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Strategy for Woodbridge must not forget our housing needs

Market Hill, Woodbridge 150 years back. Instantly recognisable. Will it still be recognisable in 150 years time?

These are the comments I sent to SCDC on the First Draft of Suffolk Coastal’s Local Plan, in my role as County Councillor for Woodbridge. (My comments are therefore specifically restricted to Woodbridge):

I fully endorse the District’s statement that Woodbridge “is an important retail and employment centre and provides a variety of leisure, medical, education and transport facilities which serve the surrounding rural settlements. The town is also popular with visitors and tourists who wish to experience the historic town, cultural attractions, riverside character and access to the rest of the District.

I add my concerns to those articulated in the Plan as to the likely impact of potential Ipswich Northern Bypass routes on the town, and in particular, to possible subsequent development west of the A12.  I support very strongly the Local Plan’s intention to continue a policy of restricting westward development ( eg to the western side of the A12) “until such time as further detail and justification is available“.

I note the Plan’s aspiration  that “ in order to maintain the vitality of Woodbridge, the need to improve links between the different parts of the town, namely the riverside, Thoroughfare and Market Hill will be supported by the Council over the plan period. The riverside and town centre complement one another and serve residents, businesses, visitors and tourists.” I would hope this will mean that the Council will do everything within its power – that is, both financially, and strategically –  to support the Woodbridge 20mph and associated calming plan, approved by SCC in February 2017

I note the Plan refers (at 12.218) to the fact that the built up area of Woodbridge is  “constrained”, meaning development opportunities are limited.  However I question the wording later on in the paragraph. While technically true that ”development opportunities have come forward on previously developed land through conversions and reuse which has maintained a level of housing delivery in the town, or within the parishes of Martlesham and Melton which adjoin Woodbridge which has provided housing opportunities in the area, this paragraph does not adequately describe the limitations of the developments within Woodbridge which seem to be exclusively aimed at the ‘affluent purchaser’ market, rather than the balanced tenure referred to at the beginning of this Local Plan.

I therefore welcome the aspirations enshrined in section 5.2 of the Plan (the Local Plan seeks to diversify the supply of housing through delivering a range of different sizes of sites in a variety of locations, and ensuring that the mix of housing types and tenures reflects the needs of the District’s population. The East Suffolk Housing Strategy also sets out the ways in which the Council will continue to pursue a range of models for housing delivery, including through working with Housing Associations and providing support to community led housing initiatives”) and would urge the Council to ensure that this aspiration becomes a special priority for Woodbridge, because of past failures.

This would ensure that Woodbridge remains a viable and fully functioning town by ensuring a sustainable demographic mix ( by social, age-group, and employment background and status) , rather than one comprising the largely affluent and elderly who can afford the current high average house price of £408,000. 

This means that the priorities listed in 12.219 need to be more fully articulated to ensure that the Plan’s wording “Any residential development that comes forward over the plan period will be expected to target the ageing population and provide lower cost housing opportunities to meet locally generated needs” is fully disambiguated:

 Yes, housing needs to be provided for the elderly residents of Woodbridge wishing to downsize. It does not need to be built with the purpose of encouraging additional older people to move into the area. Instead, a concentrated effort needs to be made to ensure that young people, disabled people, key workers, (even poor people) are not forced to move out of the area!

As a county councillor I thoroughly endorse the retention, maintenance and protection of all parks, open spaces and playing fields within the Woodbridge area.  I totally agree that these areas provide recreational opportunities and promote healthy communities and well-being and it is essential they are retained and protected over the plan period to support the needs of the existing and future communities.

I acknowledge and endorse Section 12.221’s statement  “The Local Plan acknowledges the Air Quality Management Area and seeks to direct new development away from this area.” I find it hard to square this with the immediately succeeding statement:  “Where redevelopment opportunities come forward over the plan period, the impact of these on the Air Quality Management Area will need to be considered alongside other material planning considerations.” How can this be? If  one directs new development away from this sensitive area (where no Air Quality solution has been found since the problem was first identified), then what other material planning considerations can there be? The air quality is inadequate – no mitigation has been successful, and further development could only exacerbate the situation.

