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…
This is the last year of the four year county council electoral cycle. Apart from the ultimately bathetic non-event of Suffolk’s devolution – which managed to take up an extraordinary amount of last year’s council administrative time with absolutely no ultimate outcome – a lot of other things have happened in Suffolk over the last 12 months. Here are some of the most important to people in Woodbridge:
Agreed 20mph zone & calming in Woodbridge Years of requests from Woodbridge Town Council, individual bodies and local residents came to fruition in February when I presented a report and a mass of supporting documentation to Suffolk’s Speed Panel – and got through – ambitious proposals for speed calming in Woodbridge. I am grateful to the contribution of former Mayor Nigel Barrett to this and much cross-party support in managing to make this finally happen.
The overarching intentions will be:
- to ensure that the ancient centre of Woodbridge is calmed
- that heavy traffic is discouraged
- that (often elderly) residents and visitors have easier access between the heart of the town and the riverside area
- that children can walk and cycle safely to school
- to help solve longstanding and persistent problems of heavy traffic in the Thoroughfare and surrounding streets
- to assist in dealing with longstanding traffic related air quality problems at Melton Hill which is a designated Air Quality Management Area and an action for SCC to resolve
- and by supporting the 20mph signage in the centre with a holistic scheme, to prevent unintended consequences of people ‘rat running’ elsewhere in the town
- to support the Woodbridge ‘Walkers are Welcome’ initiative.
The approval of the panel, though vital, is only the first step. All speed changes have to be put out to community consultation before current speedscan be changed and funding has to be found from a variety of sources. There will be 4 years’ Highways funding from the County Councillor, and we will hope to draw from money for Air Quality and CIL money payable on account of local development.
Thoroughfare traffic improvement I regrouped the Thoroughfare Working Party in November to try and tackle the continuing issues of traffic in the Thoroughfare – balancing the needs of residents, visitors, traders, shoppers, pedestrians and (necessary) vehicle users. Representation is from all 3 levels of council (cross-party), retailers, residents, police and highways engineers. The aim is to try and 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.
There are two different issues with different enforcement needs (people driving through and people parking).
We look as if we are close to reaching a solution which can be put out to community consultation.
Woodbridge Youth Centre Although some years ago I had been assured by Suffolk’s Chief Executive Deborah Cadman that no decision concerning the Woodbridge Youth Centre would be made without full disclosure to all Woodbridge councillors, I was called into a meeting last summer to be told the centre would close imminently.
The line was “we’re afraid something significant over the next year might force closure at short notice..so we thought we’d force closure at short notice now.”
The centre had been home to many community initiatives: Not only was it home for Just 42, there had been a youth club there for decades, The Gateway social Club for people with learning disabilities met there for 30 years, Company of 4 used it for rehearsals, it housed classes for Pilates, baby massage, country dancing, French, Italian, English as a second language, tai chi, as well as having a very important role in young people’s social care, and as a ‘safe house’ for children to meet parents in difficult home situations.
Suffolk County has offered the site on a long lease if a good business case can be made within a year for a new centre, and (once Just42 was rehoused in temporary accommodation), we have got a group together to ensure that we can rebuild the youth centre on its present site as soon as possible for all users!
New rural Community Transport – new difficulties for Bus Pass holders After Suffolk’s Conservative administration stopped supporting scheduled bus services in many parts of rural Suffolk back in the Andrea Hill era rural dwellers have relied on a patchwork of demand responsive services.
In June these were brought together under a new community franchise offer, with the aim of rebranding and savinf significant sums (the county no longer provide free vehicles – saving some £570k (which largely voluntary bodies would have to find) – but also SCC would HALVE the community subsidy from £1.4m to £700k over the next four years) Although Suffolk was told this would create parity across Suffolk, it has instead created a postcode lottery .
While Suffolk Coastal Community Transport -operated by previous operators CATS and FACTS (in Felixstowe)- will be operating the same services as before: a mix of Demand Responsive Transport (on which bus passes will be accepted), and door-to-door and community car services on which passes won’t be accepted (exactly as before.) in mid-Suffolk, the franchisees no longer operate Demand Responsive Transport in their Community Transport offer – eg Bus Passes will NO LONGER be accepted, under-16 fares will only apply if are accompanied by an adult, and the under 18 reduction is derisory with no provision for young people to use SCC’s Endeavour card.
This leaves all people eligible for concessionary passes in mid Suffolk with the choice of accepting £100 in vouchers and no pass (for travel outside midSuffolk) or a pass that cannot be used where they live. And of course Suffolk bus pass holders from other districts cannot use them to travel into mid-Suffolk either.
