Woodbridge Lib Dems – we get things done AND we tell you that we’ve done them! Not just at election time but all the year round…
Very positive news about speeding in Woodbridge and sorting the Thoroughfare issues offset news of yet more budget cuts and library cuts. There is also hope for Woodbridge for the new Park & Ride. I’m also planning to ‘claim’ a piece of land for a bus stop.
Suffolk’s County Budget 2017-8 Suffolk County Council’s County Budget 2017-18 was set at the beginning of February. The Conservative emphasis was on keeping spend down and how they have amassed large reserves over the past seven years of zero council tax rises. Labour wanted to spend to preserve services and give the residents of Suffolk what they need. Lib Dems felt the Conservatives were cutting too hard but Labour were spending at the top limit of what would be possible.
Suffolk Library Services suffer further cut Amongst the many cuts to this year’s budget, Suffolk County Council is inflicting a further £230,000 cut to the library service. (£280,000 if we include the archives) .
Over the last years, staff and volunteers have worked to keep all the Suffolk libraries open as IPSs and to increase and improve provision across the county. They consider they have already streamlined services as far as practicable. Investing in the immense range of things our libraries do so well and so cheaply is building social capital that benefits Suffolk in a huge range of ways. In my view it is simple madness to damage it or throw it away.
In the last ten days on the streets of Woodbridge, I managed to get 1200 signatures for a petition which says “We oppose any further reductions to the funding of Suffolk’s invaluable and irreplaceable library services, and urge Suffolk County Council not to make this cut. “ The people who signed were of all ages, backgrounds and political affiliations – the eldest was 101. The one thing they agreed on was that these cuts were unacceptable. Over and over again the signatories’ comments repeated the fact that our libraries are ‘essential’, ‘vital’, and that users want “No more cuts!”. At the budget meeting I asked the administration, on behalf of the people I represent, to withdraw this cut.
Sadly, they did not listen.
20 mph zone and calming proposals for Woodbridge We are on target to get the report to the Suffolk County Council Speed Panel for the meeting of 22 February where I will present it.
(STOP PRESS: I GOT IT THROUGH. More to follow)
Woodbridge Thoroughfare Working Group update This is meeting very productively with reps from all Woodbridge’s elected parties, and councils, the police, the Highways officers, the traders and the residents with the aim of trying to find consensus for a short, mid- and long-term plan to improve footfall and preserve the future of the Woodbridge Thoroughfare in all its aspects because it is the heart of Woodbridge and the lifeblood of the town.
A sticking point is enforcement, and only some of the enforcement issues can be solved by the prospective decriminalisation of parking offences and its transfer from the police to Suffolk Coastal District Council.
(Speeding issues could be assisted by a change in speed limit. STOP PRESS: The Thoroughfare is part of the newly agreed 20mph zone See above!)
As the mystifying signs at the beginning of the Thoroughfare are the legal consequence of the current TRO (traffic regulation order) it would seem sensible to simplify the TRO (hopefully in advance of the transfer) so as to be able to discourage unnecessary through traffic by correct, legal and simple signs.(Read all about the complexities of the situation here)
Currently questionnaires about usage, access, and deliveries are being filled in by traders and residents, and various options of simple signage are being investigated to best reflect the consensus. A TRO could be built around this
Proposals for Ipswich Northern Bypass – and how each may pact on Woodbridge With Ipswich coming to a standstill every rush hour and every closure of the Orwell bridge, a progress report into the need for additional road capacity to the north of Ipswich, has been published (aka the long-proposed Ipswich Northern bypass).
Initial broad route corridors have been considered for a potential link between the A12 and A14; and are:
- an inner corridor from Martlesham to Claydon
- an middle corridor from Woodbridge to Claydon
- and an outer corridor from Melton to Needham Market.
All of these will impact on residents of Woodbridge.
Preliminary traffic modelling has indicated that roads in each of these corridors would have different effects on traffic eg. an outer corridor would have more benefit to longer distance trips than trips more local to the Ipswich area.
Each potential corridor would also have different impacts on the environment, and on the potential to support future growth.
