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OPINION: Don’t blame Cambridgeshire County Council for health and safety ‘red tape’

Chatteris in Bloom was founded in 2005

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Ironically, the story about health and safety prompting a requirement for Chatteris in Bloom organisers to undergo training before placing hanging baskets on lampposts broke at a challenging time for Cambridgeshire County Council. At about the same time the council announced they had been served with prosecution summonses and a court hearing date over 3 deaths on the Cambridgeshire guided busway in recent years.

The council opened it in 2011 and despite its popularity – 33 million people have used it since – there have been safety concerns and in 3 instances people have died following crashes on the busway.

So, you can understand why the county council takes health and safety seriously – and perhaps in the case of Chatteris they may have stretched the bounds of being reasonable but in all honesty every organisation has to undertake risk assessments and it seems they have now carried out this particular one in Chatteris.

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“Why can’t they leave us alone to get on with it?,” one of the Chatteris organisers has told the media but that sums up the dilemma. If they have carried out a risk assessment what it have conclude?

Sue Unwin president of Chatteris in Bloom. Sue has been told to go on a two day safety course before she can hang a basket in the town. Photo: Bav Media 
That bastion of broadcasting respectability and even-handedness (that’s a joke by the way) Jeremy Kyle invited me to discuss the ‘Chatteris situation’ on his Talk Radio/Talk TV drivetime show on Tuesday. He wasn’t happy I didn’t agree with his ‘bureaucracy gone mad’ stance since I preferred a more even-handed approach, which I must confess is not often my stance.

I quoted every day examples of where ‘it could never happen’ might just have happened, for example an Ely car wash recently being closed for a short period after health and safety officials found “poor electrical infrastructure”.

And only this week there was a court case involving lack of health and safety precautions which led to the death of a construction worker at Alconbury.

The company pleaded guilty to breaches of the Health & Safety at Work laws.

And we still await the outcome of an inquest when two men died on a farm at Soham after being crushed by hay bales which could, of course, emerge to have health and safety issues.

Jeremy Kyle wasn’t interested in what might or could happen, only an opportunity for him to spout outrage and attract listeners. We were linked via Zoom, and you get a feel for the temperature when I suggested he took the glass of water in his hand and poured it over his head. I’m not sure I’m on the return guest list.

But in the case of Chatteris, the county council insists that “we are always keen to work closely with local communities across Cambridgeshire to make use of streetlights with festive displays.

Members of Chatteris in Bloom have been told they must complete a safety course before hanging baskets on 20 lampposts this year. PHOTO: Bav Media

Members of Chatteris in Bloom have been told they must complete a safety course before hanging baskets on 20 lampposts this year. PHOTO: Bav Media

“All we are asking is that any group wishing to create displays on our streetlights – which could involve putting heavy items overhead, on streetlights directly connected to the local power grid – is that they contact us first.

“This is so we can make sure essential independent safety training is completed for everyone’s wellbeing. This is not red tape; it’s about keeping people safe.”

“We have met with Chatteris Town Council, and we understand they are looking into volunteer training. We gather there is already at least one trained volunteer in the area.”

And because of the publicity it looks like Chatteris in Bloom will go ahead as normal after donors came forward to pay the safety training fees.

In Bloom president Sue Unwin says: “We have so much support behind us, and we are hoping for gold again this year.”

Earlier she had said: “It’s becoming impossible with the bureaucracy and red tape. It’s health and safety gone mad.

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“We’ve been doing this for more than 18 years with no problems. Some jobsworth in the county council has made this decision.

Members of Chatteris in Bloom have been told they must complete a safety course before hanging baskets on 20 lampposts this year. PHOTO: Bav Media

Members of Chatteris in Bloom have been told they must complete a safety course before hanging baskets on 20 lampposts this year. PHOTO: Bav Media

“We’re all volunteers and none of us have the time of the money to do a course as well as decorate the town, we already give enough of our own time.

“We’re so fed up; bureaucracy is going to kill our community spirit. We just want to make the town look nice, why can’t they leave us alone to get on with it?”

A county council spokesperson explained: “As street lights are directly connected to the local power grid, to ensure everyone’s safety any group wishing to display items from a street light needs to contact the council so we can make sure essential independent safety training is completed for everyone’s wellbeing.

“We look forward to hearing from Chatteris in Bloom.’

Chatteris in Bloom was founded in 2005 and between 2017 and 2022 achieved Anglia in Bloom’s highest gold award four times, as well as being joint overall winner with Huntingdon last year.

Health and safety has been around for a while, another example being the ban on using lorries for local carnival parades – a tradition which had gone on for many years until these too have been stopped on health and safety grounds.

It’s not just residents of small Fenland towns up in arms about health and safety, try listening for a moment to Conservative MP for Peterborough Paul Bristow, who is campaigning to re-open 3 footbridges suddenly forced to close for health and safety reasons.

He even mentioned them in Parliament in March and announced he was then going “door to door collecting signatures for my campaign to get the bridges reopened! Why everything takes so long and how a council can close these overnight without consultation astounds me!?”

Cllr John Fox said the 3 bridges at Cuckoos Hollow were closed in January following concerns about their structure were raised by him and other local councillors and confirmed by city council contractors.

And he admitted that “I really don’t know” why Mr Bristow is calling for the city council to disregard safety advice and re-open them.

Sue Unwin president of Chatteris in Bloom. Sue has been told to go on a two day safety course before she can hang a basket in the town. PHOTO: Bav Media
“If you took your car to a reputable engineer for an MOT and he’s a qualified engineer who says that your car isn’t safe you shouldn’t be driving it,” said Cllr Fox.

Mr Bristow also wants the city’s swimming pool re-opened after it was closed for health and safety grounds. The roof is falling in”

Councillors have previously said it could cost £10m-£15m to do sufficient repairs and is likely to be replaced.

Cllr Sandra Bond, Cllr John Fox and Cllr Judy Fox at the bridges at Cuckoos Hollow, Peterborough, which MP Paul Bristow wants re-opened despite warnings for public safety over their poor condition. PHOTO: Terry Harris

Cllr Sandra Bond, Cllr John Fox and Cllr Judy Fox at the bridges at Cuckoos Hollow, Peterborough, which MP Paul Bristow wants re-opened despite warnings for public safety over their poor condition. PHOTO: Terry Harris

Mr Bristow remains undeterred and still maintains the city council needs to “make do and mend, spend a bit of money making it safe”.

Meanwhile in Chatteris, scene of the latest health and safety ‘battleground’, peace looks to have broken out and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.

I love Chatteris, love the awards they win for their floral displays, and can understand their resentment.

But in all honesty though – best stick with health and safety.

 

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