Category Archives: Your councillor

Whats new at SCC – September 2012

This month a lot of my news seems to be about transport or highways

 Woodbridge Buses – marginal improvements: I’m happy to report that after all my lobbying over the last years, the situation for bus-users in Woodbridge has seen a marginal improvement. I’m telling you about them and reiterating my mantra use them or lose them.

Back in August we actually  saw the unheralded addition of one later Monday-Saturday Ipswich/Woodbridge bus service in each direction:  the new 64a – an evening service that passes the Ipswich Hospital. Woodbridge residents haven’t had this luxury since the evening 64 buses were renamed 62a and b and diverted. Unfortunately the new later bus for people in Woodbridge – the 64a – only extends travel times to mid- evening,  Even more unfortunately the direction of the 64a is not ideal for Woodbridge users, because it goes to and from Woodbridge instead of the other way round. This means that the last 64a bus from the Ipswich hospital to Woodbridge is at 19.17, yet the last bus from Woodbridge to the hospital andIpswich is at 19.58).  As usual we inWoodbridge are easier to reach than to leave. And of course the 64a does nothing whatsoever to solve the problem of Sunday and bank holiday travel.

Similarly, I am pleased to notice that after the representations of Suffolk young people – and most particularly those of Woodbridge- the 165 bus is now offering a young person’s fare 16-19 (no proof of ID needed), pegged at between the child and adult fare. Sadly, First buses still don’t  offer a young persons fare for south east Suffolk students –although they’re happy to do so for Lowestoft ,Yarmouth and Norwich young people. Why should we suffer this discrimination? Time to lobby!

 Scrutiny of CC’s decision regarding SCC’s Elderly and Disability Passes : After Cabinet reconsidered the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme and rejected the plea for change in July,  I and my colleagues ‘called in’ their decision on the following grounds:

a) proportionality (The action taken to control expenditure exceeded that required to achieve a balanced budget.)

b) due consultation and the taking of professional advice from officers; (In reconsidering the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme, the County Council did not consult the relevant groups who are affected.  The one submission from the Suffolk Consortium of User Led Organisations & Individual Disabled People was received because they had asked to contribute. Other groups were not given an opportunity to do so.)

c) consideration for human rights (The changes implemented to the travel scheme impacted negativelyon disabled pass holders, and therefore maintaining this decision continues that impact.  Also there was no full Equality Impact Assessment when the original decision was made by the Cabinet)

d) openness; (There was a lack of consultation with relevant user groups including disabled people.)

g) There was insufficient data on costs of scheme enhancements, particularly with regard to other neighbouring authorities who have more than a year’s experience of the costs of operating the enhancements.

Cabinet’s cheeseparing and undemocratic  decision will therefore be discussed at Scrutiny on 27th September.

Five bidders for SCC Highways  Responsibility for gritting, maintenance and repairing potholes on Suffolk roads is scheduled for outsourcing by the Tory administration.  We have now been given the shortlist, to be decided by Cabinet on 11th December.

These are: Amey, Balfour Beatty Workplace, Carillion/Mott Macdonald, EnterpriseMouchel and MGWSP (May Gurney/WSP)

The rationale for this outsourcing is cost-cutting. My party is concerned however that the same ineffective scrutiny and poor contract management that has dogged Suffolk’s CSD will turn this project into another CSD, and result in the the people of this County paying significantly more for poorer roads.

Tour of Britain through Woodbridge This went very pleasantly and uneventfully on a beautiful clear day. I had a last-minute discussion with the road engineers last week  – as a result of which the potholes in the Market Square(and most especially the deep one by the Kings Head) were fixed, and no catastrophic crash occurred in Woodbridge. I wish to thank the East Area Highways Team for this prompt response.

Looking at the larger picture, I hope that the route of the peleton along Sandy Lane will support the need for calming this rat run which so many residents in both Woodbridge and Martlesham  have been arguing for  and for which I have offered the money from my QoL budget.