The next stage of study will examine route options in more detail, including traffic, economic and environmental impacts. It will also consider the extent to which the options might support potential future scenarios for housing and employment growth beyond 2031.
You can download the report in full here https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/roads-and-transport/public-transport-bus-pass-and-transport-planning/consultations-and-studies/
Proposed Bus Shelter opposite Notcutts Having been unable to find out ownership of the untended strip of land next to the Cherry Tree on which there is a broken bench, SCC Highways intends to put up notices ‘claiming’ it so as to allow us to put up a bus stop there without (potentially) being sued!
County Councillor’s Surgery My monthly County Councillor’s surgery in the library, now in its 6th year, continues to bring in more and more people. December’s surgery had people waiting for the 9am start, was packed from start to finish, and lasted for three and a half hours (so finished an hour and a half late) due to pressure of numbers.
The overwhelming issues are parking, speeding, road surfaces, and pedestrian problems. However I deal with issues as different as deportations, youth issues, special educational needs problems, social care crises, homelessness, and charitable organisation support. Unfortunately I had to cancel February’s surgery through illhealth – the first time I’ve ever done this in over 6 years.
There will only be to more surgeries in the remainder of this electoral cycle:18th March – and my final surgery of this electoral cycle on 15 April.
Speed calming and the Thoroughfare have been top issues for Woodbridge over the last weeks as I’ve been working with like-minded people from a number of fields to try and produce a global scheme to calm and improve traffic conditions across the town. Other issues of importance include Suffolk Norfold Devolution, now about to got to a final yea or nay vote, and the throrny question of the new telecoms boxes at the Sandy Lane junction,
Proposed 20mph zone & Thoroughfare calming in Woodbridge I have recently been working on initial – ambitious – proposals for speed calming in Woodbridge. These include :
- a) the outline of the whole-town speed calming and 20mph zoning which Woodbridge Town Council will be discussing later this evening and which will hopefully be the foundation of a document that can finally be put before Suffolk County Council’s Speed Limits Panel and
- b) the reforming of the Thoroughfare Working Party to try and tackle the continuing issue of the Thoroughfare, in relation to the roads around it.
I am grateful for the assistance and expertise of Nigel Barratt in examining the roads usage round the town in order to work on these issues.
I am hoping that the ‘Walkers are Welcome Woodbridge’ initiative will be supported by these proposals, and that they might link in with issues as diverse as the air quality work at Melton Hill, the passage of school children to school, and the rat-running from Wilford Bridge along the Ipswich Road – producing really joined up planning for traffic and tourism.
Conservatives lose their majority on Suffolk County Council With a LibDem win at the Hadleigh byelection last month, the Conservatives finally lost their precarious hold on Suffolk County council and are now a minority administration. The balance of power is now:
Conservative 37 – Labour 15; LibDem 8; UKIP 10; Green 2; Independent 3
Suffolk County Council’s vote on devolution deal – 23 November Suffolk County Council – together with all district councils – will be voting on the Suffolk Norfolk devolution deal at the end of the month. For the county council, this is:
- The extraordinary County Council on 2pm 23rd November
- The extraordinary Cabinet on 5.30pm 23rd November (or following the extraordinary Council meeting if later)
with the orders currently scheduled to be laid before Parliament on 24th of November.
The deal requires the 2017 election of a Norfolk & Suffolk Mayor, and the formation of a “super-authority” in which all councils from both counties would be represented equally.
This authority would have a budget of £100m to spend on an inflated governmental requirement for 240,000 new homes ( far more than required locally so presumably aimed at London overspill) for the next five years and would have new powers (but little new funds) to fund the required infrastructure programmes needed to support the development the deal requires.
Although Suffolk’s County Council and all its district & borough councils backed the principle of this devolution deal in the summer, in Norfolk the reaction was much less positive – four of the county’s seven districts (including Norwich City Council) voted to reject the deal .
New Telecoms boxes update After I raised the issue of the 5 telecoms boxes in Sandy Lane on both social media and BBC Suffolk, EE finally got in contact with the Suffolk Highways Officers. We are now in hope that the issue can be rectified without legal proceedings becoming necessary.
