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Its the year of the Goat – Guo nian hao!

IMG_20150222_160215550 (1) (631x800)过年好!拜年了!

As many people know, I have been learning Chinese for ten years. It is a very interesting language to learn, and in a county hosting Felixstowe and Huawei at BT, ever more essential!

This year  I was invited by the ACCE, the Anglo Chinese Cultural Exchange to open the Chinese New Year  Variety show by singing  the Teresa Teng classic “Yueliang daibiao wode xin” onstage at the Ipswich Corn Exchange.  Your county councillor is multi-talented!

I was joined by three fellow students who have all learned Chinese for years, from local teacher Di Suling. When we tell people we learn are all used to hearing things like “Of course, you must be ‘good’ at languages..” “It must be very difficult..”

My view is that if everyone else in the world can learn to speak other languages, why shouldn’t we in Britain finally start joining in? And actually Chinese is no more difficult than any other language – it just look like it ought to be. Suffolk schools, now is the time to start having Chinese on the GCSE syllabus. We will all need it in years to come..

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Epilepsy debate: House of Commons 26 Feb 2015 – 2pm

Caroline Page

Caroline Page, County Councillor for Woodbridge. Suffolk 

 

Epilepsy is and has been overlooked for years. So now that Laura Sandys – one of two MPs ever  to  admit to their epilepsy –  has managed to secure a debate in the House of Commons,  will it be to the bog-standard empty chamber?  Will your MP be there? Write and ask them!
I sure as hell hope my MP, Therese Coffey, will be. And so, of course,  I wrote to ask her. As follows:

Dear Therese,

You will not be surprised to find me writing to you to urge you to attend the forthcoming  parliamentary debate on Epilepsy (26th February 2015; House of Commons; at 2pm)! The debate has been secured by your colleague Laura Sandys, one of two MPs, both in this parliament, ever to admit that they have epilepsy – even though epilepsy affects 1% of the UK population.

This resonates with me. There are thousands of county councillors across the country: however, I appear to be the only county councillor who is up-front about having epilepsy and thus prepared to support my constituents (and yours) with the fallout from this condition. Epilepsy has a profound impact on matters as varied as transport choice, education outcomes, career prospects, medication,  life expectancy etc etc. Our failure to recognise epilepsy or these impacts has knock-on effects that can cause ripples throughout society.

One of these constituents  is my daughter, failed over and over again by a country that is unprepared to allow her the chance to contribute and yet is deeply reluctant to support her by even educating or medicating her appropriately.  This is a ridiculous waste of public money and human potential.

I have a number of issues to raise concerning the treatment and expectations of people with epilepsy in the UK in general and Suffolk in particular – with specific reference to our situation in Suffolk Coastal. However it would seem inappropriate to waste your time and mine unless I know whether you are going to be attending this debate. If you are (as I hope you are) I would  be very happy to give you a briefing without prejudice or party-political bias on this very important issue

Best wishes

Caroline

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Save not spend: Suffolk’s Tories vote in 2015-6 budget by narrow majority

Today Suffolk County Council  was  discussing the County Council Budget 2015-16 – always an occasion of much grandstanding and  some polite(ish) mudslinging.

I am always flummoxed at how Suffolk Conservatives accuse  opposition parties wanting to spend money of ‘lacking ambition,‘  Yet clearly the height of Conservative ambition (as articulated in these selfsame meetings) is to put their money under the mattress  and hope for the best.  Astonishing.

Apart from anything else, as my colleague, Lib Dem Deputy Leader  John Field reminded them,  “You save for a rainy day – not for a rainy decade!”

Then of course there is the exhibition that Cllr Colin Noble makes every year, bellowing “11.9%!” and “18%!“. He never once forgets to accuse Labour of having once raised something by such amounts. He never once  mentions whether it was value for money. Oddly enough, although he grandstands frequently  about ‘big black holes‘  into which money has fallen, Cllr Noble never ever once remembers to mention the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds of hardworking Suffolk taxpayers’ money he  wasted on Suffolk Circle via a decision made in camera. Strange but true.

