Tag Archives: Highways

Woodbridge County Councillor: Whats been happening 2016-17

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.

The very splendid cake with which the No Cald Calling zone in Morley Avenue was celebrated

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

 

What’s been happening in Suffolk, Jan 2014

May I start by wishing you a happy and  prosperous New Year.

 Flooding update Although Woodbridge town survived the flooding on 6 December with relatively few problems, there were breaches to the river wall to the north and south of Martlesham Creek. Cattle had to be rescued from the flood along the north bank, where a 30m wide breach left 30 acres of grazing land underwater. Work has been undertaken on the north wall and footpath which leads from Kyson Point to the footpath from Sandy lane.

Ipswich Sexual Health Clinic This fiasco continues. From Monday 28 October the sexual health service has been operating a reduced level of service from the clinic based at Ipswich Hospital , with the service having to vacate the site completely from April 2014.

We were told that the reason for this move was that there were plans to  create a sexual health hub in a more accessible location.  However it turned out that the ‘accessible location’  might as well have been picked out of a hat!  Gipping Court, Constantine Road proved not to be possible due to flooding issues. So, instead,  the service has been relocated to Lindbergh Road in Ipswich – in other words, as far out of town as Ipswich hospital but with far poorer transport links for people  from Woodbridge and beyond.  In fact, Woodbridge people relying on public transport  face a two-bus ride of about an hour plus a 20min walk to get to the new clinic. This is as opposed to the journey  to Ipswich hospital which was a half an hour single bus plus a 7 minute walk.

So much for greater accessibility and the vaunted ‘good transport links’ !  I am continuing to point this out

Highways Issues of efficiency still continue after  KierMG took over the contract to maintain  the public highway network in Suffolk at the end of last year. (The public highway consists of any verge, footway, carriageway, bridleway or footpath whether or not maintained at public expense and over which the public has a right of way) . SCC is therefore starting a political group of councillors  to work informally together in the new year with Suffolk Highways colleagues from SCC and Kier to help best meet needs for information and communication within the new contract. I am the nominated Lib Dem member of this group.

County Councillor’s Locality Budget  I am glad  to have been able to support Woodbridge town and  Choose Woodbridge in  providing funding for the skating rink, which will hopefully  bring people into the town in mid -February.

County Councillor’s Surgery Surgery dates for the next few months will be on Saturday 18 January, Saturday 15 February, and Saturday 19 April. There will be no surgery in March as I will be in China

 

Whats happening in Suffolk – Feb 2013

Disgraceful league table results for Suffolk schools, Son of Explore card returns, negotiations with the ‘preferred bidder’ for SCC’s highways procurement falls through 10 weeks before d-day…  

       …and Woodbridge Library needs Friends!

 

Suffolk Travel Card  On 29th January, SCC’s Cabinet heralded the return of a Suffolk Travel Card for young people.  It will provide uniform discounts and easier tickets, particularly for those young people in the County who need to reach further education establishments and employment.

I and the Lib Dems, welcome this card as we have been campaigning for the Explore card to return for nearly two years – as have many of the young people in Woodbridge affected by the cut.  However, we have a significant number of questions about its implementation given that the Cabinet paper contained little in the way of specific detail.

The card, set up originally for those young people, will most likely provide a 25% discount for travel, but this has yet to be confirmed and discussions with all bus providers across Suffolk has not yet taken place.  There is also a lack of clarity about how much the card will cost, whether it will be free or have a £10 charge, and what will happen when they try to widen the scheme to other members of the public in the County.

In addition to backing the Suffolk Travel Card, the Cabinet also backed the Kickstart campaign which aims to help provide access to scooters for rural young people with a grant of £100,000.

Highways Procurement          Although the County Council agreed a contract with Balfour Beatty to provide the highways services across Suffolk we heard last week that this had fallen through, ten weeks before the D-day of April 1st. It has therefore been decided that the procurement process will revert to the previous stage where Suffolk County Council can liaise with any, or all, of the bidders who submitted final tenders (including Balfour Beatty Living Places), before again identifying a preferred bidder.

