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

Moving the Goalposts: Suffolk’s School Transport proposals

This week Suffolk’s cabinet decided to enter into formal consultation on  worrying changes to our current Suffolk Home to School Transport arrangements.

These changes are profound.  Most importantly,  the proposal is that  free travel will only be provided where a qualifying school student attends their nearest school. Currently it is available for qualifying students attending their catchment school, nearest school, or transport priority area. Between the schools organisation review and the the advent of free schools, these may be three different schools in some areas. ‘Not fair’, according to the administration who oversaw this chaos.

Such a decision  will impact specifically on rural families, and those from families with single parents, limited incomes and few travel choices. Additionally, the last shreds of subsidised travel for 16-18 year olds will no longer be provided.

If, after the consultation, the decision were made to adopt the proposal, it would be implemented for all students across Suffolk with effect from September 2019, without consideration for decisions made in good faith by families before this date.

The intention is to make savings. However the preconsultation has been unable  to identify any specific proposals or indeed the savings that might be intended to be made.

And why are these changes being made? Simply, Suffolk can’t afford  the transport we have provided up till now. Costs  – we are told sorrowfully- have gone up.  But gosh,  not our Council tax – which the leader is so proud of having not raised for seven, yes SEVEN, years.   No wonder the county  can’t afford to provide the transport that rural Suffolk students need!

To add insult to injury the proposals are being  cynically marketed as “unlocking capacity to benefit Suffolk residents, not just the small proportion of school children” because the abolition of school-specific bus services ‘may’ allow private companies to come forward to offer services! (Not that any have to date. That was another question I asked.)

So, having comprehensively annihilated scheduled rural bus services (because of the cost), Suffolk County council now complains that it has to rely on expensive closed buses and taxis to meet its statutory obligations to the students of this county – and expresses surprise that this provision is not open to the Suffolk residents it deprived of buses in the first place.

I think the expression is No shit, Sherlock.

 Why on earth, ( I asked the Cabinet)  having previously stopped funding various public and community bus services across the county on the grounds that they were ‘not financially viable’,  are you now contending that there will be a market solution to the school transport budget problem?

Because we are getting rid of the closed buses  that we replaced the cancelled scheduled services with“, was the Topsy Turveyland reply. You couldn’t make it up…

The young people of Suffolk are worth investment.  Instead of further penalising rural residents by moving the goalposts  once again, I call on Suffolk County Council to make proper provision for the  rural families of this county by once again subsidising  rural bus services, retaining current Home School travel provision, and  funding student travel right up to the new de facto statutory school age  of 18 out of our ever-increasing reserves.

You will be pleased to hear the LibDem, Green and Independent Group has ‘called in’ this Cabinet decision, which means it will now have to go to the Scrutiny Committee to be  investigated properly before it can be implemented.

Watch this space.

Update: Im glad to tell you that the LDGI Group call-in  (proposed by LibDem Councillor Penny Otton , and seconded by Green Councillor  Andrew Stringer) was successful. Cllrs Otton  and Stringer persuaded Scrutiny of the justice of their argument – citing Essex where the same proposals ended in very little actual savings. The proposals now have to be re-examined by Cabinet

 

Woodbridge Thoroughfare: have your say!

Members of Thoroughfare Working Group by the current impossibly complicated sign:
L to R: Jill Barratt (Choose Woodbridge, retailer); Rick Chapman (Choose Woodbridge, retailer, resident); Graeme Hawkes (SNT); Maggie Chapman (Choose Woodbridge, retailer, resident); Emma Greenhouse (disabled resident); Caroline Page (County Councillor); Julian Royle (resident); Geoff Holdcroft (Town & District Councillor). Absent: Eamonn O’Nolan (Town Councillor), Tony Buckingham (SCC Highways).

Join the Community Consultation to make Woodbridge Thoroughfare better!

Interested in helping decide how best to improve the Thoroughfare? Come to Woodbridge Library, 25th September to 1 October, and help define the best way forward.

We all know that the Thoroughfare – Woodbridge’s vibrant retail heart – has had increasing problems with traffic and parking in recent years. Residents, visitors, shoppers and traders have all expressed concern.