Queen’s 90th Birthday Commemorative Badges for Woodbridge Children In the past Britain’s schoolchildren were always given a souvenir to commemorate special occasions and this year it seemed – particularly in this time of austerity – a good idea to revive this custom. So I funded a commemorative badge for every child in every Woodbridge school to celebrate and commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday (2975 badges). Over the birthday week deputy Mayor Clare Perkins and I personally handed out about 2000 badges.
Suffolk Highways Maintenance Controversy: A new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan, and Contract extension In the summer Suffolk’s administration agreed a new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan with contractors, Kier, and towards the end of 2016 extended their contract – despite their record of appalling performance.
Basically Suffolk’s administration had little option for the former because the past Highways Maintenance plans have been a disaster, criticised by everyone, regardless of party affiliation. (And anyway, the new Plan had been running (‘trialled’) without Cabinet consent since early May.)
The good news is that it concedes that the previous way of Highways Maintenance working was unwieldy and inefficient, as county, town and district councillors across Suffolk could testify. There should now be a much more unified and strategic way of working between SCC and contractors Kier to try and make things work more efficiently than they have, meaning that the Highways small schemes backlog – created solely by this administration’s ideologically driven decision to outsource the contract in the name of efficiency savings – may clear at long, long last.
The bad news is that the mantra of ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ is very much to the fore, so there is no suggestion of many highways schemes being affordable any more. (I have recently been quoted £5,000 to ‘design’ the siting of a single bollard!) Small towns like Woodbridge will no longer be able to rely on their County Councillors’ Highways budgets. Currently these are half what they were at best (mine is £6660 this year). Yet jobs will be many times more expensive.
At county Cabinet meeting I asked whether this was not a case of the ‘tail wagging the dog’? That this newly designed Highways Maintenance Operational Plan (the second one in a year!) had been constructed to fit the contractor because the contractor had been unable to stick to the agreed plan?(This was loudly rejected – but with little evidence).
In particular I pointed out the utter absurdity of a private organisation mouthing the ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ mantra whilst providing no competition to ensure that they are offering good value for money. I was talked down, of course.
As for Kier’s contract extension, this appeared to be for no more cogent reason than Macbeth’s “I am in blood so stepped that should I go no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” Again, I spoke and urged the council to return to cheap, efficient, knowledgeable in-house provision as we had in the past. Again, the quiet voice of reason was overlooked. Cassandra could take my correspondence course.
Political Make-Up of Suffolk County Council A lot of these unpopular decisions have been forced through by a wafer-thin majority: the Conservative run council has spent the last year balancing (and occasionally tipping over the edge ) of a minority administration. As we come up to the council elections the current balance is technically hung 37:37 with one vacancy . The make up is
- Conservative: 37
- Labour: 15
- Liberal Democrat: 8
- UKIP: 9
- Green: 2
- Independent: 3
So, if you don’t like the state of the roads, of social care, of the libraries – remember to register your dissatisfaction through your vote. (The Suffolk LibDems county manifesto can be found here )
Another Cuts budget for Suffolk, 2017-8 Suffolk County Council’s County Budget 2017-18 was set at the beginning of February. The Conservatives emphasised 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. The Conservative’s slender majority carried the day and a further £30million will be cut from services.
Woodbridge Library petition gains 1200 signatures in 10 days Amongst the many cuts to this forthcoming year’s budget, Suffolk County Council is inflicting a further £230,000 cut to the library service. (£280,000 if we include the archives) on top of the significant cut made in this last year.
In ten days in February I got 1200 signatures in Woodbridge to amypetition which read “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. Once again, they did not listen.
Proposals for Ipswich Northern Bypass – and how each impacts on Woodbridge Woodbridge residents may think that a Northern bypass for Ipswich has little to do with them – but the plans will bring it close. 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 (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. Obviously each potential corridor would have different impacts on the environment, and on the potential to support future growth. We now have to wait 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.
First “No Cold Calling Zone” for Woodbridge Suffolk Trading Standards and I visited every home in Morley Avenue to talk to residents about their experiences with cold callers, to set up a ‘No Cold-Calling zone’ in the Avenue and to supply “No Cold Calling” door stickers advertising this.
Woodbridge Library Reading challenge 400 children registered this year, 60% of whom finished the challenge. This meant Woodbridge Library volunteers spent 250 hours helping with the scheme over the summer, and I presented 240 certificates at the award ceremony in September!!!This year I augmented the scheme by funding story-reading sessions for the children over the summer, a Dream Jar competition and a magic show to finish the afternoon off in style, once the certificates had been presented.