So I reminded him – and now I’m reminding you too. (You can brush up on all the details if you read my blog post The Short Life of Suffolk Circle and what it Cost Us Suffolk Taxpayers).

Some of those hundreds of thousands of wasted pounds would have come in very handy this year, Cllt Noble.  Conservative budget proposals included savings (a polite word for cuts) of £38.2 m, leading to a budget requirement of £454,981,413. Reserves are forecast as reaching £165million by the end of March. A long Labour amendment detailed reinstatement of £12m of the cuts. The Liberal Democrats did not agree with all of these reinstatements – but we agreed with £8.5million of them and so we supported the Labour amendment.

I spoke passionately  with special reference to supporting educational transport for  disadvantaged  post-16 year olds. We don’t need to take money out. Affordable transport to education is crucial. A recent Commons report tells us that 30% of young people NEET (not in education employment or training) would have been in post-16 education if they had money to cover the transport;40% of young people in the kind of work with no training element ditto. And of course the economic impact to these young people extends far beyond the economic year.

I reminded the Cabinet Spokesman for Transport, Cllr Newman,  how hard I had fought for the a restoration of the Youth travel card, and how, though successful, the new Endeavour card was just a “pale and washy simulacrum” of the Explore card it replaced: operator take-up isn’t universal, it doesn’t cover train transport and the actual discount is much less.

I said I knew Cllr Newman would tell me that bursaries would cover the deficit.  But the same Commons report tells us how inequitably these bursaries are disbursed, especially in rural areas.

“Unless we provide young people from disadvantaged families with the proper support to travel to study or training, we are not supporting them, we are not widening participation, we are not extending them the helping hand they need to alter long-term outcomes. And more, we are creating a postcode lottery in which the rural young people are particularly disadvantaged,” I said. “I urge my colleagues opposite to think again. You are putting your money into reserves? Invest instead in these young people, and save the spend in budgets of the future.”

The debate continued until nearly 6pm, but the Labour amendment was lost 38-30, and the Tories managed to vote their original budget in, 37-31.

Close – but no cigar.

 

 

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What’s happening locally – February 2015

Suffolk County Council budget 2015-16.  Suffolk County Council will be debating the county’s 2015-16 budget at  this Thursday’s  full council. The administration is proposing  to cut £38 million in the next financial year – bringing its overall revenue budget down to less than £500 million for the first time in many years. It says that the cuts will be made by changing the way the council delivers  services and that front-line services to members of the public should not be seriously impacted. Opposition parties suggest that it is definitely  time to start dipping into the council reserves – likely to be over £150million by the end of next month.

Martlesham and Woodbridge Neighbourhood plans  It has been brought to my attention a small part of Martlesham Parish is under consideration in both the Martlesham and Woodbridge Neighbourhood plan area designation applications. It can of course can ultimately be included in only in one neighbourhood plan.  As  my County Council division covers the area  in question, I am very happy to offer myself as ‘honest broker’  should one be required.

The topping  out ceremony of  the combined Woodbridge  Fire and Police Station took place last Thursday. Work is proceeding fast, and the police are expected to move in in May.

Great East Swim training programme offer.  SCC is offering 48 places for people  aged between 14 and 25 and 48 places for those over the age of 50, who don’t regularly partake in physical activity, thanks to funding and support from Sport England. This includes

  • Three months fully supported training with professional swimming coaches
  • Three months free membership to one of the participating leisure centres
  • Physiotherapy support from Allied Health Professionals Suffolk
  • Free entry to the Great East Swim 2015
  • Free wetsuit hire.

Valued at over £200 per participant the opportunities are being made available at a small one-off charge of £25 per person.

The Sportivate programme for those aged 14-25 will be held at Crown Pools in Ipswich or Leiston Leisure with 25 places at each location; the programme for those aged 50+ will be held at Crown Pools Ipswich and Felixstowe Leisure Centre with 24 places in each location.

