What was interesting to hear in the background chatter were the number of residents who had said they had been through the videos of previous meetings in detail – reflected in the stats where the longer videos are showing an average viewing time almost four times as long as my average of between 2-3 minutes.

The relationship between myself (as a community reporter/cameraman and residents

This isn’t something I’ve given much thought about until recently – general election aside. I’ve not really had conversations with local residents outside the local democracy bubble here. However, the data seems to indicate that it’s more than just those of us inside the bubble that are watching  the videos. Furthermore, I heard a couple of people in conversation saying that it was as a result of watching one of the videos that they decided to come along to this meeting. That in itself makes filming such meetings worth while.

How do you measure impact?

Difficult to say. You can have the traditional quantitative metrics such as hits, views, length of viewing, or even numbers of pieces of correspondence sent as a result. But what about the qualitative impact? These can range from the quality of contributions from members of the audience – in particular those that can give an opinion based on their specialist training. Others might involve numbers of people becoming active in political parties – Labour councillors and activists were conspicuous by their presence yesterday evening. Other parties less so – but then with much of it now on video, there’s a chance for everyone to catch up. With Labour in power at The Guildhall, issues that residents have will be turned towards Labour rather than other political parties.

Smarter Transport Cambridge builds up a head of steam

Edward Leigh has been diligently going around various community groups talking about his ideas for Cambridge’s transport. (See http://www.smartertransport.uk/)


In a nutshell, Mr Leigh has gone into a level of detail that makes things very tricky for local officials to dismiss. Furthermore, he’s done a huge amount of work to persuade not just residents but politicians and businesses to sign up to and scrutinise/improve his ideas. At the same time, city deal authorities seem to have blundered unnecessarily into schemes that have generated significant concern in a number of communities – ones that are both vocal and affluent at the same time. There remains a risk of a ‘class divide’ if Cambridge doesn’t get the transport plans right.

They got the sequencing wrong

The most compelling cases made by Mr Leigh and supporters were around the relatively unintrusive measures needed to bring in smarter traffic management, plus the lack of evidence that standard bus lanes alone have much impact on traffic levels and bus punctuality. The big missed opportunity as far as I am concerned is that the authorities did not do a big community problem-solving exercise where we all looked at the city of Cambridge as a whole to see where the traffic pinch points are. Such an exercise with the bus drivers alone would have been fascinating to have seen.

As a result, Milton and Histon Roads are being looked at in isolation, as is Hills Road, as are the roads west out of the city. There are a number of large transport studies – including the large transport access study at http://www.gccitydeal.co.uk/citydeal/info/2/transport/1/transport/10 – scroll to the end. Is there any chance someone could make that into a short video with a few animations to explain the concept to those who prefer not to wade through pages and pages of paper? We know from Transport for London that publicity and communications is essential – they told us in their evidence to the City Deal a few months ago. Yet sound publicity and communications despite early promises has been consistently below par.

Do the councils have the resources – in particular the analytical capacity to assess the contributions coming in from the public?

I don’t think they do. Furthermore, I remain to be convinced that the City Deal Assembly represents value for money for the people that attend it. There are a number of heads of large organisations that lose a couple of hours at least of their days when they attend such meetings. Yet they remain silent throughout most of it. What is the consultancy hourly-rate equivalent of having them sitting there remaining silent?

Contributions from young people are still missing

…and we’re over a year into the process. When are we going to start hearing from the young people who will be the big users of cycle routes and improved public transport routes.





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