Category Archives: Your councillor

Could Melton Hill development plans get worse? Yes!

Still undeveloped, still unaffordable?

So, a new planning application has been made by Active Urban for the old SCDC office site at Melton Hill.

Does it differ from the last? Only in that it  now wants to offer 15 affordable homes instead of 33!!! 

Hard to believe. But they are apparently trying to take advantage of sonething called Vacant Buildings Credit (VBC)- an incentive to encourage development on brownfield sites. The fact that SCDC offices were only vacated to  sell for development has apparently slipped their goldfish minds and escaped their elastic consciences.

I cannot say how angry I am that this new application cynically prioritises monetisation of the site above the legacy benefits of providing for local need.

So Active Urban were apparently unable to deliver the required modest number of affordable housing units they were originally obligated to provide? Tough!

The answer cannot be to reduce the number of affordable units by two thirds! It must be to change the intention of the scheme – or change the developer.

At a meeting of Woodbridge Town Council’s Planning Committee I was one of five public speakers raising our concerns. There was no dissent.

As I reiterated, local people desperately need housing – but not the housing that developers want to build. We need starter homes, affordable family homes, homes for the disabled and downsizers. Active Urban want to build prestige homes, second homes, homes that exclude more and more local families. Why accept it?

Remember – Melton Hill wasn’t owned by the district council– it was held in trust for us by our elected and appointed servants. And ‘us’ means each and every one of us, rich and poor alike. The district council and its planning committee should respond to local need – not local greed.

Every week, I see families who’ve lived in Woodbridge for generations and whose children and grandchildren are now excluded from their hometown. Disabled people who must leave their support network. Old people who can’t even afford to downsize in the town they grew up. Our streets are filling with second homes, country bolt holes, investment properties, holiday lets, serving no residential use whatsoever.

We residents need the services of those who have been displaced. Who have to drive in, adding to already-chronic traffic and air quality problems. This development could either add to the problem or provide a solution.

I see from Carter Jonas reapplication the promise of 33 “affordable” (affordable, mark, not social housing) units has melted into 11.

Yes, ELEVEN.*

*The full application has generously increased this to 15.

Which, if agreed, will doubtless be as airy and insubstantial in actuality as the promised 33 of the last application.

I say that this entire flawed plan simply isn’t the answer. Local people – who have paid their council tax to fund Melton Hill – have significant unmet needs. Why don’t we start from there?

I have said this many times before: Woodbridge doesn’t need more high end housing.

It absolutely does need housing at social rent (that’s 65% of market rental value) for all those we rely on. Retained firefighters, care workers, shop assistants, young families, the teachers who can’t afford to live near our schools. The working twenty-somethings who can’t afford to leave home. Nurses, police, paramedics…

Over the years right to buy has caused Woodbridge to lose more and more of the key rental stock needed to let these valuable workers live in town.

I asked Woodbridge Town Council planning committee to reject this application – and they unanimously did! Their concerns are the concerns of everyone who lives in and loves our town.

Sadly not a single one of Woodbridge’s three district councillors were at the planning meeting, although two are also Town Councillors. Yet this development is probably the single most important issue to affect the town of Woodbridge  since  bombs  dropped on Castle Street and St Johns Hill a century ago. Electors take note.

I now call on the District Council to re-evaluate its priorities, put the town and residents of Woodbridge first and look strategically at development.

The benefits of developing the Melton Hill site – our site – as a Community Land Trust to provide (impossible to sell via r-t-b) housing at truly affordable rent  would be a magnificent legacy for the future and cover the council in glory.  I’ve proposed it before. I do so again.

Will the District Council listen?

Suffolk Conservatives ‘can’t afford’ to fund cycling

Woodbridge Cyclists were among hundreds cross county to support the motion

On Thursday 19th I was due to second two motion proposed by the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group to develop a strategic costed cycling plan for Suffolk.  The motion was proposed by  my colleague Robert Lindsay, and – as I was unable to reach the meeting from my son’s graduation in Liverpool – seconded by  another colleague, Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw (both Greens).

