All posts by Caroline Page

Lib Dem County Councillor for Woodbridge, Suffolk; Elected 2008, 2009,2013; LD spokesman, Transport; Vice-Chair Education Transport Appeals; Speed Limit Panel member ; Campaigns for Rural Transport, Buses, Rail, Cycling, Young People, Libraries, Disability, Epilepsy & Carers

Woodbridge’s Affordable Cheese Wedges – Smoke and Mirrors

The deserted Suffolk Coastal  offices. Still undeveloped, still unaffordable?

Its been quiet on the Woodbridge Cheese Wedge (aka Suffolk Coastal’s old head office ) front for a long time. Too quiet…

The burning question? That same old story. It seems that the applicant would rather not build the affordable housing (32 units out of 100 dwellings) he is obligated to under policy DM2 of the local plan. Apparently it’s simply not ‘affordable’ – for him.

Suffolk Coastal’s Planning Committee’s response reminds one of jesting Pilate. They washed their hands and delegated agreement of the essential affordable housing provision to their Planning Officers. Who have negotiated a sum of money (a ‘commuted sum’) be paid “to provide affordable housing at the same level as approved, in the event that no affordable housing provider acquires some or all of the affordable housing in a reasonable timescale.

Lets park the cynical phrase  “to provide affordable housing at the same level as approved’ for one moment, and follow the money.

This decision clearly – presumably  unintentionally – gives the applicant an opportunity to elect to pay the commuted sum option instead of building 32 affordable units simply by refusing any offer for affordable units from any provider. (I have heard that at least one realistic offer has been made. )

It would very much benefit the developer to pay the commutated sum. It would provide no benefit whatsoever to the people of Woodbridge.

Why?  The amount the applicant would have to pay NOT to build the 32 affordable homes is a maximum of £100,000 per unit *. Multiply that by 32 and you see he would in effect be paying about £3 million to be allowed to build 32 extra houses of the same size to sell at market prices ( in Woodbridge, that’s a great deal more than £100,000 each). The greater the number of affordable housing units and the higher the sales price of market housing, the greater the incentive to commute.

So, when the Council agreed an increase of residences from 70 to 100, it increased the incentive for the applicant not to provide affordable housing. And by the combination of the Council agreeing an increase in residences and commuting the affordable housing provision, the applicant will receive a multi-million pound windfall. Talk about the law of unintended consequences!  Unless Suffolk Coastal ‘s Planning Committee takes immediate action, it looks like the public asset that is the old Council Offices is earmarked for private profit.

At the same time, that commutated sum of £3million – supposedly to provide “Affordable Housing at the same level as approved” – will do little to benefit the forgotten people of Woodbridge. It will certainly not provide 32 units of affordable housing within Woodbridge which is what we might consider the phrase ‘at the same level as approved’ to mean.

Although £3million is considered by Suffolk Coastal’s planners as fair reparation for NOT building 32 homes on a site that has already been purchased, it will NOT cover the purchase of land, design, planning and building of anything like 32 homes anywhere else! Experts suggest 14 maximum, which is less than half of those guaranteed to the committee and promised to the community. And, of course, wherever these affordable homes are, they will be unlikely to be in Woodbridge, where finding any housing below ‘market’ prices is daily less possible. There is no land within Woodbridge to buy.

How can it be right that an applicant purchasing a public asset gains by not providing the agreed affordable housing the locality so desperately needs? Indeed, has a positive incentive not to provide it?

To say that the development was unpopular was to put it mildly. It was overwhelmingly opposed by the residents of Woodbridge and Melton, the Woodbridge County Councillor (me), Woodbridge Town Council, Melton Parish Council, and local and national organisations, whose views were overridden by the planning officers and planning committee. Its only saving grace was the possibility of affordable housing in situ.

The District Council Planning Committee needs to step up to the plate, rescind its delegation to the Head of Planning, and revert to its October demand for a detailed scheme for the provision of affordable housing on-site and to wholly abandon using the offer of a commutation alternative.

 

*The amount payable by the applicant in the event of commutation is set according to the number of bedrooms per residence in the affordable housing and whether the area  in which the housing is to be provided is categorised high, medium or low cost. Woodbridge is categorised high cost and the figure per residence is in the region of £90,000 -£100,000. Thus a commutation of the 32 affordable residences in Woodbridge would require a commutation payment of about £3 million. How many homes can you buy in Woodbridge for £3 million? How many can you build?

Suffolk Conservatives ‘can’t afford’ to fund cycling

Woodbridge Cyclists were among hundreds cross county to support the motion

On Thursday 19th I was due to second two motion proposed by the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group to develop a strategic costed cycling plan for Suffolk.  The motion was proposed by  my colleague Robert Lindsay, and – as I was unable to reach the meeting from my son’s graduation in Liverpool – seconded by  another colleague, Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw (both Greens).

