Due to the timing of Easter, there are two Suffolk County Council cabinet meetings in March, one on the 2nd of March, and the other, later in the month on the 30th.
The most interesting item in the first meeting was the County Council’s endorsement of the Suffolk Shoreline Management Plan, drafted between Suffolk Coastal District Council, and Waveney and stating the short, medium and long term plans in place for the coast. Particular concerns are the areas of Covehithe and Dunwich which would be left undefended, as well as the roads which could be damaged by rising sea levels. At an interview for the BBC I raised the issue of suitable longterm defences for the various Sizewell reactors – both current and decomissioned
The most important item for us locally at the second meeting on the 30th of March will be the next Greater Anglia Rail franchise consultation. I’m a member of the Rail Policy Group and will be attending the meeting. If there are any items on this agenda which you are particularly interested in, please let me know. I will also inform you of any decision that the cabinet makes with those items you wish to know more about.
Quality of Life funding for Transport Improvements
The County Council is going to continue its quality of life transport funding for 2010/11, although with a 20% cut. I have £10,000, I believe to spend on projects in Woodbridge that will develop the transport infrastructure. These need to fit into the following categories:
- Speed limits and speed reduction schemes/anxiety relief schemes
- Cycling schemes
- Pedestrian schemes
- Public transport schemes
- Rights of way schemes
- Traffic management schemes
This is a great chance for us as a non-priority town to access funding for these projects – so please contact me with any ideas you may have for ones that are suitable.
Woodbridge Library opening
I had a look round the new Woodbridge library in the former New Street school yesterday in advance of its formal opening . I was in company with Y1 and Y6 pupils from the new Woodbridge Primary. Both the children and I were very impressed – the building is very beautiful and has been designed for purpose in a way that the old building was not -for a start, it is wholly accessible for the disabled and there are now twice the amount of books available.
East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership stakeholder meeting
There will be the first East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership stakeholder meeting to discuss discuss proposals in the draft Stations Investment Plan on how local stations can be improved. They are looking for views, involvement and commitment to making the East Suffolk line and Felixstowe branch a success with well kept stations, increased patronage and community involvement.
The meeting will be held on 16th March 2010 in the Elisabeth Room, Endeavour House, Russell Road, Ipswich starting at 18:45 until 20:30. . The station improvement plan can be viewed on website; http://www.suffolkonboard.com/rail/east_suffolk_line_stations_investment_plan
I will be attending, and hope to have the company of at least one member of Woodbridge Town Council to ensure that Woodbridge’s interests are properly represented!.
Full Council 25th of March
The County Council will have its next meeting on the 25th of March. As yet there is no indication of what will be on the agenda for this meeting.
However, it does present you with an opportunity to ask questions of the administration, as there is now a twenty minute period at the beginning of each Full Council meeting for the public to quiz the administration. You do not have to attend for your question to be answered, but if you don’t attend there is not an opportunity to ask a supplementary question.
The deadline to submit questions for full council is 12 noon on Friday the 19th of March.
For more information about public questions please head to http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/CommitteesAgendasReportsandMinutes/PublicQuestionTimeatCountyCouncilMeetings.htm
Woodbridge bus services
Very many thanks to the Woodbridge Town Councillors who joined with me and members of the Seckford Almshouses to complain about poor bus services. You may not be surprised to hear that these complaints have been met with the usual resounding silence from the authorities approached – that is, the bus company and the county council officers – and indeed out sitting MP John Gummer. I will keep you informed of future progress
Woodbridge residents are really missing the bus! On Friday they met to protest about the slow and deliberate death of Woodbridge bus services.
Bus users and would-be bus users and people representing bus-users met at Woodbridge’s ancient Seckford Almshouses to protest. The Almshouse residents have been left without any service at all since their regular bus was re-routed, to follow all other services on a single route round the edge of Woodbridge. Everyone signed a letter inviting key personnel from First Eastern Counties Bus Company and Suffolk County Council as well as the Traffic Commissioner to a meeting to discuss this and other issues.
“We are asking them to meet us to work out how to improve local services. The situation is completely unacceptable,” says Woodbridge County Councillor, Caroline Page. “Do you realise that Woodbridge residents don’t have a bus service to the hospital in the evening, or on Sundays any more? So many of my constituents have complained about these yawning gaps in provision that I thought we needed to take some joint action to fix this problem. Its great that so many colleagues at Town and District Council level were prepared put aside their political differences to support residents.” Among those expressing concern were Woodbridge’s Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and eight District and Town councillors.
“We are told that many local bus services are not ‘commercially viable’, yet it seems that commercial viability is not being considered when bus services are planned or provided.,” says Caroline – who uses local services regularly. “ Competition has brought no benefits, and county council subsidisation is being undertaken without regard for the services being provided. How can we aspire to be the Greenest County unless we sort this out?”
“Almshouse residents now face a steep climb uphill to an unsheltered stop if they want to use the bus. This is particularly difficult for the frailer residents. Their only alternative is to take taxis, which is very expensive,” say Almshouse residents, Sue Ramsey and Gaye Bowers. “It’s simply not good enough!”
The latest use for my Locality budget has been to provide an awning for the Woodbridge Bowls club to provide additional space for when visiting clubs were playing and at the same time provide shelter for its members in the event of inclement weather.
(This was published as a letter in the East Anglian Daily TImes 15 Feb 2010)
Passengers suffer, thanks to unreliable bus services
So it took a ‘covert investigation’ by the Department of Transport to reveal what Suffolk passengers have known all along – that First Eastern Counties bus services are frequently unreliable, with 1 in 5 buses leaving early or late – or not appearing at all (EADT 11/02/10 Bus Operator Told to Improve) We’re not surprised at that. What we do find surprising is that a commercial service should be proven to behave in such a cavalier fashion to its passengers. Its as if First Eastern don’t care whether it carries passengers or not. So much for the basis of ‘commercial viability.
In defence, their spokesman said that many First Eastern Counties routes and timetables ‘were improved’ after this report was compiled, on November 15. Now, I remember November 16 very well – it was the Monday morning I and several others waited for an hour at a Woodbridge bus stop for a First bus that had been ‘improved’ out of existence without warning the passengers. Or their County Councillor. (See http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=20) Of course, this is only one example of the generally poor information given out by the bus companies about their services. Can you think of a company that expects to sell their products without advertising? Again, the term ‘commercially viable’ seems far from appropriate!
I do hope the DfT inquiry finding will interest the Conservative run County Council- which is is keen to replace scheduled rural bus services with their pet ‘demand responsive transport’ – a door-to-door service that needs booking well in advance. Their rationale?
“Many rural bus services are not commercially viable …. Alternative services are required to meet the needs of local people.”
But with bus services operating as described above, how can you possibly establish what services ARE commercially viable ? Back in 2005 the National Audit Office identified the most important factors that were needed to support successful country bus services. These were, not demand responsive transport, but positive action:
- commitment to achieving growth in bus use;
- investment in a package of measures to increase demand for bus services;
- strategic planning, partnership working between local authorities and bus operators in a deregulated market and effective procurement of local bus services;
- the provision and administration of concessionary fares; and
- regulation and monitoring of bus services.
The people of Suffolk deserve a viable bus service that they can rely on. But until they are given a chance to use such a service it is impossible to define whether it might be commercially viable or not. What is currently on offer is not fit for purpose!