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
Conservatives deny councillors the chance to debate final school transport proposals On 22 March, the Conservative majority at Suffolk County Council voted unanimously against a motion that would have allowed all councillors the chance to vote on the final school transport proposals, before the Cabinet makes a decision in June. These proposals have been causing considerable concern to the county at large.
They may also have a significant impact on Woodbridge – because it is a town containing 8 schools. Woodbridge Town Councillors will recall I raised this as a significant concern in previous reports (March, February and passim) and urged Woodbridge and Martlesham Councils to respond to the consultation, both individually and as a formal body. I also contacted Farlingaye High School, and gave up one Saturday morning to hold an awareness-raising stall in Woodbridge Thoroughfare where local people could respond directly.
The cross-party motion, proposed by Labour and seconded by the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, called for an extraordinary Council meeting to debate and hold a non-binding vote on the final proposals. This would have given councillors representing the most affected areas, the chance to have their say and raise their concerns, whatever their political allegiance. I am deeply disappointed that this motion did not receive the support of the county council. It is very strange that Conservative councillors have denied themselves the opportunity to fully represent those who elected them.
From the very beginning, my group has fought against these proposals. We are extremely concerned that a change in school transport policy will not achieve any significant savings, whilst causing untold harm to thousands of rural families – and local roads. In my roles as groiup spokesperson for Transport, for Women and my many years on Suffolk’s Educational Transport Panel I have been particularly concerned (see various of my blog entries, my letters to the EADT, my speeches at council, cabinet etc).
Many other councillors share our concerns. They, and their constituents, deserve the right to have a say. It is a shame they did not have the courage to speak up and support this motion.
SCC announces new Chief Executive Suffolk County Council has appointed a new chief executive, Nicola Beach, following a unanimous recommendation by the authority’s Staff Appointments. Nicola, who is currently executive director of infrastructure and environment at Essex County Council, will join SCC this summer. Sue Cook will continue in her role as Interim Chief Executive until this time, when she will return to her role as corporate director of health, wellbeing and children’s services.
Colin Noble commissions Respublica to examine options for public sector change in Suffolk The Leader of Suffolk County Council, Cllr Noble, recently announced that he has – apparently unilaterally -commissioned think-tank Respublica to look at public sector reform in Suffolk. It will examine the current arrangements for public service delivery in Suffolk and will report back on the merits of making a bid to the government for a reformed system.
The review will look once again at the possibility of a unitary county council in Suffolk. However, Cllr Noble has also insisted that other options will be considered, such as East and West Suffolk unitaries, an option including a Greater Ipswich unitary council, or enhancing the existing two-tier system. This review is costed at around £70,000.
Suffolk county councillor were not consulted as to the commissioning and neither were Suffolk district/borough councillors. The announcement has not been well-received by the leaders of the seven district and borough councils in Suffolk. In fact, leaders Mark Bee (Waveney, David Ellesmere (Ipswich), Nick Gowrley (Mid Suffolk), John Griffiths (St Edmundsbury), Ray Herring (Suffolk Coastal), John Ward (Babergh), and James Waters (Forest Heath) published an open letter criticising the this commissioning without previous discussion as” totally contrary to the spirit of joint working, collaboration and partnership that together we have worked hard to develop and implement for Suffolk.”
“We cannot subscribe to, or support, your commission of the ResPublica review,” the leaders conclude.
Suffolk County Council’s gender pay gap remains significant Suffolk County Council’s pay report revealed that, although the Council employs nearly three times as many women as men, there is still a significant gender pay gap in favour of men.
The County Council’s mean gender pay gap is 14.8%, whilst the median pay gap is 18.6%. In other words, although Suffolk County Council employs relatively few men, they are overrepresented in the better paid sectors and underrepresented in the less well-paid sectors. (All the statistics refer to the average hourly pay rates of employees.)
When discussing the report during Council on 22 March, the Conservative Deputy Leader commented “we employ women [in low paid roles] because that is probably better suited to their characteristics… Most women are naturally caring”.
This response is concerning. Reverting to “nature” and so-called essential differences between men and women as an explanation for the gender pay gap obscures the real problem and makes it much more difficult to resolve: the council needs to be recognising and confronting these gender stereotypes, not reinforcing them.
Jetty Lane Public Consultation 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 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.
The Jetty Lane directors (of whom I am one) have just given up an entire week of half-term to staff a public consultation at Woodbridge library. This showed once again the strength of support this project has from the people of the town.
The Jetty Lane launch will take place this month and the first bids for this exciting and sustainable heritage project are due to go out this month.