We also know why.

The underlying problem is that both access and parking is governed by a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) that’s decades out of date and no longer fit for purpose.  It no longer reflects the needs and usage of people in the Thoroughfare.

So that’s the problem. But how to solve it? Everyone has different needs, concerns and priorities. As a result, the issue has been going round in circles for years. To break this deadlock I brought together a group that represented all major players – clearly the only way to find a workable solution to these problems was by working together. We don’t want to disadvantage anybody.

And after ten months discussion, research  and evidence-taking, we have managed to come up with three workable options.

All the ideas are based around a simple, easy-to-understand sign which is what the current TRO doesn’t allow for – but there are three different versions. We’ll be showing these options, explaining the benefits and drawbacks of each – and asking for you to help us decide.”

The Woodbridge Thoroughfare Working group is  cross-party, and involves Woodbridge councillors at county, district and town level, as well as local police, traders, residents and representatives from Suffolk County Council’s Highway team.

If you are not able to attend at the library you will be able to see and comment on the consultation documents online , in this blog from 25 September.

Woodbridge Thoroughfare Community Consultation:  Woodbridge Library, 25th September to 1 October 2017 (and online at this blog)

Melton Hill’s Cheese Wedges: important unanswered questions

Melton Hill: Who can tell us the route by which the Community Consensus Masterplan became the current – very different – plans?

Two weeks ago I wrote to JTP, asking the named contact they gave these important questions about the process by which the Community Consensus Masterplan transformed itself into the very different plans submitted:

JTP letter/email p1
JTP letter/email p2

“I’ve just been reading the email from JTP detailing the pre-application process leading to Active Urban’s current application for planning permission to develop the Melton Hill site in Woodbridge.

Your name has been given as a contact should I have any questions.   I have several, which I would be grateful for you to answer. As follows:

In this  email you mention,

  • The creation of a “community vision”…

My question a) What exactly were the requirements listed by the community for their “community vision”? Could  you provide  the full list of those requirements articulated by the community in their vision for the site ( the list you provide is cherrypicked). To what extent was the full list used in the development of the design that followed?

  • a pre-application process was set up and the design of the scheme evolved …”taking into consideration the Vision and outcomes from the Community Planning Weekend” and that “the strength of the initial concepts, ideas and feedback from the general public has remained intact throughout this process

My question b) could you demonstrate how the vision and outcomes of the community planning weekend were taken into consideration, and explain how the strength of the initial concepts, ideas and feedback from the general public has remained intact throughout this process? It wuld be good to  check off the outcomes against a full list of community requirements

My question c) please could you provide the full membership by name, occupation and  company of this Independent Design Review panel?

  • that “the Panel felt the scheme had great potential to make a positive contribution to the town and appreciated the ambition of both the client and architect.

My question d) Can you explain why this  first panel “appreciated the ambition of both the client (presumably the District Council rather than the local community) and the architect ” yet the wishes of the community are not even mentioned? Can you demonstrate that the ambition of the client and architect is to represent the wishes of the ultimate owners or the local community? Could you articulate in what way it will make a positive contribution to the town?

  • that a second Design Review Panel with more developed designs was held on 2nd February 2017.

My question e) please could you provide the full membership by name, occupation and  company of this  second Independent design review panel?

My question f) Can you explain the exact status of these two Independent design review panels  you have mentioned – (both the one that met on 3 Oct 2916 and that which met on 2 Feb 2017)? Their existence appears to constitute something of an anomaly: if a panel were wholly independent it might not be fully aware of local issues. If aware of local issues it would not be wholly independent.

  • and that “The Panel acknowledged the design changes and the significant amount of work undertaken in developing the design. The overall change of scale, removal of buildings and redesign to the Melton Hill streetscape was suggested as “showing a fantastic improvement“.

My question g) You quote from the conclusions of the second panel  – a panel that seems quite content with a mass destruction of trees and buildings. Firstly ‘a fantastic improvement’ on what? The Community Vision? An unseen design? Secondly “overall change of scale, removal of buildings and redesign to the Melton Hill streetscape” – are these in context of the Community vision or from a second unseen design?