Parents urged to Have Their Say on New School Admissions Policy Suffolk County Council is seeking views from parents and carers on the proposed school admissions policy for the 2018/2019 academic year. There are proposals to make minor changes to the admission arrangements for schools in Suffolk and the policy aims to ensure school places are offered to children in a fair way. The consultation will run until Tuesday 13 December 2016.
Dutch Kitchenware Cold Callers Suffolk Trading Standards warn that they have had reports about (specifically Dutch) salesmen cold-calling door-to-door in Suffolk. They say these appear to be people who have targeted other areas in Britain.
The caller is typically a man selling knives, saucepans and cutlery sets that he claims that he has had left over from a trade fair. His story is that he needs to get rid of the products quickly because he is returning to Holland later in the day and cannot take them back through customs.
Although the products are described as being reasonable quality, trading standards are concerned that consumers may be paying over the odds and there are no customer rights. As ever they are concerned that undue pressure is put on elderly and vulnerable people.
Suffolk Trading standards ask that if anyone becomes aware of these (or other) salesmen operating in their area, to please contact via 03454 040506. They also remind Suffolk residents of the door stickers they supply to discourage cold callers.
Firebreak training in Hollesley Bay In late October I spent an afternoon at a ‘Firebreak’ passing-out parade at Hollesley Bay prison. This is a practical but inspirational programme taught by the fire brigade (Essex, not Suffolk, on this occasion) – and the first time ever this programme has been delivered in a prison!!
Outcomes were outstanding: 12 hard-to-reach prisoners of very different ages and backgrounds had worked together to become a team, learned the cooperative and practical skills needed in firefighting, got a serious qualification, and all reported they have gained a lot from the course.
This was resoundingly echoed by guards and instructors. I very much enjoyed watching the presentation drill, and talking to the participants and instructors afterwards.
Most interesting of all, the training started to introduce the subject of ‘restorative justice’ and met with such success that the team was returning to the prison to run some sessions specifically on this, with the same prisoners.
Huge plaudits all round: to the Shaw Trust for funding it, Essex Fire Brigade for delivering it, and of course, Hollesley Bay for having confidence to go ahead with this pioneering training in the first place
With local government funding decreasing, the SCC’s Conservative administration has made it clear that its top priority has been to keep the council tax bill down, and thus is finding it more and more difficult to fund frontline services.
Suffolk has been facing intimations of a new way of delivering local government, with the start of the Devolution negotiations.
At the end of the year, the refusal of the administration to accept Scrutiny’s concerns about the new Community transport model, proposed cuts to Suffolk Fire and Rescue services, and the unexpected announcement of Academisation of all UK schools (followed by an equally unexpected U-turn) were top news.
Suffolk’s erstwhile strong Conservative majority administration has slowly dwindled away and the the year finished with the County Council being in no overall control.
(This is a round up of the information I report to the Woodbridge and Martlesham AGMs)
Budget 2016 -17 At SCC’s budget setting meeting in February, the SCC’s Conservative administration proposed cuts to of £34.4m to community transport funding, to Park and Ride funding, to the Fire services, to Library stock, to County Councillors’ locality budgets… – leading to a budget requirement of £445,659,553. With all these cuts, our council tax still increased by by 2% – (though in a figleaf to the administration’s electoral promise this was worded as “”The budget is based on a freeze… but includes a 2% precept to fund Adult Social Care…”) .
On the day of the final budget meeting more money did appear – apparently from nowhere– a Transitional Grant of £1.9m and an extra £1.6 million from the Rural Services Delivery Grant. This money goes specifically to Suffolk on its ‘super-sparsity indicator’ because of “additional rural costs… including the small size of rural councils, scattered and remote populations, lack of private sector providers, and poor broadband and mobile coverage”. However, SCC decided to bank this little windfall (over the last 5 years our county’s reserves have increased by £100m to c£170m) instead of ameliorating a single cut.
A rainbow coalition of the entire opposition voted against this budget in cross-party. It was a tight vote but the administration squeezed their budget through.