Planning Developments I have, as ever, made representations both to planners and to Highways officers regarding proposed developments in my division where I have been concerned that the impact on county council infrastructure and services would be unsustainable. The Gladwells and Queen’s House developments were cases in point.
County Councillor’s Surgery My regular monthly open access County Councillor’s surgery in the library, now in its 7th year, continues to bring in more and more people from across an ever-wider sector of Suffolk Coastal. It is clear that many Suffolk residents would be grateful if their own county councillors held open-access monthly surgeries. Currently I am the only one. Just saying!
Overwhelming issues are parking, speeding, road surfaces, and pedestrian problems. However I deal with problems as diverse as deportations, youth issues, special educational needs, disability concwens, social care crises, homelessness, charitable organisation support – and benches!
Locality Spending My Locality budget spending this year has covered such diverse grants as: new sessions for the New Horizons Lunch Club, a contribution to the Rural Coffee Caravan (which has volunteered to do sessions in parts of Woodbridge); rent for Woodbridge premises for the head injury charity Headway; badges for all schoolchildren 16 and under in Woodbridge to commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday; promotion and publicity materials for Woodbridge Community Circle; support for Woodbridge Library’s reading scheme; support for the first Woodbridge Ambient Music Event; reading materials for Got to Read’s adult literacy scheme in Woodbridge; sessional funding for Suffolk Rape Crisis; in addition to a large £7000 grant to kickstart the rebuilding of the Woodbridge Youth Centre
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.
Happy New Year!
Lets hope that 2016 is a pleasant and prosperous one
I must apologise for a break in blog entries – my elderly mother became ill and was hospitalised in early December – and this had an impact on the time I was able to spend blogging.
Below is the report I gave to Woodbridge town council in early December, but updated in some particulars to the beginning of 2016
Political balance on SCC Following the resignation of former deputy leader Cllr Lisa Chambers from Suffolk County Council at the end of the November, the ruling Conservatives no longer had an overall majority. (This was compounded by the sad death of former St Edmondsbury Mayor, Tim Marks, Councillor for Haverhill Cangle on 5 January.)
The current County Council balance is Conservatives 36, Other parties 37 (Labour 15, UKIP 9, Liberal Democrat 7, Independent 4, Green 2) plus 2 vacancies .
Woodbridge Thoroughfare TRO Enforcement After years of complaints and problems about parking, pedestrian safety, and damage to the fabric and character of the Thoroughfare, the trial full enforcement (of restrictions that have been law since 1995) will be going ahead in the New Year. The aims are:
- To Improve things for retailers and shoppers by producing a pleasant and attractive environment, while at the same time supporting the Thoroughfare’s residents;
- To ensure the Thoroughfare is safer and pleasanter for the thousands of pedestrians who delight to shop and visit each week, ( whether families with children, older people, disabled people or the town’s many tourists)
- To prevent unauthorised traffic using the Thoroughfare;
- To limit the damage being done to the fabric by heavy vehicles
- To help the police by reducing the number of vehicles parking illegally in the Thoroughfare;
- To collect hard evidence of the requirements of all users of the Thoroughfare
Outcome: The scheme is planned to run for three months. It will provide solid information on traffic flow and footfall patterns for the first time. This will allow Woodbridge to find a permanent solution that everyone in Woodbridge can agree .
New Ipswich Road Bus Stop. After months of delay the new Ipswich road bus stops were finally been put in – above the Notcutts roundabout -so that people wanting to get to Framfield surgery and Clarkson Court will find it easier to use the bus services. These are additional to, and do not replace, other bus stops.
County Councillor’s Surgeries My surgeries at Woodbridge Library) have been held by tradition from 10-12 on the 3rd Saturday of every month.December’s will be the last at this time.
Devolution Cambridgeshire has now been included to the Norfolk/Suffolk bid- making an overarching East Anglia partnership
From January my surgeries will move to the new time of 9-11 am, same place.
The first surgery dates for 2016 will be 16 January, 20 February and 19 March.
Proposed Woodbridge Fire and Police station merger Woodbridge residents were invited to a drop in session on Thursday to view proposals to extend and merge the existing fire station with the police station. Plans and information were unveiled at the event and representatives from both services – together with myself – were on hand to discuss the proposals.
Suffolk already has four shared stations at Ixworth, Elmswell, Debenham and Framlingham. The aim of the Woodbridge plans is for the services to become even more cost effective, allowing the services to work much more closely together .The funding for the Woodbridge project will be shared between the two services and it is hoped that the government will provide grant funding for the building works
Although there were concerns – mainly about parking and increased transport – response to the consultation was broadly favourable.