Woodbridge Buses I had a small  personal success in getting the timetables at the Turban centre relocated and reprinted after a photograph  I took of them, showing that you had to be seven foot tall to read them went viral on Twitter. Desperate measures indeed, but they were replaced in 24 hours, having been a problem for months!

 

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New Timetable at the Turban – in more ways than one!

Before and After - the timetable is highlighted in yellow. As you can i, until the adjustment was made (right) you had to be 7ft tall to read the timetable!

Before and After – the actual timetable is highlighted in yellow. As you can see, until the adjustment was made (right) you had to be 7ft tall to read the timetable!

 

After I tweeted them the photograph on the left on Wednesday last,  Suffolk Onboard finally understood the enormity of our problem with being able to read the bus timetables at the Turban Centre bus stop.

Basically, unless you had binoculars or stood head and shoulders above the rest of us, you didn’t stand a chance..

By Friday, they had sent workmen around, the frame  had been lowered and the timetable redesigned in a larger typeface, with the ads placed at the top. As you can see, it is now very much easier to read.

The moral is, if you point out clearly what is wrong, it does  assist people in putting it right!

This seems  a  good time to put online a  copy of the new 65b Sunday Timetable I’ve made up for you (as there isn’t an individual one on hand). It’s valid until the end of March. FIVE services EVERY SUNDAY  from Ipswich to Melton and back again – great for visiting, shopping, hospital visiting. – and again it will be a case of use it or lose it.  Double click, and  you can just print the image  and take it with you.

So,  think of using the bus, and do tell  friends in Ipswich  as well as those in Melton, Woodbridge and Kesgrave. This bus is a lifeline for those with no transport!

Melton - WOODBRIDGE- Ipswich 65b Sunday bus timetable Jan - March 2015

Melton – WOODBRIDGE- Ipswich 65b Sunday bus timetable Jan – March 2015

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January report: bus and rail

The main things you may find of interest concern local transport: the Sunday bus has been extended, the consultation document for the next rail franchise is out for consultation, and they are looking at closing some of Suffolk’s rail crossings

Restored Sunday bus starts this weekend, 14 January

We have heard that the 65b will not only be retained at least until March but will also now run 5 times a day in each direction from this weekend, with  the service extended out to Melton. The timetable has now  come out : the first bus from Ipswich arrives at the Turban Centre at 9.33, with the first bus into Ipswich departing at 9.46. The last Sunday bus back from Ipswich  leaves at 16.45.

Rail consultation: and particularly  Ipswich to Peterborough Passenger Service

The East Anglia Rail Franchise Consultation Document is currently open for consultation on the rail options that will be included within the franchise Invitation to Tender https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/east-anglia-rail-passenger-franchise

Worryingly  one  proposal  is to limit the current Ipswich to Peterborough passenger train service to Ely, with a potential change at Ely station for onward journeys to Peterborough, meaning Suffolk could potentially be left with a two-hourly direct train to Ely as its gateway to the North and West.. This is an even worse service than the very poor service that is currently on offer.

The Ipswich – Peterborough  service provides Suffolk with a vital link to Stansted airport (via Ely),  the Midlands, North East, North West and Scotland. Without it, journeys would  have to be routed via London.  It is critical that – instead of a reduction – this service is made an hourly one.

I do hope that WoodbridgeTown Council will respond to the consultation on behalf of the town. I will, of course, be replying as the County Councillor.

Closing rail crossings

Network Rail’s Anglia route asset management team is reviewing the safety of all level crossings, working with the county council and other organisations on a crossing by crossing basis. This will include those in Woodbridge.