Leadership and constitution of SCC’s administration After the putsch of right-wing Conservative Colin Noble for leadership of the Conservative party and Suffolk County Council from moderate Mark Bee, the County Council’s Conservative majority has lurched along on a knife edge.
At May 15 2016 , after the resignation of Cllr Alan Murray (the day after tipping the vote at the March full council meeting), and the death of Cllr Peter Bellfield in April, SCC’s political make-up is:
Conservative 36; Labour 15; LibDem 7; UKIP 10; Green 2; Independent 4, plus 1 vacancy.
This gives SCC’s opposition a majority whenever it votes in unison. One of the Independents is, however, notorious North Carolina resident and Hadleigh councillor, Brian Riley. He is often absent, and on the occasions when he crosses the Atlantic to attend Council he votes with the Conservatives.
Local Bus Services After more than two years of stability, major changes have been made to the services to Woodbridge and beyond. From September First bus halved the frequency of the 64 and 65 buses (that is the Rendlesham and Saxmundham buses) adding the additional short-route 63 bus to fill this gap locally to Woodbridge and Melton – but not helping passengers going on to Saxmundham, Rendlesham, Leiston etc.
The Sunday service to Woodbridge and Melton continues – so far without threat.
A new cost-saving model of Community Transport was proposed and has been imposed by by the administration (see my blog for full details). Although SCC scrutiny objected, and sent the decision back to Cabinet, Cabinet overturned this objection without further comment.
Devolution Much of this year has been taken up with an off-stage ‘will we, won’t we’ devolution debate. A devolution deal for East Anglia was announced by the Chancellor in mid-March and now needs to be ratified by all County and District and borough councils and the (unelected) LEP boards involved. (This may not be plain sailing – Cambridge City and Cambridge County have already shown themselves to be against this).
Although it is very difficult to get the person in the street in Suffolk interested in devolution, it is vital that they do because it is about a fundamentally different relationship between Government and local public services and it affects all of us.
The East Anglia Deal would see decisions currently made by Government on things such as infrastructure, growth, employment and skills being made by the Board of a new Combined Authority, consisting of all the Leaders of County and District Councils – and a directly elected Mayor. In other words it would be pretty much like the Cabinet system that currently operates in Suffolk County Council – with the potential for the same democratic deficit.
It is proposed that the first mayoral elections would be in May 2017 alongside county elections.
The directly elected Mayor would act as Chair to the East Anglia Combined Authority and would be responsible for local transport, roads, strategic planning and housing. The new East Anglia Combined Authority, working with the Mayor, would receive the following powers:
- Control of a new additional funding allocation of £900m over 30 years (£30m a year across the entire devolved region – not a great deal in the scheme of things) to boost growth
- Reviewing 16+ skills provision; devolved 19+ adult skills funding from 2018/19
- Joint responsibility with the Government to co-design the new National Work and Health Programme designed to focus on those with a health condition or disability and the very long term unemployed. (!)
There would also be commitment to continue improvements to local health and social care services, continuing to join up services and promote integration between the NHS and local government.
Looking ahead, I remain deeply concerned that any future deal involving education or NHS trusts will NOT involve the people of East Anglia shouldering the burden of PFI debt incurred by central government (not only our local debts eg the PFI debt on Elizabeth Garrett Anderson building, but also eg the mountainous ones on the Addenbrookes site). I have asked for further information on this.
Academisation of all UK schools At the end of the year, the Chancellor announced the surprise compulsory ‘academisation’ of all state schools, secondary by 2020, primary by 2022, taking them all out of local authority control . This had significant implications for all our local schools. New and existing academies were expected to become part of Multi-Academy Trusts, although a few stong ones may have been allowed to remain stand-alone.
In a subsequent U-turn, enforced Academisation will only be to those schools in special measures (as before). ‘Successful’ schools will only become Academies if they chose to do so.
Funding will go directly to Academy trusts , leaving the County Council still responsible for place planning, transport and admissions and ‘vulnerable learners.’