The first motion asked for a strategic, costed five-year cycling plan to be drawn up for Suffolk; secondly  we asked  for a commitment of 5% of the annual Integrated Transport Block (the equivalent of £160,000).
Both motions were vital: without a  commitment of funding, it will be impossible to implement a cycling plan.
However, the Conservatives refused to commit any funding whatsoever  to cycling infrastructure – thus managing to have their fiscal cake and eat it. Affordability is clearly a state of mind.
In the past, in the days when SCC was run by a Labour/LibDem coalition, SCC used to have a cycling team and  a costed cycling infrastructure plan – which was allocated funds from the Transport budget every year. In 1995 the then Country Councillors voted to fully support plans to develop the Sustrans’  National Cycle Network routes in Suffolk and steady progress was made with this for several years.
Cycling budgets don’t just benefit cyclists. They assist other forms off travel. other modes of travel:
1) Most off-carriageway cycle infrastructure is designed to be of equal benefit to pedestrians e.g. shared use cycle paths; Toucan crossing; bridges  – therefore ‘Safe Routes to School’ (for both cycling and walking).
2) More cycle commuters means less traffic on roads, leading to better journey times for those who really need their vehicles.
Since 2011, Suffolk and Ipswich were eligible for six sustainable travel grants from the Department for Transport, yet did not win a single one of these. By failing to commit a minimal amount of funding, it is likely that any future bids for funding will likewise fail.

What’s been happening: June 2018

  •  School Transport consultation: Suffolk County Council Cabinet will be only discussing a single (non-preferred) option On 19 June  the controversial changes to entitlement to school transport are being discussed by SCC’s Cabinet. Supporting documents from the consultation show overwhelming public opposition to proposed school transport change Options 1 and 2 (1 = immediate change of entitlement to nearest school only, and 2 = a staggered change); and overwhelming support for Option 3 (Make no changes and carry on as before, allowing travel to nearest and catchment and transport priority schools) . Entitlement is only if the eligible child is more than 2miles (under 8yo) and more than 3miles (8-16) from school and is attending. (There is not and has never been an entitlement to school transport for students living under this distance unless the route has been declared not safe to walk/ or over this distance if they attended through parental choice rather than place-entitlement)

Of the 3600 responses to Suffolk County Council’s home-to-school transport consultation, 85% “strongly oppose” and a further 5% “oppose” Option 1; 70% “strongly oppose” and a further 12% “oppose” Option 2. In contrast 73% of respondents strongly support, and another 10 ‘support’ retaining the status quo: Option 3. Option 3 is therefore very clearly the will of the people.
3.600 is the most responses received by any Consultation in recent years, and it is clear that parents, teachers and communities across Suffolk have very serious concerns.

Despite this, cabinet has decided on, and will only be discussing Option 2.

Back in March, the Conservative majority at Suffolk County Council voted unanimously against an opposition motion that would have allowed all councillors the chance to vote, unwhipped, on all the final school transport proposals, before the Cabinet makes a decision in June. This was unfortunate to put it mildly.

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 to you (2018: March, February, January and passim). In these, I urged Woodbridge Town Council to respond to the consultation, both individually and as a formal body. I was particularly concerned because I had heard from SCC that there had been a low response rate from the East of the County. I have had neither acknowledgement nor confirmation as to whether Woodbridge Town Council did this, which is disappointing.

I also contacted Farlingaye High School to ask it to ensure parents were wholly aware of a need to respond, and gave up one Saturday morning just before the end of the consultation to hold an awareness-raising stall in Woodbridge Thoroughfare where local people could respond directly. We were responsible for about thirty responses from that morning alone.

It was clear that the people of Woodbridge had very little understanding of the impact Options 1 and 2 had to the town – a town with 7-8 local schools. Reducing eligibility for buses means that there will be significantly more cars driving on our streets and parking near our schools during the school rush.

Cabinet makes this decision on June 19th. I, along with my Group, have opposed the proposed changes since they were first announced in September and we will continue to raise our concerns at the Cabinet meeting.