Autism Survey There seem to be an increasing number of people diagnosed with autism these days and so  Suffolk County Council is launching a survey in an endeavour to help both people with autism, and their family and carers.

There are two surveys available – one for people living with an autistic spectrum condition  and another for their carer or family member. 

It would be useful of you could publicise this

County councillor’s surgery: this takes place on 15 September this month. Everyone welcome!

No room for the next generation?

Recently I’ve been worried about  the Woodbridge Youth Centre  and all those who use it. And now I’m  sharing both information and my own concerns about this situation.

The Centre houses a number of spectacularly useful and important groups for young people, including Just 42 – the only open access youth group in 400 square miles of Suffolk Coastal;  provides  rehearsal room for the Company of 4,  offers meeting places for various groups;  and is the only place between Leiston and Felixstowe which can provide meeting space for children and young people in a safe, non-school setting. Already, the centre is used for  something like 170 different meetings a month of one sort and another.

However,  if you look at it cynically,  the Woodbridge Youth Centre’s  Kingston Field site is also one of the last pieces of prime development land in Woodbridge. My concerns were aroused when I was told that a three-year lease promised a year ago to one of the groups that used it had failed to materialise. I then discovered that decisions about the future of the WYC appeared to be occurring without any traceable reference to any elected member at County, District or Town level.

It was as if some of the council officers involved were acting as entrepreneurs rather than caretakers. And suspiciously as if they  had forgotten that they did not own the land, and were supposed to be administering the site on behalf of the people of Woodbridge. Having first raised the matter with the County Council  in May, I eventually got an email telling me that indeed, the group in question

 were offered a three year lease. However, it became apparent that there was a need to look at the bigger long-term future of the building and occupants following the start of the Our Place discussions… The intention is to continue to renew the annual licence, while the options are considered.

I didn’t think that this covered the issue completely, not least because I discovered that there seems to have been an unilateral decison made as to the  best usage of the site : the development of yet more sheltered housing for old people. ( As if there isn’t really quite a lot of this in Woodbridge already!). And because, after a whole year  this other (again unilateral) decision to downgrade a 3 year lease to an annual licence  had not been mentioned to anyone until I  started making a fuss. And because I have been representing Woodbridge since before the inception of the ‘Our Place’ scheme and I had never been party to any discussions on the subject!

I am therefore raising  the following wider concerns on behalf of the councillors and residents of Woodbridge:

a)  “it became apparent that there was a need to look at the bigger long-term future of the building and occupants”  As this sentence is in the passive  – a timehonoured way for bureaucrats to avoid telling anyone who said what, when and why to whom –  I have asked who it was to whom “it become apparent’?   I know, it was  not to me, nor to the building’s occupants, nor to the Town Council, nor to the residents of Woodbridge.

So far I have had no answer.

b) “There appears to be a lack of space in Woodbridge generally.” I have asked for this remark  to be disambiguated, so that everyone can be clear whose lack of space is being referred to.  Past conversations and emails suggest that it doesn’t refer to the young people of Woodbridge –  the group who really do lack space in Woodbridge. Rather it  refers to the amount of  sheltered, and care provision in Woodbridge. If this is the case, it is  not true.  There are already 660+ units offering such to the elderly people in Woodbridge – and that excludes those who prefer to live in  standard housing!
Just to remind you, there are 7500 people in Woodbridge, and because of the amount of sheltered housing  already,  3000 of these are in the ‘grandparent’ age group.  Many of these  have contacted me with concerns about the extreme lack of facilities there are for young people – particularly those people who grew up here and raised their own children in past decades!

c)  The email mentioned “the start of the Our Place discussions” ( which supposedly consist of ‘officers working alongside elected members to develop local service solutions‘.) Yet any discussions as to the “bigger long-term future‘  clearly took place without the presence or knowledge of me, and as far as I know, of any other elected member. The start of these particular Our Place discussuons must have occurred quite a long time ago, bearing in mind the lease has been witheld without any reason for a full year

In conclusion  – and because localism is about joint decision-making from the start – I have asked SCC  to approach no organisation with any proposition whatsoever  without having discussed in advance the various available options  for the site  with all the stakeholders.  That is – at the very least – myself (as County Councillor), the members of Woodbridge Town Council, the current occupants, and representatives of other youth stakeholders within Woodbridge.

