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
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
Today we had the fun of the Reading Challenge awards ceremony at Woodbridge Library – one of the jolliest events in this County Councillor’s annual calendar.
To complete the challenge, each child has to read six books over the summer and discuss each of them with a volunteer.
In the autumn every child who has finished their six books gets a certificate and medal at a special ceremony at Woodbridge Library. It’s such fun – and helps support a love of reading. Some of the Woodbridge volunteers have been reading challengers themselve in years gone by.
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!!!
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.