Swallows hopefully to return to Woodbridge Station Wonderful news! After I put our residents’ concerns about the destruction of swallow nesting at Woodbridge station to Greater Anglia (see March report). 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. Thank you, Greater Anglia! Let us hope our soaring summer friends will be back with us by next month!
Social Prescribing I have recently funded a leaflet on behalf of the PPGs of both Woodbridge GP surgeries which has gone out to 7000 homes in the vicinity. This describes the benefits of social prescribing and how to achieve them. It has been received with great approval by the NHS who is planning on putting it out in other areas.
In brief social prescribing is the notion that, while recognising that medication helps clinical need eg clinical depression; also recognises there are other needs that might be helped by activities such as walking, exercise, music, writing, language learning, gardening, volunteering etc
Potholes – funding boost & rise in insurance claims
Potholes continue to be a key issue for councillors and residents alike. There are two significant updates this month: Continue reading April: What’s been happening in Suffolk
Happy New Year! My January 2018 report to Woodbridge & Martlesham councils covered a range of things: school transport, tree preservation, plastic bottles, WASPI women’s pensions, as well as updates on the Thoroughfare and the success of the Jetty Lane proposals
School Travel Consultation launched Although Suffolk parents, governors and councillors have voiced serious concerns over a consultation on proposed changes to the Suffolk School Transport policy, it was agreed by Suffolk’s Cabinet in December after significant controversy toward the end of last year. As you may remember, I spoke against this for a number of different reasons: perhaps most pertinently that the paper offered Cabinet three options of which the third was an unviable “Do nothing”. I suggested that a viable third option was to lobby central government for more funding to cover the shortfall caused by central government funding decisions – such as the de facto raising of statutory school leaving age from 16 to 18 without additional funding. However, despite our strongly-voiced concerns, nobody but Cabinet members has a vote at Cabinet and the consultation was therefore voted through unanimously. This public consultation was launched on Tuesday 12 December and will run until 28 February 2018. The consultation survey, along with more information on the proposals, can be found at www.suffolk.gov.uk/schooltravel. I would be grateful if this information was disseminated as widely as possible.
A number of workshops have been organised, where the proposals will be discussed and questions answered. The only close one to Martlesham/Woodbridge is:
|Kesgrave Conference Centre
Twelve Acre Approach, Ipswich IP5 1JF
|Orwell Room||16 Jan 2018||19:00-20:30|
In addition to the workshops, there will also be a Have Your Say event. This is an opportunity for members of the public to present alternative options to a panel.
|West Suffolk House
Western Way, Bury St Edmunds IP33 3SP
|30 Jan 2018||19:00-22:00|
To book a place at the above events and for full details, visit www.suffolk.gov.uk/schooltravel or call 0345 603 1842 (Mon-Fri 08:30 – 18:00). For my concerns, http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2017/12/10/education-transport-proposal-my-concerns/
I would strongly urge you to respond to the consultation survey and encourage all parents to do the same – and attend one of the events if possible. If you would like any further information or clarification on the potential impacts of changing the policy, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Suffolk County Council signs the Woodland Trust’s Tree CharterThe Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group proposed a motion to Suffolk County Council on 7 December, asking them to sign the Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees, Woods and People. I am pleased to report that this received unanimous support.
The Charter was launched on 6 November to mark the 800 year anniversary of the influential 1217 Charter of the Forest. The Woodland Trust is leading a call with more than 70 organisations from across multiple sectors, and hopes the Charter will bring the discussion of the importance of forests and trees back into public consciousness. There are ten principles which underpin the charter:
- Thriving habitats for diverse species
- Planting for the future
- Celebrating the cultural impact of trees
- A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK
- Better protection for important trees and woods
- Enhancing new developments with trees
- Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees
- Access to trees for everyone
- Addressing threats to woods and trees through good management
- Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees
Unanimous support for LDGI Group’s motion on plastic recycling Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Environment, announced in October that he would be examining the possibility of introducing a plastic bottle Deposit Return Scheme in the UK to improve recycling rates.
At the meeting of Suffolk County Council on 7 December, Cllr Penny Otton (Lib Dem) and Cllr Robert Lindsay (Green) proposed a motion calling on the Council to pledge support for the introduction of such a scheme, and to offer Suffolk as a pilot area should one be needed. This was met with unanimous support. Both the Cabinet Member for the Environment and the Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group will be writing to the Secretary of State, urging him to implement this new recycling scheme in the UK.