Thirdly, who uttered these words? The people of Woodbridge absolutely need chapter and verse on the origin and relevance of every part of the last 22 word sentence, phrased so conveniently  in the passive voice. If it is a quote, somebody said it – and we need to know who and in what context. Such destructive decision-makers need to be named (– and if happy with their decision will have no problem with being so named)!

I await your speedy reply  with interest

I received a telephone call a few days later from the gentleman in question, who was eager to tell me that a) he could tell me about the destination of the Drummer Boy (not, note, a question I had asked); b) none of this was his personal responsibility and c) there was going to be affordable housing in the development but that as d) he was down in Winchester he would not be able to answer my full list of written questions in written form very fast, certainly not for several weeks.

In the interests of transparency we need to know the answers to all these questions.

I have therefore included them as “unanswered’ in my submission to the District Council.

Melton Hill – Woodbridge should plan for its future!

Melton Hill – the current plan. Delusions of cityscape: Giant single slope roofed towers – suitable for an urban setting but totally out of place in tiny Woodbridge dwarf the town and overlook all neighbouring housing.

Over a hundred people have so far made a  submission to the District Council about the “cheese wedges” that are the Melton Hill development. I will be writing one too –  in which I’ll cover issues I’ve mentioned elsewhere.

But here I want to speak  as  your County Councillor,  turning from the subject of design to purpose – and  the propriety of the District wanting to monetise this site instead of looking at the legacy benefits of providing for local people.

Remember, Melton Hill isn’t owned by the district– it is held in trust for us by our elected and appointed servants. How on earth have we got into the situation where these servants are doing a deal with themselves to hock it off for the biggest possible profit? And how can this be the best outcome for the rest of us?

Every week, I talk to families who’ve lived in Woodbridge for generations but whose children and grandchildren are excluded from their hometown. Disabled people who have to leave their support network. Old people who can’t even afford to downsize in the town in which they’ve spent their lives. Yet our medieval streets are increasingly full of – not even second homes – but holiday lets, serving no residential purpose whatsoever.

Everyone who lives in Woodbridge needs the services of those who have been displaced – and who have to come in by car, adding to already-chronic traffic and air quality problems.

Woodbridge doesn’t need more high end housing. It absolutely does need housing at social rent (that’s 65% of market rental value)  and lots of it, to help house all those people we rely on. Retained firefighters, low-paid care workers, young families and teachers who cant afford to live near our schools. Nurses, police, paramedics… I could go on.  Since ‘right-to-buy’ , Woodbridge has lost more and more of the key rental sector stock needed to support these key workers in the town

The sale of Melton Hill can’t go through until and unless planning permission is granted by the very council that profits from the sale. How can this not be a conflict of interest? The current development should not go ahead on these grounds alone!

And the District Council must be persuaded to think differently. That current promise of 33 affordable units (80% of market rental price – which may, as in other cases diminish or disappear during development) – that isn’t the answer. For a start, it isnt enough. Local people -people who have paid their council tax to fund Melton Hill – have significant unmet needs. Why don’t we start from there?.

The District Council must be persuaded to recognise the legacy benefits of making the Melton Hill site into, say, a Community Land Trust to provide housing at social, not affordable, rent to ensure that Woodbridge remains  the living, breathing town it currently is.

I’m therefore  asking Woodbridge Town Council to reject this application and to urge the District council to re-evaluate their priorities and move in the direction I have suggested to develop the site.

Schedule of trees we suddenly discover are to be felled for the Melton Hill development. I note with extreme sadness they include two black mulberries

This is the speech I made to Woodbridge Town Council’s Planning Committee this evening.
The meeting was attended by sixty or seventy residents, of whom ten  or so spoke . Their concerns about the site covered appearance, accessibility, loss of the trees, loss of amenity, change to the appearance of the town and impact transport and on air quality . The Committee rejected the plan unanimously.
However – Woodbridge Town Council is just a statutory consultee. The final decision is made by the Councillors on Suffolk Coastal’s Planning Committee.

Keep those letters coming in, folks