Working to Improve the Cam

We all care about the Cam and the chalk streams that supply it, and we all know that no plan for the future of Cambridge or the greater Cambridge area can go ahead without some solution to the water crisis that we face – itself just one aspect of the much wider climate crisis.

This is something I’ve been arguing for years, and in 2019 I organised the first major meeting about water in the region. Since then, it has been acknowledged by all the local councils and MPs from every party, and widely reported (as here in the Cambridge Independent).
So it’s a real pity when we see members of one party misrepresent the steps that we are taking as a City Council to do something positive to improve the quality of the Cam, put pressure on the water companies and the Environment Agency to take action, and raise awareness of the importance of our water supply.

I was surprised to see a letter circulated by the Green Party and signed by their Newnham councillor that significantly misrepresents the intentions of a recent council resolution, and implies that the important work being done by the energetic Cam Valley Forum is somehow going to damage both the river and the local ecology in Newnham.

The claims made in the letter simply don’t stack up, and where they aren’t actually wrong they are misleading. Is this a reflection of a NIMBY point of view that access to the Cam in Newnham somehow needs to be preserved for local residents, and not be a resource for everyone in Cambridge? Yet we know that people are swimming there – over a recent four hour period over two hundred people were recorded swimming near Sheep’s Green.

Among the misleading claims, the letter says that, if designated, the council and other authorities will start to promote swimming and building facilities in the area. This is wrong. There is no obligation to promote swimming and the Council has no plans to do so.

If the designation is successful then the Environment Agency will require testing of the water quality and local notification of the results every year. All that will happen is that a notice will be posted about the water quality. Since this is likely to be very poor, it is actually more likely to deter swimmers than encourage more of them, at least until things improve.

In addition, there is no obligation to develop facilities. The area involved has to have public toilets within 500 meters, but designation does not require new facilities to be built and there are no plans to do so. The letter even speculates, without any evidence, that the council wants to turn Sheep’s Green into a ‘visitor destination’ that will lead to extra car parking, food outlets and toilets in the area.

There are no such plans, and none have been discussed. The designation is about putting pressure on responsible bodies like Defra, the Environment Agency and the water companies to improve water quality, nothing else.

Finally, the letter also points out that designation only applies to a small stretch of river and claims that it is pointless as a result. However this is because the regulations require a specified area to be identified.  If pollution is reduced or removed so that the water quality tests results in the designated area are sufficient, good or excellent it will result in water quality improvements in the whole length of the river from the point of the pollution, not just in the designated stretch.

This letter is designed to mislead people into speaking out against an application that, if approved, could do a lot to improve the quality of the water in the river, water that flows by and serves the riverbanks and woodland that we are concerned about. The voles and other wildlife that use the Cam will benefit – including the people who currently swim there.

The application process is ongoing, and any submitted application must include a letter of support from the council, which will only be done after proper discussion at an appropriate committee, but by pretending that we propose to turn a small stretch of the Cam into the Newnham Lido the Green Party does us all a disservice. 

It is also worth noting that at the Council meeting of 20th July 2023 only one councillor voted against the motion. Cllr Glasberg chose to abstain.

Katie addressing the city council

You can find out more on the City Council website, and see the debate and vote on the City Council YouTube channel.