Deposit Return Schemes work by adding a small deposit charge to the cost of plastic bottles, which is refunded to the consumer when the bottle is returned for recycling. These “reward and return schemes” are already in place across Europe, including in Germany and Denmark, and evidence suggests they are an effective recycling method. The recycling rate for countries with a Deposit Return Scheme stands at over 90%, whilst Britain currently recycles just 57% of plastic bottles.
SInce we passed this motion the Government seems finallyto have taken the idea on board.
Suffolk County Council votes unanimously to support WASPI women As the Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group Spokesperson for Women (indeed the only spokesperson for Women at Suffolk County Council), I seconded a cross-party motion asking the Council to offer support to the 35,000 WASPI women in Suffolk who are suffering from changes in state pension age. Once again, this received unanimous support, and the Interim Chief Executive will be writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling on the government to reconsider transitional arrangements for these women.
Women Against State Pension Inequalities (WASPI) is a national campaign, which highlights the unfair impact that state pension age changes have had on women born in the 1950s. Many women expected to receive a state pension at 60 and were not properly informed by the government of the age increase, leaving them stranded without income or forced to delay retirement plans. WASPI agrees with the equalisation of state pension age, but does not agree with the unfair way the changes were implemented – with little or no personal notice, faster than promised, and leaving no time to make alternative plans.
If you would like more information, please visit: http://www.waspi.co.uk/ or my blog http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2017/12/12/waspi-success-at-suffolk-county-council/
Success for Jetty Lane CIC Directors of the recently formed Jetty Lane CiC took its business plan and designs for a new youth centre to a panel of Suffolk County Council Corporate Property just before Christmas. It was accompanied by a letter telling them it
“is a project that is designed to address sustainably the currently unmet needs of many disparate groups in Woodbridge (and its environs), with particular emphasis on young people and the arts.
In order for Jetty Lane first to fund-raise and then to function most effectively, it will require the certainty of a long lease. We are therefore here today to ask you to give the CiC a lease of 125 years on the site at IP12 4BA.
We are also asking for the lease to be at a peppercorn rent: two youth charities will be permanently housed at the centre, while many of the other users are charities or community groups. The CiC itself is a not-for-profit organisation which is working purely for the benefit of the community.”
The panel expressed themselves very satisfied with the design and plans, which they described as ‘inspiring and ambitious.’ We were very flatteringly told we had “made their day”
The directors had expected to have to wait 2 weeks for a decision but Suffolk County Council offered us the 125 year lease at a peppercorn rent (subject to terms & conditions) on the spot!
What a wonderful Christmas present to the young people and community of Woodbridge!
Council requests extension of Adult Social Care Levy Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger, Cabinet Member for Adult Care, called on the Council to lobby government to extend the National Adult Social Care Levy and explore other mechanisms to support social care because it is increasingly unaffordable.
Although my LibDem, Green and Independent Group supported this motion, and agree that social care requires an urgent funding review, we questioned why the Cabinet Member had not already been lobbying the government. The challenges facing social care are not new.
Suffolk chosen as pilot scheme for 100% Business Rates Retention In the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement, released on 19 December, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced that Suffolk had been chosen as a pilot scheme for 100% business rates retention for the 2018-19 financial year.
Suffolk is one of only 10 pilot areas announced. Both the county council and the district/borough councils will be part of the scheme. However, until more information is released from the Department for communities and Local Government, it is not possible to say exactly how much additional income this could generate into the Suffolk system.
Woodbridge Thoroughfare Consultation -responses to results The results of the initial consultation were presented for 3 weeks at the Library – (end of November to mid December) to ensure that plenty of visibility and transparency was given. It was also covered in the EADT and the resuts can be seen on my blog
Eight email responses were received as a result . Of those
- 2 were supportive
- 2 were simple questions of fact to which factual answers could be given.
- 1 was a suggestion
- 3 were strong objections. All 3 of these were from – or obo – elderly & infirm people who felt they could not get from carparks to the Thoroughfare. All 3 criticised the process and suggested we should have had more thought of disabled people. In each answer I pointed out the scope and extent of the consultation, the views of the Suffolk Coastal Disability Forum, and then mentioned the potential mitigation via the passes with the taxi firm, pointing out taxi access was something that was not possible currently, and that people too infirm/disabled to use a concessionary bus pass when entitled to one are able claim £150 taxi vouchers annually from SCC in lieu.
The next step has been to ask the relevant Highways officers to give me a quotation and then start work on the design http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2017/12/03/results-of-public-consultation-on-woodbridge-thoroughfare-sept-2017/