I have shared my concerns with the town council, and they are very supportive, and I’ve convened a meeting of all the youth groups  this Friday.

We all need to make sure that our town’s youngest generation  does n’t get marginalised and forgotten. After all, they will be supporting us one day!

Fair rail fares – have your say!

There is two more weeks to reply to the DfT’s consultation on Rail Fares. Please do so, via this link so that there is a chance (however faint) that rail fares could start going down rather than rocketing. As they have done for twenty years and more.

Dear Department for Transport,

My name is Caroline Page, and I am the County Councillor for Woodbridge in Suffolk – which is in  a beautiful rural location. We are lucky in Woodbridge to have one of the few rural stations left in Suffolk after Beeching’s cuts.

Rural public transport is very important for those people who can’t, can’t afford to, or are prevented from driving by age, ill health or ethical considerations.  Like many others in rural Suffolk,  I use the train a lot: I regularly  visit elderly parents in Cambridge, a student daughter in Sheffield, and go to London for specialist appointments and so on. I also use the train for work, and social activities.

If you don’t have a car, rail fares are very important – as is the need to travel on a train at a moment’s notice. We are lucky that we have ‘walk-on’ discounted fares within our  portion of East Anglia, but the moment that we step outside, ticket pricing becomes unaffordable. In the past I have needed to get to places such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Portsmouth and Coventry for crises and bereavements at  a moment’s notice  and the cost of such rail travel has been outrageous and (frankly) extortionate and added greatly to the stress of the situation.  I once had to make a trip to Liverpool because of a bereavement, and same day rail travel actually cost practically the same amount as asking a taxi to drive me there. Can this be reasonable??

I am asking you to remember, and consider that  people who need to make immediate, on-the-day, rail trips are often  poorer or less able than others – who have the option of driving. What can be the rationale for discouraging off-peak travel by charging such appallingly greedy and inappropriate ‘walk-on’ fares when trains are so empty for so much of the day ?

Additionally many people would like to travel at weekends,  and on bank holidays to visit family or tourist destinations. The train would seem ideal. Oddly enough however, customer demand is not seen as a reason for the train companies to encourage us onto trains by good service and special fares. Instead it is seen as an excuse to charge us a high price for the shoddiest service I have ever experienced in a life of train-travel. I was talking to some railworkers, as we stood nose-to-nose on a late, diverted train to Cambridge over a recent bank-holiday, and they said they found it a very hard and unsatisfying  element in their job to be working to the demands of share-holders rather than travellers (or customers as we are so uncharmingly called) and providing such a service at such a steep price.

The rail fares review could be the biggest shake-up of our fares system for decades. At a time of belt-tightening, and peak oil, the country needs to have a reliable affordable rail service to encourage and support non-driving.

We  therefore  need to make sure that this review – an opportunity for cheaper, simpler, fairer fares –  is not wasted. UK rail fares must start going down not up. The cost of train tickets in the UK is already eye watering – far higher  than in other parts of Europe. Last summer I travelled in very pricy Norway, and was astonished to find that while a pint of beer was several times more expensive than in the UK, train travel was much cheaper (as well as better integrated and more frequent). Yet Norway is even more rural than the UK.

Government fare hikes mean prices for most tickets in 2015 will be 24% more expensive than they were in 2011. This is unreasonable and inappropriate : rail should be a public service not a ‘rich man’s toy’. Most particularly it should not pander to the requirements of people travelling ‘on expenses’ at the expense of those needing transport for the most basic reasons.  Trains are a vital link between people and the places they go to work, study, relax and spend their money. Both people who already use the train and people who are occasional users should have a stake in having a fit-for-purpose, affordable railway. If we actually ensured it was, we would have much better usage in ‘non-peak’ situations and help support the largely overlooked rural travellers (such as my constituents), as well as those in city termini.