This latest update casts doubt on whether the savings presented in the budget are going to be achievable for this year, and what is going to happen once the current contracts expire on the 31st of March.  The Lib Dem group  have asked a number of questions on this subject and we are still waiting to hear what exactly the consequences of this will be.

The questions are:

  • What happened since the Cabinet decision on the 11th Dec? What commitments weren’t confirmed, were they not outlined as part of the initial contract?
  • How much is it going to cost the County Council in interim arrangements?
  • What is the duration of the expected delay? When will the next preferred bidder be announced?
  • What is the impact on the staff at IBC now that the timetable has slipped?
  • What is the contingency plan now that contracts have reached their maximum term, will emergency extensions be required? What are the cost of these?
  • Do you envisage a serious risk to the continuity, delivery and quality of the highways service given this delay?
    and last, and possibly most importantly
  • Can SCC continue to be assured this way of proceeding is actually ‘best value’?

As yet we are not much the wiser – but it looks like interim arrangements will have to be made at least until September. I will keep you informed!

Huge drop in Suffolk’s school league rankings  Although it is pleasant to see that our local Woodbridge schools holding their own in the rankings  (at primary: St Mary’s was ranked one of 15 joint first, Kyson four places behind and in the top 200 most improved primaries in the country, and Woodbridge Primary 32nd ,while at secondary level Farlingaye was ranked overall third – ahead of all private schools in the county!). However, the release of this years GCSE grades show Suffolk has dropped to 141st out of 152 authorities for GCSE results. This comes on top of our equally appalling descent to (joint) 148h  out of 152 in the primary school rankings.  Under the previous administration, Suffolk had consistently ranked in the top third of Local Authorities for schools results.

SCC is choosing to claim that these disgraceful GCSE results  can be attributed to the controversial 2012 grade boundary shifts for English and English Language although  the grade boundary shifts affected all examinees nationwide and the tables cover 5 GCSEs.

Budget The County Council’s budget for the next financial year will be set this week.  In recognition of the truly appalling schools results and an increase in road accidents, the LibDem group have put in the following amendments to fund the following from Contingency reserves:

Service Area Total
School Improvement Services – Additional advisors £650,000
School Improvement – Teacher focused support £475,000
Looked after children – County commitment to MTFC £300,000
Five 20mph schemes – Funds to respond to local demand £300,000
Total £1,725,000

I will keep you updated as to the progress of the budget.

Health  Emergency heart attack care in Suffolk was examined at the recent Health Scrutiny. It  was revealed that whilst survival rates were greater than 95%, the target time of 150 minutes to one of the three treatment centres in Basildon, Norwich or Cambridge was exceeded for a quarter of Suffolk patients. The Health Scrutiny committee recommended continuing education for ambulance staff in the management of cardiac emergencies, and national and regional campaigns to educate the public about the need to dial 999 as soon as possible if someone experiences chest pain.

I have not been informed as to how the recommendation for national  and regional campaigns would be taken forward.

Additionally, a new £5m heart treatment centre is being built at Ipswich hospital for routine heart operations, including the insertion of stents.

Friends of Woodbridge Library I spent Saturday morning – National Library day – in Woodbridge library raising awareness of a need for a Friends Group.

After the fuss we made – in Woodbridge and elsewhere –   about how much we loved and needed our librariesSCC backtracked on its original proposals and threat of closures – which is  a (at least  temporary) relief. Instead it has divested all Library services to an Industrial and Provident scoiety, which is rather like a co-operative.  However, each of ourLibraries needs to make 5% savings on top the savings that are already embedded in the proposals via an increase in volunteers, more fund-raising events, or changing suppliers for maintenance contracts. Funding is onlyguaranteed  by SCC for the first two years.
Additionally, those libraries that do not have community groups are run by the IPS and have considerably less autonomy, because they have no representation on the board. This is becoming a problem in Woodbridge.

