Since Conservative-run Suffolk County Council divested its Highways maintenance services to the efficiencies of the private sector , its not only the roads that are in bad repair. Cycle paths abutting the A12 are in a disgraceful state of disrepair, and many can no longer be used for cycling. This forces vulnerable cyclists back on the A12 amidst the fast traffic and HGVs – a situation the cycle-paths were specifically created to remedy.
Last week I discovered for myself that the A12 cycle path between Woodbridge and the Ufford turnoff is not only overgrown, but in places it has actually disappeared.
Travel was a choice between walking our bikes on the ‘cycle path’ or cycling on the A12. We chose the former as safer – but the damage to my own bicyle’s inner tube and front tyre was irreparable because of the thorns and brambles across the path.
Unfortunately we will have no option but to cycle this route tomorrow. Does my disabled companion – who has catastrophic epilepsy – take her chance on the A12, or add an extra half-hour to an hour to her thirty-minute journey battling through the jungle where a cycle path used to be?
It is not a choice Suffolk Highways should be offering her, me, or any other cyclist, in this, the self-described ‘Greenest County.’
I have written to the Cabinet member for Highways and the Deputy Director of Highways Operations asking for their assurance that they should abandon this policy of wilful neglect and restore these paths to a usable condition immediately.
Last Thursday, Lee Nunn from 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. For residents displaying a no cold calling door sticker it is now a criminal offence for traders to call at their door, although things like collecting for local charities, local newspaper deliveries and the like are fine. No Cold Calling street signage will be fixed in the road to further identify that residents in the road do not welcome uninvited doorstep callers and it will be a criminal offence for traders to cold call on any properties in the road.
Rogue traders cold-calling prey quite ruthlessly on people – particularly if they are vulnerable and on their own. Lee Nunn said he was surprised at the sheer level of cold-calling activity taking place in Morley Avenue compared with other areas he had visited.
These have included fish salesmen, people suggesting they were from the Probation board, selling household goods at inflated prices, and young men selling torches etc ‘in order to get into the army.’
Fortunately Morley Avenue is a tightknit community with a lot of good neighbours. However a resident has recently been talked into buying an extremely large quantity of fish at a very high price. (You can find more details about rogue fish sellers here)
“If you’re not sure don’t open the door,”advises Lee Nunn,
In addition he suggests:
Use a door chain to check who is calling
Don’t trade on the door step
Ask a trusted friend or family member for advice on reputable traders
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.
The Saturday after next I will be spending my usual morning at Woodbridge library, running my regular open-access surgery for Woodbridge residents. I’ve run this surgery every month for the last five years. It is supposed to be two hours long, but these days it’s closer to three, as the surgery is generally well-attended and I don’t leave until the last person has been seen.
In August, Rightmove published its annual report on the ‘happiest place’ to live in Britain – as identified by the residents *. Woodbridge scored 10th place nationwide – an amazing accolade for a town as small as ours.
Now, I don’t want to labour the point, but if your elected representative makes the effort to be available and to listen to your problems and ideas and tries to help with them, it must have a positive effect on the town’s happiness!
This weekend, I was in Hadleigh, whose County Councillor, Brian Riley (elected 2013) moved to North Carolina in early 2015 – but kept claiming his allowance and shamelessly told his constituents that he could be as good a Suffolk county councillor from the USA.
Mr Riley has now finally resigned shortly before being removed. He couldn’t even manage to maintain the minimum council attendance requirement for a councillor (one meeting every six months) and having left his constituents voiceless and without adequate county representation for 18 months. A private communication I had from him by email last month suggests he thinks this all a very fine state of affairs.
Before Brian Riley won the seat for the Conservatives (who have been strangely reluctant to criticise their former colleague’s shoddy behaviour to those he was elected to represent), Hadleigh was held for 24 years by LibDem David Grutchfield, who worked tirelessly for the town, and only stood down through extreme ill-health.
Maybe Hadleigh residents should ponder what it is that makes a town happy when they vote at the forthcoming by-election? They deserve so much more and better than what they have had in recent years
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
having no competition to ensure that they are offering good value for money
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
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.