The whole paragraph 12.222  is unclear. You say, “The 2001 Local Plan had a number of area specific policies which related to areas of Woodbridge. A number of these are still extant policies (Policies AP236, AP249, AP250, and AP252) but over time Woodbridge has evolved and the objectives of the policies are, in some circumstances no longer relevant. However the principles of riverside character which seek to protect the area from inappropriate development whilst seeking opportunities to enhance the character of the area are to be retained within this plan period. Proposals in riverside locations however, need to be balanced against the principles of visitor management of the Deben Estuary, as outlined in the Deben Estuary Plan, and the Suffolk Coastal Recreational Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy,”  This is a distinctly woolly sentiment, lacking any clear focus or definition. What does “Proposals in riverside locations however, need to be balanced against the principles of visitor management” mean? Disambiguation of this entire paragraph is needed.

Looking overall at the draft strategy for Woodbridge (below*) I am specifically concerned that this Strategy for Woodbridge at no point acknowledges the inbalance of housing type within our town and the consequent demographic shift noticeable even over the last two decades.

I reiterate what I have said above. I welcome the aspirations enshrined in section 5.2  of this draft plan (“the Local Plan seeks to diversify the supply of housing through delivering a range of different sizes of sites in a variety of locations, and ensuring that the mix of housing types and tenures reflects the needs of the District’s population. The East Suffolk Housing Strategy also sets out the ways in which the Council will continue to pursue a range of models for housing delivery, including through working with Housing Associations and providing support to community led housing initiatives”) and regret that these aspirations are not currently followed through in the draft strategy for Woodbridge. I would urge the Council to ensure that these aspirations become a special priority for Woodbridge, because of past failures.

Caroline Page
Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Woodbridge

Policy SCLP12.28: Strategy for Woodbridge

The strategy for Woodbridge is to balance opportunities with the acknowledged physical and environmental constraints in order to maintain and enhance its role as a market town, an employment centre and a tourist destination.

Opportunities to enhance the historic environment and the riverside character area of the town will be supported where they bring economic and social benefits which do not have a significant adverse impact on the environmental designations.

Residential development will be expected to come forward on sites within the Settlement Boundary, consisting of infill or small scale redevelopments which make the most appropriate use of previously developed land.

The strategy, therefore is to consolidate a town that:

a) Retains the special quality of the built environment including Conservation Areas and Listed Buildings and the character of the riverside and estuary;

b) Retains the A12 as a firm edge to the town;

c) Enhances the links between the town centre and the riverside;

d) Enhances the town centre through the retention of national and independent shopping opportunities;

e) Actively manages traffic and visitors to the town and surrounding areas through the use of appropriate traffic management, suitable car parking and signage;

f) Promotes improvements to air quality; and

g) Supports the further provision of open space and recreational facilities to meet the needs of the town over the plan period


Woodbridge Town Council – WHAT is going on?

Lord Nolan’s 7 Principles of Public Life

A massive loss of data. Extraordinary secrecy. Accusations of party politicking from a majority party that has for years overseen the debacle and is now busy evading the issue.

What on earth is going on in Woodbridge?

Firstly, why the party politics? I’m sure most of Woodbridge residents would totally support a non-political town council. Indeed, one wonders why Woodbridge Town Council – alone amongst its peers- wants to have a party-political structure at this level of local government. There is no equivalent in any similar town or parish  for miles.

(This is  exactly why the LibDems and Greens have stood down in the current Woodbridge Kyson by-election to offer the chance of better political balance to the town!)

Woodbridge Town Council are now admitting  to losing ‘some data’ ?  Some emails (they contend with increasing desperation) were deleted “possibly inadvertently or as a result of implementing the new GDPR legislation. ” The question is, how many emails is ‘some data’? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Astonishingly, the number seems to be closer to the last than the first.

Woodbridge Town Council add that “data was retrieved”  – but don’t specify what data, and how much? Tens of emails?  Astonishingly it might not even be as much as this!

If  – instead of blandly asserting might is right – Woodbridge Town Council wants to demonstrate the transparency required by the 7 Nolan Principles of Public Life – which aren’t optional, by the way -it needs to man up and admit the scale of the current problem rather than going “into camera” (eg secretly) in order to hide the facts from the people Woodbridge Town Council were elected to represent.

But we, the people of Woodbridge, need to know.

We need to know on whose behalf these emails were written. Can Woodbridge Town Council confirm how many years of emails have been deleted? Can they  tell us what these emails contained?

If they can’t do this, Woodbridge Town Council cannot assert they were unimportant.

The facts are simple- when it comes to data, it seems Woodbridge Town Council have no clear idea what it is they have lost and they are showing all the signs of a rabbit in the headlights. The current problem is not a matter of a few defective park signs. It is significant data loss: the deletion of many, many, many official emails.

Woodbridge Town Council asserts there is no problem because they say they can prove “no public money was lost”. But they are unable to produce the full audit trail behind their decisionmaking. All jobs over a certain sum need comparative quotes to ensure best value. Do we have these?