The design includes:
- An extension to the front of the fire station, which would provide new office accommodation for Suffolk Constabulary.
- Provision for five new car parking spaces for police use and cycle parking to the rear of the site.
- A new garage to the rear of the station to accommodate an emergency vehicle, and
- Much improved facilities for staff and the community and better access for the public
If approved, the work would commence in summer 2014 and will be completed for March 2015. There would be no disruption to fire and police services during the building works
People can continue to provide feedback via email: Fire.BusinessSupport@suffolk.gov.uk, quoting ‘Woodbridge Consultation’.
End of CSD – Customer Service Direct On 1 June SCC moved CSD – Customer Service Direct – back in-house. CSD, in which BT had a majority stake alongside the county and Mid Suffolk councils, handled SCC’s financial administration, IT, and personnel functions. The councils’ call centres were also operated by CSD
The cost of the contract was initially £301 million, but this increased to £427 million over 10 years as more functions were added to the service.
A hard lesson has been learned here. Proof, if proof was needed, that outsourcing services doesn’t always make savings and is not always best.
The PCC – and Thoroughfare Parking At the Suffolk County Council AGM in May, the Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore presented details of his year, saying “ My role is to ensure the policing needs of our communities are met as effectively as possible, bringing communities closer to the police and building confidence in the system. My job is to listen and respond to the needs of the people of Suffolk; bringing more of a public voice to policing. If you have an issue that you would like to raise, please contact me via the website, www.suffolk-pcc.gov.uk or call 01473 782777 .”
I took him at his word, and, meeting him shortly afterwards I raised the issue of police enforcement of parking in the Woodbridge Thoroughfare. He promised to look into this urgently.
Suffolk Reading Scheme This year’s reading scheme will be on the theme of the Mysterious Maze. As ever, the Woodbridge Library is on the lookout for volunteers to help local children read their books over the summer holidays.
Suffolk Records Office consultation Suffolk County Council received over 500 responses to a recent consultation to improve Suffolk Records Office opening hours.
The consultation was on proposals to reducing weekday opening hours, improving the service on a Saturday and developing a key online presence.66% of respondents felt the proposals would bring a positive improvement to the service.
There was a majority of support for closing the office one day a week to allow improvements to the online accessibility of information and digitised materials. Respondents also showed great support for an improved Saturday service and later opening times, although some felt not opening until 10am was too late. In consequence SCC will bev blooking to open each record office branch for 35 hours a week: 9.30am – 4.30pm, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Let’s Look Out for Each Other Cycle-Drive campaign SCC has launched Let’s Look Out for Each Other – an educational campaign that encourages both cyclists and drivers to share Suffolk’s roads. Each week approximately four cyclists are injured in Suffolk with almost three cyclists killed or seriously injured every month.
4% of adults in Suffolk cycle at least five times a week – as opposed to the national average of 3%; and 20% of adults in Suffolk cycle at least once a month -5% above the national average of 15%
Driver error has been attributed to 68% of all collisions in Suffolk. In 77% of cyclist casualties at or at or near a junction, the cyclist have not been culpable; however, in 2 of the 3 recently recorded fatalities the cyclist was at fault.
Roadsafe top tips for drivers and cyclists when using the road are:
- Ride positively, decisively and well clear of the kerb – look and signal to show drivers what you plan to do and make eye contact where possible so you know drivers have seen you
- Avoid riding up the inside of large vehicles, like lorries or buses, where you might not be seen
- Always use lights after dark or when visibility is poor
- Wearing light coloured or reflective clothing during the day and reflective clothing and/or accessories in the dark increases your visibility
- Look out for cyclists, especially when turning – make eye contact if possible so they know you’ve seen them
- Use your indicators – signal your intentions so that cyclists can react
- Give cyclists space – If there isn’t sufficient space to pass, hold back. Remember that cyclists may need to manoeuvre suddenly if the road is poor, it’s windy or if a car door is opened
- Always check for cyclists when you open your car door
- Avoid driving over advanced stop lines – these allow cyclists to get to the front and increase their visibility
Further information can be found at http://www.suffolkroadsafe.net/cyclists/ or http://www.suffolkroadsafe.net/drivers/
County Councillor’s Surgery My surgery dates for the next few months are: Saturday 21 June, and Saturday 19 July. There will be no surgery in August. Surgeries are at Woodbridge Library 10-12 as ever. All welcome