The first motion asked for a strategic, costed five-year cycling plan to be drawn up for Suffolk; secondly  we asked  for a commitment of 5% of the annual Integrated Transport Block (the equivalent of £160,000).
Both motions were vital: without a  commitment of funding, it will be impossible to implement a cycling plan.
However, the Conservatives refused to commit any funding whatsoever  to cycling infrastructure – thus managing to have their fiscal cake and eat it. Affordability is clearly a state of mind.
In the past, in the days when SCC was run by a Labour/LibDem coalition, SCC used to have a cycling team and  a costed cycling infrastructure plan – which was allocated funds from the Transport budget every year. In 1995 the then Country Councillors voted to fully support plans to develop the Sustrans’  National Cycle Network routes in Suffolk and steady progress was made with this for several years.
Cycling budgets don’t just benefit cyclists. They assist other forms off travel. other modes of travel:
1) Most off-carriageway cycle infrastructure is designed to be of equal benefit to pedestrians e.g. shared use cycle paths; Toucan crossing; bridges  – therefore ‘Safe Routes to School’ (for both cycling and walking).
2) More cycle commuters means less traffic on roads, leading to better journey times for those who really need their vehicles.
Since 2011, Suffolk and Ipswich were eligible for six sustainable travel grants from the Department for Transport, yet did not win a single one of these. By failing to commit a minimal amount of funding, it is likely that any future bids for funding will likewise fail.

What’s been happening: July 2018

 

Newly painted, more easily visible bollards in the Thoroughfare – funded from my locality budget. Thank you, Quay church volunteers!

Opposition’s “call in” of Suffolk County Council school transport cuts unsuccessful   On Tuesday 19 June, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet voted to change the Home to School Transport policy so that only children travelling to their nearest school would receive free transport. The changes are due to be phased in from September 2019.

As you may be aware, I and my colleagues within the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group have been opposed to this policy change since it was announced in September 2018. There has also been very vocal opposition from schools, parents, carers and parish councils across Suffolk. We called in the decision to Suffolk’s Scrutiny.

The “call-in” was successful on three fronts:
1. Concern at the quality and reliability of the financial modelling;
2. Whether the Cabinet were fully informed of the role of the Consultation Institute;
3. Whether there was enough analysis of the experience of Essex County Council, who implemented a similar policy in 2013.

Unfortunately despite the considered opinions of really competent and well-qualified members of the public, the Conservative administration failed to recognise their own financial forecasts were flawed. The decision will therefore go ahead.

Major review of Suffolk Highways announced The new Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Highways, Cllr Mary Evans, has launched a major review of the way highways in Suffolk are maintained.

Areas due to be reviewed include:
• Existing policy which determines how resources are deployed, known as the Suffolk Highway Maintenance Operational Plan (HMOP);
• How the location of potholes on the road is considered alongside the width and depth, recognising the impact they can have on cyclists and motorcyclists;
• How utility companies coordinate roadworks and are held to account for their actions;
• How residents, councillors and businesses are informed about road repairs and how they can access information;
• Financial control and contract management;
• How town and parish councils can work closer with Suffolk Highways to make the best use of their local knowledge, skills, money and time.

I welcome this

Woodbridge 20mph scheme progression  Having had a preliminary design and costings drawn up I have met with Suffolk Highways to discuss the progression of Woodbridge’s 20mph zoning. Martlesham’s Cllr O’Brien joined me for my meeting with Highways officers and they agreed in principle to add the extra length of Sandy Lane onto the TRO for the Woodbridge scheme, if Cllr OBrien contributes the appropriate amount to signage and scheme.

The Woodbridge Town Clerk has put in a significant CIL bid to support the scheme.

After discussion with the officers it looks like I will be able to include the Thoroughfare scheme (separated because of decriminalisation of transport issues) which will be funded from my Highways budget.

Jetty Lane update  Jetty Lane has been lucky enough to be benefiting from a number of generous initiatives and donations – perhaps most notably an amazingly generous anonymous donation of £10,000 last week which will enable the CIC apply for planning permission (yes, its very expensive!).

However, the CiC has also enjoyed the help of many other kind supporters over the last month: both  donations from individuals and support from: the Regatta bucket collection, the Great Get Together, the Riverside Musical Theatre’s Showstoppers, and a lovely coffee morning fundraising from Deben Yacht club.

Jetty Lane’s most recent consultation with hirers was held on 25th June. The CIC will have another display in the library shortly.

Quay Church assist in making Thoroughfare bollards more visible   Many thanks to the volunteers of the Quay church 1000 hours scheme who worked with me and my Locality Budget to repaint the Thoroughfare bollards, making them more visible to people with restricted visibility. This was a key request concerning  Woodbridge from Suffolk Coastal’s Disability Forum.

Consultation launched on future commissioning of specialist education services  Suffolk County Council have launched a consultation into the commissioning strategy for the development of Suffolk’s specialist educational provision.

Demand for specialist education places in Suffolk for children with SEND continues to grow, and currently the county council has a much lower number of specialist education places than other similar authorities. This means that many children in Suffolk are forced to travel out of county to access the education provision they need – and often Suffolk County Council foots the bill.

At a time when the Council wishes to reduce the amount of free home-to-school transport it provides citing fears of escalating costs, it is vital that we begin to provide more SEND provision within Suffolk.

The 6 week consultation will look at three options for meeting the additional demand for specialist provision. More information and a link to the consultation can be found online at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/SENDsufficiencyeducation