It seems Woodbridge Town Council would  have grave difficulty in proving in the required detail how years of decisions,  financial and otherwise, were made.  I am very glad that they are taking a proactive attitude going forward, but we, the town, need a full description  of all the horses they lost before they finally got around to buying a bolt for the stable door.

Additionally one must wonder whether  Woodbridge Town Council has any idea of what commitments may have been made on behalf of its electors in the deleted emails? Wouldn’t it be better to face this possibility head on?

Finally why on earth did  Woodbridge Town Council cover up this catastrophe by refusing to make it public to the very people it concerns! Their own personal embarrassment (for overseeing such a mess) is no answer. This is not Woodbridge Town Council’s money, data. It is OUR money, OUR data. The emails were on OUR behalf.

As a county councillor known for my impartial representation of all the people of the town regardless of party, creed, colour, age, gender and background I am deeply shocked and disappointed with the way so many of our town councillors are handling this embarrassing situation.

What happened over this last year in Suffolk

The Jetty Lane launch at the Table, Woodbridge: There were so many people attending, we had to have the speeches outsideA year ago Suffolk thought we had seen off devolution. At the end of this year, we are once again looking at proposals for change in many arenas. A lot of things have happened in Suffolk over the last 12 months. Here are some of the most important to people locally.

Leadership changes at Suffolk County Council Following the departure of Deborah Cadman, Suffolk County Council has appointed Nicola Beach (executive director of infrastructure and environment at Essex County Council) as new Chief Executive, She will start work this summer. This is not the only change. Cabinet Member for Environment, Public Protection and Broadband Matthew Hicks challenged the  hard right leadership of the Conservative leader, Colin Noble, supported by head of Scrutiny, Mary Evans – and won. The personality of the leader of the council has a strong impact on how it is run.

Last May, my party joined with the Greens and Independents to create the Lib Dem Green and Independent Group on Suffolk County Council and I had the privilege to be appointed the first (and only) Group Spokesperson for Women in the county. The group has had a number of successes in this last year: opposing the School Transport changes, calling successfully for the abolition of single use plastics in Suffolk, exposing the council’s gender pay-gap and supporting an urgent review of the transition arrangements for WASPI women. At the recent LDGI group AGM I was elected Deputy Leader.

Ex -Suffolk CC Leader Colin Noble unilaterally commissioned (expensive) report on council change  Ex-leader of Suffolk County Council, Cllr Noble unilaterally commissioned think-tank Respublica to look at unitary options to run Suffolk. This greatly angered Suffolk’s seven district and borough council leaders, two of whom (Waveney’s Mark Bee and Mid Suffolk’s Nick Gowrley) are also county councillors, because the decision was taken without consultation . They wrote an open letter distancing themselves from this decision. The review was costed around £70,000. It however appears now to be on hold.

Jetty Lane CiC takes off   Having been awarded a 125 year lease by Suffolk County Council in December, fundraising has started in earnest for the Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre in Woodbridge. This will – as you know – provide facilities for the many local groups left homeless when the Woodbridge youth centre was pulled down last year. Apart from Just42, who currently are living in 2 shipping containers onsite, all other past users have failed to find suitable permanent accommodation in Woodbridge, because there is a clear lack of appropriate alternative facilities.

Jetty Lane directors gave up an entire week of the spring half-term to staff a public consultation at Woodbridge library to show the plans to the community and to get feedback. This showed once again the strength of support this project has from the people of the town.

The launch took place in April when the first bids for this exciting and sustainable heritage project went out.

Thoroughfare Solution? In late 2016 I regrouped the Thoroughfare Working Party 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. The aim was to try and find consensus to improve footfall and preserve the future of the Woodbridge Thoroughfare in all its aspects. There were two different issues with different enforcement needs (driving through and parking).Having come up with three workable potential solutions, the Thoroughfare Working Group held a public consultation on proposed changes to the Traffic Regulation Order in The Thoroughfare.

The results of this initial consultation showed that option 2b was the most popular (ie: No access at any time except permit holders and loading/unloading. This will include disabled drivers. This result has the backing of the Disability Action Suffolk Forum.) This would mean. The minimum lorry weight restriction will be removed. The new restrictions will be in force 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Parking will only be allowed in signed bays, which will be better marked. The signage both on the approach to the Thoroughfare, and in the road, will be much simpler and will show it as a pedestrian zone.

The next stage of the consultation will ensure that all those that may be affected by the proposed changes can have their say before we move to the final stage formal TRO consultation next year by Suffolk County Council.

