Category Archives: Woodbridge Youth Centre

Whats up in Suffolk June to July 2016

Caroline Page, Woodbridge County Councillor (Phot: Toby Gray Photography)
Caroline Page, Woodbridge County Councillor (Phot: Toby Gray Photography)

Though these last few weeks have been dominated by the national Referendum  and the Norfolk and Suffolk Devolution debates, other things have – of course – been happening on the domestic front.  The big issues in SCC have been a new plan for maintaining Suffolk’s Highways and the future of the Ipswich Park and Ride, not to mention  the political stability of the Conservative administration, while locally,there has been continuing work to secure the future of the Woodbridge Youth Centre

A new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan  SCC’s Cabinet  has just approved Suffolk’s new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan.

Basically they had little option because the past Highways Maintenance plans have been a disaster, criticised by everyone, regardless of party affiliation. (And anyway, this Plan has 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 can testify. There will 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 (with clear matrices for action for all eventualities). This may mean that the Highways small schemes backlog 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.  (An example was given of how a simple Highways marking job where the paint cost £49 would be charged out at £1989.) Unfortunately this seems to be the inevitable result of a market driven solution. 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 the 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 anomaly of a private organisation uttering the ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ mantra whilst

  1. having no competition to ensure that they are offering good value for money
  2. charging for the time worked by SCC officers  on projects (when these officers  have already been paid by SCC) when billing councillors for these projects             and
  3. failing to recognise the principle of counter-charge that ought to apply when the contractor wastes the time of County Councillors – who they rely on heavily for advocacy and intermediary work.

Surely these charges must be reciprocal? I suggested. Surely a free market model will not be wholly accurate unless the councillors too have a market rate set against  the work they do? For equity,  a charge for councillors’  work ought to be introduced which could then be levied  against  excessive charges and the incompetence of the contractor. Why should local highways budgets suffer from inflated charges without any redress?

Naturally this is far too sensible and logical a suggestion to be accepted by the SCC administration, but  I am recording it to ensure you are aware that the suggestion was made by me, in defence of local councillors’ highways budgets.

For the rest, we will have to wait to see how this will pan out.

 

SCC’s Conservative majority on a knife-edge  After a Conservative Carlford win Suffolk County Council continues to be led by a technical minority administration, with the following political make-up:

Conservative 37 – Labour 15;  LibDem 7; UKIP 10; Green 2; Independent 4 (eg a technical opposition of 38)

However, one of the Independents remains the notorious Hadleigh councillor, ex-Conservative Brian Reilly, who will insist on holding onto his council seat although  disgracefully he has lived in North Carolina for a long time now. In Cllr Riley’s absence this makes the vote 37:37.  On the rare occasions he graces the chamber with his presence, he votes with the Conservatives (this  presumably being why they have been so reluctant to take constructive steps to get him removed).

Future of the Ipswich  Park & Ride  SCC’s administration’s plans to make the Park & Ride service self-supporting by getting the bus companies that operate alongside it to take over its services were looked at by the Suffolk CC’s Scrutiny committee who were not satisfied with what they saw and voted  to send the plans back to Cabinet. These were reassessed and once again passed.

In a slightly rewritten proposal the  ultimate future of the P&R will not hang immediately on the success of this scheme. If it fails, the plan will have to go back to Cabinet for reassessment before any thought of closure. However, Woodbridge and Martlesham residents will be concerned to discover there is as yet no clarity as to which First buses will be operating at the Martlesham end. This obviously makes a difference – both to the P&R service AND to the service it operates within.

(I had been told by officers very clearly that it would NOT be the Martlesham-terminating 66, but our less circuitous 63, 64, 65 will become Park and Ride buses. The Labour spokesperson has been equally clearly informed it will be the 66. I asked Cabinet Member James Finch for disambiguation at the previous Cabinet meeting. Unfortunately  he had no idea whatsoever.)

I have been promised that once the scheme has been passed we will get confirmation as to which of these two options  will be in operation.