Very controversially, (under the heading ‘The Right resources in the Right Hands’) it appears that on academisation there will now be be a transfer of the school estates to the Secretary of State for Education. This needs unpicking – currently it looks startlingly similar to Henry VIII’s policy towards the monasteries
Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service Cuts In March’s Full Council meeting at Endeavour House I spoke on the LibDem/Labour motion to stop SCC’s proposed reduction in Fire appliances and full time crews (defeated 36-35 – all Conservatives voting for the cuts, and every single opposition councillor present: LibDem, Labour, Green, UKIP and Independent , voting against). Conservative county councillor, Alan Murray, resigned the following day.
In supporting the Suffolk Fire & Rescue Services I put the local case for Woodbridge retained fire station and its need for the continuing support of Ipswich fire crews – looking at daily staristics for the previous months, it seems clear the Woodbridge is ‘offline’ for several hours on an average of one day in two –generally in the afternoon (the very time of day when fire engines are most likely to be called out). We are therefore reliant on the fulltime crews in Ipswich.
Ultimately these cuts were slightly watered down. In particular, as regards Ipswich, Cabinet decided to remove the second full-time crewed fire engine from Ipswich (Princes Street) fire station but keep 4 of the crew of full-time firefighters . These 4 full-time firefighters will be used to support on-call fire engine availability across the county during weekday. The on-call fire engine and on-call firefighter establishment at Princes Street (scheduled to be cut ) will remain. However, the third fire engine from Ipswich (East) fire station will be cut and the number of on-call firefighters at the station from 21 to 15/
These cuts strike me as particularly concerning in light of the development which is likely to be taking place around Woodbridge, Martlesham and Melton.
Police Cuts A ‘re-design’ of the force to save £20m has lost police officer, PCSO and civilian posts. As follows:
From 1 April, the Woodbridge and District Safer Neighbourhood team was reduced to a Sergeant, two Police Officers and three PCSOs from previous staffing of a Sergeant, three Police Officers and seven PCSOs. The SNT remains in the new building so recently opened at the fire station in Theatre Street, Woodbridge. However it will no longer be a public access location! Better access for the public’ was one of the key benefits of the move – see my blog entry on the subject – June 14.
The only public access to Suffolk police will be at the three main police stations (Ipswich, Bury and Lowestoft), although there will be ‘intercoms’ to police headquarters to use at the front doors of other buildings .
Woodbridge County Councillor Locality budget 2015-16
In 2015-6 I made the following grants:
In April 2016 have made a further couple of grants to the Rural Coffee Caravan and to Headway, the head injury charity , and to provide a commemorative badge to each child in Woodbridge for the Queen’s 90th Birthday.
Woodbridge County Councillor monthly surgeries
This is the sixth year I have held regular monthly surgeries for the benefit of constituents.
I held 11 surgeries for constituents over the last year – on the third Saturday of every month except August. These were held at Woodbridge Library, and from January, at the new time of 9-11 am.
They continue to be popular and well-attended.
This month’s main issues have been devolution, government proposals to close most of Suffolk’s courts, the poor deal for Suffolk rail travellers in the new rail franchised invitation to tender, and a couple of pieces of good news(Woodbridge Youth club and the Drummer Boy)
Potential devolution of Suffolk The devolution agenda continues. It now seems that the government will welcome a combined bid from Norfolk and Suffolk but neither severally. Currently very little emphasis has been placed on transport – which is something that might really benefit from the increased per capita funding and re-regulatory approach we might go for with devolution. On 22nd September leaders from all Suffolk and Norfolk councils, and representatives of the New Anglia LEP agreed a ‘framework document’ highlighting the key areas to be devolved. They will meet again on 14 October to continue discussions.
20mph, other traffic calming – and Woodbridge After the year of work by myself and colleagues on the Transport policy development panel last year, creating speed limits frameworks and criteria, Suffolk County Council have trained up a panel and have starting looking at individual speed limits cases. The Speed Limits Panel is a panel of four councillors – one from each main party. Cases are looked at by officers and if the case cannot be decided simply, it is brought in front of the panel. There are no witnesses – but the local County Councillor represents the case.