I wish here to pay tribute to the late Tony Buckingham  Woodbridge’s community engineer, who worked hard and productively with the group throughout the year , and who was working on the next stage when he sadly died tragically young earlier this year. His work was greatly appreciated and he will be greatly missed.

County Council Budget 2018-19 hits the most vulnerable  Despite increasing council tax by 4.99% in 2018-19, Suffolk County Council will still be facing a budget gap and is responding with cuts of £23.9m. The majority of this will come from the Adult and Community Services budget, with an £11m cut achieved through “mitigation of care purchasing demand increases” and a £1m cut to the Sheltered Housing Grant. Other damaging cuts include reductions in funding to Citizens Advice and reduced subsidies for rural passenger transport, both of which impact most upon the most vulnerable.

Local Planning Development Controversies Various developments have been concerning local residents this year, not least because many are finding it harder and harder to afford to live in the town while most people are reporting driving and parking problems.
The two most egregious examples highlighted different problems: the infamous  so-caĺled ‘Cheese Wedge’ development of the ex-Suffolk Coastal District Council offices showed that the district council planning department has a degree of power that has so far appeared to trump reasoned and strong objections from both County and Town Council, and many interested and well-qualified groups and individuals, as well as local opinion. The Woods Lane development showed how development outside the town – and about which residents could have no say – could impact heavily upon the town in order to build housing that was in no sense ‘affordable’.
An additional point: Woodbridge has recently agreed a 20mph zone and additional calming for the entire town. One of the principle rationales was the impact of heavy traffic on our medieval town and to discourage rat-running on the B1438 which separates the town from the riverside. The problems encountered during the Woods Lane diversion only underline why the scheme is needed. The scheme however needs funding. I would therefore urge SCDC and SCC Highways to work together, using development money earmarked for community benefit, to benefit that community most harmed by these works – ie Woodbridge itself.

Highways Operation  It was recently reported that Suffolk County Council had repaired 6500 potholes since the start of the year. However, there are still a number of issues with the way Highways carry out their repairs, and this headline figure does not paint an accurate picture of the situation in Suffolk. In 2016 Suffolk’s administration agreed a new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan with contractors, Kier, and towards the end of 2016 extended their contract early – despite their record of appalling performance.

We were promised that this would result in a much more unified and strategic way of working between SCC and contractors Kier to try and make things work more efficiently, 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 – would clear at long, long last. This has not occurred.

Indeed the design for Woodbridge’s 20mph and calming plan – which I asked for following its approval back in February 2017 – did not occur or even begin to get started over this entire year. Indeed they now seem to be endeavouring to forget that the decision has been made! Fortunately I put all the paperwork on my blog the moment the decision was made so that I am able to refer people there when they suggest they do not know, have access to, or remember details of the decision makingf.

The roads are currently worse than they have ever been, county and government funding is ever less, and the Highways team are currently struggling to keep up with the need for repairs across the county. They are therefore resorting to temporary repairs which are quicker to complete than permanent repairs. They have recently introduced a more expensive temporary material that is supposed to last slightly longer. However, these pothole repairs will undoubtedly need to be repeated in the coming months as the temporary material deteriorates. Whether this represents value for money for Suffolk residents is an important question.

Suffolk Highways have also stated that they are “blitzing” whole areas of the road at once, rather than making multiple trips to the same area. However, it is important to note that they are only ‘blitzing ‘ those potholes that meet their intervention criteria which means that the blitz might not look much like a blitz to the external eye..

Swallows Nesting Restored to Woodbridge Station After I put our residents’ concerns about the destruction of swallow nesting at Woodbridge station to Greater Anglia, the issue was taken up by BBC Radio Suffolk, the EADT and social media. And the company listened and took the matter seriously.

On March 19 Greater Anglia installed two RSPB clay swallow boxes at the very places where the swallows have traditionally nested.

County Councillor’s Surgery My regular monthly open access County Councillor’s surgery in the library, is now in its 8th year, continues to bring in more and more people from across an ever-wider sector of Suffolk Coastal. It is clear that residents would be grateful if their own county councillors held open-access monthly surgeries. 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 needs, social care crises, homelessness, and charitable organisation support.

Locality Spending   My Locality budget spending this year has covered such diverse grants as: new sessions for the New Horizons Lunch Club, a grant towards the defribrillator in Warwick Avenue, leafletting the entire town on behalf of both our local doctors’ surgeries’ PPGs on the benefits of Social Prescribing, in addition to a grant for preplanning work for the Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts centre