Because Woodbridge Library is  run by the IPS , decision-making occurs without any local involvement . A notable example is the matter of the moving in of Suffolk Coastal District services to the Woodbridge Library premises without consultation or consideration of local wishes or requirements.  All moneys earned by the Library go back to the IPS, rather than being spent at the discretion of  us locals.  In the case of the Tourist Information point, neither Woodbridge Library or the residents of Woodbridge were even consulted as to the amount of rent SCDC should be paying(!).  Indeed the whole issue appears to have been discussed between officers without any input from or reference to elected local councillors or the Library itself.

Woodbridge Library now needs to have Friends. Contact the Library directly if you want to help.

November Report: whats happening at SCC

To be frank, I’ve covered many of the details of this month’s report to Woodbridge town council in other posts, but people might well be interested in the proposals about  Libraries, Highways and Archives – all of which are decided outside full council by the Conservative-run Cabinet. Some of these will definitely bear keeping in mind.

Cabinet: Archives, Libraries, Highways and Social Outcomes

At this month’s Cabinet meeting (today, 8th of November) cabinet will be voting on proposals to:

  • create a new heritage organisation to look after Archives and Archaeology in Suffolk. The suggestion is that this should be in partnership with with the Museum of East Anglian Life – a folk museum in Stowmarket. At the briefing I raised concerns that this should end up midSuffolk-oriented and aimed at the tourism spectrum rather than fully considering the academic/research element

  • create an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) to run the future Suffolk Library service. This is anticipated to run local libraries and outreach services according to individual circumstances.

  • divestment of most of the future Suffolk highways services to a private sector company on the basis that “a fully integrated service model is considered to have the greatest potential to drive out savings and efficiencies whilst protecting the resilience of the service,” Please note the use of the passive tense in that sentence. At the briefing for this I asked who this passive was referring to – eg. who it was who considered this option to have the ‘greatest potential’? I was told it was ‘the market’.I asked who ‘the market’ was? The answer was ‘a number of large and medium-size private companies’  with an interest in making a profit from this option.
    I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to how disinterested this ‘market’ advice was. I would also like to remind you of the success of many past privatisations of public services in terms of customer service and cost. The railways, for example.

  • developing an investment fund to achieve social outcomes in Suffolk in collaboration with The Suffolk Foundation.

Olympic torch coming to Woodbridge

I’m delighted to say that Woodbridge has been chosen to be be one of the 16 towns in Suffolk through which the Olympic torch relay passes on its way to London next year. The other  Suffolk towns through which the Olympic  flame will be carried between 5-7 July 2012 are: Lowestoft, Wrentham, Reydon, Southwold, Kelsale, Saxmundham, Aldeburgh, Wickham Market, Ufford, Melton, Felixstowe, Ipswich, Haverhill, Bury St Edmunds, and Newmarket

Suffolk has new Chief Executive

By now, I’m sure its old news that Deborah Cadman has been appointed as SCC Chief Executive. The unanimous choice of the Staff Appointments Committee, she’s currently Chief Executive at the East of England Development Agency, and prior to that Chief Executive at St Edmundsbury Borough

I’m sure that you will also be pleased that her pay is significantly less than that of the previous incumbent: £155,000 with no bonuses or annual pay increments.

Suffolk Police introduce non-urgent 101 number

Suffolk Police have launched a new easy-to-remember number – 101- for non-urgent contact . This replaces the not-at-all- easy-to-remember standard switchboard number of 01473 613500.

The new 101 service is not for emergencies. For immediate, urgent police assistance, people should continue to ring 999

County councillor’s surgery

I have started a surgery for constituents: 3rd Saturday of each month, 10-12 in Woodbridge library; the first one being on October 22nd. The next one will be 19 November.