I remain unsure how successfully this  service will work. It seemed to me that the best way to make the P&R more income-generating would be to make it more responsive to unmet demand  – and that would be to provide a good service for London commuters. This our local buses does not do.

Indeed at the moment I cannot see any very compelling reason why people should now drive to the P&R from Woodbridge rather than getting on the same bus in Woodbridge – especially as they will be able to use their bus passes in Woodbridge but will pay to sit on the same bus if they board it at the Park & Ride! We will wait and see as more details emerge.

 

Woodbridge’s Youth Club homeless? Help Just42!

Just42close (2)On Tuesday I was called to a meeting at Endeavour House to be told baldly that Suffolk County Council has decided that Woodbridge’s  Youth Centre (which hosts the popular  youth and children’s work charity, Just42 amongst many other groups and SCC units) will close imminently.

Everyone  who knows Woodbridge knows there has been some form of youth club held at the Woodbridge site ever since it was first built! (And the site has been threatened for some years  – see here for details)

This is a call from me to everyone in Woodbridge to help! After years of cuts to core services, Just 42 remains the only such group left  in our part of Suffolk,  its irreplaceable work  funded entirely by grants and donations. We cannot allow this valuable asset to be lost to Woodbridge !

As a longtime supporter of Just 42 I’m very concerned that we manage to re-house Just42  immediately in temporary accommodation so that there is no break in their valuable services. It’s also important that we start fund-raising at once so that we can rebuild the youth centre on its present site as soon as possible for all users!”

According to Just 42 Manager Caroline Rutherford, landlords SCC “told us that the building is well beyond its design life and  they say they’re concerned over potential health & safety risks in the future.” Although Caroline was not “entirely surprised” that the building will eventually have to close, bearing in mind its very poor state of repair, she was “terribly shocked to be told that we have to vacate the building by the end of August or indeed -in the worst case- in the next 5 days!!”

Basically SCC seem to be saying “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…

Extensive research by the parties most interested in the future of the Youth Centre suggests that it is  ideally sited in terms of (public transport/vehicular/pedestrian) access, privacy and recreation for the wide range of groups who use it . We are very short of space in Woodbridge these days, when even gardens are being infilled. There is nowhere else that offers this perfect combination.

Worryingly,  SCC sent out a  Press Release (during their meeting with me!) that was inaccurately headed ‘closure of former community building  – implying to the Suffolk media that the Woodbridge Youth Centre is no longer in use. However this  building is  a very current community building, hosting 11 community groups, hot-desking SCC’s integrated services, the Inclusion team, specialist service, the adoption team and workforce development and the offices of Just 42 as well as one-off bookings which run to the middle of next year.

Amazingly the release made no mention  even of Woodbridge Youth Centre’s most high profile  occupant – Just 42 even though it  supports over 2000 children and young people in the Woodbridge area through itsrange of clubs, projects and a mentoring scheme.

As you know, I celebrated my last election by walking from Felixstowe to Lowestoft to raise funds for Just 42 because it is exceptional! From the hub in the Youth Centre,   Just 42 gives support, advice and help  over a wide area to encourage local young people 10-18 to succeed and fulfil their potential. And Just 42 is not only doing this well and effectively – it is doing it on a shoestring! (Details here http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2013/05/23/just-42-weve-raised-nearly-2500/ )

The precipitate sending out of SCC’s press release without informing the many groups and individuals using the building  has caused and is causing extreme  anxiety. Some of the stakeholders  first heard the news via the radio yesterday and the learning disabled members of the Gateway Club were only alerted as they arrived today!  They have used the centre for 35 years. This was an incredibly cruel and uncaring way to break the news to stakeholders!

What’s been happening in Suffolk Sept- Oct 2015

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.

Woodbridge's Drummer Boy - aka Jakin and Lew of the Band of The Fore and Fit Princess Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Anspach's Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry, Regimental District 329A
Woodbridge’s Drummer Boy – aka Jakin and Lew of the Band of The Fore and Fit Princess Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Anspach’s Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry, Regimental District 329A

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.