SCC’s Cabinet member tells me “No list for level crossing closures has been drawn up by the county council and no definitive list of level crossing closures has been shared by Network Rail (although a separate piece of work has been undertaken by the Great Eastern Mainline Taskforce to look at the whole of the mainline between Norwich and London to identify what interventions would be needed to increase train speeds). The closure of level crossings could not happen without extensive consultation with local residents and other stakeholders, and strong evidence to suggest that the crossing should be closed. SCC wants to see safer level crossings and faster travel times on the county’s railways. We will work with Network Rail to ensure the right balance is struck between safety, travel times and accessibility when proposals are put forward to close individual level crossings.”

County Councillor Surgeries

My first surgery takes place on 17 January. The next few dates are: 21 February, 21 March and 18 April. Surgeries continue to take place in the Woodbridge Library  10-12noon. No booking is necessary.

 

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HAPPY NEW YEAR- and greater justice for train travellers?

Its 2015 and at last the national media are catching up with reality and telling the world what we Woodbridge train users have been saying for a while:

You cannot get the cheapest and best fares for a journey from a self-service ticket machine. (Read the Telegraph’s take on it here) .

Am I cynical in thinking this omission isn’t accidental?  I’ve asked Abellio  Greater Anglia several times why they can’t sell the inexpensive and useful Day Ranger ticket from their machines -with no result whatsoever. (Indeed, I asked Andrew Goodrum, Abellio Customer Service Director -in person – about this on two different occasions when I met him, and got two differing answers. Neither one of which was “Yes, of course. We will naturally ensure the people  of Suffolk have access to Abellio’s cheapest and best means of getting around their network from the machines on our stations.”  You can argue that you can buy a ticket on the train if you get on at Woodbridge. Not if you get on at Ipswich. So, if the queues are endless, you lose your chance of the best ticket price. Which is very unfortunate – but not for Abellio.)

Nationally, the movers and shakers are belatedly becoming aware that their chums in the rail companies are fleecing ordinary travellers. Self-service machines — which are used to purchase almost a quarter of all tickets sold annually — offer wildly differing fares , adding as much as £100 to some journeys. I could tell you that. (In fact, I  seem to remember making the exact £100 point on Twitter, over the fare to Nottingham from Woodbridge, only last month) Now,  the country’s first rail fare code of conduct has established that from March, all self-service ticket machines will be required to tell customers if there is a potential cheaper fare available and direct them to a ticket office. What a terrible shame that Woodbridge no longer has a ticket office. We had one. It was in the Tourist Information Centre (TIC) controversially closed by Suffolk Coastal District Council two years ago. It is now a flower shop.

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Last surgery of 2014 today

Just to remind you that my last surgery of 2014 is today, in Woodbridge library, 10-12 noon as ever. There will be mince pies too.

Have a jolly Christmas, and a nice New  Year!

Have a jolly Christmas, and a nice New Year!

If you don’t need to see me – and goodness knows  this is a busy Saturday – can I wish everyone a jolly Christmas and a nice New Year

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Warwick Avenue and Haugh Lane repairs: dates finalised

Warwick AveGood news for Woodbridge residents. Dates for repairing these roads have been finalised. And they are still - just- in this financial year as promised – although disgracefully right at the last moment, finishing within a week of the end of the financial year.  Any more ‘slippage’ KMG and you’d  be over the edge and fail to meet your promised target!

Warwick Avenue is due to be resurfaced on 24th March 2015, over 4 days.  Haugh Lane will be resurfaced on 23rd March, over 4 days.

Both roads are old concrete slab roads which have severely deteriorated.   SCC Highways had previously considered in-situ recycling but it turned out that the slabs contained steel reinforcement, making this impossible.  (This explains the delay to work which had been scheduled for November. )  SCC’s contractor  KMG are bringing in a specialist surfacing contractor who will remove any asphalt overlay, repair the joints between the slabs, repair any damaged concrete and then overlay with a high strength asphalt overlay.

Let us hope this is a satisfactory end to several years of lobbying-  by myself and the residents of Warwick Avenue and Haugh Lane!