New Council Leaders: Following a leadership challenge in the Conservative Group at the Council, Cllr Matthew Hicks has been elected as the new Leader of Suffolk County Council, replacing Cllr Colin Noble. His Deputy will be Cllr Mary Evans, former Chair of Scrutiny.

Cllr Hicks has promised a “new era” of politics at the Council, with a focus on mutual respect, collaboration and co-operation. We are hopeful that he might be more open to working with, and listening to, councillors from other parties (although the School transport paperwork is not encouraging).

The first major change has been the removal of the unwieldy and untransparent Cabinet Committees, only established in September 2017. They will be replaced by Policy Development Panels (although we do not currently have the full details on how these will operate.) These worked very well in the past: I worked with Mary Evans on the former Transport PDP where we created the new speed panel frameworks were created. This may be a hopeful sign for the 20mph and associated calming in Woodbridge.

In other news there has been a change in Leadership in my group. 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, in addition to Spokesperson for Transport and Adult Care. 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, the Leadership moved to Green Cllr Andrew Stringer, and I was elected Deputy Leader.

Woodbridge 20mph zone and Thoroughfare scheme are both now finally showing signs of progression. I have had an outline design for the 20mph and associated calming scheme created and costed; the Town Clerk has applied for £100,000 CIL money to help fund this. Cllr Patricia O’Brien wants to be involved at the Martlesham end. I have asked her to inquire of our colleague Cllr Nicoll if he has any interest in forwarding the part of the scheme that is on the Melton Woodbridge division border. We are meeting with officers in a couple of weeks.

Bollards in the Thoroughfare We have been advised by Disability Action Suffolk that these need painting in order to make them more visible to visually impaired pedestrians. I have talked to Quay Church who have kindly put this on a programme of community work they are doing this month. I will be funding the paint: black as before but wit bright bronze stripes and tops

Outstanding’ schools in Suffolk have not had Ofsted inspections for years
Astonishingly, the National Audit Office has revealed that over 1600 schools in the UK have not been inspected by Ofsted for 6+ years. In Suffolk, 23 outstanding schools – almost half of those rated ‘outstanding’ – have not been inspected for at least 6 years. For 6 of these schools, their last inspection was over a decade ago. This means that whole cohorts of students have gone through school without a single Ofsted inspection.

My Group’s Spokesperson for Education, Cllr Penny Otton, raised the issue and her concerns at May’s Council meeting. The Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Education, Gordon Jones, assured her that he shared her concerns and would raise it with the head of Ofsted.

Ofsted response is that the majority of ‘outstanding’ schools are exempt by law from inspections. However, if a number of concerns or complaints are raised against a school, they would have the power to carry out an inspection. This is worrying because it is external inspections which define

Unitary discussions on hold In March, it was announced that then-leader Colin Noble had unilaterally commissioned the think-tank Respublica to produce a report outlining the options for a unitary council in Suffolk. This news was not well-received by the District and Borough Councils, who had not been consulted by Cllr Noble.

However, in the lead-up to the Conservative Group leadership election in May, Cllr Noble announced that work producing the report had been suspended. It is not yet clear whether this work will resume under the new leader, Cllr Hicks.

Millicent Fawcett Statue and women in government: As Suffolk LDGI Group Spokesperson for Women, I made it my business to attend the unveiling of Millicent Fawcett’s statue in Parliament Square, carrying a banner to remind onlookers: “Suffolk Women Lead the Way.”https://twitter.com/CroPage/status/988686126239174656 It was a point needing making!
Aldeburgh sisters Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Agnes Garrett were all strong supporters and advocates of women’s suffrage. Suffolk, not London, is its birthplace. However, 150 years on, women make up only 29% of councillors elected to Suffolk County Council – significantly below the low 33% UK average (the exact % women on Suffolk Coastal District Council). 2 Suffolk MPs are women, out of 7
Modern Suffolk has a high gender pay gap, high levels of violence against women, specifically poor outcomes for girls (particularly in rural areas). Suffolk is yet fully to engage in recognising the importance of its own women and what they have to offer.

I was recently invited to appear on BBC’s Sunday Politics to stand in for Norman Lamb – specifically to talk about women in politics and the local elections.