Woodbridge has expressed a longstanding desire to lower speed limits since first I became County Councillor, but has not yet articulated to me or to the Highways team the exact areas it would like to have calmed. It is useful if this evidence comes from a wide variety of sources – as this suggests that the desire is widespread.
I therefore have asked various groups who have contacted me on this matter to start collecting evidence, including the Transport strand of the Neighbourhood plan. I hope Woodbridge Town Council Highways Committee will take part in this exercise
Woodbridge Youth Centre now Asset of Community Value The application by Just 42, and supported by me, for the Woodbridge Youth Centre to be registered as an Asset of Community Value was approved on 30th of September, after the statutory 8 week consultation process. While this does not protect it completely, it does give us some time to marshal a defence, should there be any unexpected move to sell it off.
East Anglian Rail Franchise – Invitation to Tender The invitation to tender for the next Rail Franchise came out on 17 September, and the detail is disappointing. Sadly the DfT has taken no notice of the various voices (including my own) calling loudly and clearly for better rail services East to West and to Peterborough. As the DfT have refused to act – suggesting that the pressure was for better and faster Norwich to London services (which it certainly wasn’t from SCC, or myself, let alone from local pressure groups) it looks as if passengers will have to endure the same poor service for years to come unless our local MPs can exert some pressure on the DfT. This is a shame as there is not only a lot of potential on these routes, but developing them would actually take much-needed pressure off the London line and provide easy means of transport to work to eg Cambridge with its ever-increasing housing prices.
Situations such as this make one think that devolution might be a good idea as Suffolk voices were clearly not seen as important in the decision-making that produced this document. The parliamentary statement is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/rail-franchising-east-anglia-invitation-to-tender
MoJ’s Consultation on closing Suffolk Law Courts The Ministry of Justice has just concluded a consultation on proposals to close all law courts in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft leaving the whole of Suffolk with just the courts in Ipswich.
This is an issue that will obviously concern everyone – as even residents in places like Woodbridge (which might deem themselves to be ‘unaffected’) will be badly affected by the inevitable queues and waiting that will occur when two thirds of the current provision for family courts, small claims courts, magistrates courts, trading standards etc etc disappears. All of us who know Suffolk magistrates will know how much of a bottle-neck has occurred in the judicial process already since the last round of closures in the 90s.
In brief, the Ministry of Justice proposes that Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court and Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court and Family Court and Bury St Edmunds Crown Court are closed (full details) All this to save £600,000 a year.
Putting aside anxieties about ‘trial by video , it would seem particularly ironic that Suffolk’s legal representation is in danger of being reduced to one single court with all the difficulties of access from the west, mid-Suffolk, and the north of the county, in this iconic Magna Carta anniversary year.
With rural public transport as it is, there are also human rights issues for anyone having to attend courts as witness, defendant or appellant, or as a juror or any number of other situations. The Ministry of Justice are talking about trial by video links. That will not be a substitute for face to face justice!
The County Council debated the issue last month and reached cross-party unanimity that this was a bad idea, and replied accordingly.
I have also responded as your councillor and as Suffolk County’s LibDem spokesman on Transport . My personal view is that transport issues are key to why these proposals are flawed and need to be rejected.
I copied all links and information to both Martlesham Parish and Woodbridge Town clerks in case you wished to reply, because Martlesham Parish councillors (to whom I reported last week) specifically asked how they could respond to these proposals and intended to do so.
The ‘Drummer Boy’ statue As a delighted reader of Kipling’s short stories, I’ve long been pleased that Woodbridge houses the only statue seemingly ever made of Jakin and Lew, “a brace of the most finished little fiends that ever banged drum or tootled fife in the Band of The Fore and Fit Princess Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Anspach’s Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry, Regimental District 329A” – which, today, we in Woodbridge are pleased to call for short, The Drummer Boy or The Drums of the Fore and Aft.
When I heard of the possible move of the Drummer Boy from Woodbridge to Girdlestones, I immediately offered £1,500 from my locality budget towards relocating the statue within town. I am glad that it seems as if the Woodbridge Heritage Group’s arguments have prevailed, and we will keep Kipling’s ‘bold bad’ brave Drummer Boys in the town.