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Whats been happening – November to December

Restored Sunday bus goes from strength to strength! Having finally got the 65b service back in July, after years when Woodbridge residents were cut off from any Sunday or holiday bus transport whatsoever (including getting to Ipswich hospital for visiting, A&E and minor injuries!) We were told – quite fairly–  ‘use it, or lose it’  Woodbridge residents have risen magnificently to the challenge  – and as a direct result  the 65b will not only be retained at least until March but will also now run 5 times a day in each direction from January, and the service has been extended out to Melton.  Again, we must continue to remember that it’s a case of use it or lose it – so when shopping for Christmas, or in the sales – remember to take the Sunday bus!

Woodbridge Rail StationTicket Machines!  Sadly, the machine continues to be less than wholly fit for purpose. It spends much of its time out of order or malfunctioning, leaving many Woodbridge residents frustrated – either out of pocket, having had to pay twice for a ticket, or facing a penalty fine for a fare they have paid!  I have recently been contacted by a stream of people complaining about this problem , including overseas visitors who found  local travel very difficult and some residents who have told me  that their only option to this is making a 15 mile round trip to use the machines in Ipswich (as the Saxmundham ticket machine is often  also out of action).

Suffok Speed Limit Criteria  For some months now I have been part of the crossparty  policy development panel  working on developing a new  Speed Limit Criteria policy for Suffolk. SCC Cabinet will be seeking to approve this today. If approved, the  new policy aims  to ensure that speed  limits are applied fairly, and transparently across the county while reflecting  local concerns where appropriate  – and enabling local County Councillors to make representations on behalf of the communities they represent.

This would complement the new 20mph policy that  the same panel  (on which I also sat) developed  and which Cabinet approved earlier this year.

Suffok’s Education and Learning Infrastructure Plan  SCC is also developing Suffolks Education and Learning InfrastructurePlan. This is of particular interest to me as I have been arguing that there is insufficent bringing together of strategic issues  locally.  The  coverage of the  future eduction situation in  Woodbridge is not wholly encouraging:


Woodbridge/Melton
Issue: Potential housing of up to 500 houses in the  longer term
Solution: Investigate local primary provision in the area to ensure capacity is available or local schools are able to expland to accommodate growth. Also ensure that local secondary provision, already at capacity, is able to expand as appropriate.”

I have asked for this  information to be expanded on, bearing in mind that Farlingaye, designed for 750  pupils, now accommodates around 2000 and that the the physical impossibility of moving this number around the corridors has caused lessons to be reduced to 3 a day for the last 8 years. I understood that these  developments aren’t seen as enough to fund a further school, but query what further expansion  might be humanly possible in the circumstances!

I also want to understand why the strategic  issues of Farlingaye are siloed within Woodbridge/Melton when it has a catchment area of 400 square miles including, for example Rendlesham (where I see further development is also indicated).

Additionally, strategic development of schools seems to stop at the buildings themselves and does not consider the impact on local roads.

Warwick Avenue:  That  long-awaited resurfacing of Warwick Avenue is delayed again –  until March 2015 – but this time there is an excuse! I have been lobbying for this seriously overdue and much-needed repair work for years, and  am very glad that it  is finally going ahead. The repairs had been planned for the end of 2014, but when cores were taken from the concrete slabs that make up the road, it was discovered that they had metal reinforcement, making hopes of using an in-situ recycling technique impossible.  I am now told that the SCC contractors, KMG, will be bringing in a specialist surfacing  contractor to remove any asphalt on the slabs, repair the slab joints and lay high density asphalt overlay.

Let us hope this will finally and at long last provide the reliable and stable road surface that Warwick Avenue residents deserve – and for which they have been waiting for such an unreasonably long time!”

County Councillor Surgeries  My  monthly walk-in surgeries continue to be very successful and well-attended. In October I discovered 14 people waiting for me when I opened.  The final Surgery of the year will take place on 20December 2014 10-12 in the library as ever.

Dates for the early part of 2015 will be: 17 January, 21 February. 21 March and 18 April.

Finally,

Happy Christmas and all good wishes for a peaceful New Year!

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